History of Harmony School (District 53)
"Records show that Milton Trotter (by his attorney) transferred one acre of land to the Board of Education on June 29th, 1867, for the establishment of District 53, Harmony School. A report by Andrew Stout, then school director, indicated that the school had begun in 1869. According to the April 8th, 1870, report, thirty students from age five through twenty-one, attended Harmony School for 137 days under the instruction of Ella Lathrop. Miss Lathrop received $134 for her efforts. The report also described a frame schoolhouse valued at $500, but the location was not clearly indicated. Some elderly residents believe the location was different then, but there is no evidence to support that claim. Some indicate that it was 1/2 mile west of of its present location, on land owned by Mr. Harmon, and that is how it received the name of 'Harmony School.'
The 1871 annual report indicates that school was in session for 180 days - 120 days taught by Ella Lathrop for $180 (total salary), and 60 days taught by J.W. Boyer for $120. Total expenditures for the 1871-72 school year (including teacher's salary, books, fuel, etc.) were $206. 96. The 1873 annual report shows 15 boys and 19 girls attended school for the 160 days that school was in session. There were three teachers then - Hilda Justice, who taught 60 days for $90; Belle O. Surn, who taught 60 days for $84; and Ira I. Tuttle, who taught 40 days for $70. Director Stout's 1875 report indicated that the schoolhouse was in 'passable condition', and, 'There are two privies, sixteen square yards of blackboard, and the house is furnished with comfortable desks and seats and it is well-ventilated.'
In 1878, Director Stout submitted his final report and indicated that Ezra Caselman (grandfather of Harold Pursel, who resided in the district and served on the School Board longer than anyone) would be director for the ensuing year. A report dated May 13th, 1880, signed by H.H. Ferguson, treasurer and acting director, shows that the old schoolhouse had been sold for $43.50, and construction of a new 'house' (the present building) was built in 1879 for a cost of
In the early 1930s, 42 students attended Harmony School. It is hard to imagine trying to fit that many students into this one-room schoolhouse. In 1953, indoor plumbing was added and a window on the east side of the building was removed, and then replaced with a door so there would be two exits in the schoolhouse. Around Christmas time, the students would put on a school program, and on the last day of school, there would be a picnic for the students, family, and neighbors. Over 130 years of its existence, hundreds of students received their education from this one-room schoolhouse, and then went onto successful careers in life.
Harmony School was ultimately closed in May of 1997 and auctioned off on March 6th, 1999. The highest bidder was a former alumnus of Harmony School, Betty Stukenholtz, who purchased the schoolhouse in an effort to preserve this little bit of history. Betty's great grandfather served on the first school board, in addition to her grandfather, father, and uncles. The last teacher at Harmony School was Deanna Stukenholtz Haverty.
Since its purchase in 1999, Betty Stukenholtz has made several renovations to the schoolhouse, to include converting the two small bathrooms to one unisex facility, and also adding a furnace and air-conditioning unit to the schoolhouse as well. Betty also located the original outhouse building that had been sold years before, and had it relocated back to its original location behind the schoolhouse. The school was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 22nd, 2005." (1)
Otoe County Rural School Reunion
The Otoe County Genealogical Society (of which Betty Stukenholtz is one of the original founding members) hosts their annual 'Otoe County Rural Schools Reunion' at Harmony School on the 2nd Saturday of April each and every year. The reunion includes a coffee social and tour of the 130-year old rural schoolhouse. In addition, it also gives visitors a chance to assist our society in identifying numerous unidentified rural schoolhouse photographs from several different school districts throughout the county.
(1) Stukenholtz, Betty. "History of Harmony School (District 53)." (2010). Print.