Weather Forecast


Schools, churches part of display at Pioneer Day

Pierce County Historical Association President John Norquist last week showed a map of the many school districts which used to exist in the county. “Early Rural Schools and Historic Churches of Pierce County” is the theme for an exhibit inside the River Bluffs History Center at Bay City, to be a highlight of this Saturday’s annual Pioneer Day. Photo by Bill Kirk

Photo by Bill Kirk

Pierce County Historical Association President John Norquist last week showed a map of the many school districts which used to exist in the county. “Early Rural Schools and Historic Churches of Pierce County” is the theme for an exhibit inside the River Bluffs History Center at Bay City, to be a highlight of this Saturday’s annual Pioneer Day.

Schools, churches part of display at Pioneer Day

By Bill Kirk

BAY CITY—Few people haven’t attended either a school or a church in their lifetimes and, for most, it’s probably both.

So what could be more fitting for those interested in the past than the theme of a main exhibit at this year’s Pierce County Historical Association (PCHA) Pioneer Day—“Early Rural Schools and Historic Churches of Pierce County”?

The display, undertaken this spring and previewed at an open house earlier this month, is just one part of Pioneer Day festivities scheduled for this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the River Bluffs History Center in Bay City. Wednesday, PCHA President John Norquist credited Pat Wiff and Pat Mory of the organization for putting together the exhibit.

“They threw out some ideas,” Norquist said, mentioning other themes for past exhibits have included historic barns. “They researched old plat books,” he added, noting a favorite historical topic of his own is transportation.

The president admitted to a fondness for churches, especially aware of several which existed in his home area, Diamond Bluff. He said an Episcopal church there claimed a Norwegian-Danish heritage, with preaching done in both languages for special services until 1904. He thought the church might have originally belonged to a Minnesota conference; it kept its heritage intact until 1934.

There was also the Freewill Baptist Church in Diamond Bluff, which first met in that community’s school, he said. Oak Grove was home to a past Presbyterian church in the southern section of that town, while St. Mary’s Big River Catholic Church was originally quartered in a log cabin, he understood. Diamond Bluff’s United Methodist Church, now in the process of closing, had another claim to fame.

“It’s the oldest church in Pierce County,” he said.

Norquist has learned a preacher from Red Wing came into the county and performed church services for the early settlers. Some books indicate early preaching here may have been done by Catholic missionaries, he said. Revival meetings originating in the Twin Cities came out to such places as Diamond Bluff. Many churches once served dinners to voters participating in Election Days.

“All of the little communities had churches at one time,” he said.

The president knew of an early congregation from his home area who traveled down river and climbed Maiden Rock on an outing. He was also aware the center hosting Saturday’s Pioneer Day had formerly been St. John’s Lutheran Church in Bay City, turned over to the PCHA in July of 1995 with conditions, including the altar area must be preserved and the premises must be made available to couples wishing to wed there, among others.

Besides the many photos of churches displayed, including aerial views taken before 1980 by well-known photographer Joe Magnuson, Wiff and Mory have compiled a map which Pioneer Day attendees can examine featuring a cross-reference directory. It’s color-coded, dividing the early churches from the newer ones.

Likewise, a map of all the school districts which originally existed in the county is on exhibit. An 1877 plat map was used for a listing of schools, Norquist said. He has built a model of the Freier School, the schoolhouse presently located on the Pierce County Fairgrounds, and it’s been displayed at past fairs.

From his perspective, the village school in Diamond Bluff dates to 1858 and the log cabin now on the center grounds that was formerly the Conlin School in the Town of Hartland goes back to 1856. It was brought to the Bay City site in 1998 and dedicated on Oct. 1, 2000, a plaque on its front exterior tells.

“We put a new roof on it,” he said about an improvement made since last year’s Pioneer Day. Much of the roof’s cost was paid for by a grant from Fairmount Minerals, he added.

Additionally, organizers are considering installing yet another tent for Saturday’s event, he said. Also new to the attractions will be a woman portraying an early pioneer doctor, complete with uniform and medical kit.

Emphasizing pioneer activities and crafts, the special day focuses on the era up to 1900 and before, he said. There will be live demonstrations for a gathering which attracted over 300 people last year. The seventh annual version promises tatting, crocheting and quilting, spinning, weaving and rug making, ice cream and butter making, soap making, candle making and rosemaling, as well as woodcarving and hewing, and corn shucking.

The president of PCHA since 2006 said he’ll share river lore and pioneer transportation; a sample of the latter is shown by the many depots once existing in the county, plus a special train run to the Minnesota State Fair he’s heard about. Live music is being arranged—some played by area families—and an old-time lunch will be available, along with homemade bakery in the center’s downstairs.

For children, games and crafts are planned, highlighted by an old-fashioned treasure hunt and fish pond. Storytelling, genealogy and other skills and crafts are also on the day’s agenda.

Tickets for an Amish Quilt raffle will be sold during the event, with proceeds going to the PCHA’s museum fund. First prize is a 100-by-140 inch “Country Grape” Boston Commons quilt in blue, green and burgundy, while second prize is $100 and third prize is a choice of PCHA publications. The drawing will be held Sunday, Oct. 6, at 3:30 p.m., part of one of the center’s open houses (winners need not be present).

This month’s open house drew over 25 people, Norquist said. They’re two-day events in the warm-weather season, normally the second weekend of the month, though August’s will be on the third weekend of that month.

Admission is free to Saturday’s Pioneer Day and it will be held rain or shine.

Bill Kirk

Bill Kirk was editor of the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth, from 1988 to February, 2015 and is now on staff as a reporter. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He previously worked in the media distribution department at the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus and is past editor of The Tri-County News in Osseo, Wisconsin.

(715) 273-4334