History of Grinnell Public Schools

From the GHS 1945 Yearbook

To write the history of the Grinnell Public Schools is, practically, to write the history of the Grinnell Community. Ten school buildings have been built since 1854. In that year ten men contributed fifteen dollars each to erect a building 16×24 to serve, temporarily, for both church and school. This was the fourth structure in town.


J.B. Grinnell directed the construction. On Monday morning the trees were standing in the forest. They were felled, cut, squared and sawed into boards. On the following Sunday the building was ready for church service. True, the green lumber warped and twisted. Wind and rain and sun penetrated freely. But where the Stewart Library is now located, stood the first school.

That September Lucy Bixby, assisted by her sister, Louise, opened the first term of public school.

The second building was more pretentious. It was a structure 40×40 and stood on the present site of the Senior High School. It was ready for use by the fall of 1856. It was built by a tax levy, thus forcing some of the land speculators to contribute toward local improvements.

The outstanding personality of these early days was Prof. L.F. Parker, who was the first superintendent. He served from 1856-60 and the first year he, by himself, taught all classes from Primary through High School. At that time the pioneer school was a treadmill of the 3 R’s. But not Prof. Parker’s school! He made children eager to learn. He introduced them to the larger world. He made the school room and the school lessons vital.

Prof. Parker was an Oberlin graduate and was intensely interested in the abolition of slavery. When his friend, John Brown, drove up to the school, Parker permitted the youngsters to scurry out and see this much talked man. There he sat on the wagon, cold, stern, silent, while between the cracks of the wagon cover could be seen the wooly heads and flashing black eyes of his passengers.

On February 24, 1871, fire destroyed this historic “second” building, then housing 350 pupils. A new one was quickly built and by fall school opened as usual. Eight thousand dollars insurance plus a tax levy furnished the funds. However, the old school bell which had been carried across the prairies had been lost in the fire.

The first graduation in Grinnell High School was in 1869. John Valentine was the principal. During the early years classes were small in the upper grades. By 1877 the total number of all graduates was only 45. That year Edna and Lizzie Davis graduated. They spent their lives teaching in the Grinnell Public Schools and the elementary school on Hamilton Avenue is named in their honor. Prof. S.J. Buck was president of the Board of Education.

The “fourth” building was South School, built in 1877. It stood at the corner of Hamilton and Broad. The “fifth” building was Northwest School, built in 1882, standing at the corner of Spring Street and Sixth Avenue. This building was destroyed by fire and the present Parker School was erected in 1896 and named in honor of Prof. Parker.

The “seventh” building was erected in the northeast part of town in 1899. It was named in honor of Colonel Cooper, who was Commandant of the Grinnell troops in the Civil War.

Although facilities were meager and equipment was poor, much excellent work was done. In 1902 Grinnell High School became the first school in the State of Iowa to be accredited by the North Central Association of College and Secondary Schools. In that same year three young Grinnell athletes won the first Alonzo Stagg Invitational Track meet at the University of Chicago. Kindergartens were established in the early nineties. It was one of the first schools in the state to adopt a free textbook system. Although not a consolidated school, there has always been a very large number of pupils enrolled from the rural area.

In 1904 the present Senior High School building was erected, the old building having been moved to the present site of the Junior High Building. In 1917 Davis Building was constructed. In 1921 the “tenth” building, the present Junior High School, was added, containing a community auditorium and Henely Gymnasium.

More important than the buildings have been the characters and personalities of the teachers and administrators who have conducted these schools. Beyond a doubt Eugene Henely, in his 23 years as superintendent, did more for the Grinnell Public Schools than any one man. However, each and all have left their imprints and their contributions on these schools. The school system is, indeed, a community product.

List of Superintendents

1856- 1860L.F. Parker1886-1890W.G. Ray
1860-1870John Valentine1890-1901George Cowden
1870-1874Richard Snell1901-1905D.A. Thornburg
1874-1880A.C. Hart1905-1928Eugene Henely
1880-1882A.T. Free1928-1936C.E. Humphrey
1882-1884O.F. Emerson1936-1937V.D. Patterson
1884-1886A.C. Hart1937-R.A. Hawk

Grinnell College

No description of the Grinnell Community would be complete without reference to Grinnell College. The educational life of this city has revolved around the influence and inspiration of the college. The college had brought to the town an educational heritage that has been unmeasurable. We are proud that Grinnell College is a strong and important part of our community.

In June, 1946, Grinnell College will celebrate its One Hundredth Anniversary. It has always been a “pioneer” educational institution. It was the first 4-year liberal arts college west of the Mississippi. Its list of achievements in higher education is much too long to be included in this brief reference.

Grinnell College has an excellent educational plant with very adequate housing and teaching accommodations. Its student body is drawn from all the 48 states. Its curriculum is progressive in that it is based upon educational objectives rather than mechanical course requirements.. A scientifically planned guidance system assures that the educational plan will be individualized to the student. A student- professor ration of 10-1 assures that such plan will be carried out.

We of the public schools wish to thank Grinnell College and its president, Dr. Samuel Nowell Stevens, for the generous co-operation we have received. May the College Centennial be one of the great Community events of this Century.