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Racine County School of Agriculture and Domestic Economy at Rochester, Wisconsin History 1912-1959

Paul grew up on a small dairy located in both Walworth and Racine County. He went to Burlington High school in the late 1950s.

Rochester Ag School in probably 1920s

Rochester Ag School in probably 1920s

Before mom and dad bought a farm just north of Honey Creek in 1957, I never knew that the Racine County School of Agriculture and Domestic Economy aka Ag School at Rochester existed. I became aware of it in 1958 in news from a neighboring farm boy. It was a surprise when Ralph said that his older brother Carl played football on the Rochester Ag School team.

After a brief 47-year history, the Rochester Ag School closed in 1959. While it existed, more than 2,000 young men and women graduated and went on to become farmers, homemakers, teachers, businesspersons, and engage in other professions.

Following its opening in 1912, the ag school steadily grew acquiring a 120-acre farm and building a dormitory for students who didn't live near Rochester.

Opening as a two-year vocational school, the ag school became a four-year institution after 1926.

In this article, I recall the early, middle, and late history of the ag school. I emphasize students, student life, and contributions that the school made to the community and agriculture.

Rochester Wisconsin

Rochester, Wisconsin circa 1920

Rochester, Wisconsin circa 1920

Early History of Ag School 1912-1923 -- an Overview

In the wake of the Wisconsin state legislature advocating vocational education in agriculture and the domestic economy, the Racine Country School of Agriculture and Domestic Economy was founded in Rochester in 1912.

The town of Rochester and Racine Country appropriated more than $30,000 to buy a 120-acre farm on present Hwy FF just south of Rochester and build a school on it. A school was built in 1912 and a dormitory opened in 1919 for students and teachers who didn't live in the local area.

The first class of the two-year school had 75 students and a handful of teachers. They taught primarily agriculture and home economics courses.

From 1912-1923, the ag school averaged 24 yearly graduates.

The Founding and Opening of the Racine County School of Agriculture and Domestic Economy in 1912

As early as November 25, 1910, county supervisors appropriated $2,000 to establish a school of agriculture and domestic economy in Racine County. At that time, the committee of supervisors considered using the Rochester Academy grounds and buildings for the school.

On April 5, 1911, the county board appropriated $30,000 for an ag school. After Rochester was selected to get an ag school on May 19, 1911, Dean Russell of the University of Wisconsin confirmed the selection of Rochester for the ag school. Rochester was now one of seven schools of agriculture and domestic economy in Wisconsin.

Toward the end of the year on December 15, 1911, the Rochester Ag School Board recommended that the county purchase 40 of the 128 acres of the old Whitman farm on Hoyt Road. Then, On December 29, 1911, a local newspaper reported that the ag school would have new buildings on the farm and not use the Rochester Academy buildings.

In preparation for the opening of the ag school, John James was hired at $1,800 a year as principal of the ag school in March.

After a well was drilled on the ag school ground in April, the ground was broken for the school on May 10, 1912.

A news article revealed on August 16, 1912, that the electricity for the ag school would be taken from The Milwaukee Electric Rail Line (TMERL) that operated streetcars through Rochester.

On November 8, 1912, the ag school opened with an enrollment of 60. Enrollment increased to 75 on December 27, 1912.

Growth of the Rochester Ag School 1913-1923

During the period 1913-1923, the Rochester Ag School grew and prospered. After the school was dedicated on February 21, 1913, the average yearly enrollment and graduation numbers were 100 and 24 respectively.

As to school facilities, a gym was finished at the end of 1912. On March 22, 1916, it was announced that an ag school barn would be built. Also, on May 31, 1918, Racine County voted to appropriate $10,000 to build a dormitory south of the school.

As early as September 1915, 44 out-of-town students had been attending the ag school. To accommodate some of these and other out-of-town students, the ag school had rented Mrs. Gertrude Peterson's house for room and board. Finally, in January 1919, an ag school dormitory was ready for occupancy.

During these years, the ag school also served the community. In February 1914, there was a corn and grain show at the school. Farmer's and Women's courses were convened in February 1921. Finally, the Racine County Fair was held on the Rochester Ag School grounds 1921-1922.

The ag school also contributed to the state of Wisconsin. In October 1923, the ag school and the University of Wisconsin participated in a soil improvement project.

Racine County Agricultural School at Rochester

Racine County Agricultural School at Rochester

Middle History of Ag School 1924-1943

The Rochester Ag School became a four-year school 1924-1943. It started to function as a public high school with an emphasis on teaching agriculture and rural homemaking. An old newspaper article indicates that the school has 40 graduates in 1939.

Probably due to the economic depression, the school had to sell agricultural assets and its barn was razed in 1939.

Old news articles indicate that some student activities included bread-making and the holding of minstrel shows.

Late History of Ag School 1944-1959

During its late history, the ag school was functioning with a traditional high school curriculum. There were math, science, English, social studies, business, and music courses in addition to vocational education in agriculture and rural homemaking. Extra-curricular activities included athletics, band, drama, Future Farmers of America, and Future Homemakers of America.

In 1949, the school had 52 freshmen, 50 sophomores, 27 juniors, and 30 seniors.

The ag school was special because it demanded that its students maintain a work ethic, community service, and respect and honor. Continuing education and education through experience and study was also emphasized.

Students who lived in the dormitory were responsible for cleaning their own rooms. a typical day saw the students rising with a bell at 6:30, going to breakfast at 7:15, and heading to class at 8:00. Lights out were at 10:00.

The Racine County School of Agriculture and Domestic Economy closed in 1959 because the county could no longer afford to pay for it.

Dormitory of the Racine County Agricultural School at Rochester

Dormitory of the Racine County Agricultural School at Rochester

Racine Country Agricultural School at Rochester

Racine Country Agricultural School at Rochester

Racine County Agricultural School Football Team 1949

1949 Rochester Ag School Football Team

1949 Rochester Ag School Football Team

Sources

  • Burlington Standard, Standard Democrat, or Standard Press 1863-Present
  • Racine Journal Times
  • Burlington Historical Society
  • Rochester Historical Society
  • Racine County Agricultural School Year Book

© 2021 Paul Richard Kuehn