Date in History: 1866 – 1888

South High Street in Fort Atkinson has been the site of public schools for almost 150 years. In 1859, a cream brick two-story schoolhouse was built on the corner of South High Street and South Fourth Street. The lower level was a public grammar school and the upper floor was rented by John Purdy who offered private lessons to older students.

In 1866, Fort Atkinson’s first public high school was built right next to the 1859 building and its first principal was John Purdy. This school was destroyed by a dramatic fire on the night of April 17th, 1888. The fire appeared to have started in a closet where the cleaning rags were stored.

When the fire bell rang out across town at 10:30 that night, the entire community poured out to save what they could. Working quickly they managed to save most of the library books and the school bell. That same bell, which would go on to survive another fire that destroyed the second high school, will soon be re hung at our current Fort Atkinson High School.

This historic document aired on the radio as an Historic Minute on 08/28/2006.