It didn’t take long for settlers of Beatrice to establish their first school.
Beatrice Public Library Director Laureen Riedesel said that’s unique to Beatrice compared to other towns in the mid to late 1800s.
“They didn’t have to recruit a teacher,” Riedesel said. “They already had a teacher built in right from the start.”
Settlers founded Beatrice in 1857. The first public school building opened in 1862.
“A priority for them was schools,” Riedesel said. “Other towns took a while to get organized.”
The first attempt for a school in Beatrice was even earlier than 1862.
Within two years after Beatrice was founded the first attempt to build a schoolhouse was made at the corner of Fifth and Ella streets. Before it was completed, however, it was destroyed by fire, according to a 1957 Beatrice Daily Sun article.
Public school was taught in a building at Fourth and Court streets until the new schoolhouse was built in 1862, where Charles Park is today, according to Gage County Historical Society records.
Oliver Townsend was the teacher among the men who founded Beatrice. In the first year of the 1862 schoolhouse’s existence, Townsend taught 35 students. Students continued to learn in that building for about eight years.
Outgrowing the space, students were then taught for two years in the upper level of a sandstone structure at Fourth and Market streets, which held a printing office below.
The Beatrice school district was the first school district in Gage County. It was officially organized May 10, 1868. A 1902 fire destroyed the old Masonic Temple building and all previous records of the city schools, as the superintendent’s office was then in that building.
The number of students increased as Beatrice’s population grew from 85 in 1860 to more than 11,000 in 1890. U.S. Census data for this year burned. Some estimate as many as 13,826 people lived in Beatrice at that time.
The first high school (kindergarten through 12th grade) was built of brick in 1870 on the north side of Ella between Eighth and Ninth streets with 125 students and three teachers. The upper floor was for the older students and the lower floor was for the younger students.
Central School was built in 1883 just north of present day Charles Park.
“The three-story brick school had 10 classrooms and a large assembly hall on the third floor,” records say of Central School. “It was designed for the Central Grade School to occupy the first floor on the east side and the remainder for the High School. This school was torn down and the Junior High was built (in its place) in 1924-25.”
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Riedesel said the schools – big, brick and beautiful in photos – that were torn down were done so because they were in poor shape, too small or too dated as an educational facility.
“The thought was that when demands changed, they didn’t retrofit what they had; they built new,” Riedesel said, citing the need for a laboratory for upper-level students as the local example of the time.
After women gained the right to vote, they petitioned for a new school as Central School was in poor shape, Riedesel said.
The new high school, this time specifically tailored for older students, was built on Fifth Street in 1909.
“It was designed with the curriculum to prepare students to earn a living and become useful members of society as well as a good base for college preparedness,” records say. “The school had a state-of-the-art laboratory for chemistry, physics and botany classes.”
That school stood until 1950, when it was torn down to make room for the new high school built in 1952.
The Junior High School (now called Beatrice Middle School) was on Fifth Street from 1925 to 1998, when it was torn down. The Beatrice Public Schools Administration Building was erected on those grounds and the middle schoolers moved across the street into the old high school in 1998, when the new and present day Beatrice High School was completed on Orange Boulevard.
Elementary school students were also moved into new spaces in the 1950s.
Before construction of the city's current four elementaries, students attended Harrington, South, East, West, Fairview, Belvidere and Glenover schools, each built in the late 1880s.
In 1956 and 1957, the four public elementary schools were constructed. Cedar, Lincoln, Paddock Lane and Stoddard elementary schools continue to serve students today. These buildings were paid for with a $1 million bond issue.
It took four bond issues to pass the latest Beatrice public school, Beatrice High School, which opened in 1998 thanks to a $9.5 million bond.
In his 1918 book, “History of Gage, County, Nebraska,” Hugh Dobbs, also a Beatrice Public Schools superintendent starting in 1878, explains the timeline of the schools and the cost of construction of the most recent schools at the time.
“But the marshalling of physical assets, however impressive the array, can at most indicate only the wealth and power of the community,” Dobbs wrote. “They are not the glory of our schools. For this we must look to the character of the men and women who have received their training for the affairs of life.
“Measured by this standard alone the record is most excellent. Students from the public schools of Beatrice are to be found everywhere in the world of work; they honor the professions as lawyers, physicians, preachers, teachers and they swell the ranks of whose who, in the great world war, are fighting for human liberty.”