The education of children had been an important part
of the culture of Europe. The Pioneer immigrant
settlers of Ahnepee (the first name of the early
settlement, later Ahnapee, and finally Algoma)
brought that coveted mission with them and were
quick to establish this essential prerequisite for
the future success of their children. Under the
School Law of 1848, free education was supposed to
be available to all children between the ages of
four and sixteen years. The law did not specify a
language until 1854 when a new law specified that
the course materials be taught in English. Since
many early settlers came from other areas of the
United States and spoke English, their immediate
goal after they settled in Ahnapee in the 1850s was
to find a teacher and a place to hold classes.
Although the various early accounts on the subject
of schools are somewhat confusing, M. T. Parker, in
his serialized, “Historical Sketch of the Town of
Ahnapee,” published in the Ahnapee Record
between July and November 1873, tells us that the
first building used as a classroom was a log shanty
on the north side of the river. The year was 1855.
This was not a public school in the strictest sense
because it was formed by the families who lived in
the nearby surrounding area on the north side. The
first teacher hired by the families was Miss Parker
who later became Mrs. George Fowles. M.T. Parker goes on
to say that the first building erected in Ahnepee as
a public school was a small frame building on the
north side, built in 1856. This school was located
on the bluff overlooking the lake, just north of the
house occupied by the lighthouse tenders, on what is
now County Highway S. The teacher was Mrs. Sanborn,
a widow who lived in Door County. This school was
replaced a few years later with another, larger
frame building across the road from the earlier
structure. The first school would later become the
residence of Edward Harkins.
In 1858, the residents on the south side of the
river rented a small, one-story building at the foot
for a schoolroom and hired Miss Irene Yates as their
first teacher, succeeded shortly afterwards by Mr.
Ward. A year later, the newly established school
district decided a more permanent school was needed,
and in 1859, built a frame schoolhouse on the
northeast corner of Fremont and Fourth streets.
Miss Parella Wagner was the first teacher with
Mrs. Stebbins suceeding her. When
this school was built, in what was then a clearing
with stumps and logs and a high board fence around
it, many settlers complained that the building was
too far back in the country. They were concerned
for the safety of their children during the long
trek to school through the wilderness. The children
from Bruemmerville, the Hall Mill settlement about
two miles to the west, even had to carry their
dinners (lunch) to school. The complaining did not
accomplish much and by 1866, when another school was
opened because of a rapidly growing population, new
settlers had filled in many of the empty spaces on
the surrounding land. A familiar pattern had thus
been established. The paint on the new school had
hardly dried when enrollment increased to warrant
greater space – or a new facility.
Meanwhile, two parochial grade schools had been
established in the early 1860s by the Lutheran and
Catholic congregations and served a dual purpose as
church and school. Both were initially located on
the north side within sight of each other on Church
Road. Over the following years, each of them
relocated several times when new schools were built,
but they remain a vital and integral part of the
Algoma Public School system.
Due to the ever increasing population growth, the
school district reorganized in 1875 and built a new
frame schoolhouse in 1876 on the corner of Fremont and
Sixth Street, in front of what is now the Algoma
Elementary School. The small two-story building had
a large copula on top. It was pink in color,
which sounds odd, but that is how students who
attended described it. This school was called the
Algoma Graded School because it was solely used for
grades one through eight.
first primary school which was constructed in
In 1885, the school was reorganized to include a
three-year high school with students being enrolled
in the fall of that year. There were two graduates
of that first class who received their diplomas in
the spring of 1888: Hannah Marr, who married John Empey (who became a prominent Algoma
gentleman), and Lottie Teweles, who later moved to
Milwaukee. There were no graduates for school years
1889 and 1890, but there were four who graduated in
1891 and five for 1892. The high school had no
graduates in 1893 because the school had changed to
a four-year course and graduated four students of
the new course in 1894. Algoma High School has
graduated students each year since then.
In 1895, an addition was built on the back of the
school to accommodate an increasing student
population. But that didn’t solve the
continuing need for more space, so a new public
school was built in front of the old school in 1906.
The new school doubled the size of the old, but
still housed both grade and high school students. Also
of frame construction and completed in 1886, this
new section was painted white.
There are no known photos of the school as it
looked in 1886.
The new school built in 1906 as it looked in
1908 with the old school in the back.
Picture of AHS as it looked in 1918. Little change, but the trees have grown considerably.
The next change of note was the formation of the
seven member school board in 1908. Over the years
the board imposed numerous restrictions on students
and school activities, which were not, at first,
welcomed or universally embraced. The board forbade
any person to teach in the school who was connected
to any member of the board by family ties. The board
also required all teachers to complete a full Normal
Course. In retrospect, the seven member board
aroused interest in the school and this spirit
continued to grow during the ensuing years.
