By Ruth A. Ringelstetter
Along a well-traveled stretch of road, north of Bettendorf, Iowa, sits the old Forest Grove one-room school. The school was built circa 1873 and the doors closed on the last class in 1957. The school then became the property of the Blunk family, who farmed the land surrounding it.
From the first time I saw a picture of it and shared it with Joann, we knew we had to find a way to visit it before it was too late.
In June of 2011, I tried to make it part of a trip that included visiting our niece in Bettendorf. We left home in the early afternoon with a long list of locations to visit along the route to our motel. As usual, we were running late as we neared the area, so we had to pass it by.
Then as we planned our October trip to Iowa, Joann asked if we could be sure to include this school. We never have a definite location in mind for our fall trip, so I said yes, and then set about planning a route that would include this school. My plan was to visit the school on our way home.
We arrived at the school in the late afternoon on Sunday and, luckily, the lighting was cooperative. The school has a very ornate name plate on the front, and pieces of the lettering are beginning to fall away. The foundation on both sides has mostly crumbled away and the building is beginning to bow in the middle.
The floor inside is unsafe and the original bell tower is long gone. The empty frames of old swing sets sit on both sides of the school.
We always wish that someone would save these old architectural treasures. In this case, that might actually happen. The school has stood silent and waiting for 55 years. Now the wait might be coming to a close.
Delbert Blunk, who owned the school until his death in 2011, attended the school in the 1930s, as did his two older sons. In the 1970s, long after the school was closed, his daughter and her friends played in the school. At that time, the school still had windows, desks, and a chalkboard. Delbert always thought that he would like to restore the school, but he was a farmer, and tending to the land always came first.
As I started my research for this post, I found that there has been a flurry of activity in the last month to save the school. A Forest Grove Preservation web page has been put together with history of the school and an option to make a donation to save the school.
The school has appeared multiple times in the Quad-city Times with stories about the school and the efforts to save it. All of this is good news. An architect has examined the school and will be submitting a report, but his indications are that the school is unique and can be saved.
The most immediate need is to stabilize the school before it falls in on itself. Even if grants are available, they might not be available in time.
The school has long been a destination for photographers, and we would be so happy if it was saved. We’re glad that we went to visit it, and that we have it recorded in photos, but we would be thrilled to visit it again after it is restored.
As you travel the backroads, and the not so back roads, enjoy the history around you. You never know how long it will be there.