Marathon County Historical Society- home of the Yawkey House Museum & The Woodson History Center.
Although it’s now a living history museum, the Little Red Schoolhouse in Marathon Park once was an actual schoolhouse. It was built in 1894 in the Town of Stettin at the junction of highways O and U. The school was situated on the crest of a rounded hill, which sloped in all four directions and had a concave spot in the shape of a spoon. It became known as the Spooner School.
After Spooner School closed in 1962, it became the focus of a unique group of partners with a vision for an experiential museum. The Wausau Public School District donated the building to the Marathon County Park Commission. In 1964, Schuette Movers transported the school 6 miles to its present site at the east end of Marathon Park. The Park Department built the stone foundation and continues to own and provide exterior maintenance for the building. The Altrusa Club of Wausau maintained the interior until the club disbanded in 2018.
With the Marathon County Historical Society, Altrusa also helped provide “A Day in the Life of a One-Room School” program. Fourth-grade classes from across the county are invited to dress in period costume, pack lunch in a pail, and experience a typical school day circa 1904.
A typical day in a one-room school in the early 1900s began when the teacher arrived to fire up the heating stove, fetch drinking water, and finish preparing lessons. At 8 a.m., the teacher rang the bell to signal the start of the school day. The flag was raised and the Pledge of Allegiance said. Then students formed two lines – one for girls and one for boys – to process inside.
One teacher might be responsible for up to 40 students in eight different grade levels. Students were divided into groups according to grade. The teacher explained the lessons to one group while other groups worked on other assignments. Students attended school until they had passed eighth grade.
Many rural schools did not have electricity until the 1940s. Typical fixtures included the wood- or coal-burning stove, an American flag, chalkboards, framed prints of George Washington, maps of the United States, and wood-and-cast iron student desks. Bathroom facilities were the standard outhouse.
Students used slates and slate pencils for most in-class assignments, except for practicing their penmanship with paper, pen and India ink.
The standard text for reading was the McGuffy Reader. These 19th century textbooks not only helped children learn to read; they gave farm children a classical and moral education.
Many old one-room schools have been torn down or remodeled into dwellings. However, a few have been restored as museums. The Little Red Schoolhouse in Marathon Park is open to the public one day during the Wisconsin Valley Fair each summer, and continues to offer county fourth-graders “A Day in the Life” experiences every spring and fall.