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Bob and Mavis Voigt (left) and Rich Hullander stand by the Valley School in Denmark Township. They are members of the Denmark Township Historical Society, which raised over $80,000 to purchase the 162-year-old school house. They recently were able to get it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Hullander, 80, attended class in the one-room schoolhouse starting in 1939, when he was in the first grade. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)

Historic site designation secured for Denmark Township schoolhouse

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There’s a lot that Richard Hullander could tell you about his alma mater. And he hopes to do just that, now that it has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Hullander, 80, attended class at Valley School, a 162-year-old one-room school house that hunkers down in a wooded hollow in rural Denmark Township. Hullander, of Hastings, is a member of the Denmark Township Historical Society, which bought the one-room school house and one acre of land from private owners in 2012.

Through their capital campaign, titled Save Our School (SOS), the society raised more than $80,000 to purchase Valley School. They recently were able to get it listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The society received a grant of $4,800 from the Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage (Legacy) Fund to submit the nomination.

Bob and Mavis Voigt, who are among the co-founders of the society, said the next challenge is to restore the battered structure. They won’t know how much it will cost until they review bids from architects, Mavis Voigt said.

“To get  the help we need to do that, we’re interviewing architects and interpretive planners,” she said. “We’re also looking for a part time staff person to guide us through this process.”

The former owners, a family floor-covering business, used the building to store carpet. The structure still retains its original wooden floor and blackboards. In the back, surrounded by underbrush, are two wooden outhouses, one for each gender. Valley School District 34, as it was known, had no indoor plumbing.

“It remains very much the same as it was 162 years ago,” Mavis Voigt said.

Valley School was built in 1852, six years before Minnesota became a state. At the time, its students were likely to be the children of pioneers, lumberjacks and sawmill workers in what was then known as Point Douglas, a thriving logging center at the confluence of the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers.

Hullander said he hopes to conduct tours once the schoolhouse is restored. He’s especially keen to show children what it was like to go to school in 1939, the year he started at Valley School as a first-grader. Hullander said he was one of about 20 children, comprising grades 1-8. Their teacher, Hattie Hansen, taught them math, history and English.

“You had your time set aside for just your grade,” Hullander said. “They’d give you your assignment and they’d go to the next grade.”

The school closed in 1946 as part of a school consolidation. Hullander, an eighth-grader that year, had to move to another school in Hastings, where he said it was an adjustment going to a different room for each class.

For Hullander, each corner and cupboard at Valley School seems to spark a memory. He points to a spot where he said a coal-burning stove kept them warm in winter. The front of the room, near the blackboard, is where they rigged a curtain in front of the chair rows to put on their annual Christmas pageant, he said.

Hullander said that he and a classmate used to shoot gophers on the way to school. Before they took their seats, they simply left their 22-gauge rifles in the corner.

Everyone pitched in to keep the school in shape, he said. They would take turns sweeping the floor.

“You wouldn’t believe how clean this place was, how neat,” Hullander said.

“And it will be again,” Mavis Voigt added.

Donations to the Denmark Township Historical Society can be sent to treasurer Jean Boyd, 7575 Quadrant Ave. S., Hastings, MN 55033. For more information, call 651-436-8031 or email jeanmboyd@msn.com.

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