Breckenridge School History

There being no written record of an established school system in Breckenridge … it is assumed education began in the homes (as was the custom in the early 1800’s).

Earliest record of a permanent settlement of people in Breckenridge area is January, 1857. This small unit of people was destroyed in the uprising by the Sioux Indians in August, 1862. It was not until the advent of the railroad in 1871 that Breckenridge began to grow and be settled.

Recorded history shows April 11, 1872, a school district was established by the Wilkin County Commissioners. Boundary of District #1 (now 846) was from the Connelly farm north to where the river intersects its northern line then east to an unknown boundary.

With the influx of population, an educational system became necessary. The first school was built in 1873 at a cost of one thousand dollars. This building served as a place of worship, education and meetings.

The people of Breckenridge have always been known as “builders” – such is the case with our school system. From the inception of our first school building projects, to updates and upgrades, our system’s effectiveness has been embarked upon.

First there was the one-room school of 1873, followed by a three-room brick building in 1882. An addition was made to the west in 1898, followed by an east addition in 1902. 1909 saw the center section between the east and west wings removed and the new central room was added. In the old assembly hall, freshmen were seated east and west on the south side of the room then juniors, and finally the prestigious seniors who were lucky to get all the natural daylight, as they were seated next to the windows.

The Breckenridge educational system has continuously been upgraded. 1898 saw the school placed on the Graded School List, making it possible to teach high school subjects. Because of seasonal and part time jobs, some students attended school when not working thus making the attendance very irregular. In 1902, the Minnesota State Department of Education mandated more classroom space for students. Breckenridge was recommended for reorganization into a special or Independent School District. The first school board was elected on May 15, 1902, consisting of John Wells, president, H.G. Wyvell, clerk, and H. Dykman, treasurer. A bond for $10,000 was sold to finance plans for the last section of Old BHS, to be completed in 1903. From this structure, Old BHS stood until 1935.

The first and only graduate from the newly organized district in 1903 was Charles Holmgren. From this first class to each subsequent class the graduation numbers steadily increased.

Sports were introduced into the school system in 1902. November 6, 1902, the first basketball game was played. The opponent and victor was Wahpeton. On November 23, a return game was played, with Breck again the loser to a more seasoned Wahpeton team. This may have been the beginning of a long-standing rivalry between the two schools.

1909 was the year basketball was introduced for girls. These games were played in the old basement gym. Mats were wrapped around the large iron support posts that stood in the playing area.

The South Side School was built in 1912. The four-room grade school remained in use until 1934.

After an arduous campaign of voting on bonding for a new school, bids were let on January 10, 1934, with ground broken on February 7, 1934. The cornerstone was laid May 16, 1934. The new school was the beginning of the next phase of Breckenridge Public Schools. Work on the new building was rushed and completed so that the first day of school was on schedule.

The 1934 school year started with a full curriculum, including Home Economics, Industrial Arts, all the sciences as well as music and physical education. The first class, numbering thirty-four, graduated in June, 1935.

With the new building and the expansion to the athletic facilities, the need for more than one coach was required. Hank Booher was the first coach in the “new” school, followed by Walt Mikalich and Vern Zerhren. The two coached the Cowboys to the state basketball tournament in 1939 and the state basketball championship in 1940.

The October 30, 1935 issue of the Gazette-Telegram stated the old BHS building was to be torn down. It had served as a billet for the CCC boys who worked on the Breckenridge dam. Negotiations were made with the Breckenridge City Council to demolish the building. On November 25, 1935, the Gazette-Telegram reports the demolition of “Old BHS”. This was a joint WPA and CCC project and employed twenty-five men. Charles Holmgran was hired to oversee the disposition of the rubble. Lillegards of Wahpeton purchased the entire heating plant for two hundred-fifty dollars. No longer needed, the South Side School building and lot was purchased by Bill Hart for one thousand dollars.

The Federal Government had plans for a new post office in Breckenridge and approached the school board for purchase of the old BHS site which covered the north half of the block. The school board chose to retain lots five, six, seven, eight and designated a sixteen foot strip of land to the rear of these lots as a public access forever. On March 11, 1936, the school board accepted a bid of three thousand dollars for the remaining lots.

