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The Restoration of Reed School

Neillsville, Wisconsin

Historic image of Reed School.

Before 1960, most rural Wisconsin kids were educated in a one-room school, like the Reed School near Neillsville. One-room schools reflect a less mobile, more rural time in our history. Their low student-to-teacher ratio allowed for individualized learning and the wide diversity of ages provided opportunities for older students to help younger ones. These are attributes schools today find desirable but difficult to achieve.

Gordon Smith's memories of attending first grade at the Reed School were the catalyst leading to its restoration and reopening as the Wisconsin Historical Society's 10th historic site. Through the generosity of Gordon and Helen Smith of Potomac, Maryland, Reed School is again an educational institution — a recreated one-room school where today's students can experience a day in the life of a rural 1940s pupil. Smith funded the top-to-bottom restoration of the school. His family foundation also will provide an endowment to fund the school's educational programming and ongoing maintenance ensuring its continuation into the future.

Reed School during restoration.

Smith hired Isthmus Architecture, Inc. of Madison to design the restoration and oversee construction. In cooperation with staff from the Wisconsin Historical Society, Isthmus completed preservation plans and construction drawings in less than four months. Twelve months of construction followed, as workers gave the school a cedar shingle roof and repaired windows, doors and masonry. Architects also designed a wheelchair accessible entrance tucked on the rear of the school.

Detail of Reed School restoration.
As decades of overgrowth were removed, the original baseball field and outhouse emerged, and a new sustainable composting toilet facility found its place.

On the interior, Isthmus documented finishes and wall colors, which workers replicated. Tin ceilings, plaster walls, and woodwork regained their original luster as tradespeople discretely added modern mechanical, electrical and security systems. Original furnishings were restored, and appropriate period furnishings added, to recreate the appearance of the Reed School in the 1940s.

A gala celebration took place on June 10, 2007 to rededicate Reed School as the Wisconsin Historical Society's first 20th century era historic site. Check out the current Reed School visitor information to plan a visit or set up a school tour.

Interior of Reed School after restoration.
Interior of Reed School
after restoration.
Exterior of Reed School after restoration.
Exterior of Reed School after restoration.


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