Yes, they are built like bricks… the outhouse | Cambridge News / Deerfield Independent


I was driving on a country road the other day when I spotted two structures at the edge of a field – structures that made me stop for a double take.

Upon further examination, my suspicions were confirmed. Yes, they were brick outbuildings, near the intersection of Rogness Coulee Road and Emery Lane in the town of Ettrick – a few miles southeast of Hegg in Trempealeau County.

Apparently it’s now considered vulgar to refer to someone as being built as a brick outhouse, but it’s an expression I heard many times growing up – although usually the word “out” is replaced by a four letter word for feces. But I’ve never actually seen one. I have seen and used many one and two hole holes in my life, but never a brick one.

As they say, there is a first time in everything.

There was no other structure near the two outbuildings, but I suspected there must be a school at some point. I couldn’t find any references online so I asked local historian Steve “Willie” Vehrenkamp from Hegg.

“Yes,” he said. “It was Harmon School. The only way I can remember it is to think of Harmon Killebrew, ”referring to the late Hall of Fame slugger of the Minnesota Twins.

I returned to the place and walked around. The foundations of what was once the school were filled with dirt and assorted junk. The two outbuildings – located perhaps 20 meters apart – were built on brick foundations. They had red brick exteriors, tin roofs, windows that let in plenty of daylight, and roof vents.

The wooden doors were partially open but warped against the parquet. I was able to stick my camera around the door for a few photos. The skeleton of a dead cat was on the floor of a toilet.

When did the Harmon school exist? When was it demolished? Was it also brick? What did it look like?

I couldn’t find any information about the school on the Trempealeau County Historical Society website, which has lots of information and photos on many other old one-room schools. The only reference I found was the school listed as one of Ettrick’s 10 rural school districts.

I also found two obituaries of people who grew up in German Coulee and attended Harmon School. A historical map from 1930 showed that a school was located on the site.

It is possible that the school was named after a local family. The 1917 “History of the County of Trempealeau” mentions Thomas Harmon, who was among the Irish settlers of the Ettrick area. He arrived with his wife and two children in 1861 and farmed the land with his brother John Harmon.

“On his farm he built a frame cabin and later a hewn log house, 16 x 24 feet, which was so well and substantially made that it is still occupied by the family. Here Thomas Harmon spent the rest of his life improving his farm, his death occurring on May 3, 1887, when he had reached the age of 66. He served on the school board for some time and, as a good Catholic, helped build the first church in Ettrick.

The school was mentioned in the December 31, 1942 edition of the Blair Press newspaper under South Branch News. “The Christmas tree and the Harmon School program were donated Friday afternoon by Miss Lillian Crogan. All present were treated with apples and candy by the teacher.

Crogan was a longtime local teacher for various schools before retiring in 1971. She died in 1988 at the age of 83.

I found another mention of the school in an article in La Crosse Tribune of August 19, 1952 which mentioned the resumption of classes at Ettrick on September 2; Harmon was one of the stops on the bus line. It is possible that students from this area were transported to the larger school in Ettrick, as many one-class schools were closed at that time.

The article also mentions that Ms. Richard (Leone) Mattson – who was my great aunt – was the new grade 3 and 4 teacher.

The school and grounds apparently belonged to Louis Salzwedel, who died last year. I spoke to her son, who gave me the name and number of an aunt who would have knowledge of the school, but I could not reach her.

I spoke to a neighbor who lives near the old school, who told me it was also made of brick, like the outbuildings. But it had fallen into disrepair and was demolished.

I’m sure there is more to this story, so stay tuned for more updates.

One day too, the outbuildings will fall or be demolished, the last vestige of days gone by.

Chris Hardie has spent over 30 years as a journalist, editor and publisher. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won dozens of state and national journalism awards. He is a past president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Contact him at [email protected]

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