Pella’s Webster Schools; Consigned to History

This was the original Webster School building as seen in 1936. This school was constructed in 1875 and was located just west of the second, recently-demolished building, at the corner of Broadway and Peace Streets. 

The school and its surrounding yard and board walks occupied the southwest quarter of the block. The block was divided by an alley running north and south with the Baptist church on the northwest quarter. A Methodist church was on the southeast corner and houses on the remainder of the block.  

The building contained 8 large rooms, a library and spacious hall allowing quiet transitions between classes. It was heated by a modern furnace and rooms supplied with stylish furniture. The entire cost was $25,000. 

 

During the Centennial year of the United States was when this tall two story building of red Pella manufactured  brick was finished. It was trimmed with white limestone and topped with a magnificent bell tower. There were wide double doors on both the north and the south sides and tall narrow windows.

Excited students, approximately half the kids in town, posed in the windows and out front for this turn of the century photo. 

During the early years,  the upper floor was used for the high school plus seventh and eighth grades. The lower grades were on the first floor. In the lifetime of the school, various grades used the rooms from kindergarteners through high school students. 

About 1910, flush toilets were installed in the basement , and the outdoor toilets on the north side of the school yard were torn down. 

A portion of the basement was remodeled as a dressing room for athletic teams after the inside plumbing was added around 1910. There wasn’t a door yet to this area but the students used a window to get in and out of the locker room. 

The Webster School bell is now located in the 2nd Reformed Church Steeple. 

(The original clapper was stolen as a prank and never recovered. )

Moving Day April 1952,

215 pupils; 11 teachers and Principal Bob Robinson left the 76-year old building and went into the new $250,000 modern grade school.  The new and old building were just 10 feet apart. The old building was torn down and the basement filled with dirt to become part of the playground. (Oskaloosa Daily Herald, 4-5-1952)

In 1949 John LaGrange Yourd wrote the old Webster building was dangerous with worn stairs, poor ventilation and deficient lighting and not fire resistant. 

In 1949, by an 81% majority, the taxpayers approved a bond issue for $200,000. The school board bought the south east quarter of the block and the children began watching a new school being built. Money in the school house fund was added to the bond money to pay the final bills for new Webster at $242,996.97. It faced busy Highway 163, each motorist slowing down for the new school zone. 

The new building had a junior high wing, with 4 classrooms, a multi-purpose room for hot lunch and physical education classes. Seven classrooms for elementary grades and kindergarten were located in the other wing.

Starting in 1980 the school was used for children from Kindergarten – 5th grade. Before it closed it held kindergarten – 3rd grade classes. 

The school district closed this school after building Madison Elementary. It was then sold to Central College and used as offices for the facility depts. and storage.  

Central sold the property and building in 2018 for a exclusive condominium housing development. 

Webster School before demolition
Condominium Development plan for the historical Webster School site

Special memories of Webster School from Jennifer…

When I asked on Facebook about memories of Webster School , most remembered walking from the middle school,  which is now the Pella Community Center, to Webster for hot lunch. A block long journey through all types of weather, for many students this was a refreshing break from the classroom walls.  

Although I was a Lincoln student and so was my mom, I had many friends who went to Webster. We all met up in 5th grade at Lincoln School before moving on to Jr. High in 6th grade. Lincoln and Webster seemed slightly competitive in considering who was the best. I always thought the smartest kids went to Lincoln but they had the nerve to call us “stinkin Lincoln”. 

My sons attended Webster School in the 1990’s. We felt that the small elementary school had very caring teachers. It seemed that the school resonated with the heart of supportive and nurturing education. 

There were two teachers for each of the grade levels of first through third. Mrs. Ballenger taught  Kindergarten in a large addition on the end of the south hall.  There were also several teachers that worked in the building from  the AEA, traveling from school to school. The support staff, the janitor and cooks were very considerate and the kids treated them like family.  The office on the corner of the two wings was where a very organized secretary and nurturing principal kept things running smoothly. These people will always be very special to me as they helped me navigate the world of parenting. 

I suppose that any building can hold this level of enriched learning but Webster School was small and non threatening to the tiny children just entering a world away from their parents. The rooms and halls had many windows allowing the sunshine to brighten the day. The large gym that was located in the center, allowed for lunch,  assemblies and playtime during PE.  The office sat at the corner, where Gail and Donna could see down each hall and greet every child so they felt very safe and knew where to go for special needs. The rooms were colorful and large, holding around 25 kids comfortably. The playground was big and open for a lot of running and fun. 

A funny thing that happened that I felt  could only happen in Pella, was my oldest son was left off of the class list on the first day of kindergarten. We registered him when the time came in August but since our Dutch name is usually associated with the private Christian School across town, it was thought that through family pressure it would never happen for him to attend public school. So, just a bit of excitement on the first day! 

I visited both schools the year before our oldest son would start school.  Webster reflected our education goals and personality more than the school we were expected to attend.

   Webster School  embraced parent participation. As that first year progressed, the kindergarten field trip was a “farm visit to our home”. A day we will always treasure.  After a caring neighbor  invited me to become involved I joined the PTO.  I eventually became a chair person on the Parent Teachers Organization board  during the years our boys were in Webster School. 

Webster School will always be a memory of happiness for our family, and for many in our community.  

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