The school board voted in August 1935 to erect a flagpole on the school grounds. Alumni backed this decision and encouraged the board to also erect a base to hold the bell that once hung at the old school. On October 9, 1935, the Gazette-Telegram carried a small story on the project. Federal funds were allocated and the installation was a WPA project. On August 12, 1988, a fund was established to erect a plaque to be placed on the bell-site designating the purpose and history of the bell. The plaque was donated by and credited to Rush McAllister and family – Class of 1941. The bell site and plaque stand as a memorial to all alumni of “Old BHS”.

In keeping with progressive education and due to increased student enrollment, discussions were begun as early as 1944 to add an addition to the new school. After World War II, the student population in the Breckenridge schools had increased so greatly that Kindergarten and a number of elementary school sections had to be held in city churches. In 1949, construction began on an addition connected to the east side of the 1934 building. The addition consisted of elementary classrooms, an auxiliary gym and in the lower level, a music department and cafeteria. The addition was completed and ready for students in the fall of 1950.

In 1957 bids were let for the construction of a vocational wing to be connected to the north side of the 1934 building. The wing completed in 1958, housed Home Economics, Industrial Arts and Vocational Agriculture departments. Also during the late 1950’s, again due to increased student enrollment, additional elementary classrooms were constructed in the lower level of the 1949 building adjacent to the cafeteria and music department.

By the 1960’s graduating classes from Breckenridge High School were well over one-hundred students and the board of education looked again to the future and the need for a new high school. In 1969, a new one-level building was constructed at the north end of fourteenth street.

The old high school (1934 building) and the 1949 addition became the Breckenridge Middle and Elementary School. The building currently houses grades K-8, the school district offices and the Early Childhood school program. Changes to the building included removing the lower seating in the auditorium and adding a second auxiliary gym. The balcony as retained with bleachers on the floor level. The large classroom windows were charged for energy efficiency and the vocational wing converted into a multi-purpose area. After the devastating flood of 1997, a cafeteria wing was added to the north side of the 1949 addition.

In the early 1970’s, the high school instituted a quarter block system, thus giving the BHS student body many more opportunities to expand their learning power. The quarter block system continued until the traditional seven period class day returned in the fall of 2009. Also in the 1970’s, extra curricular sports programs were expanded to provide equal opportunities for boys and girls. In 1974 a Federally financed program was initiated for children of migrant workers that were here during the summer months. This summer program continues today.

Student enrollment also continued to grow during the early 1970’s. Graduating classes were exceeding one-hundred sixty students. But by the mid 1970’s, due to the merger of the railroad, Breckenridge no longer was a railroad division point. At the same time area farms were becoming larger and the population of the City of Breckenridge and Wilkin County began to decline. Thus, the student population of the Breckenridge schools also declined and continued to decline throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s. Since that time, graduating classes number from sixty to seventy-five students.

Chronologically, the Breckenridge educational system has evolved from a one-room school to this:

1872 – District #1 established
1873 – First school building erected
1898 – Addition to the west
1902 – Addition to the east
1909 – New center section added
1912 – South Side School constructed
1925 – St. Mary’s School constructed
1934 – New 1-12 building erected
1949 – Addition to the 1934 structure
1958 – Vocational wing added
1969 – Present high school on 14th Street north erected
1998 – Cafeteria wing added to 1949 addition

This is a brief history of the Breckenridge School system from its humble beginning to the beautiful structures that now serve our students and community.

We gratefully acknowledge our foresighted forefathers who had faith in the coming generations.

Special thanks is extended to the following for resource material to compile this history:

The staff of the Wilkin County Historical Society for Breckenridge School research and the use of actual and microfilmed copies of the Gazette-Telegram.

Breckenridge School District #846 records and school board minutes.

Memories recalled by former students and teachers.

Research conducted by BHS Reunion Committees.

Revised and Edited 2010
Senior All Class Reunion Committee