WASIOJA — The building has been standing since before the South fired on Fort Sumter.
Today, the Dodge County Historical Society is hoping to return the Wasioja School to its former glory and find a new use for the historic building a few miles west of Mantorville.
"We'd like to see it utilized more in a public way as a county historic site the public could visit," said Donald Westfall, the executive director of the DCHS.
The Minnesota Historical Society has approved a $9,998 Minnesota Historical and Cultural Heritage Small Grants award for the DCHS to hire a historical building architect to conduct a condition assessment of the Wasioja School.
Before 1860, a wood-frame school served the students in Wasioja, educating the growing community's children. But the old building didn't have the space needed as the town grew. So the school district and the town came together to construct a new building that showed Wasioja's commitment to education, Westfall said.
The new school was built by Andrew Doig and his brothers — Scots who migrated to the region from Canada. The brothers used their skills as stonemasons to build the limestone school, beginning in 1858 and finishing in 1860. Andrew Doig's home is also part of the Wasioja Historical District.
"The fact that it dates back to the early years, in the late 1850s, when Dodge County was established and when Minnesota was transitioning from territory to state is significant," Westfall said. "It demonstrated the commitment the citizens of Wasoija were willing to make."
At the time, Wasoija had about 1,000 residents and was vying to become the county seat. But that didn't happen. Then the railroad went to Kasson. And when only one man returned from the city's volunteers to the Civil War — the city began to wane.
After nearly 100 years, the school was closed and the building was eventually purchased by Dodge County. Westfall said the school served the community into the 1950s when Wasioja Township School District 20 was consolidated with Dodge Center.
Today, the building is used for two purposes. The DCHS uses the second floor, where grades five through eight used to get instruction, as storage for historical materials, everything from period clothing and old school desks to the bell that used to ring in the cupola of the school.
The first floor is home to Wasioja Township Board monthly meetings. During its time as a school, the main floor was home to first through fourth grades.
Westfall said the grant from the state is part of the first phase of the renovation process for the school. After an assessment is made by an architect, phase two will see the development of specific restoration plans for the building.
The main concerns, Westfall said, are the exterior of the building, especially the roof, the windows, repainting and perhaps some landscaping.
The third phase would include the actual restoration work. Westfall said he hopes each phase can be finished in successive years so that the school becomes a historical exhibit where visitors can come see the school as it existed in history.
"The second floor isn't very accessible to the public," Westfall said. "Any historical interpretation would need to be done on the first floor."
Eventually, the plan is to add a visitor center for the whole Wasioja Historical District, where people could learn about all six stops in the town — the Andrew Doig House, the Civil War recruiting station, the ruins of the former Wasioja Seminary, the Wasioja Baptist Church and the former limestone quarry.