The first public school in Ephraim – and in Door County – was a small log structure established in 1857. The school was located behind Reverend Andreas Iverson’s home; the Moravian minister had observed a need for education in his community and donated the land and building to fill that need. Pauline Larsen was the school’s first teacher and was paid $4 per week, teaching lessons in English and Norwegian.
The Pioneer Schoolhouse was constructed in 1880. Its first teacher was Cordelia Burt, who was paid $7 per week to teach grades 1 through 8. The school, which has been preserved as a museum, served the community until 1949.
After 67 years, the schoolhouse has a new instructor.
Every Tuesday throughout the month of July, the Ephraim Historical Foundation will host a series of lessons inside Ephraim’s Pioneer Schoolhouse Museum, the first of which was held at 11 am on July 5.
Museum docent Karen Ekberg said the free program is a bit of a sink-or-swim project.
“One of our board members thought it would be fun to think out of the box and get a little more foot traffic,” Ekberg said. “On a nice day like this we’re competing with weather.”
The foundation’s efforts did not go unrewarded. Approximately 25 people – ages ranging from three to 70 – filed into the schoolhouse to the clanging of the school’s bell.
Ekberg, who serves as the program’s “schoolteacher,” began the class with an inspection of the students’ hands and faces, making sure they were clean. Ekberg knows this routine all too well, as she herself was educated in the Ephraim schoolhouse and her mother served for a time as the school’s teacher.
“My mother came here as a teacher in 1934,” Ekberg explained, “and she was appalled at how the children would come to school…some of them just didn’t know any better.”
To remedy that, she read daily lessons from a hygiene handbook. The book can still be seen as part of the historic display at the schoolhouse.
Being in the building brings back a number of memories from Ekberg’s childhood. She distinctly remembered the room’s furnishings, which were much the same as they are today.
“These benches have been here forever. And in my mind I can see little chairs in a circle in the back where older students would help the little children,” she said.
One of the program’s strengths is the ability to create a variety of lesson plans so visitors can come back each week and experience another unique part of learning in a one-room schoolhouse.
The subject of the day was history. Ekberg had students from the recitation bench perform a radio play about the writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Francis Scott Key. Patriotic songs and explosion sounds were interspersed throughout so everyone could participate. After the performance, students were asked to answer three questions on their slates based on the information they had just received.
When class dismissed, Ekberg thanked everyone for coming to the event and welcomed them to stay and ask questions or to look at some of the displays throughout the room. She also invited them to return the following Tuesday for a lesson in arithmetic.
“This was just the first day,” Ekberg said. “Next week we’ll be doing something different!”
Response to the program’s opening lesson was largely positive. Many of the participants commented that Ekberg’s enthusiasm and dedication to her role made for an entertaining educational experience. The room was buzzing as families explored the clothing, books and other supplies on display, supplementing Ekberg’s lesson.
This was the program’s goal: to bring people in and to get them excited about the building’s history. With the help of long-time community members like Ekberg, it’s possible for the Ephraim Historical Foundation to breathe new life into the Pioneer Schoolhouse.
The Pioneer Schoolhouse is located at 9998 Moravia St. in Ephraim. For more information, visit Ephraim.org.