The history of the Little Red Schoolhouse
TINA L. SCOTT
It began as a new one-room schoolhouse in 1904 and was first known as the District #1 School in the Town of Hamburg, Wisconsin, within the Athens School District. It was a wood-frame structure with a bell tower, with pine siding and Michigan cedar shingles for the roof. It was painted white and completed with the placement of the National Bell – Cast 22, Foundry CIN-O bell in the tower.
The new school replaced the one-room school built of logs that sat just to the west and had served as both school and church (when a “circuit rider” traveling pastor would come to preach), that was built in 1870 when area settlers met and decided they needed a school.
The new school was ready in time for the seven-month 1904-1905 school term. Mr. Gust Thompson was the first school teacher to teach in the new building, earning $40 per month, and the building was heated using a wood stove, so his first duty of the day was to build a fire in the stove to warm the building before the children arrived. According to the 1904 school census, 75 children (ages 19 and under) resided in the district, among them Herbert, Walter, Edward, John, Henry, Clara, and Erna, the younger children of Fred Fromm. (His oldest son, Arthur, was over 19.)
In 1907, the Town passed a resolution to make the school term eight months long, and in 1913, the school’s first well was drilled.
In 1919, the school was officially named Maple Grove School.
Many families in the area contributed to the success of the school and its expansion and growth over the years. The most notable family to do so was the Fromm family, and at least four of Fred Fromm’s sons continued their education beyond the 8th grade to become teachers for at least a time. Arthur, the oldest, even earned a Master’s Degree. The Fromm family considered education to be a high priority. Edward and Walter Fromm each taught for a time, but ultimately each returned home to Hamburg to join brothers, John and Henry, to pursue their dream of raising foxes. The Fromm Brothers enterprise was born.
In 1928, Edward Fromm paid $100 to have electric lighting installed in the school and later paid to dig a new well in 1936. In 1938, the school term increased to nine months.
In the late 1940’s, the Fromm Brothers donated $45,000, and Hamburg District #1 raised $5,000, to modernize the building and to add bathrooms, a multi-purpose room, and a full lower level kitchen to Maple Grove School. The Fromm Brothers started providing hot meals and bussing for students.
In 1949, the school was painted red and became known as the “Little Red Schoolhouse.”
Maple Grove School was sometimes referred to as the “Fromm School,” and due to the Fromm Brothers’ contributions, Maple Grove School was recognized throughout the state as a model modern one-room rural school. In 1952, three schools in Hamburg, among them Hamburg School District #1 (Maple Grove School) petitioned to join the Merrill School District in Lincoln County in pursuit of better opportunities for their children to seek secondary education. Maple Grove and the District #2 schools were approved and joined what is now the Merrill Area Public School (MAPS) District.
Kindergarten started at Maple Grove in 1957, under the guidance of Mrs. Arlene Teske. (Generations of students would come through her kindergarten and first grade classrooms and learn to read and write under her kind guidance over the years.)
Other schools in the Town of Corning, including the Park School in Lincoln County, also became a part of the Maple Grove District in 1960.
Throughout the years, the Fromm Brothers continued to be the special benefactors of the Maple Grove School. Whether it was gifts of fruit and candy to the school children at Christmas or providing for the school’s other needs, Maple Grove School was never far from the hearts of the Fromm family.
In a newspaper article dated October 4, 1962, Maple Grove School was described as “one of the nation’s unusual schools” and announced an open house for the public to see the most recent $92,000 addition to the building, which included two classrooms, a multi-purpose room equipped with showers, a stage, a teacher’s room, and more, and it was especially notable for its wood construction in a time when most schools were being built of brick, stone, or concrete. It was also noted to be one of the few schools in rural areas with kindergarten and classes through grade six.
Students at Maple Grove School have long been given opportunities most children don’t have, sometimes due to the Fromm family’s close affiliation with the school. In October 1964, a newspaper clipping tells of kindergarten pupils from Maple Grove being taken by bus “to the home of the teacher, Mrs. Sylvia Woller, to see the tame deer and mink farm.”
Following her tragic death due to a car accident in 1967, the Slyvia Woller Memorial Scholarship was established in her memory for students who had attended Maple Grove School and then graduated from the District..
In the spring of 1972, for the first time, first grade students were able to tap their own trees in the “Audubon woods” located just outside their windows, produce maple syrup, and host a pancake feast for the community. It started an annual tradition that still continues to this day.
In 1973, the school purchased five acres across the street from the school from Mark Seliger, in order to install a septic tank and drain field system, because the school’s septic system was no longer adequate and the rock composition beneath the existing school property was not a viable option. Roof repairs, blacktop repairs, and parking lot construction were also completed.
In 1975/1976, Walter and Mabel Fromm established a Scholarship Fund for students who had attended Maple Grove. They liquidated some of their ownership assets in the Fromm corporation and invested $500,000 so that the income generated from the principal might fund scholarships for area students for many years to come. While they had no children of their own, they looked after the children of Hamburg and their educational futures. The Fromm Scholarship Fund became the largest in history available to graduates of Merrill High School.
As a result, qualifying students who attend Maple Grove School and graduate from the District’s high school with a 2.5 grade point average have opportunities for generous university or technical college scholarships for post-secondary education. Today that scholarship fund is valued at $3.5 million.
In 1976 deep well, plumbing, and electrical work was done at the school, but drilling a new well was problematic because of the rock formations beneath the land.
In 1981, the Fromm Scholarship Fund was expanded after additional funds were received from the couple’s estate, enabling more Merrill High School students to receive scholarships if funds were still available after the Maple Grove students who applied received funds.
In 2012 Maple Grove Elementary School reinvented itself as a charter school. Maple Grove Charter School was formed under a partnership with Marathon and Merrill school districts and began operating as such in September 2012, offering an expeditionary learning curriculum.
The charter school received a $200,000 implementation grant to assist with startup.
MAPS and Maple Grove School had a contract through June 2022, but in November 2019, MAPS alleged Maple Grove wasn’t fulfilling its end of the contract and started to explore closing the school to combat lower district-wide enrollment numbers.
In early Jan. 2020, the Athens School District expressed interest in annexing Maple Grove School onto the Athens District. The Maple Grove Governance Board asked MAPS to release the school from the MAPS District before the March 1, 2020, deadline; however, no action was taken on their request.
On Feb. 28, 2020, the Friends of Maple Grove filed a civil lawsuit against Merrill Area Public Schools (MAPS) to keep the school open.
On June 9, 2020, Marathon County Judge Michael Moran ruled that Maple Grove School had not violated its contract with MAPS and granted the Maple Grove Governance Board an injunction to stop MAPS from closing Maple Grove School.
Fast forward to recent months. See the front-page article, “Maple Grove School and Hamburg residents petition to detach from MAPS, attach to Athens School District.