Plum Creek School Moves Through Milesville
A history mystery...
On a beautiful morning, May 31, 2023, after 70/100 of an inch of rain the night before, the sun was shining as a Haakon County landmark made its way north on the Milesville Road and through the townsite of Milesville. After many hours of preparation the Plum Creek School is finding a new home northeast of Milesville. There will be more work with its restoration and renovation, but it’s always a delight when a historic building finds new life, rather than being torn down.
As many have said, Plum Creek School was somewhat of a directional landmark along Hwy 34 where the road made a sweeping curve to the northwest. It sat on a treeless knob on the east edge of Sec. 28 (T5N-R22E) right along Quinn Road. It could be seen from quite a distance, and during school hours the flag was waving like a beacon to travelers. This recognizable marker helped when giving directions. For years, an outhouse sat in the schoolyard, making it a quick stop after too much soda pop or coffee consumed in Pierre.
When Dugan Stewart’s children attended, Dugan built a ping pong table for the basement, and it was greeted with joy for both the students and teachers, making the basement a haven on cold, snowy days. Frances Fitch came to the Plum Creek basement to teach square dancing, with all learning the Virginia Reel and more. Some years, the Haakon School District sent a speech or special education teacher out who would use that basement for her classroom. School and county elections were held below as school was in session upstairs.
In 1968-1969 there were two classroom teachers, Lucille Emerson and Philip O’Connor. Other teachers in the 70’s 80’s and 90’s were Jim Bilbrey, Ellen Schofield, Elva Moore, Wesley Olson, Dorothy Kosola, Jane Benda (Harry), Mary Fitzgerald, Tammy (Schultz) Sack, Theresa Deuchar, Frances Olesen, James Bernard, Mary Nelson and Jeanette Riedy. When Mary Nelson and Frances Oleson shared teaching duties in 1987-88, both classrooms began the day by exercising to “Chicken Fat.”
Some of the families who have attended the Plum Creek School are: Ferguson, Quinn, Schofield, Smith, O’Dea, Fitch, Osland, Sinkey, Stewart, Doud, Fortune, Nelson, and others.
The 2001-2002 school year opened without a teacher for the Plum Creek School, sending some students to the Cheyenne School for a time. A teacher, Mrs. Mueller from Pennsylvania, was found after a month or so, but this was to be the last school held in this building when its door was locked in May of 2002.
There were over 50 rural schools in Haakon County from 1910 into the 1930’s. The list in 1931 showed 72 rural schools open, but the next decade would be tough. There were 24 rural schools in the 1969-70 school year, but statewide consolidation, forced in part by state legislation, was really in play by the fall of 1970. Haakon County held steady at 13 schools for a while, due to a compromise that the legislature made to give each school district a $ 10,000 stipend for the rural schools that were operating. Haakon had 9 rural schools in 1985, only 6 in 1996, and now Milesville School remained the only rural attendance center.
In the early days, students walked or rode horses to school, so the buildings were built on skids or frames, allowing them to be dragged to new locations as the school population shifted, keeping the school three miles or less from the homes of the children. In the earliest days, before many roads, and with the shortest path across the prairie, one family remembers the dad using a one-bottom to plow a partial trail so his youngest children could make their way up and down some draws, across the creek, and to the school and back. Next week we’ll follow the trail through more history of Plum Creek School.