The following summary was written by Inez Owen for the presentation of the Founders Day program of the Oak Hill-Park Knoll PTA meeting, February 17, 1954. It provides some good detail on the origins of Park’s school system.
The Independent School District of St. Louis Park was organized in 1888 – in that year there were 51 pupils. Early records dating back to shortly before the turn of the century refer to four schools: Lincoln, North Side, Oak Hill and Manhattan Park.
The Lincoln School is our present Village Hall. This building was leased with option to buy. The first high school was held at the Lincoln School. In 1902 St. Louis Park residents voted approval of a $12,000 bond to finance an addition to the Lincoln building for a high school although a 4 year course of high school study had been adopted in 1899. With new increased space, it was possible to add a course in sewing and manual training.
The North Side School is the present Eliot School. The original North Side School was given to the neighborhood for use as a barn when a new one was built.
The original Oak Hill School was a two room building (6 grades, 2 teachers) located near the corner of our present North St. and Pennsylvania Avenue. An addition was later built to this, and in 1906 the present site was purchased.
The section known as Manhattan Park was a section near France Avenue where Minneapolis and St. Louis Park meet. These people had a transportation problem, and when the streetcar company refused a petition for free rides to school for the kids, the people of this section offered to erect a building 16′ x 22′ x 12′ high if the School Board would furnish fuel, furniture and a teacher. This offer was accepted but what happened to that school is not clear from records available to us.
In addition to these schools, rooms were leased in the Congregational Church. An effort was made to rent rooms in the Presbyterian Church on Oak Hill for use by Oak Hill primary children, but the church refused to rent for less than $10.00 a month, which was considered too much money. In 1908 a one room school was built on Lake Street – the beginning of our present Fern Hill School and in 1912 T. B. Walker donated land for a new high school building.
It is apparent that St. Louis Park residents have always been concerned with the quality of their schools end the welfare of the kids. Wedged between votes of approval for payment of cords of wood and sawing of same, we find the old School Board members concerned with remodeling buildings, building new schools and additions to the old schools, indicating that our present crowded conditions may not be something new in the Park. In 1897 it was decided that children must be 6 years old before starting school. Eliminating 5 year olds was a means of easing crowded classrooms. However, a truant officer made sure that eligible pupils did attend school.
Teachers, then as now, were picked with care, and when classes were extra large, teachers were often hired as assistants with the stipulation that their services could be dispensed with when not needed. It is interesting to note that Miss Baston was originally hired as an assistant. Regular teachers were required to board and room in the Park.
In 1894 vaccination of all school children was made compulsory, and as early as 1896 the School Board started studying ways to transport children to school. The beginning of our present vast bus system was very simple – a man received $20.00 a month to take children to school during the coldest winter months. My guess is that he used horses and a sleigh!