Video courtesy Marciana Gonzalez. Fire photos courtesy Tony Collins.
A controlled fire at the old Gardiner Consolidated School near the intersection of U.S. Highway 169 and Iowa Highway 141 drew the eyes of many Christmas Eve travelers Tuesday evening.
“I burned the tree piles all around it, and the embers burned the remaining rotten wood,” said Karl Harris of Bouton, who farms the ground. “It will be a pile of bricks soon anyway, and it’s hard to keep trespassers out. I don’t want anybody to get hurt poking around. The sheriff’s office is always chasing people out.”
No area fire departments responded to the controlled burn, which was started about 5 p.m.
Harris bought the 5-acre parcel in 2017 and has removed much debris left over from the old Interurban train property, including the foundations for both the old and new depots on the north end of the property.
The depot foundations were remnants of the days when the Des Moines and Central Iowa Railroad, the electric interurban rail line locally known as the Galloping Goose, stopped at the Gardiner settlement. Passenger service ended in 1949.
Gardiner Consolidated School was built in 1919 and dedicated in 1920. May Hills, longtime Dallas County Superintendent of Schools, delivered an address at the dedication ceremony, and an oyster supper was afterward served.
By the 1950-1951 school year, when Gardiner Consolidated was one of some 41 school districts in Dallas County, 63 students were enrolled in first through eighth grades, with a cost per pupil of $310 annually.
According to the 1952 report, “Reorganization of the Dallas County School Districts,” by Willard Hubert Johnson, “The Gardiner Consolidated District has an area of 19.8 square miles. In 1950-51 it had an assessed valuation of $1,057,491. The building is a modern brick structure with six classrooms (only three are in use at the present time). Two busses transport all their students to and from school. A hot lunch program is provided for the pupils and teachers.”
The last eighth grade class graduated from Gardiner Consolidated School in 1958. The land was sold in 1964, and the schoolhouse has gradually decayed ever since. The Dallas County Assessor’s description of the property in 2012 tells the tale:
“Old brick school house. Roof has fallen in, windows are missing or broken. Land around is being farmed. Change classification from commercial to agricultural. No value on building.”
Harris, who grew up farming with his father around Paton and moved to the Perry area in 1986 at the height of the farm crisis, has farmed the land around the Gardiner Consolidated School since 2012.