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The Commonweal


What is the most interesting building type in Agincourt? Why, the one I happen to be working on at the time. This week it’s the collection of Agincourt’s schools.

Because the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 identifies the importance of publicly-supported education, schools in the community were present from the beginning. A section of land in each township was set aside for public education and several state constitutions made provision for continuing this pattern into incorporated settlements. I’m surprised that Christian conservatives haven’t resorted to Article 3 of the ordinance for its reference to religion:

Art. 3. Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged. The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and, in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity, shall from time to time be made for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving peace and friendship with them.

Significantly, I tried from the beginning to incorporate three similar ideas—governance, learning, and faith or what I like to call body, mind, and spirit—into the original townsite. The courthouse has been treated already (the second of 1889 and its replacement of 1967) as has education (Bishop Kemper Academy) and the institution of religion (Churches for Catholics, Episcopalians, Baptists and Methodists), so the core is under control. But each quadrant of the town plan boasts its own “school lot” awaiting its school when demand warranted construction. I find myself drawn to the early schools; much less to newer patterns, but I know those too will have to come in time.

Ultimately there were at least ten schools and multiple buildings for some of them:

  1. Agincourt Business College / ABC
  2. Agincourt High School (now Fennimore County High School)
  3. St Ahab’s Parochial School (Roman Catholic)
  4. Nicolaus Copernicus Elementary School (SW)
  5. Clarence Darrow Elementary School (NE)
  6. Charles Darwin Elementary School (NW)
  7. Bishop Kemper Academy
  8. The Little Ones (kindergarten)
  9. Northwest Iowa Normal School (now Northwest Iowa College)
  10. Martin Richard Elementary School (SE)

For the earliest schools it has been convenient to adapt models from other places. Here, for example, is one from Harris, Minnesota, that I really like. Since 19th century form often followed function, I enjoy playing a game: let’s create a plan that logically follows the massing and fenestration of the view shown below.


1 Comment

  1. […] live in a small town in the Midwest with a few carpenter-builders and no resident architect. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 mandates public education as a foundation for citizenship, so what are you to do about […]

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