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A lesson in history for Iowa children a century ago

Sometimes it takes more than a century for history to repeat itself.

I read with some interest a short article last week, detailing the fact that the Hamilton County Conservation group is constructing log cabins at Little Wall Lake, which lies alongside U.S. Highway 69 just south of Jewell.

That’s within a stone’s throw of where Norwegian immigrant John Hildahl settled with his family just west of Highway 69 on Highway 175. They left their home in Odda, a small Norwegian community located near the North Sea on the Hardangerfjord and followed other Norwegians to a part of Iowa that is known for its many Scandinavian settlers.

The Hildahls’ oldest daughter, Hattie – who would later become my maternal grandmother – began her education in the fall of 1905, attending a country school located just a few miles from home. The school was a one-room log cabin on the shores of Little Wall Lake.

My grandmother, who grew to adulthood in the Jewell area and married Charlie Knox, a Scotsman also from Jewell, raised 11 children and countless grandchildren (I say “countless” because I have trouble figuring the exact number of first cousins I have).

In addition to her gardening, my grandmother wrote poetry (quite well, I might add), but she loved sitting with any number of her grandchildren and recounting stories of her childhood, of her Norwegian heritage and of her school days. As was the case with many of her generation, schooling wasn’t considered as important for girls as it was for boys, and my grandmother never finished high school, leaving school for work while still in her early teens.

One of my personal favorites of the many stories she told dealt with the one-room log school on the banks of Little Wall Lake.

The primitive old school was small, a door on the north side and a single window facing the lake the only openings to the outside world for a handful of tots.

While there was the normal reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, the stern old school ‘marm’ also found it worthwhile to share some of life’s experiences with her students, ranging in age from 5 to 14.

“I remember one day the teacher told us to come quickly to the window,” my grandmother told me one day. “So, we all rushed over and looked out and we saw several Indians coming to the other side of the lake to fetch water. We saw that on several occasions, but the first time was the best.

“It was an amazing experience for a little girl.”

Today, we can only imagine such a sight.

And, the log cabins being built there now will forever remind me of the story my grandmother told of her experience at Little Wall Lake.

(Bill Haglund is a writer with Stephens Media.)

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