Oakdale-Lake Elmo Historical Society dissolves without enough volunteers

In 1913, the Eder School was still in use as a schoolhouse. It had no plumbing or electricity, and water had to be collected from the outdoor hand pump. Oil lamps were used to light the building, and a wood stove provided heat in the cold months of the year. (submitted photo)

One-room schoolhouse changes hands again

“There isn’t much interest in young people in history these days,” said Carol Houck, secretary and treasurer of the Oakdale-Lake Elmo Historical Society.

Lack of interest seems to be a trend across all volunteer-dependent organizations, which have been unable to attract people from the working and youth populations. In the case of the Oakdale-Lake Elmo Historical Society, it has been especially crippling. 

In response to its declining membership, the group merged with and recently transferred its collection to the Washington County Historical Society. 

“I would say seven [members] are active but 30 are on the roster. Many are too old to do anything. This is sad, but we had to do this,” said Carol’s husband Chuck Houck, who is on the Oakdale-Lake Elmo Historical Society board of directors.

The organization was founded March 17, 1994, and its merger with the Washington County Historical Society was announced late last month. 

The Oakdale-Lake Elmo collection included books, newspaper clippings and historical documents in addition to the Eder Schoolhouse, located on the Oakdale Nature Preserve. 

“We wanted to make sure the work this organization has done for the past 20 years didn’t get lost,” said Rich Eder, president of the Oakdale-Lake Elmo chapter. “The Washington County Historical Society will make sure what we have done will live on for future generations.”

Volunteers were needed to run all of the organization’s activities, which included open houses at the one-room school, the annual ice cream social and in bygone years, the spring tour around the old Oakdale Township which included what is now Lake Elmo and Landfall.

“Every September we would have an ice cream social, and it ended up that Chuck and I did everything. ... We just kind of dwindled down until we only had a couple people,” Carol said.

The Eder Schoolhouse was the pride of the organization. According to “The History of Oakdale Township,” published by the Oakdale-Lake Elmo Historical Society, this schoolhouse is the only surviving 19th century school building from the former Oakdale Township. 

According to other society documents, the Eder Schoolhouse was actually the second schoolhouse to be built in District 12. The original building was constructed in 1868 and was in use until it burned in 1888.

The same year the original school burned, the Eder School was built for $400. It seated about 30 students, who were all taught by one teacher. The school remained open until 1920 when the district was consolidated into another.

In 1921, the building was moved to the Eder farm across the field from its original location east of Lake Jane in what is now Lake Elmo. It was used as a tool shed until 2000 when it was donated to the Oakdale-Lake Elmo Historical Society. 

In 2004 it was dismantled, moved and reconstructed in its current location at the Oakdale Nature Preserve. Later in 2004 the Oakdale-Lake Elmo chapter received an award from the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota for it spreservation efforts of the school.

“They have done marvelous work,” said Brent Peterson, executive director of the Washington County Historical Society. “It will be an honor to build on their efforts and continue telling the stories of Oakdale and Lake Elmo.”

Although programming is not yet finalized, the schoolhouse is expected to be open most Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. 

For more information on schoolhouse programming or the Washington County Historical Society visit www.wchsmn.org or call 651-439-5956. 


Aundrea Kinney can be reached at akinney@lillienews.com or 651-749-7822.

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