Merrill School 7th Graders - 1907
Front Row: Josephine Dundon, Teacher, Dorothy Arey, Dean Arey, Lita Christopher, Arthur Tofte, Hiram Wiles, Ella Lewis, Harry Smith, Cecil Morrison
Second Row: Theodore Haney, superintendent; Mabel Little, William Hatch, Freeman Traister, Mamie Smith, Hazel Bean, Howard Stanley, Earl Irey and ? Meek
Third Row: Katie Scott, Ed Limond, Gailard Greer, Walter Gash, Naomi Dennison, Clyde Dennison, Earl Williamson, Lee Coward, Wayne McNeil & Professor Garretson, music teacher
Standing at the rear is M.J. McCallister, janitor
Lola Gettle - 3rd from left front row -
Contributed by Sue Nesland
Merrill School, Year unknown
Contributed by Sue Nesland
Top Row: Wright/Battles/Patridge/Rice/ Lola Gettle / Mary Battels
Bottom: Fern Bruns? / Alverda Pignatelli/Dot Ramsdell/June Deems? / Juanita Wise / Helen
Sharing a very important nitch in the educational history of the city of Rock Falls is that of the Merrill School facility built on west Fifth Street in 1888. Known for many years as "the old Merrill School" the historical landmark was demolished by a wrecker's boom in July of 1975 after serving the community for nearly 87 years.
The old Merrill School stood in boarded silence for two years after an architect's and engineer's survey revealed the structure could not meet the Life Safety Code and standards and was therefore unfit for habitation for school purposes in July of 1973. Two frame buildings had been constructed on the site where the old Merrill School was later built in the year 1888. The new Merrill School, built in 1888, was of brick exterior and it contained eight rooms which were to serve the first through the eighth grades.
There was an enrollment of about 300 students at this time and B.F. Hendricks wsa the superintendent. Teachers serving the district included Harris C. Parks, C.D. Glenn, A.D. Tyson, Fayette Johnson, Miss M. Howland and Harry A. Smith, M.J. Mc Callister was the janitor. In the year 1895, the annex was built connecting the Merrill School building and the new building was the high school. The annex and Merrill School was connected by a fire escape which students used to cross from building to building, the annex was demolished in 1953 to make room for the expansion of the junior high school.
Merrill School was named in honor of the pioneer Merrill family who donated the land to the district. Prior to the construction of Merrill School in 1888, this tract of land had been farmed by them. The Merrill name is prominent in the history of Coloma Township and the City of Rock Falls as Isaac Merrill is credited as the first settler in Coloma Twp. in 1837. That same year, Noah Merrill settled here and his son, Nelson B. was born on Nov. 6, 1838 and is believed to be the first white child born in Coloma Township.
During the school year 1896-97, A.S. Goodell was president of the Rock Falls Education board and A.M. Batcheller was secretary. Other members were B.F. Kadel, C.E. Goodrich, Alex Lyle, J.E. Durstine and R.L. Atkins. In 1896 Horace N. Fotz was superintendent of schools, Mrs. Katie H. Raymond, principal of the Rock Falls High School and Mrs. N.H. Fotz, assistant high school principal.
Elementary teachers included Miss Frederica Risly, primary room one; Miss Mary McNeil, primary room two; Miss Lydia Crow, primary room three; Miss Josie Barrett, primary room four; Miss nellie woodford, grammar room five; Miss Mabel Worthington, grammar room six; Miss Winifred Butler, grammar room seven and Miss Grace Linn, grammar room eight. At this particular time the Rock Falls school system operated on a nine-month school year with three terms of three months each. Tuition, "strictly in advance," was $6 per term for students from sixth grade to senior in high school adn $4 per term all other grades.
During the 1896 school year, the janitor was charged with the responsibility of ringing the bells "punctually" in an order beginning at 8:27 a.m. and closing with a "gong" at 11:57 to noon each morning session. The average required for promotions in all grades was set at 85 per cent by the board, with a minimum of 75 per cent in any one study. In addition, students who completed the highs chool course with an average of 80 percent, and minimum of 75 percent in any study, and who were "otherwise worthy" would receive a diploma signed by the superintendent and the board of education. Report cards were sent to students homes each month and were to be returned within three days, signed by the parent or guardian.
