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Written by Justin Libigs   
Thursday, 17 February 2011 21:45



First Ward School 




   In the late 1800's do to over crowding in Wisconsin Rapids puiblic schools, the Board of Education met and agreed to building a new school in the first ward district.


   The board quickly decided on the location and bought the land from Peter Dessaint for $600. A plan soon after was drawn up by H. J. Van Ryan of Milwaukee for $240. The the firm of House and Nelson, constructed the building for $7,194. The seats came from Manitowoc at the cost of $433.80, and a local company Centralia Hardware installed the plumbing for $236.95 and also contributed the $6.00 clock and $3.50 gong to call the classes to order. The total cost of the school was $10,154. The most interesting thing about the contruction of the school is that the brick they used for the building was made on site rather than having the brick shipped to the location. They also painted the doors, gables, and classrooms in watercolor.


   The school was finished in 1896 containing four large classrooms, heated by a huge coal furnace, and had all the lastest technology like electicity, adjustable seats, the best blackboards available at the time, and Venetian blinds. The First Ward School is the oldest surviving school building in Wisconsin Rapids today.


    The school housed Kindergarten-6th grade and even hosted a high school grammer class. Physical Education was taught in the classrooms by the teachers. The janitor did however teach the boys basketball in the coal room. In 1902 the pupils and teachers were told to pick a new name for the First Ward School. It was decided to name the school Iriving after the author Washington Irving a.k.a. Diedrich Knickerbocker, who was very popular at the time.


   In 1910 the bell tower (as seen in the photo below) was struck by lighting and burned off the building. The bell tower was never replaced and a few years later the school was closed do to the high cost of keeping it running. The city had a $8,000 school tax but only collected half of that amount forcing the closure of the school.




   In 1921 do to the increase in students in the Wisconsin Rapids area the school was reopened but only now having Kindergarten-3rd grades. This was done by the local nuns who undertook teaching at the school themselves while living in the attic of the building. (This is why the attic doors lock from the inside.) This helped keep the cost down of running the school so the town could have the much needed increase in classrooms. This is also where the stories of the school being haunted originated from. While living in the school the nuns noticed strange things happening in different areas of the school at different times of day. This lead the nuns to come up with a plan as to when and where they would not go in the school during these times of activity. You could almost say the nuns were the first to investigate the activity in this building by keeping a log when and where activity took place. We are currently in the process of locating this log and or finding someone that would rememer this information.


In 1921 the roof of the school caught fire from one the embers from the coal furnace going out of the chimmey and landing on the roof. The janitor noticed the fire while walking home to eat lunch. All the children were gotten out in time and no one was hurt. The fire was caught early enough that the damage was repairable.


   Before World War II the building was also used for a small school for the deaf run by Agnes Mader and hosted the city's first special education classes taught by Allie Marie Coon. The other teachers stayed the same over the years. Muriel Holliday, Joyce Pettis, Elaine Domask, and Ina Iverson Peterson.


   In 1954 the interior of the school was remodeled. A kitchen and cafeteria was added, the bathrooms were taken out of the basement and moved upstairs, and the coal furnace was converted to gas. The cafeteria also doubled as the school's gym. After lunch they would breakdown the tables allowing the space needed for Physical Education.


   The last year the school ran as a grade school was 1977. For two years after the the building was used for exceptional-education offices and classes. The building has remained vacant since 1979.


   There are many local tales of the school house being haunted. Many of the stories are of a little boy named Oscar that died at the school house in the early 1900's. People report hearing voices and the sounds of school desks being moved around even though no school desks remain in the building. A shadow person is also reported being seen in the basement.



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Last Updated on Thursday, 23 February 2012 08:16