Pittsburgh School No. 8 moves to new home at Montgomery County history center

The former Pittsburgh School District No.8 has been settled into a new home at the Montgomery County History Center.
The school, which had been located at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds for nearly three decades, was moved from its location on June 12. Montgomery County History Center Director Dave McFarland said while the exact date of the school’s construction is unknown, it’s more than a century and a half old.
“We don’t have an exact documentation on its construction, which is typical of the 100 or so one-room school houses that were in the county in the 1870s and 1880s. Pioneer Mutual Company of Red Oak was founded in the Pittsburg School in 1870 according to its minutes, which is the earliest record of the school’s existence. Pittsburgh was four-square0mile district number eight, and first received tax money in 1877,” explained McFarland. “Before that, Pittsburgh was a township school.”
Pittsburgh School was initially located on a plat of land in Grant Township owned by E.N. Anderson, where K Avenue is located now.
“The land it was on kept flooding, so it was moved up the hill to a piece of property owned by a C.R. Swanson. It was located four miles south and three miles east of Red Oak,” stated McFarland.
McFarland said the weather of the time often influenced when school took place or not.
“In the very dead of winter, they would call off school, and they would also call off school in the middle of the hot summer. Planting and harvest times also meant no school. In that time, school was kind of fit in when it was convenient. When it came time to help on the farm, school wasn’t in session.”
At the time of its closure, Pittsburg School was the last one-room school in the county, ceasing operations sometime in the 1950s.
“In about 1960, they started shutting down the bigger schools like in Stennett and Wales, but the country schools had pretty much all been shut down by that time,” commented McFarland.
McFarland said the school featured a very unique construction material for its time period.
“Other than the foundation, the school was constructed of mostly Northern Yellow Pine, probably from the virgin forests of Minnesota or Wisconsin. The wood was rafted down the Mississippi River, milled in eastern Iowa, and shipped on the Burlington Missouri River Railroad to Red Oak,” advised McFarland.
McFarland said there was a reason behind the county having more than 100 one-room schoolhouses in the area.
“The premise behind so many schoolhouses was so that kids didn’t have to walk more than a mile to school, so about every four sections of land there would be a one-room schoolhouse. Someone would donate the land or they would come up with the money for one. After that, a plot would be set aside, and the income off that would operate the school when it was a township school,” advised McFarland.
Four teachers were known to have taught in the school: Grace Wallin, Elizabeth Guffey, Mary Guffey, and Elaine Giles. McFarland noted the Guffey sisters were quite famous around the area.
After its closure, McFarland said the school sat for more than two decades before being moved to the Red Oak community around 1984 to Legion Park, and became a restoration project for the Montgomery County Historical Society.
“They started the restoration in 1984, and it was ongoing for more than a year. They finally finished it in 1985 and resided and painted everything. It remained at the park and the fairgrounds area for a while because they didn’t have a home for it at the time,” said McFarland.
Among its uses after the move was to serve as a meeting place for the historical society and other organizations, an educational tool for the county school students, and for re-enactments. Programs were also held at the location.
“When they first got it moved, they had music festivals and things like that, and they would try to tie things into the county fair. It’s since sat there unused for a while. We’ve had a couple of programs down there. When I came on, we tried to have some activities down there, but we had a tough time finding volunteers,” McFarland stated.
Recently, the Montgomery County Fair Board expressed a desire to repurpose the land for fair activities. McFarland said he had no hesitation to move the school to the history center.
“It’s been my goal to get all that stuff up here. We moved the Cozad Cabin up here last year, and a little more than a decade ago, we moved the Sciola Church here from its location on Highway 71. The church is getting used all the time now. There are a number of other buildings here as well.”
McFarland said he has plans for the school once they get a few things straightened out.
“It’s got all of the old school desks and everything in it. Once we get it all cleaned up, it will be available if the schools want to use it for programs or teaching, so the kids can see what it was like to go to a one-room country school,” McFarland explained. “I taught school up in Griswold, and I would have loved to have a resource like this, to be able to conduct a few days or a week’s worth of classes in a one-room schoolhouse.”
McFarland added a lot of prep work went into readying the school for its most recent move.
“We used Billy Bell Housemoving LLC, he moved the church and the cabin for us, and he’s an artist. They knock out holes in the foundation and put beams in and jack the building up and put wheels on it. Then they tear out the foundation and hook the building to a large truck,” McFarland advised.
Still, McFarland said the biggest hurdle came from trying to get everyone involved in the move together on the same day.
“We had to get a city permit to move it, and the Southwest Iowa Planning Council assisted with that. We also had to involve Mediacom and MidAmerican Energy as certain lines needed to be disconnected temporarily. We also had to coordinate with the highway construction that is ongoing on highway 34. We started with a target date of March 20, and we were close to three months after that when we moved.”
McFarland said it was extra special when he received a morning call that the school was ready to be moved an hour later.
“Billy called me and said we were going. We had to have a police escort, and Billy asked for a patrolman, and we ended up with four law enforcement vehicles providing an escort. When the buildings finally start getting ready to move, it draws a crowd,” McFarland commented. “We had at least a dozen boom trucks lined up, and the construction crew had a flagman down there. They pulled the barricades when we drove up, and replaced them after we were through. It took us just over a half hour to move from the fairgrounds to the history center.”
Finally having the Pittsburgh School at the History Center is a dream of McFarland’s that’s been a long time coming.
“The historical society board has brought it up for a couple years, and we knew we could better maintain it and use it if it was up here. We finally got money donated to assist in paying for the move, as it is not a cheap process. MidAmerican and Billy Bell were very generous. Bell donated $12,000 in labor costs to make the move less painful for us,” McFarland explained. “A donor also contributed some money. Once we had all that in place, the project starts to move and it gets easier. It just took a bit of extra time to coordinate. When the school finally landed on the parking lot and they backed it in, a heavy weight lifted off my shoulders.”
While there are some other one room schoolhouses still standing, most have been repurposed, and the Pittsburg School is one of the only schools remaining that is still maintained for its intended purpose. McFarland speculates that Pittsburgh School may be the last in the area that is still designated as a schoolhouse, and looks like one in the interior.
To see the Pittsburgh School, swing by the history center at 2700 N 4th St.
“We’re hoping to get the community fired up to come seeing it, and we have already had a number of people drive through the parking lot to take a look at the exterior. Once the highway construction is done, we’ll look at a bigger opening,” McFarland stated.


The Red Oak Express

2012 Commerce Drive
P.O. Box 377
Red Oak, IA 51566
Phone: 712-623-2566 Fax: 712-623-2568

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