The Galland School: An Iowa First

Iowa's first pioneer students began their education in a one-room log cabin in the south-eastern part of the state. In 1830 school buses could not have even been imagined by the people on the wild prairie, so most students walked to school. Some students canoed across the Mississippi River. Isaac Galland, an Illinois doctor and lawyer who had established a settlement called National (now in Lee County), designed and built Iowa's first known pioneer school in 1830.

Crude Building

Neighbors and friends helped Galland construct the tiny, 10-by-12 foot building from logs split by hand tools. Because nails and other building equipment were scarce, settlers used mud to hold the building together. Mud was also used to make a chimney and to fill in cracks to keep out the winter wind. Holes were cut in the logs for windows, and thin, oiled cloth covered the openings.

Galland hired a 23-year-old man named Berryman Jennings to teach the first term from October to December. Jennings moved to National from Illinois to instruct between six and eight students. Jennings did not earn any money teaching. Instead he received food, firewood and furniture for his room in Dr. Galland's home. He was also allowed to read Galland's rare medical books. Jennings planned to become a doctor and needed the books to study medicine.

Rough Conditions

Learning was a challenge in the log building. Chilling winds whistled through the walls on cold days as students huddled over their lessons. Little light came in through the oil cloth windows on cloudy days. Students sat on two log benches and had to stand to reach the high, rough boards that served as desk tops. Books and paper were scarce.

Kids studied in the school until 1833 when settlers, including Jennings and Galland, moved away and closed the school. After the building was abandoned a family lived in it for a short time, and it was later cut up for firewood. In 1924 the Keokuk chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution marked the school's original site with a boulder. A model of the original school was placed near Montrose in 1940 so Iowa's first known school would be remembered as an important part of the state's history.

Adapted from original article by Sherri Dagel, The Goldfinch 16, No. 1 (Fall 1994). Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa.
© State Historical Society of Iowa

 

 


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