Door-Kewaunee Training School opened in 1908 in the
south and west wings on the 2nd floor of
the old 1876 schoolhouse. The name would later
be changed to Door-Kewaunee Normal School. This
joint training school was
a collaborative effort of the county boards of Kewaunee and Door Counties
and was a very important link in the educational
system in northeastern Wisconsin in the early years
of the 1900s. The school trained new teachers
for the numerous rural grade schools located
throughout both counties. Fifty-two students were admitted and nine
were turned away because of a lack of space.
A new grade school, Irving Demonstration, was built
on the north side in 1911, relieving the pressure on
the combined downtown school and served the rural
areas to the north and northwest of the city.
In April 1912, the Bank of Algoma sold the old
Dormer House hotel (Lots 1 and 2) to the newly named
Door-Kewaunee Normal School. In May 1914, August
Froemming sold Lots 4, 5, and 6 to the school for a
planned expansion of both the school and
By 1920 Algoma had grown into a thriving city that
had experienced tremendous growth. Now a city of two
thousand inhabitants, there were amenities that many
similar-sized cities could not claim. It had become
the educational center of Door and Kewaunee counties
with the addition of the joint-county training
school. In addition to the teaching school, it had
five schools within the city limits: two graded; two
parochial; and a thriving high school. In addition,
there were several educational-recreational
facilities in the form of a very modern movie
theater and an Opera House.
The school built in 1906 had experienced larger
student enrollments as growth continued, but was in
disrepair due to poor maintenance practices by the
time of the Great Depression that began in October
1929. As part of the Public Works Project program
instituted by the Franklin D. Roosevelt
Administration, Algoma was eligible for help in
building a new public school housing both the grade
and high school in 1934. The design of this new
two-story building included updated features that
included an ornate
auditorium on one end; a full-court
gymnasium on the opposite
end; a kindergarten
room with functioning
fireplace and child-sized bathroom; and a
music room with soundproofing. Additional land was
purchased to the west of the old school and that is
where the new, much larger, school was built. The
grade school occupied most of the ground-level
classrooms with the high school on the second
new school was dedicated on the evening of 20
September 1935 by local dignitaries with an audience
that packed the new auditorium.
(Please go to the 1936 Annual for more
information on the dedication program and ceremony.)
New Algoma High School completed in 1935 shown in
this photo taken in 1938
In 1938, the Door-Kewaunee Normal School was
destroyed by fire and the dormitory was used for
classrooms until a new building could be constructed
on the site. Ground was broken in June for the new
school that would include many updated features.
The exterior was very similar to the new Algoma High
and Elementary school only a few yards to the west.
A consolidation of school facilities began during
WWII to decrease the expense of maintaining various
district schools with declining enrollment. Irving
Demonstration Grade School discontinued grades seven
and eight at the end of school year 1946, but the
building continued to be used by Door-Kewaunee
Normal School as a student teaching lab. Seventh
and eighth grade students from that school
transferred to one of the two parochial schools or
to the public grade school. Many of the other rural
elementary schools throughout the county were also
closed and the students were bused to the schools
operated within the cities and villages. This was
just the beginning of many future consolidations.
1950 Aerial view of AHS showing the auditorium and
gymnasium wings not shown on the above photo.
However, the consolidations caused a new problem.
In 1955, a wing was added on the south side of the
combined grade/high school to accommodate the
increasing enrollment that resulted from the school
and increased population growth. This wing
included new classrooms for the teaching of business
education, home economics, agriculture and English.
The addition was designed to be consistent with the
exterior of the original structure, and was. The
interior had one major discernible and prominent
difference. The wood trim in the original building
was stained dark while in the addition the wood trim
was stained in a modern “blond” color.
1965 Areial view of AHS
showing the additions made in 1955.
The Door-Kewaunee Normal School, now called
Door-Kewaunee County College, also made improvements
in 1955. A lab school was added to the back of the
college and the old lab operated in the Irving
Demonstration School was moved there. Irving was
then closed and the city provided the structure to
organizations such as the Boy and Girl Scouts, and
other community activities.
In 1966, the voters of the district decided to build
a new high school on a plat of farmland then located
to the south of Algoma
with the stipulation that no more than $1.5 million
was spent on the new structure. This new building
opened in the fall of 1969 with the old high school
becoming an elementary school and the remaining
closed, either to be sold or eventually demolished.
Front view of new AHS taken in 1970
Another view of the Algoma High School taken in
1715 Division Street, Algoma, WI 54216
Door-Kewaunee County College closed at the end of
school year 1970. The City of Algoma purchased the
school and property in 1972. It now houses city
government, the police department, and the Algoma
In 1997, a referendum was passed to renovate Algoma
High School and Algoma Elementary School to meet
requirements. The high school was fitted with a new
to replace the old one that had become part of the
girls' locker room. The elementary school had an
addition to replace older locker rooms.
And the storied history of the Algoma School
District continues to be written by those who attend
the schools, the School Administration, the City
government, and by those taxpayers who have always
provided the funding.