In 1896 the value of the Rock Falls school buildings and furniture was listed at $25,000 and the amount of the tax levy was set at $8,575. The amount of district bonds was $11,500 and the value of apparatus set at $250. The library contained some 450 volumes at that time with an estimated value of $200. An example of the financial condition of the Rock Falls school district according to the report issued April 11, 1896 showed receipts including $298 balance on hand; Tuition, $85.75; Drawn on census, $681; from tax collector $7,623 and balance of Building Fund turned over to the General Fund, $169. Total receipts were $8,851.39. Disbursements at the saem period included teachers salaries, $5,413; Janitor, $510; supplies $515; furnace $296; repairs $82; desks $99; blackboards $95; interest $1,179; coal $343; and printing $20. The district showed a balance on hand of exactly $203.46.
In the fall of 1922 there were 13 teachers on the School staff and the rooms were so crowded, in the summer of 1923, the board of education adopted a resolution to build a four room temporary school. This addition gave the Merrill complex a total of 16 rooms and the students housed in the temporary building nicknamed it the "chicken coop."
The board again in the fall of 1924 felt the pinch of overcrowding due to increased enrollments. Their decision was in a referendum for an addition to the 1888 Merrill School. During a special election held in November of 1924, voters were given the opportunity to decide on three proposals - to build a school building, to bond the school district, to increase the educational tax rate from two percent to three percent and the building rate from three fourths percent to one per cent. During the election all three propositions received approval of the voters. As a result in 1925 a new addition was constructed which included 10 classrooms, one study hall and a large auditorium and heating plant.
In 1929 the two frame buildings were condemned and boarded up until the year 1938. Because of increased enrollments the two frame buildings were moved to the present site and combined to make a four room annex called the Merrill Annex. The purpose of moving the frame buildings was to make room for the South Merrill building constructed in 1939. A year prior, the frame building was used to serve four classrooms. In 1939 the building was again condemned and boarded up as unsafe for school pruposes. In 1948, as additional facilities were needed, it was again put into use for classrooms and instrumental music. By 1952 it was converted into a curriculum development room, library and three classrooms. This section to the present time remains known as the frame building. In 1955 the old 1895 four room building was torn down to make room for the Junion High School construction.
W.S. Dimmett was superintendent for many years and he was succeeded by E. I. Lehr. Lehr was administrative head for some 30 years and he was succeeded by Clark Hoot in 1957. Hoot served until 1972 and then one year as school business manager until his retirement in 1973. He was succeeded by Frank A. Dagne, current superintendent of the district school system.
The condemnation of the old Merrill School in 1973 was the beginning of a chain of events which led to the construction of a new $2.2 million Rock Falls Junior High School adn the renovation of the old junior high school which is to serve as the new attendance center for Merrill School students. Following the Merrill condemnation in 1973, MErrill students that fall semester were dispersed to other area school in the Rock Falls Elementary District. In March of this year (1976) the New Rock Falls Junior High opened its doors to accommodate more than 500 students. Renovation work continues at the old junior high and when completed the former Merrill students will occupy the building as a permanent attendance center.
The site of the old 1888 Merrill School building is a graveled playground area for youngsters. One lasting momento,a nd perhaps final tribute to the old historical Merrill building is in the restoration of the old bell which hung in the tower section for so many years. The 114 year old bell was cast by the firm of Brown & White Founders in New York in the year 1862. It weighs between 1500 adn 1800 pounds and among the materials cast in the bell is silver.
In earlier use, Merrill School officials rang the bell four times a day as a "tardy bell." The Rock Falls Elementary board has approved plans to hand and use the old bell after repairs are completed. As perhaps a lasting memorial to the old Merrill building, the old bell in the future will repeat a familiar message heard for so many years in the past, that "Merrill School is in session." [From the Sterling Gazette July 1, 1976]
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