There was one more township hall to visit on July 12, 2014. After leaving the Guthrie Town Hall I continued north on the Paul Bunyan Trail, to the one-time community of Nary. After having ridden through forested country the last 50 miles along the Heartland and Paul Bunyan Trails, it was good to see the countryside open up a bit.
There was nothing at the old crossroads of (former) railway and county road to indicate that it had once been an incorporated village of 350 persons and more, or a village of any size at all. But to the east, hidden from the intersection by trees, is an old two-story school that now serves as a community center and as the Guthrie Town Hall.
If the mere existence of the old schoolhouse wasn’t enough to suggest that people still had an attachment to their community school, there was a sign out front to remind people of an upcoming “Nary All School Reunion”.
The community got its start when the railroad came through here in 1898 and sent out spurs to the logging camps. Nary had a population of about 1000 people at that time. The people quickly organized a local government for Helga Township, and school districts were established. Big fires swept through in 1901 and 1908, burning down the town each time, but each time it was rebuilt to some extent. It was in this decade that the population of Nary was about 350.
As the logging days ended, this became a region of small family farms. In 1920 or thereabout, three rural school districts, each with its own one-room school, voted to consolidate. That’s when the present two-story building was constructed. The news clipping shown above, from the Bemidji Pioneer (July 8, 1921), indicates that the village population was down to about 60 by 1920, but there was still a general store and a church.
The school thrived and became an important part of the social life of the community. Years later people remembered the music classes, plays, operettas, and piano and voice lessons. The school included a one- or two-year high school term for a while. There was a school bus (horse-drawn, at first) to bring children to school, and hot lunches were served. (For persons like myself who attended one- and two-room rural schools in the 50s and early 60s, these would have been unaccustomed amenities.)
It had an enrollment of about 120 when it was caught up in another round of consolidation. Long-time resident Vaner Tangborn explained, “The Nary School was closed in 1972. We had a referendum and voted against the closing, but the State politicians took away all our state aid, leaving us no alternative.” As one who has long been interested in school consolidation controversies, I’d like to know what that was all about, but didn’t find anything in the issues of the Bemidji Pioneer to explain it.
Vaner Tangborn’s reminiscences can be found on the township web site, along with other historical reminiscences of the community. These were the source of much of the above information.
Although the school closed, the building has always been cared for, and continues to serve the community. It is now the Helga Township hall, and there is a move underway to make it a Performing Arts Center.
This YouTube video shows the interior of the building (something I didn’t get to see for myself) and gives more information about the plans for the future.
The above is another YouTube video on the same topic. In this one, the name Tangborn appears in the acknowledgements. I presume the persons mentioned are part of the same family as the Vaner Tangborn whose reminiscences tell about his many years conducting a band, first for a railroad and then for the Nary community – from 1930 to 1982. The idea of turning this building into a Performing Arts center seems to be the continuation of a long history.
This photo shows the Town Hall entrance, with a place for the usual notices and announcements on the south side of a partition that serves as a bit of shelter from the winter winds for those entering the building.
Helga Township is the northernmost one shown on this map.
[Edit: map updated, 25 November 2015]