mottsville

The Old Mottsville School

Frieda’s Files are a collection of historical short stories about Carson Valley by Frieda Cordes Godecke, published in The Record-Courier. Reproduced here with permission from the Cordes Cousins, and their book “Frieda’s Files”.

August 10, 1978 The Old Mottsville School

Eliza Mott, wife of Israel Mott, arrived in Mottsville by covered wagon with her family on July 12, 1851. Here, in her first house build of discarded wagon beds, she gathered her brood and the neighborhood children about her at the kitchen table for what was the first school in the area that later became part of the State of Nevada. In so doing, she laid the foundation for what was to be one of the larger school districts in Douglas County.

Mottsville school
The badly scratched old photograph shows the Mottsville school building in its early days.

The gentle lady and her helper, Mrs. Allen, no doubt had little to work with other than their determination to teach their children to read and write.

When more of the Mott family came to the settlement and other families located in the area, it became evident that the Mott kitchen would have to be replaced by a school building. A substantial one-room school was built in 1855 or 1856 near what later because the Mottsville cemetery.

The community grew by leaps and bounds. Ten years later the school building was found to be too small to accommodate the growing population. David Israel Jones owned considerable property in the area, and in 1865 he donated an acre of land a quarter of a mile to the south which was to be used as the new school site. The one-room building was moved to the new location and room added. We are told that as many as 60 children attended the school at times, and it was necessary to employ two teachers.

The school house was not only a place of learning, it was the center of social activity as well. Runners under the desk made it possible to easily move them into smaller room and so to provide space in the larger room for programs and dances.

Pupils at the Mottsville school
Pupils at the Mottsville school about 1927 included (back row, from left) Doris Allard, Flora Biaggi, Jenny Biaggi, Mrs. Annie Brockless (teacher), Gertrude Gansberg, Dephinia Biaggi; (middle row) LaVern Maytell, Muriel Biaggi, Marion Gansberg, Ida Biaggi, Ruth Lundergreen, Irene Van Syckle, Ruth Gansberg; (front row) George Gansberg, Sherwin Kettenberg, Aldo Biaggi, Curtis Gansberg, Delbert Allerman, Duane Allerman, and Raymond Brown. (Photo courtesy of Sherwin Kettenberg).

Teachers boarded with families living near the school. In good weather they walked with the children, and during heavy snow storms they traveled by wagon or sled.

A teacher’s duties went far beyond teaching the three Rs. She was also the janitor, the one who started the fire in the pot-bellied stove in the morning, the one who bandaged the bumps and bruises, and the one who bundled up the children and sent them safely on their way home.

The Mottsville School, like all schools of the time, was periodically visited by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. A Genoa Courier of 1875 tells us that Superintendent R. Kelly visited the Mottsville School and was, we quote, “highly pleased with the progress of the scholars and efficient management of the school. The proficiency of the class in Physiology was particularly worthy of mention” – end of quote. A. Balls was the teacher at this time. Incidentally, that issue of the Courier also set the population of Douglas County at 1,718.

Harold Park of Minden, who is 85 years old, entered the first grade at Mottesville in the late 1890s. He went through all the grades but did not finish his eighth year. A disastrous cloudburst in Mottsville Canyon did serious damage to his father’s farm and buildings. He was kept out of school to help in the cleaning up process and the following year went to work to help support the family.

Harold tells us that Georgia Beeding, who later became Mrs. John Dangberg and the mother of Grace Dangberg, taught at Mottsville when most of the Park children were pupils there. He tells us that one day his brother Will Park, who later was sheriff of Douglas County for many years, caught a field mouse on the school grounds and hid it under the tap bell on the teacher’s desk. A clump of willows growing below the school house provided a switch for the punishment. Will was sent to the willow patch to cut the weapon.

pupils at the Mottsville school
Around 1900, pupils at the Mottsville school included (from left, back row) an unidentified child, Harold Park, James E. Hickey, Vern Park, Oscar Van Syckle, Willian Frevert, George Fettic, Ida Thompson, Vade Swaile, Elsie Park, Lola Jones; (front row) four unidentified children, unidentified teacher, Ruth McQue, Bertha Thompson, Irene Jones, Christine Thompson, Eva Jones, Delsie McQue, Enia McQue. (Photo courtesy of Harold Park)

Miss Georgia Beeding boarded with Mrs. Mott-Taylor. Eliza Mott had married A. M. Taylor in 1863 following the death of Israel Mott. Miss Beeding’s monthly salary was $40 — $16 of which she paid for board and room. One of her pupils was Gene Fettic, the grandson of Mrs. Mott-Taylor and the father of Beatrice Fettic Jones.

Boys and girls were permitted to attend grammar school as long as they wished since there were at that time no schools of higher learning in Douglas County. Male teachers who were better able to control the older boys were sometimes hired to cope with the situation. Gene Fettic, well beyond grammar school age, attended school under Mr. Waltz, who expected strict obedience from his pupils. One day Gene disagreed with the teacher, and after a heated verbal session the argument resulted in a physical tangle. Gene finally broke loose and escaped through the door. That ended his career as a student at Mottsville.

Mrs. Richard Thran taught school at Mottsville as Miss June Lewis in 1924 and 1925 when she was 19 years of age. She boarded with the John Drendel family in Waterloo and drove back and forth to Mottsville with a cart and horse. In inclement weather Mr. Drendel took her to school in his classy red Buick coupe. Later, as Mrs. Thran, June taught in Fredericksburg, Alpine County (Calif.) for several years and was regarded as a very capable instructor. She now resides in Waterloo.

Mrs. Annie Brockliss was the last person to teach at Mottsville and perhaps the only teacher who had school there as a child many years before.

Attendance at the school dwindled the last few years as some of the former pupils were driving to Minden to attend school there. Many of the country schools in the county had already consolidated with Minden or Gardnerville.

Just five pupils enrolled for the last term at Mottsville in 1929. The following year is also consolidated with the Minden School.

The building, that once was the Mottsville School house and was built 125 years ago, still stands and has been remodeled into an attractive home. Hundreds of children, many of whom became prominent citizens of Carson Valley, learned their A B Cs in that little building under the faithful guidance and supervision of devoted teachers.

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