Sep 11, 2010

Touring Ephraim, Wisconsin

n 1853 Norwegian Moravians settled the picturesque village of Ephraim in the heart of the Door County Peninsula. Ephraim’s heritage has been carefully preserved in more than 30 historical sites throughout the village, 11 are on the National Register of Historic Places.

John and I took a tour of the pretty village in a tram that had a vintage-vehicle look. The tour included the schoolhouse. I spent many years in the classroom and with school starting next week I was reminded of the things that have changed through the years. The schoolhouse in Ephraim is typical of many one-room schoolhouses. One of the other visitors asked the “teacher” how the children got to school to which the teacher replied, “They walked.” “Even in the winter?” responded the visitor. “Yes, of course they walked.” To her horror I added, “In most districts one-room schoolhouses were built so no student had to walk more than five miles one way.”

The conversation made me realize that some parents and children have a hard time envisioning a time when everyone walked to school – both ways but obviously not uphill both ways. I think that is one of the benefits of visiting historical villages. We learn how things have changed and become more appreciative of what we have even if we hanker for a simpler time.

Ephraim’s Pioneer Schoolhouse was built in 1880 and was in use until 1948. Typical of all similar schools there was a water pail and dipper from which everyone drank. Again the visitor beside me who no doubt always has antiseptic lotion handy pointed out, “That would spread disease.”

Most school still have blackboards which were actually boards that were painted black but now schools have white boards and Smart Boards. The Pioneer School owes its existence to Helen Sohn who taught many years at the school. When she heard the school was going to be torn down she organized a group to save it. We all owe a lot to people who take the initiative to save local landmarks.

Later in the day we noticed a group of youngsters dressed in pioneer outfits walking along the street. We met up with them at the 1858 Anderson Store that was family-operated until 1958. Today it is both a museum and store. The students had a list of typical items needed for the “family.” They were part of a weeklong educational program living the pioneer life. I wonder if they could imagine living in one-room log cabin located next to the Pioneer Schoolhouse that was home to a family of seven.

We have visited schools in many countries. In some countries there is a wide range of school facilities. In Yangon, Myanmar we went to a school where American students would feel right at home. It had signs in English that said “Happy Valentine’s Day” and “Don’t Run in the Halls.” But we also visited a school in a remote part of the Myanmar where the classroom was a three-sided building with bamboo walls. But, some things are the same the world over regardless of the time period. Students must pay attention to the teacher and do their work.

Visiting historic villages helps to puts things in perspective and makes me appreciate what I have today.