One room served many purposes in county's earlier days

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Ginny Hall | December 2, 2013

The former North Heart Prairie School is located on the northeast corner of the intersection of County Highway O and Kettle Moraine Drive in the Town of La Grange.  The school was part of Joint District No. 2 with LaGrange and Whitewater. It was known as Case School and Northside Heart Prairie School. 

James H. Case owned the southwest quarter of section 20 of this township, according to the 1857 Plat Map. The south west corner of that section is the location of this school. Case came from Erie County, NY.  He, his wife, Mary and their sons, James N. and Samuel N. came to this area on May 13, 1849. The sons continued farming in this township.

James N. was an associate town supervisor in 1859 and 1861 to 1862. Samuel N. had that position in 1882 to 1884.

Two schools in this township began in 1840. Mrs. Elijah Worthington taught five children in the North Heart Prairie area.  This school included her family and the Esterly children. One history mentions they were taught in the Worthington covered wagon. This was located just east of the present building.

Elijah and his wife, Emily, came to the area in 1838 with his father and brother Theodore. They also settled in Section 20.  According to Beckwith's History of Walworth County, he applied for a tavern license the next year. Township elections were held in his home. He was an associate supervisor in 1843.

The Esterly name was well known in the township. George Esterly arrived in the area in 1837. He purchased more than 1000 acres and planted about 350 acres in wheat. He quickly decided that it was impossible to raise and harvest this much grain. At that time there was a machine which required four horses and 10 men. Twenty acres could be cut and bound in one day.

Esterly began purchasing harvesting machines and experimenting. Many of those machines proved to be failures. By 1844 he had made a machine which would harvest 10 acres in a half day. 

He tried to get his machine made in Milwaukee and contracted for five machines. However, the “skilled labor" was unable to finish the reapers and he had to stand the cost of $1,200 for this failed venture. Next, he converted his barn into a workshop and proceeded to manufacture the reapers himself. This proved successful.  He obtained his first patent in 1844 and moved his operation to Whitewater in 1857.

Students at another school, began in 1840 in the Round Prairie area of the township, were taught by the wife of Rev. Conabel. On Sundays this building was used for church services. This school district was officially organized on May 1843 at Waterman's store. Unfortunately all early records of this district were burned.

The school house built in 1877 was 30-feet-by-20-feet and had a height of 11 feet.  It was equipped with 106 square feet of blackboard.

In September, 1909. the teacher was Vera Caswell. Her salary was $30 a month for teaching 13 pupils. By the end of the year two additional students were enrolled. In one of her report she indicated that the school had a new stove. The report continued that the curtains were in very poor condition, the blackboards were of cardboard and there were 14 trees on the grounds. 

One of the several WPA projects in the county was pouring a basement in this schoolhouse. In 1948 the teacher was Agnes Malone. The district closed the school in the spring of 1953 and students attended neighboring schools. The building is now a private home.
Ginny Hall, a historian from Delavan, is author of the “Walking around ...” and “Meandering ... ” books, which highlight the history of Walworth County communities.

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