Historic school building returns to use
Fri, 06/23/2017 - 8:59am admin
An edifice that once played a vital role in both the Dalzell and Elm Springs communities has again found purpose as the newly refurbished Children’s Chapel at the Elm Springs church.
The building, which has served as both a teacherage (a home for the country school teacher if he or she were not already living in the area) and a school building, will again be used for classes, this time specifically of a faith-based nature.
Little School on the Prairie
Originally the building, now known as the Children’s Chapel, was positioned at the Dalzell School site, the smaller of two buildings there dedicated to the education of the neighborhood children. A larger school house served as the actual school, and the Children’s Chapel, the smaller of the two buildings, was used as the teacherage. According to Sam Cordes, a former Dalzell resident who attended school in Dalzell and later taught in the Children’s Chapel when it served as a school building, some of the teachers who lived in the Children’s Chapel building in the late 1940s to mid-1950s include Rose Dalzell, Pearl Schneeberger, Lilian Shull, Alma Bowman and Hazel Roth.
Cordes’ sister, Jeanne Cordes Bachand, shared some of her memories of school at the Dalzell School in a letter written to area historian and author Melvin Anderson.
“We had mostly great teachers. Lucille Hopkins that married Dad’s hired man. Earl Ferguson. Grace Hawkey was young and could dance like crazy and wore pretty clothes. Dot and Alice Dalzell – were fair. Rene Cooper taught several years and was excellent. There was a Mrs. Amelia Hill. I think back: the teachers were the janitors, the nurses and doctor. A full role compared to now,” Bachand wrote.
The teacherage was no longer needed in the late 1950s, though, as the school closed, some records indicate, after the 1957-58 school year, when there were no more students. The building sat empty for several years before again being called into service.
To the southwest of the Dalzell School a few miles, things were booming at the Linn School. With the addition of two Trask boys, whose family had moved up from “the creek” at Smith-ville, the school appeared to have an incoming student population of 14 students. This was deemed too much for one teacher, but a second teacher proved difficult to procure.
Philip Wilson, an Elm Springs native and current resident, remembers Martin Moore, the president of the school board, telling Wilson’s father “I’m not coming home until I find some teachers.” He contracted the newly widowed Gladys Roberts to bring her three children and become the teacher for the lower grades. This left them still in need of a fifth through eighth grade teacher.
Meanwhile, Cordes had finished his time at Dalzell, attended high school in Sturgis, then spent a year at college in Laramie at the University of Wyoming. Cordes describes his year in college as “a fun-filled year in which my studies were very secondary.”
Following this year of college, Cordes worked on a dude ranch in Carson City, Nev. The end of the summer found him returning to South Dakota and the Cordes family ranch instead of a second year in Laramie.
Cordes’ brother-in-law, Marvin Anders, and the other members of the Linn School board had other designs for him. In a meeting to discuss the teacher shortage, one board member queried as to whether or not Cordes had attended college. When they knew he had spent at least one year pursuing higher education, they decided that was good enough for them, and they offered the18-year-old Cordes the job.
According to Wilson, space was still an issue at the Linn School, so the Linn School parents and board decided to move the former Dalzell School teacherage to the Linn School site to serve as a school house.
“They had someone come with a stack mover, moved it and set it down on cement blocks. The dads got together, put down plywood, a new floor covering, combination aluminum storm windows and we were ready to have school,” Wilson said.
“By the time everything shook out, there were 16 kids in all eight grades enrolled at the Linn School,” said Wilson.
Cordes’ fifth grade students were Cheryl Johnston, Pat Trask and Philip Wilson. Clyde Arneson was the sole sixth grade student, Ardyce Roberts, Eddie Roberts and Linda Wilson filled the seventh grade places, and Danny Arneson led the group as the eighth grade student, Cordes said.
For the next nine years, the Linn School site continued to serve the area. A trailer that had been moved to the site as a teacherage burned, so two more buildings were moved to the site. These included the larger school from Dalzell and the former Wilson School, which was at that point being used as the Pierce School teacherage.
At the beginning of the 1971-72 school year, the current school building was built in Elm Springs, and the Linn School closed. An auction dispersed the school buildings. Again, a stack mover was used to haul the former Dalzell teacherage to another site to be used as a storage building.
The Elm Springs church, which has regular services every other Sunday and Wednesday night Bible study weekly, was built in 1894 with funds largely provided by the Presbyterian Board in Chicago, Ill., and donated labor. Prior to its completion, community members met in the Pierce schoolhouse or an old log schoolhouse known as the King School. The one room church building provided a more stable place for church attendants to call home. Later, in the 1960s, an anteroom was added on to the church.
Some of the most seasoned members of the Elm Springs congregation recall that old-timers told of having Sunday School in the Elm Springs church by way of bed sheets strung about the room to divide classes. The sheets would then be pushed back out of the way for the worship service. The anteroom addition frequently doubled as a Sunday School classroom after that became part of the church.
The church served the community as the site of the community cemetery. It also played host to an annual week of Vacation Bible School. Congregants from the Lutheran church in Wall would come to Elm Springs and host the school, which was widely attended by the area children. Some records also indicate that, earlier in the church’s history, Elm Springs congregants hosted their own VBS.
Services continued at the Elm Springs church until the 1960s. Then, lack of a steady pastor led to the church having services only intermittently – when a pastor could be found to come fill the pulpit.
