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Unit 7: Set 4: Rural & Town Schools - Divide County Elementary Schools

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The small towns of Fortuna and Ambrose can be used to demonstrate the history of Divide County elementary schools. Fortuna was founded in 1913, and by 1915 when the school opened, the town was a bustling economic center with a newspaper, post office, lumber yard, grain elevator, barbershop, hardware store, pool room, and a movie theatre. It had a fire department with two new trucks. School attendance was required of all school-age children, and bus service extended two and one-half miles beyond the city limits to bring nearby rural children to the town school. Children who enrolled at Fortuna in 1915 had previously attended one of three rural one-room schools. One of those rural school teachers, Mrs. Agnes Harden became the Fortuna teacher in 1915.

The Fortuna grade school offered programs similar to those of larger town schools. Mrs. Harden purchased an Edison phonograph so the children could listen to music. Students competed in spelling contests and in 1929 formed a chapter of the Young Citizens’ League, a popular school organization focused on citizenship. The school added electric lights in 1927.

In August 1951, Fortuna received a boost to its economy and school enrollment when the Fortuna Air Force Station (AFS) opened five miles west of town. This radar base employed about 150 people until it closed in 1979.

The Fortuna school burned down in 1956, but the community re-built and the new school opened in 1958 boasting of “sewer and water facilities.” In 1964, Fortuna built an addition to its grade school which included four more classrooms, a gym, a stage for band and other performances, and a kitchen. The grade school closed in 1986 and students are now bussed to Crosby.

Ambrose School District began with a sod school house three miles west of town in 1906. With growth typical of the early 20th century, Ambrose built a town school in 1908, quickly outgrew it, and built a new two-story brick schoolhouse in 1912 at a cost of $16,000 which housed both the elementary and high schools. It had three classrooms, a study hall, and a basement playroom. A library was established at the end of one hallway. As enrollment grew, the school turned part of the basement into a classroom. In 1922, donating labor, equipment, and supplies, the people of Ambrose built an underground gymnasium to support their basketball team.

Small town schools faced problems such as adequate financing, student transportation, locating and retaining qualified teachers. In addition, the use of standardized tests in the 1920s indicated that elementary students in rural and town schools scored significantly lower than the national standard score. Though rural and small town schools had some important advantages, students in these schools lacked some of the skills valued by urban educators.

Source: Cecile Wehrman, Editor, The Journal, Crosby, ND
Crosby Diamond Jubilee, 1904-1979

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