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Boyceville School District Centennial: In the beginning were log cabins and buggy whips

By LeAnn R. Ralph

BOYCEVILLE —  In anticipation of the Boyceville School District’s Centennial celebration in September, the Tribune Press Reporter will be publishing articles, interviews and pictures over the next few weeks.

The following was gleaned from “Panorama of Progress” by William L. Clark Jr., published in 1960 by The Press Reporter in Boyceville.

Clark, born in 1938, was a 1956 graduate of Boyceville High School. He attended Wisconsin State College at River Falls and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in education in 1960.

The history of the Boyceville school district begins with the settlement of the Boyceville area, also initially known as Barker and Hayestown.

“Through records at the county courthouse in Menomonie, Wisconsin, one can substantiate the year 1860 as the year of settlement. From the records, we find that George May Powell paid $200 for 160 acres in section 27 (now a part of the village of Boyceville). J. Baggins paid $100 for 80 acres in section 34 (also in the village). The patents for these two pieces of land were granted July 16, 1860. The land had been purchased two years previous to the date of the patent. Abel Kaye homesteaded 120 acres of land in section 26 on December 18, 1864. A.D. Caryl, early settler in the area, listed these people as first settlers although no record can be found concerning them: Dick Mills, Will Richmond, and Mat Richmond. Other early settlers listed by Caryl were C.L. Varbele, P.H. Lyman, James Downing, Fred Graesley, George Graesley, Nelson Porter and David Ring.”

Several years later, the Hayes family settled in the area — which explains why some of the area was platted as Hayestown.

“In 1869, four brothers, William D., Ansel A., John N., and Alonzo W. Hayes, with a partner, David Lawton, built a saw mill on Tiffany Creek. A settlement sprang up around the mill which, for many years, seemed destined to become the site of the village.”

The first school building in the area “was a log building with a shanty roof, located on the bank of Tiffany Creek within the present limits of the village of Boyceville.”

J.E.R. Best is identified as one of the first teachers at the log school.

“J.E.R. Best, who came to Dunn County in 1866, served for many years as Justice of the Peace and as local school teacher. Uncle Jim, as he was called, was a stern schoolmaster who was an ardent believer in the old adage about sparing the rod.

“This story is told concerning his taming of a couple of unruly school boys in Tiffany’s little log school.

“The teacher, before Uncle Jim arrived, had been having quite a lot of trouble with the boys in her class. They were about 16 or 17, the age that in present times a boy would be in high school. Uncle Jim was hired when the other teacher was unable to handle the youths. Previous to his arrival, the boys had jumped out of windows and raised all sorts of disturbances. The day of reckoning was at hand. Uncle Jim stepped through the door with two buggy whips in hand, and promptly stood them in the corner. From then on, the boys knew he meant business. Uncle Jim never had to use his ‘tools,’ but his reputation as a strict disciplinarian bore out the fact that, if the situation ever arose, the crack of the whip would be an all too familiar sound.

“Apple-polishing was not easy with the stern schoolmaster either. One of his students recalls:

“I knew Uncle Jim well before he became my teacher. He was acquainted with my parents and was a frequent visitor in our home. Every one called him Uncle Jim, and I too acquired the habit. One day in school, I wished to ask him a question, and, forgetting myself, called him Uncle Jim. He looked at me sternly and replied : ‘Walter, I’ll have you to know that you are to address me either as Mr. Best or Teacher.’ From that day forward, I addressed him correctly. In fact, I usually call everyone mister.”


Although this story is not directly related to school, it does reflect on the daily lives of school-aged youngsters in the area and was told by Walter Clough, a pioneer settler in Boyceville.

“I remember the time when Peter Goff (son of Elisha Goff) and his older brother and Theron (Walter’s brother) and I were skating on the pond on the Goff Farm. I found a two-cent piece with a hole in it, so someone suggested that we take it into Barker (Boyceville) to see if we could buy some candy. All agreed that this would be a good thing to do, so we walked the two miles to Mose Brown’s store. I remember I walked into the store and put the coin on the counter and asked: ‘Do you suppose we could buy some candy with this?’ Brown pushed the coin away. ‘That’s no good’ he said gruffly. I picked up the coin, and, together with the other boys, left the store. Someone suggested that we go up to Shaw’s in Hayestown, so up we went. I repeated the same gesture at Shaw’s store and asked if we could buy some candy. Although I was only eight at the time, the scene is vivid in my memory. A broad smile came over Shaw’s face. He picked up the two-cent piece and took a small string, which he broke off, and, wetting the end between his lips, he threaded the string through the hole in the coin. He tied the ends of the string together and hung the coin on a nail. In those days candy came in large sticks, some of them with red and white stripes. Candy was a penny a stick and all I had was a two-cent piece with a hole in it. Mr. Shaw kept his candy in a big glass jar with a cover on it, which he kept under the counter. He took out the candy jar and let each of us take a big stick of candy. After that, we decided that whenever we had any money to spend, we would go to Shaw’s store in Hayestown.”

High school graduation

In 1914, Boyceville built a high school. The first class graduated in 1917.

“The plans for the first high school commencement (1917) were abandoned. Ernest Crocker, son of O.A. Crocker, Boyceville’s druggist, became ill and was unable to attend the ceremonies. This illness, which resulted in his death, also kept Ernest out of school for a period of time. The school board met and voted to grant him a diploma on the merit of his excellent work in school.

“In place of the high school commencement, eighth grade exercises were held. Eleven pupils completed their work and were granted their diplomas. They were: Esther Ajer, Beatrice Appleby, Arlene Barnstable, James Chase, Capitola Hurd, Katherine Lewis, Mildred Bonesville, Gertrude Terrill, Lenora Johnson, Hazel Johnson, and Kathryn West. A.E. Anderson was principal in 1917.”

Several years later, in January of 1922, Boyceville’s high school building was destroyed by fire. Students attended classes at the Methodist church and the Opera House, which was described as being able to seat 600 and which also was later destroyed by fire.

The class of 1922 had two members: Rudolph F.C. Gebhardt and Magnild V. Everson.