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Determining the Facts

Reading 2: The Community's Experience

Following are excerpts from taped interviews conducted by Park Rangers during a special event held at the Freeman School in 1973.

Excerpted interview with Mr. Louis Esau, pupil at the Freeman School from 1907 to 1915:
The teachers taught us the usual, reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and physiology. You got one 15 minute recess in the morning and one in the afternoon. You would work at your desk until the teacher called you up to the front for recitation time.

Every year at Christmas, there was a program for the community at the school. I went to the box socials at the school. You know how box socials are. The ladies decorate a pretty box and the men buy it. Sometimes competition got pretty stiff, especially if a certain guy wanted a certain girl then the price got up pretty high. Occasionally if two guys wanted the same lady's box, they would bid up high.

Excerpted interview with Mr. William Clifford:
Our children went to the Freeman School in the later years. I often visited with the old timers that went to school at Freeman before 1900. The school was used as a meeting place for all community affairs in the 1870s until it closed in 1968 due to the consolidation of the school district. Originally, church services were held there. I know the granddaughter whose grandparents were married in the school. Church services, community gatherings, political meetings, caucuses, elections, box socials, and probably dances were held there.

The bricks were done by Thomas Freeman on his farm. His place was a quarter mile west of the school. The kiln was just west of the present building. The kiln is no longer there. They dug the well first and put the pump on it later. This was to make sure there was water in the area. The well pump would have been done in the later years. There was a row of steel posts with rings on them along the east side of the school. That was for hitching horses.

I do not know anything that causes more tension in a community than the school business. That is everybody's business. They had considerable tension on the elections, at times down there at the school. Some elections they would not even let the voters in, and they would hand the ballots out the window. There was a group that was trying to stuff the ballot box. The children had a holiday on election day.

There were two terms of school that were worked around the crops. Immigrants went to the school, Mennonites, Lutherans, Germans, and others. The school was remodeled. The floor was redone in the 1920s and again in 51 or 52. They still used some of the original desks.

Excerpted interview with William Scheve, landowner and grandson of John Scheve:
My grandfather gave the land for the school. The deed was finally transferred in 1891, but he gave the land in 1871. They just did not get around to officially transferring until then. I guess they did not feel it was important.

The first school in the area was in 1868 in a local farm house. Several different families attended the school. The teacher for the school boarded in the area. They had programs. People sat out in the desks and the program was on the platform where the teacher's desk was.

It has always been a community center. That is what I remember best about the school. Always a center for elections, farmers' meetings place, township meetings. They were all conducted there. Both the Republican and the Democratic caucuses were held there. It was used as a church between 1870 and 1875. The cemetery is up on the hill to the north. Some of the graves sites up there have people buried there who were born in the 18th century.

Since we lived where we looked down on the school, we saw a lot of what went on. It was a gathering place for years for the different farm organizations. In later years, the Farmer's Union used to have their monthly meetings down there. The school teacher would have box socials at night to raise money for the school. There would be one or two of those a year. I forget what these proceeds would go for, but you would buy these boxes that the girls would fix. You would bid on them and paid $6 to $7. That was high, usually $1 to $1.50. Everybody looked forward to the box socials.

Election Day was a vacation day for the school children. The school house was turned over to the election board for elections until 1968.

Questions for Reading 2

1. According to William Scheve, how did the school district get the land for the Freeman School? Why do you think it took so long to transfer the ownership of the land to School District #21?

2. Historians are not certain whether the land upon which the school was built was donated by John Scheve or purchased from him. Some sources have been lost over time while there is a conflict between some written sources and the Scheve family's oral tradition. What might account for the conflict between the surviving sources about how the land for Freeman School was acquired? What types of written records might historians normally look for to find out about the transfer or sale of a parcel of land?

3. What kind of center did Mr. Scheve call the school? What evidence did he and the other people interviewed about the school offer to supports this statement?

4. What is meant by the statement, "school business is everyone's business"? Why would Mr. Clifford say that tensions ran high at the school? What evidence supports his statement?

5. What activities do the people being interviewed remember? Classify the activities as educational, religious, occupational, political, or social. Which activities were the most numerous?

6. How important was the one-room Freeman School to its neighbors in Gage County, Nebraska?

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