Step back in time at the Freeman School

Pure Nebraska
Published: Jul. 11, 2023 at 11:01 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 11, 2023 at 11:59 AM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - One of many exciting attractions at Homestead National Historical Park is a one-room school where you can learn about the early years of education in Nebraska.

Ranger Jesse Bolli took some time recently to talk with us about the school. “The Freeman School, otherwise known as District 21, or the red brick schoolhouse, was built back in 1872, and was in operation until 1967,” Bolli said. “That’s more than 90 years of continuous operation.”

The one-room schoolhouse was often one of the first buildings constructed in a community. “That was the case with this community,” Bolli said. “Neighbors recognized they needed a good way to educate their youth, so they decided to build a school. There was a man named Tom Freeman who lived nearby. He was no relation to the first homesteader, Daniel Freeman. But, he was able to make the bricks for the school, so these are locally-made bricks. The schoolhouse has served many functions. Just like schools today, in 1872, it was the center of a community. It served as a place for weddings, social events, and people voted there. We’ve restored it back to what it would have looked like in the late 1880′s. Visitors can walk in and think about what it would have been like to have all eight grades in that one-room school, and just one teacher. That schoolhouse averaged around 25 kids, so it was quite a large classroom for just one teacher.”

The school was also a part of a court ruling. “The first homesteader, Daniel Freeman, sued the school board,” Bolli said. “The teacher, Edith Beecher, was opening the day with daily devotions. Daniel Freeman did not feel that was proper in a public school. He sued the school board, and it went to the local courts. The local courts sided with the school board, saying the teacher was doing nothing wrong. Freeman appealed the case to the state Supreme Court, and there the state Supreme Court found in favor of Freeman, saying the teacher was taking it too far, and that there needed to be a separation between the church and the school.”

People from all over the country come to visit the Freeman School today. Nebraskans can often relate to their grandparents or parents attending a one-room school like this. For others who come from far distances, they often marvel at what education must have been like in a one-room school on the prairie. “If people want to visit the school, we usually don’t have the building open, but you can request a ranger to come down and open it up for people any time,” Bolli said.