Abandoned school in South Dakota

Herrick Public School, Herrick South Dakota
Date added: August 16, 2022 Categories: South Dakota School
East and south elevations, looking northwest (1999)

Due to increased enrollment and severe overcrowding, the Herrick Independent School District first met to consider the construction of a new school building in September 1918. Bonded funds for the new school building were approved in March 1919, and construction bids were let the following June. The buildings subsequent design and construction followed a long history of state educational reform. The school closed in 1946.

Educational reform in South Dakota as it affected the design of new school construction had its origin in the Progressive era policies of the late nineteenth century. During this time, reformers believed that improved school facilities directly affected the quality of education in rural communities and advocated the implementation of standardized school designs. They cited overcrowding, inadequate lighting, and poor heating and ventilation as just a few of the conditions that hindered learning, and they believed that modern, properly constructed facilities would bring concepts of progress to rural communities.

To combat these perceived shortcomings, policy makers implemented progressive curriculum reforms at all levels of government. In 1880, the United States Bureau of Education published an influential plan book of standardized school designs and specifications for school improvement. Many state governments followed suit by formulating their own plans for educational reform, using the federal plan as a model. State policy, however, languished until 1908 when President Theodore Roosevelt formed the National Commission on Country Life. This Commission focused national attention on the inadequacies of rural schools and encouraged state governments to implement standardized formulas and recommendations for school design in the 1900s and 1910s.

In South Dakota, the first statewide effort towards school standardization occurred in 1907 when the State Superintendent of Instruction adopted specific guidelines for school construction. The state legislature formalized these guidelines and granted the State Superintendent the power of approval over all new school construction plans at this time. These new standards for school construction called for at least fifteen square feet of floor space in each classroom, two hundred cubic feet of air space per pupil, and an approved heating and ventilation system among other regulations. The placement of classroom windows was of particular concern as contemporaries believed that improper illumination caused headaches, backaches, and various nervous disorders. Consequently, the state guidelines prescribed specific window arrangements and formulas, dictating the size of windows and limiting their placement on only one wall of a classroom. By 1915, these regulations also extended to such features as classroom doors, egresses, window-to-floor area formulae, artificial lighting, windows, chimneys, fire drills and escapes, ventilation, and water fountains. Moreover, in 1919 the State legislature passed a financial incentive program offering $150 to each rural school that complied with the State standards.

The construction of the Herrick Public School represents an important step in the evolution of these standardized designs. Completed in 1919, the school exhibits an early form of standardized school design that replaced an older school building constructed in 1907 and preceded the design of larger consolidated school buildings in the 1920s and 1930s. The design of the older school embodied earlier conceptions of standardized school design. It was a two-story, wood-frame structure with clapboard siding, a hipped roof, and a square plan. On the interior, it had a basement, two classrooms on the first floor, and classrooms and a laboratory on the second. Similar to much smaller one-room rural schools, it also had coal and wood burning furnaces and no electricity. Prior to South Dakota's aforementioned standardization efforts, these larger schools (averaging four to eight rooms) were characterized by irregular floor plans arranged asymmetrically around a central hall and possessed symmetrical facades. Many also lacked the gymnasiums, auditoriums, and other amenities that characterized later structures.

In comparison, the Herrick Public School incorporated the standardized designs and facilities recommended for large schools in the late 1910s. The two-story school had a basement level gymnasium and a symmetrical interior plan arranged around a central staircase and hallways. The school also contained an auditorium and stage on the second floor, a modern heating and ventilation system, and each classroom was illuminated by only one wall of windows, contained prescribed cloak closets and blackboards, and featured standardized wood doors. All of these details, among others, were in keeping with contemporary notions of standardized school construction. On the exterior, the Herrick Public School reflected contemporary school design with its symmetrical facade, brick veneer, cast stone detailing, and Romanesque style elements.

The standardized plans and designs promulgated by the State of South Dakota were similar to those prescribed by the United States Department of Education, and other state and local agencies in the early twentieth century. These standards provided schools across the nation with uniformity in layout, appearance, and function best suited to for educational environment. The Herrick Public School is a local example of this prominent building type.