Woods School celebrates 150 years

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Kayla Bunge
Thursday, October 9, 2008
— Betty (Blackwood) Host remembers when Woods School had two rooms—one for first- through fourth-graders and one for fifth- through eighth-graders.

Her first teacher, Miss Watson, "ruled the roost with a wooden ruler." Her second teacher, Miss Yanke, was "very, very nice."

She remembers the year she was excited about the Christmas gift she took to school for another student, but when it was her turn to choose a present, she picked a toothbrush.

Host, 94, of Lake Geneva is perhaps the oldest living person who once attended Woods School, which this year is celebrating its 150th anniversary. The "little country school," as she describes it, is the oldest continually operating school in the state.

The school is marking its anniversary with a community celebration Saturday night and an open house Sunday afternoon.

"We just wanted to give people an opportunity to talk about Woods School, see the school as it is today and learn where we're going in the future," said District Administrator Craig Cook.

Woods School has a tradition of making education a community effort and teaching the basics—reading, writing and arithmetic—to students in the 6 square miles between Lake Como and Geneva Lake, said social studies teacher Phil McMahon.

"(The school) has a family atmosphere," he said. "The sense of community is strong here."

The school began as a small, one-room schoolhouse. Although it has grown, it remains a small school. About 175 students in kindergarten through eighth grade attend Woods School today, Cook said.

Despite open enrollment pressures, school administrators would like the school to stay that way.

"We don't want to get big," Cook said. "We want to keep that small-school feel."

Host said the partnership between community and school started long ago. She remembers when parents were invited to the school once a month for a box social. The events, she said, were the precursor to today's parent-teacher associations.

McMahon said a number of longstanding traditions—such as an all-school Thanksgiving potluck, all-school ski lessons during physical education classes in January and family "bike hikes"—have fostered the sense of community among school families.

"It encompasses the whole feeling of what it is to be Woods School," he said.

Cook said the school is using its 150th anniversary to look ahead.

"We've already been moving forward for a number of years," he said.

The school boasts updated facilities, a baseball diamond, soccer field and playground and up-to-date computer labs and other technology.

Cook said the school's curriculum is advancing, too.

"Some people might call it a basic curriculum … but 6 times 8, you've got to know what that is before you move on," he said, "and we want to continue to expand it."

Cook said although Woods School is steeped in history—and people are proud of that history—the future is what's important.

"An anniversary is one thing," he said, "but where we're going in the future is totally different."


1853: Wisconsin Central Railroad Company receives a charter to build a railroad from the state line at Genoa Junction north through the villages of Geneva, Elkhorn and Whitewater. Irish immigrants, who were hired as construction workers, brought their families to the area. Although the railroad never was completed, many of the families stayed in the area, giving it the name "Irish Woods."

1858: Woods School is established as part of the village of Geneva schools. Lige Marble donated the corner land for the original school property with the stipulation that the land must always be used for school purposes. Part of that original site still is the school grounds.

1886: The original wooden school building is sold to a nearby farmer, who in exchange gives a quarter acre of his farmland to Woods School. A brick building is erected and now serves as the kindergarten room.

1900: An addition is put onto the school and now serves as the art room.

1929: Woods School ends its affiliation with the village of Geneva and becomes an independent district, Geneva Joint No. 4 School District.

1950: A new entrance and two bathrooms are added. A new well is drilled.

1965: Two classrooms and a gym are added. The Walworth County School Committee orders the dissolution of the district so it can be joined with Lake Geneva Joint No. 1 School District. Concerned parents plan a well-organized strategy to fight the order and to bring it to referendum. The referendum defeats the order.

1966: The Walworth County School Committee attempts to detach Linn Township's portion of the district and attach it to Lake Geneva Joint No. 1 School District, but the order is defeated by one vote.

1968: Another attempt by the Walworth County School Committee to form a K-12 district is defeated.

1969: Two classrooms, toilets, a furnace room and an office are added.

1973: Four classrooms and a teachers lounge are added.

2000: A new wing is added and the existing facilities are renovated.

2001: Woods School acquires 4 acres for a new baseball diamond, soccer field and playground.



What: Woods School 150th anniversary celebration

When: 6-10 p.m. Saturday

Where: The Riviera, 812 Wrigley Drive, Lake Geneva.

Cost: Advance tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students ages 6-18. Tickets at the door are $20 for adults and $12 for students.

Open house

What: Woods School 150th anniversary open house

When: 1-4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Woods School, N2575 Snake Road, Lake Geneva.

Last updated: 10:45 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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