Davis School is Aging Well: Century-Old Items Uncovered from Cornerstone
By Michael McAllister
In an October 6 celebration marking the 100th anniversary of Grinnell’s Davis Elementary School, the contents of a metal box that had rested in a cornerstone since 1917 came delicately to light. The first program, presented primarily for Davis students, began at 2:00 p.m. with the public open house starting at 3:00.
The Grinnell community was anxious to mark the school’s historic birthday and to see the contents of the time capsule, and school officials had planned and then delivered a fitting tribute.
Officials on hand included Dr. Janet Stutz (far right below), Superintendent of the Grinnell-Newburg School District, who served as event announcer.
The program began with videos of former students reminiscing about their experiences at Davis. A video also showed workers carefully removing the metal box from the building’s cornerstone.
As items from the time capsule were revealed, they were projected on screens to afford the audience full views, and Dr. Stutz, assisted by archivists from Grinnell College made the most of teaching moments for the benefit of the youngsters. (“Boys and girls, why do you think these items are so well preserved?”)
The first two items brought forth for display were newspapers. Grinnell hosted two papers in 1917, the Grinnell Herald and the Grinnell Register. The former’s time capsule contribution was a Tuesday, May 1, 1917, issue and the latter’s a Monday, April 30, edition.
The front-page top-right story in the Herald involved F. E. Spaulding’s appointment as Vice Chairman for the Military Training Camps Association of United States for Grinnell and Poweshiek County. The Register’s coverage of that appointment, one day earlier, had been positioned front page, top left.
Another of the Register’s front-page articles directed readers to refrain from hoarding “food or money,” this sentiment the urging of Paul Meyers, manager of the Iowa Heat, Light, and Power company. “Time for American People to Keep Their Heads,” added the subtitle.
The issue of hoarding was current because of America’s April 6, 1917, declaration of war against Germany.
Cornerstone contents were school oriented: Lists of students and pictures of board members, for example.
One of the distinguished Grinnellians with a presence in the time capsule was Judge J. P. Lyman. The History of Poweshiek County, by L. F. Parker, reports that Lyman served as Poweshiek County Attorney and as a representative in the Iowa legislature. He was also city attorney, a town council member, and Grinnell’s mayor, in addition to serving on the school board in 1917.
“Almost from the outset of his professional career,” writes Professor Parker, “Judge Lyman was accorded a large practice for he soon demonstrated his ability to handle the intricate problems of the law.”
Another significant Grinnell name—that of Morrison—was represented by Fred, or Frederick, son of David Sutherland Morrison. Both father and son are associated with, first, Morrison, McIntosh & Company and, next, the Morrison & Ricker Manufacturing Company. Not far from Davis School sits the former site of the company, now occupied by Grinnell College and known as the Old Glove Factory.
“He is recognized as a representative citizen of unusual enterprise and marked ability, writes Professor Parker of Morrison. “He belongs to the class known as progressive men and by his integrity, energy and industry … has won the confidence and esteem of his associates and of all with whom he has come in contact.”
A highlight—which drew a round of spontaneous applause from the students—was a forty-eight star flag.
Additional contents included a Grinnell yearbook from 1916.
Even the box itself was of interest, sitting as it did for a century in a cornerstone. We have to conclude that it did its job well.
Where will the objects go? Dr. Stutz mentioned a partnership with the archive section of the Drake Community Library to preserve items for the next one hundred years and beyond.
The student portion of the program concluded with the youngsters singing a spirited rendition of “School Days”—not the Chuck Berry version but the Will Cobb and Gus Edwards creation from 1907 (“Reading and writing and ‘rithmetic / Taught to the tune of a hick’ry stick”).
Students also sang “Happy Birthday” to their school and enthusiastically greeted some confetti explosions that capped the first portion of the program.
At the conclusion of the presentation for students, the public had an opportunity to catch close-up views of the time capsule items.
The Davis gymnasium was decorated with a one-hundred-year timeline posted on three of the walls, beginning in the northeast corner and moving south, west, and northwest. Students from all classes investigated aspects of American history and culture and produced summaries of significant events.
The timeline was an effective way of reminding everyone of the history of these past one hundred years. It is difficult to imagine what the next one hundred years might bring.
Certainly, though, whatever lies ahead in the next century, schools will be a part of it.