Preservation Commission documents rural churches and schools

The Muscatine County Historic Preservation Commission has documented rural churches and schools across the county and will soon make their findings available via MAGIC.

MUSCATINE, Iowa–Since announcing their survey of country churches and schools in February, the Muscatine County Historical Preservation Commission has made strides in documenting each of these institutions across the country. Their research continues to reveal details of early life in Muscatine County and will soon make it readily accessible to the general public and those conducting genealogical research.

In June, the commission received a Certified Local Grant which allowed them to hire Leah Rogers of Tallgrass Archeology to assist in their efforts. Together, they then analyzed plat maps of each of Muscatine’s townships from as far back as 1874 to determine the locations of each of Muscatine County’s rural churches and schools. This process revealed that from 1874 to 1930, Muscatine County had about 60 rural churches and 130 rural schools in operation at various points. “It gave us a great picture,” shared Muscatine County Historical Preservation Commission member Jane Daufeldt: “Our first schools started in the early 1850s. Many were in log cabins or homes.”

Once the commission had collected this historical data, they then used the Muscatine Area Geographic Information Consortium, or MAGIC, to find the exact location of each of these sites today. In early November, after farmers completed the harvest, 15 volunteers traveled to each of the sites they identified to see what remained of the churches and schools. These physical investigations revealed that while many of the historic churches still stand and in some cases continue to operate, most of the schools no longer exist, removed by farmers or developers to make way for fields or new buildings. “Only a handful or maybe 10 are still there,” noted Daufeldt.

In some cases, more recent land owners have repurposed these rural schools. The commission found that several landowners had converted schools on their property into homes, while one creative farmer had turned one into a grain bin.

With this stage of their research complete, the commission will now focus on officially marking the location of each rural church and school and in preserving as much information about each site as possible. They have begun the work of adding each historical site to MAGIC, and plan to make these sites public in 2021 with a new layer on MAGIC titled “Muscatine County Historic Facilities.” In the future, the commission would like to place a historical marker at each location, though fundraising for these plaques has not begun yet.

As the commission works to make information about all of the county’s rural churches and schools more easily accessible, they welcome the public’s help in gathering additional details. If you or a relative has personal stories about any of the county’s rural churches or schools, or memorabilia that would help share their stories (such as documents, photos of baptisms, graduations, weddings, etc.) they would appreciate your sharing them. They request anyone with such artifacts share them by photographing or scanning them and emailing them using one of the addresses listed on their webpage.

With the commission working to make their research public within the first half of 2021, Daufeldt hopes it will help people learn about their family histories and gain insight into the county’s colorful past. “We’re rich with lots of history,” she emphasized.