HomeBlogSummer 2024: ISD 199 History ProjectOpen Houses and a Work in Progress

Open Houses and a Work in Progress

/taps mic

Is this thing on?

Welcome to my summer updates for the ISD 199 History Project! I'm Cory Haala, a 2009 graduate of Simley High School-turned-history professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

As part of this project, as I detailed in our parent post, I'll be gathering, organizing, digitizing, and eventually developing an exhibit on the history of public schooling in present-day Inver Grove Heights. That'll include everything from everyday student life to the stories of teachers and administrators to what I'm working on right now, a comprehensive list of our facilities, historic and present.The former District #9 schoolhouse, built in 1936 by the Works Progress Administration.

That current project includes locating materials on all our building projects in Inver Grove and its predecessors, Inver Grove Village, Inver Grove Township, and Pine Bend. For example, what is today Independent School District 199 was, as recently as 1956, seven different school districts monitored by Dakota County: #3 (Salem Hills), #7 (the old Inver Grove Elementary), #8 (south of Salem, around present-day Glassing Florist), #10 (Lake Park, near present-day Pine Bend Elementary), #21 (the historic Pine Bend area down by the Flint Hills Refinery), #73 (a one-room schoolhouse on present-day Barnes Avenue), and #103 (then stylized as Hill Top). A seventh, #9, operated near present-day Rich Valley Park (both buildings, one from 1872 and the other from 1936, are actually still standing), while an eighth, #93, was physically moved to Rosemount around 1950.

Got all that? (If yes, can you explain it to me?)

Boxes stored by ISD 199.One of the boxes in ISD 199 storage (and you can see what that storage "system" looks like on the left), mislabeled "BEST Foundation", actually contained over 70 file folders full of materials related to the construction of schools like Pine Bend Elementary (built in 1958), Inver Grove Elementary (remodeled multiple times in the 1950s and rebuilt in 1965), and Simley Junior and Senior High School (mostly built in 1960...more on that in a second). It was a cool find! But that's also part of the challenge of this project: "doing" history when boxes are mislabeled and lots of stuff has gone missing!

Some of the neat things I've found, though, are the building dedication programs for Pine Bend, South Grove, and Simley. (You can see the South Grove one here to get an idea of what I'm talking about.)

The Simley dedication program, though (click that link to see it!), serves as a particularly amusing window into the school's history: it was held in May 1961 at the end of the school year.


Because when its doors opened in September 1960, so did its windows.

Or, rather, its windows never shut.

Because they weren't there yet.

You might've noticed that the Simley pictured above on the right no longer exists: built in 1960 after South St. Paul High School informed various Inver Grove schools they would no longer take students from outside South St. Paul's borders, that pointy-roofed building became the much-maligned Simley Junior High (and, later, Inver Grove Heights Middle School) demolished in the 2000s. In 1960, Simley was only the former South wing of the building, closer to the tennis courts today (the rest came later). Modeled on California schools, it featured a flat roof (which is a bad idea in winter) and earned a citation from Progressive Architecture.

Most of my time there in the early 2000s, though, it just featured a leaky roof and dark, cramped halls.

While Simley students were mostly excited to be there in September 1960, one St. Paul Dispatch column in May 1961 noted "plastic rippled across windows where panes hadn’t been installed, music and science equipment hadn’t arrived and workmen were apply[ing] the finishing touches to the rooms. Nearby, the gym, cafeteria, and music rooms were under construction.”

Not great!

But students and staff alike looked back on their first year in the new school fondly. While grizzled veterans of Simley and IGHMS might roll their eyes today, it's worth remembering the pride and progress in what was then not even an incorporated city. Heck, look at the title of that Dispatch article:

St. Paul Dispatch article from May 23, 1961 titled "Simley High Sets Records In First Year"

Between 1958 and 1961, Inver Grove residents built three new schools to accommodate what would become a booming suburb, exemplified by whole neighborhoods like South Grove springing up seemingly overnight. It was a work in progress, just like this blog, website, and project.

It's fun, though, to see where it takes us. Stay tuned for more!

Cory Haala
July 3, 2024