Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Searching For an Abandoned School

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

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A few years ago, I stumbled on a photo of an abandoned school in Jackson County Wisconsin. And for a while, that’s all I knew about it. When you realize just how many roads there are in a single county, you know that’s not much to go on.

But then, I stumbled on another photo, and this one included a road name! So, now I had a little something to go on.

In the fall of 2012, we decided to spend a couple of days photographing in West Central Wisconsin, so in my planning, I decided to try to find this school on the way. We drove up the interstate in the dark, and at dawn, pulled off to photograph an old mill and school we’ve visited before. (It’s usually my plan to make sure we know where our dawn stop actually is. It’s hard to hunt for something in the dark!)

When the sun came up, we got back on the interstate and headed north. As soon as we hit Jackson County, we got off the interstate again. It was time to start hunting for the abandoned school. We drove quite a ways on the road I thought it was supposed to be on, and didn’t find the school. What we did find was some gorgeous fall color.

Our next opportunity to visit Jackson County was the following fall. We didn’t spend much time there, and again, we didn’t find the school. I’m not even sure that I told Joann we were hunting for it, but we did manage to find a different school. We have to take what we can find.

Along the highway, we also found this old sign for a barbershop. We didn’t see the barbershop in town, or an arrow pointing to where it was located, but it was a cute little sign.

Our collection of Jackson County photographs was growing, but we had to go home again without finding the school.

A year later, as I planned another trip to West Central Wisconsin in the hopes of hitting spectacular fall color, I included more pieces of the road in Jackson County. After all, three times is the charm, right?

And it was! We finally found the school. There was no place to park on the road going past the front of the school, so we found a place to turn around. Then we drove back past the school and pulled off on a small side road a little south of the school. Next to the car, at the end of the road, was this small, cute birdhouse.

Joann walked back down the road to the school, and seeing the condition, decided to take as many photos as possible. The roof is sagging in the middle, and most of the shingles are loose or falling off.

The bell tower is still there, even though the bell is long gone. Just looking at this angle, you can’t tell how badly the school is deteriorating.

Behind the school, at the edge of the woods, is an old outhouse in just as bad of shape. The shingles are covered with moss, and the back is beginning to fall in.

As Joann was processing photos for this blog, she asked me if I could figure out the name of the school. I do have a website I can use, but it only works if I know the exact location of a school. But now, armed with the location, I was able to figure out that this was the Holen School.

If we get near the school again, we’ll check to see how it’s doing, but we’ll know that if it falls, or is demolished by the landowner, we did it justice in photographs while we could.

We are so appreciative of those things we find still standing along the backroads. Wisconsin isn’t especially known for its preservation efforts, especially rural buildings, so we take those whenever we can find them. We hope you also appreciate seeing our history here.

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Happy Shunpiking!


  1. Thanks for preserving this little piece of rural life of yesteryear! 'Love your work.

  2. Glad you found the old school time to record with pictures. :) Love the Birdhouse & Sign! :D

  3. Great story, Ruth! It's clear that you have as much fun researching for your trips as Joann has taking the photos!