St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sunrise Ferry School

 Sunrise Ferry School
    We excerpt this story from St Croix Falls resident, Rosemarie Vezina Braatz’s excellent book St. Croix Tales and Trails with her permission.  This is an excellent book that is full of pictures and local history!  The log school house referred was moved to Evergreen Avenue in about 1910, and in 1914 replaced by a frame building that still stands in the Sterling Barrens two miles east of the St Croix River on Evergreen Av.  Mom, Alberta, went to that school in the 1930s.  What we have is a school teacher's account in her own words.  The Orr family lived across from my cabin on Orr Lake, a few miles northwest of Cushing, WI in far NW Polk County.  Maggie Orr taught her first term of school at the site of the Sunrise Ferry, on the Wisconsin side of the River, not far from where she was raised, in Sterling Township. She was just 17 years of age. This is her story:

Click on the pictures for a larger view.
Original Sunrise Ferry School WI bank
at the Ferry Site on the St. Croix River West Sterling

Country School Teacher--by Maggie Orr O'Neill.  

It was September 1, 1889. I had finished the country school not far from my home and had attended grammar school for two terms to pre­pare for teaching. I applied for a little school about 11 miles from my home called the Sunrise Ferry School. It was near the ferry on the St. Croix River, which took folks over into Minnesota where they could go to the little town of Sunrise a mile or more from the river.

Ferry School was taken apart and moved to
Evergreen Av after disgruntled voters failed to
get permission to move it at the annual
school meeting--they just went ahead and
move d it anyway!
The families there were mostly Swedish and none wanted to board the school Ma'am. I rented a small room in the Martinson home one and one-quarter miles from school for $1 a week and furnished my own food. I could make tea or coffee on their kitchen range if I wished.

The schoolhouse was a hewn-log construction about 16 feet x 20 feet, which was banked all around with dirt for the winter season. There was a big iron box stove three feet long at the north end that burned jack pine wood pieces two feet long.

The teacher's desk was homemade, two feet by three feet, with a kitchen chair for a seat. The blackboard was four wide boards painted black and nailed against the wall. There were 10 long seats with a long desk in front of each made of unpainted lumber. The lower ones were in the front for the smaller children and the larger ones in the back.
Mom, Alberta Hanson and parents Eugene Hanson and
Nettie Carnes lived in the old Blair homestead in the
1930s in West Sterling.  Vertical log construction.
Located on Cowan Creek--buildings all gone. 

Grandma Carne's family ran the Sunrise Ferry from about
1909 until the early 1940s when it washed downstream.
Bootlegger;s had big cars to haul moonshine from the
barrens to the Twin Cities. The girls who ran the ferry
have all passed away now--and Mom is 90. Grandma
and brother Elza ran it in 1909. 
The barrens roads were "rustic." 
There was a long bench on which to set the dinner buckets and the pail of drinking water carried from a neighbor's farm about one-half mile away. Two long benches in the front of the room were for recitation classes. There was an alarm clock for timing and a bell for calling the children in from recess. The water to clean the school once a month was carried from the river, and I was the janitor.

The 38 children were of ages 5 to 17. The majority were from real old country Swedish families. The women spun their own wool and made their own clothing. The children had more than one pair of home-knit stockings to wear in their wooden shoes, which were lined up outside and were brought inside for the cold months.

From the November 20, 1913 Standard-Press: "Miss Lucy Orr, a school teacher near Grantsburg, while on her way to school last week, killed a Jack Rabbit that weighed 13 pounds."
The food in the tin dinner pails was mostly bread and meat, (or lard with plenty of salt sprinkled on it), was frozen nearly every morning in November on the way to school and often the drinking water also. Then children wore homemade footwear, moccasins, etc., but mostly sheep hide with wool inside for warmth and com­fort.

There were four Indian (half breed) children in moccasins who were eager and quick to learn. They expressed a great liking for me and I returned that affection. I loved all my pupils and never had any trouble, even with the older ones.

Perhaps I should mention that head lice was very prevalent in those days and I had to send notes home to par­ents with the suggestion that they might try kerosene in which to wash the children's hair.
The subjects taught were arith­metic, reading, spelling, language, writing, geography and constitution. The students ranged from the ABC class to a class of several who studied lessons from my own books. Those days most eighth graders didn't move on; they stayed and used the teacher's books.

I walked the one and three-quarter miles to school and back to my room Monday through Friday, with some of the children joining me as I went along through the woods. On Friday afternoon I walked the 11 miles to my home. I wore long skirts, high-but­toned shoes and never less than two petticoats. The first six miles were through heavy, dark, yellow-pine country with just a narrow wagon road and red sand almost ankle deep. There was no chance to walk outside the road because of brush and stickers.
I saw squirrels, rabbits and beautiful deer but not a living soul and I tried to hurry along to reach home before dark. The last five miles there would be a farmer's house every mile or so. When snow came in November my father or a brother came for me on Friday with a big team of horses and sled. Sunday they took me back with enough food to last a week.

During this month, I would, with help from the largest boys, keep a big pile of wood inside on which to dry our wet clothing after walking to school. We always carried extra things to wear when we arrived. Some of the older boys walked ahead through the three to five feet of snow to try to make a track for me and others. There were no plowed roads and the weather many Novembers was 30 degrees below zero. Then I wore heavy-lined skirts, not less than three yards around the bottom, several petticoats and heavy boots. I kept an extra all-wool petticoat at the school to put on when I reached there after going through snow and ice almost to my knees. I let the children out at 3:30 then because some lived two miles away.

The first year we had school in September, October and November, and then vacation and school again for April, May and June. I received $25 per month. My second year at Sunrise I received $27.50 per month and taught seven months.

The Martinson family, with whom I stayed the year before, had moved so I went to the Joe Lundquist home far­ther from school. I had a nice little room with a south window, a bed frame and a small table. My corn-husk mattress just filled the three-quarter-size bunk. I paid $1.50 per week, boarded myself and was very happy. But there were times, at night, when a mother would sing Swedish lullabies to a baby that I would feel lonely. I did learn to understand, to speak and even to sing in Swedish while living with those families.

My third year there in 1891-1892, I received $30 per month for eight months, which was much more than the average teacher was getting. That year I boarded with the Lundquists for $10 per month. I averaged between 32 and 40 children of all ages in the Sunrise Ferry School.

The first little log school at Sunrise Ferry, the friendly people and the love of all my students there gave me the happiest memories of all my teaching years.


Want to know more about the Sunrise Ferry?  The Carnes Ferry girls wrote a booklet on it that the Sterling Eureka and Laketown Historical society has copies of for sale at $5  each.  Two summers ago, I gave a last tour of the ferry area to Lila, the last of Mom's cousins who ran the ferry in the 1930s.  She passed away last year.   Someone borrowed the ferry charter from her, and never gave it back again--so I can't just go start a new ferry at the site without finding it ;-)   contact SELHS  Box 731 Cushing, WI 54006 or