Elm Springs community members wanted to have church more regularly than that, and, in the early 1980s, a Lutheran pastor from Wall agreed to come to Elm Springs to lead services every other Sunday. Since he had to lead his own services in Wall first, a church time of 2 p.m. was the time upon which was settled for Elm Springs services.
According to Caroline (Cordes) Anders, this arrangement was not ideal.
“Sometimes he could make it, sometimes he could not. He did not have a really big following,” Anders said.
Attendance dwindled, and Anders and other congregants knew something had to change. From relatives at Union Center who attended the Prairie Bible Church of God, Anders heard of Harold Delbridge, who was pastoring Prairie Bible. She contacted Delbridge. In early 1988, he agreed to pastor the church for its services, keeping the schedule as every other Sunday at 2:00 p.m. in the winter, and once a month in the summertime at the same time.
Delbridge’s late wife, Karen, began to provide Sunday School for the Elm Springs children, again putting the anteroom of the church to use. The situation was less than ideal: in the heat of the summer the little room was sweltering, and in the winter, even with a portable electric heater, the room was nearly too chilly to use. Karen dreamed of one day having a building set aside for Sunday School.
Population fluctuates in rural South Dakota. One decade might see all of the youth of a community leaving for careers in more populated places. The next decade, many of these young people return to their native communities and bring young families and new life into the area. Such was the case at the Elm Springs church.
Congregants began to notice an increase in the five-and-younger crowd. They could be found dodging in and out of the adults’ legs, then racing up and down the aisle and around the pulpit in a game of tag. Sunday School in the anteroom was full. A generous anonymous donor financed a playground area for the children of the church. It was a first step toward a designated learning area for the children.
In January 2016, Melvin Anderson began to bandy about the idea of a Children’s Chapel, a small building the children could use for play and instruction. Initially, talk turned toward a pole barn structure. An initial call for pledges totaling $10,000 was made. This amount was quickly raised, with the smallest donation being 14 cents, donated by a four-year-old, and the largest being $6,000.
One Sunday after service, Sam Johnston, Elm Springs, approached Anderson. After the Linn School site was closed in ’71 when the current Elm Springs School building was built, the buildings on the site where sold at auction. The teacherage from Dalzell, which had also served as a school building at the Linn School, had again been moved with a stack mover and was currently in use at the Sam Johnston place as a storage building.
Anderson and other congregants went to the Johnston place to see the building. It would need one more ride on a stack mover, and it would be settled at its new home next to the Elm Springs church. In the late spring of 2016, the little school house took its place in the church yard.
Jim and Kent Wilsey, Elm Springs, a father-and-son ranching duo, volunteered time and expertise for laying the foundation for the building. J. Wilsey worked for many years as a civil engineer before returning to the ranch. K. Wilsey made the switch from aerospace engineer to rancher more recently. With their knowledge, the building was soon resting on a firm foundation.
Local builder John Weiser set to work on the building. New windows, floors, drywall, light fixtures and siding were added. As much as was possible, though, the building retained its historicity. Volunteer labor was provided whenever possible. Wilson, who had attended school in the little building, volunteered his time and expertise to install the electricity.
By early fall of 2016, the building was ready for interior and exterior paint. A family from Quinn donated a propane heater and the labor to install it, and classes began in the Children’s Chapel.
A day for the history books
June 11, 2017, proved to be a beautiful day. It was warm, but not unseasonably so. A small crowd gathered at the Elm Springs church for both the regular worship service and a dedication service for the Children’s Chapel. Special guests in attendance included Paula Eisenbraun and Alma Crosbie, both of whom once taught school in the little building.
Eisenbraun said that a highlight of teaching in the little schoolhouse was student birthdays. The mother of the celebrating student would bring a cake, and the whole school would have a birthday party. This party would occur about 2:45 p.m., which was purposefully designated so the sugar-filled students would go home, instead of having to sit through more instruction time.
School board members became concerned about the frequent birthday parties – there were seven children in the school. Eisenbraun and Crosbie attributed the parties to the mothers, and the subject was dropped, Eisenbraun said.
Crosbie and Eisenbraun wanted to provide a Vacation Bible School for their godchildren and their godchildren’s siblings. Other parents caught wind of this and asked that their children also be included in the VBS. In ’69 or ’70, this VBS became a reality. Even before the Children’s Chapel was such, it served as a place of biblical instruction.
Crosbie shared some of her memories, including a song she created that recognized the students she taught in the little building. She was aided in her performance by Elm Springs congregant, Jean Linn. Others in attendance shared memories of the schoolhouse, and a tribute was made to Karen Delbridge for her faithfulness in providing Sunday School and VBS to the church children.
Following the indoor service, all in attendance went out to the church yard, which now features a playground, Children’s Chapel and large wooden cross. Pastor Delbridge spoke about the message of the cross, and the importance of passing that message of salvation to a younger generation. A prayer of dedication was prayed over the Children’s Chapel building. After the prayer, the youngest congregants exploded to the playground, and Crosbie and Eisenbraun visited with their former students, both from school and from VBS.
“I am so excited that the schoolhouse will be used for Sunday School and Vacation Bible School again. I am thrilled to have teachers teach about God,” Eisenbraun said.
Crosbie observed that she was reminded of Jesus’ words to “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
Whether devoted to reading, writing and arithmetic, or to the more basic instruction in character development and the true purpose of life, the little Dalzell teacherage has served its purpose across multiple generations and now stands ready to serve for generations more.