The first public school on record (1858) in Sauk Rapids stood where the C.E. Bell residence was built and had no school bell. J.C Hicks and Jeremiah Russell secured the services of Mr. Fletcher and Ed Hall to remove the bell from the gristmill. Although the bell would be removed in 1870 and returned at a later date, it was destroyed entirely in the Sauk Rapids cyclone.
In October of 1868, the School Board advised the purchase of three sites for schoolhouses in Sauk Rapids, one of which is to be in the center of the population. In early 1869, it was decided that a brick or granite grade school would be erected, yet it wasn’t until January of 1872 that the building was finished and students started.
The voters of School District #3 voted to reorganize the school as an independent school district. J.A. Senn was elected as Superintendent and by December enrollment was reported as follows: 44 in the high school, 40 in first intermediate, 41 in second intermediate, 51 in first primary, and 69 in second primary for a total of 245 students.
An early closing in April of 1886 due to lack of funds, likely saved many lives since the school was demolished in the April 14th cyclone along with the Village of Sauk Rapids.
On May 15, 1886, voters decided to build a new school using bonds not to exceed $10,000. The school would be similar in size to the previous structure, consisting of “seven large, well lighted, ventilated, and conveniently arranged rooms.” The school consisted of 6 departments, with each department taking care of 2 grades making a total of 12 grades available.
In January, 1896, the schoolhouse that was built in 1886 was destroyed by fire. In April, a contract was awarded to F.F. Grams in Minneapolis to build the new schoolhouse. This building was named “Russell School” and is shown in the photo.
Russell School remained Sauk Rapids High School until it was replaced by a new high school, Hillside, in the 1930’s. The old Russell School site is now the site of Russell Arms Apartments at 315 Division Street, Sauk Rapids, MN.
On August 11, 1897, the school term became seven months long commencing October 4, instead of September. Then on December 12, 1898 the school adopted a nine-month term with the second term in January lasting five months. Christmas vacation was reduced to one week and a holiday was given the day after Thanksgiving.
Enrollment by October 28, 1906 grew to 166 in the primary grades, 56 in the intermediate or middle school, 60 in upper grades and 25 in high school. The population of Sauk Rapids was 1,600. As the student population grew, changes had to be made in classroom locations as well as enrollment. By 1908, children younger than 7 were not allowed to attend first grade due to lack of space. That same year the High School was officially established with its first graduate, Alexander R. Berglund.
In July of 1911, a new school building was erected next to Russell School and then the two were joined together. This was completed in 1912 as shown in the photo.
Russell School underwent renovations in 1924 and 1925, however by 1926 it was determined that a new high school was needed. In May of 1927 an election was held to gain permission. It passed with 420 yea and 324 nay votes and construction began on Hillside (High) School at 30 Fourth Avenue South, Sauk Rapids, MN. Upon it’s completion a newspaper headline in August of 1928 called Hillside “one of the most modern in design and construction in the state” that featured mobile seating (pullout bleachers) and a gym, auditorium and assembly combined into one.
Hillside was partially damaged in 1935 due to fire, but the building was restored and classes continued. In 1957, the state changed district numbers and the District became Independent School District #47 and by mid 1958 the District was again exploring construction of a new High School building.
In 1960 a new Sauk Rapids Senior High School was built at 901 First Street South in Sauk Rapids and the Hillside building was converted into an elementary school to hold grades 1-6. An addition in 1967 at the High School was needed to accommodate the increase in enrollment.
In 1969, Rice voted to join the Sauk Rapids school district, changing the ISD#47 name to Sauk Rapids-Rice Public Schools. By 1972, Pleasantview was built in it’s current location (1009 Sixth Ave N, Sauk Rapids, MN) for grades 1-3 and eventually grades 7 and 8 as well. This left Hillside Elementary with grades 4-6.
As Pleasantview’s enrollment rose it resulted in Hillside adding an addition for 7th and 8th graders in 1977. Hillside was home to 4th-8th graders until 1989, and then became only 4th and 5th grade for a number of years. In 2003 due to further increases in enrollment, Mississippi Heights Middle School was built at 1003 South 4th Street, Sauk Rapids, MN.
This building remained the middle school until 2003 when the current Sauk Rapids-Rice High School was constructed at 1835 Osauka Road NE, Sauk Rapids, MN. With the construction of the current high school, existing facilities were converted to accommodate student needs.
Presently Hillside School houses our early childhood and adult education programs. Our three elementary schools, Pleasantview, Mississippi Heights and Rice, serve grades K-5. Sauk Rapids-Rice Middle School serves grades 6-8 and the High School facility continues to house grades 9-12.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Benton County Historical Society