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Going old school on travels across Minnesota

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Going old school on travels across Minnesota

When I’m traveling across Minnesota, through towns large and small, it’s always worth a stop when a community — through determination or luck — has managed to hang on to an old school building.

Those old schools may be boarded up or falling apart. They may be completely renovated into apartments or a home or some other use. But no matter their present state, they have stories to tell.

A former school building with a cupola

The former public school in Darfur, Minn., as seen in June 2024. The building dates back to 1906.

Andrew Krueger | MPR News file

In the inscriptions, and the scale of the buildings, and the craftsmanship — you can see the pride that a town took 75, 80, 100 years ago or more in providing the best possible education for their children and grandchildren.

An old school building with the windows boarded up

The former public school in Lake Bronson, Minn., as seen in August 2021. The last class graduated from Lake Bronson High School in 1968, before the district merged with Karlstad. It’s now part of the Tri-County school district.

Andrew Krueger | MPR News file

In towns that were small back then, and far smaller now, old schools may be the last remaining significant vestige of a once-vibrant community.

And if you stand still and listen closely, you might hear the echoes of generations of students and teachers on the wind.

An abandoned school building with broken windows

The former public school in Freeborn, Minn., as seen in November 2020.

Andrew Krueger | MPR News file

This post includes images of five old school buildings from around Minnesota — in the communities of Avoca, Burtrum, Darfur, Freeborn and Lake Bronson.

Did you or your relatives attend any of these schools and if so — do you have any stories or history or photos to share?

And there are many, many other old schools to be found across the state. Is there another one, in some corner of Minnesota, that means a lot to you?

Send your stories or suggestions to me at akrueger@mpr.org, for possible inclusion in a future post.

And if you go out exploring on your own, remember that most of these old schools are private property, and possibly unsafe to enter.

An old brick school building with a cupola on top

The former public school in Avoca in southwestern Minnesota — built in 1894, and used for classes until 1970 when the school consolidated with districts from larger nearby towns. It’s pictured here in March 2021. The school is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Andrew Krueger | MPR News file

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