By Laura Oyen – 4-16-2023
Readers of the April 3, 1888 Saint Paul Globe might have noticed this tidbit in the paper that day. “The public schools reopened yesterday after the regular Easter vacation with a full attendance. The new McClellan school, Oxford and Stinson, schools being occupied for the first time.”1 McClellan school took several years to transform from the “Comoville” school, temporarily located on Front Ave in a rented building, to the two story eight room building that stood for 87 years.
In 1886 Mr. and Mrs. James Harrell circulated a petition requesting a school for the community near Como Lake. The petition was presented to the school board and in 1887 the school site was purchased for $5,075. There must have been some contention regarding the site because in May of 1887 another petition was presented to the board to “continue the school where established in Comoville” and “remonstrating against removing the school to Warrendale.”3 Ultimately the Board of Education Finance committee allocated $32,570 and was under contract for the building of the Comoville School in June of 1887.2 At the September 5, 1887 regular meeting of the Board of Education a motion was put forth by Inspector Athey that the new building at Comoville was to be named the “George B. McClellan” school.6
Though the school opened in April 1888 to 60 students and two teachers, (Miss Maggie Nolan grades 1-2 and Mrs. M. A. Cumming grades 3-4), it appeared that the contractor, A. G. Desparios, may not have completed all the contracted work on the new school. There also appears to have been a dispute regarding additional costs charged by Desparios. In July of 1888, the Real Estate committee of the school board recommended that “the Board serve legal notice on the contractor…to proceed to the performance of the contract.”4 Ultimately, the total cost to build the school came in at $40,505. In October 1888 McClellan enrolled 105 pupils and had their first principal in Miss Eunice Pratt who started as a principal – teacher and later that school year became a full time principal. Mr. Sharffbilig was the first janitor at McClellan.
The history of McClellan school closely follows the development of the Northern Pacific Railroad Como Shops that were located between Hamline and Lexington in what is now Energy Park. The original school attendance area had early residents that worked at the Como Shops. Many had transferred to St. Paul from Brainerd when the Brainerd shops burned down.5 In the early days the school was quite a distance from other city residential areas. A train from town stopped at a station near the eastern entrance to Como Park. Stoltze’s Farm was adjacent to the school and in 1907 became a part of Calvary Cemetery. Early residents reported that Indians frequently camped near the southwest corner of what is now the Front and Lexington Avenue intersection. (This would be south of Gabe’s at the US Bank facility location.)
Samuel Johnson, father of Oscar Fabian Johnson of the Ice Follies fame, was a cattle dealer and bought and sold cattle which grazed on the open land surrounding the Lexington and Front corner. The Johnsons first lived at 980 N Lexington according to the 1900 Census. By 1910 census they were living at 1075 Front Street (first house on the north side of the street directly east of Top Line Credit Union). This home was just two blocks from McClellan and various family members lived there into the 1940’s. It was on the Northern Pacific Shop Pond where Oscar Johnson learned to skate while attending McClellan. According to the November 14, 1951 E.E.E. Day booklet, Oscar Johnson was responsible for the McClellan Junior playground project.
In 1922 school parents established a Mother’s Club. Mrs. Scribner Anderson was first club president which became an official PTA in 1926. In 1930 the PTA petitioned the City Council asking for a new building:
“the old school as a firetrap and a hazard. A single, wide stairway led to the second floor, and lack of repairs had rendered the school uninhabitable. It was reported that a front door had fallen off its hinges and only alert work by a school patrol girl prevented injury to a child standing nearby. Due to a lack of money the request for a new building was denied. But major repairs made in the mid ‘30’s returned the building to safer conditions. New stairways were constructed, the pitched roof and tower, which conducted lighting, were torn off, and the contour of the building altered. Grades seven and eight were added, along with industrial arts and home economics classes.”7
Following World War II, city bond issues allowed further improvements to the heating plant and lighting systems. Oil-soaked floors were refinished and modern furniture was bought. Over the years fire walls were erected, safety exit doors installed between classrooms and exterior doors were repaired. New locks, fire and burglar alarm systems were installed. In addition, the school curriculum was modernized and lessons were planned so all children could succeed at their own abilities.
In 1951 the St. Paul School system celebrated Employer Employee Education Day or E.E.E. Day. Schools created a booklet that outlined the history of the school listing current day staff. Below is a summary of McClellan Enrollment included in this booklet.
In 1940 St. Andrews Parochial School opened which further decreased the enrollment resulting in the return of 7th and 8th grades back to McClellan. In 1956 St. Paul re-established junior high schools. Grades 7 and 8 were once again lost from McClellan resulting in a total enrollment of 141 students in K-6.
The 1963-64 school year marked the 75th anniversary of McClellan. On May 17, 1964 from 2:00-5:00 in the afternoon, McClellan held it’s Diamond Anniversary Celebration. There was a formal program that included musical selections, former pupils from McClellan, a Flag Ceremony, speeches, award presentations and entertainment by Odin’s Scandinavian Folk Dancers. Unfortunately, the next big event McClellan School would host would be a Farewell Open House on June 1, 1975. As noted in the Farewell Program:
“Now McClellan must step aside for progress. A new school will be ready for the children in September. An addition is being constructed at Como Elementary School and will serve the children from McClellan, Como, part of Gorman, Lindsay and special departments serving the hearing and visually handicapped children. We end our year with 172 students and seven classrooms occupied.
The McClellan building will go but it’s memories will live on forever in the hearts of all who have been associated with it—teachers, principals, but most of all – the students – past and present. McClellan will live in our memories forever. Farewell – with love.”
In 1977, the property was conveyed to the City of St. Paul. By 1978 six new single-family homes had been constructed on the old school property. I hope you and the owners of 1045, 1051, 1057, 1063, 1069 and 1075 Stinson enjoy the story of the land that once was McClellan School.
Do you have something to share about McClellan School. Please forward stories to email@example.com. We will include them in Part II’s tribute to the 75th Anniversary of the School.
McClellan School 1888 – 1975
1888 – 1893 Miss Eunice C. Pratt
1893 – 1901 R. D. O’Connell
1901 – 1906 William C. L. Schaefer
1906 – 1911 Nellie O’Keefe
1911 – 1922 Minnie O’Brian
1922 – 1926 Katherine Canning
1926 – 1931 Ivan V. Johnson
1931 – 1936 Mary D. Holland
1936 – 1937 Albert G. Murray
1937 – 1940 Margaret Butler
1940 – 1942 Ethel Rodgers
1942 – 1944 Rudolph Kessler
1944 – 1946 Mary Shinners
1946 – 1955 Mrs. Leona Winner
1955 – 1958 Mrs. Anne McDermott
1958 – 1962 Alice Scanlan
1962 – 1965 Warren Panushka
1965 – 1970 Mrs. Angela Burque
1970 – 1971 Gerald Madigan
1971 – 1973 Kenji Oyanagi
1973 – 1975 William Tilsner
- An Inventory of Saint Paul Public School Facilities from the Past to the Present. By Jene T. Sigvertsen, Architect AIA, Editor (LB 3218.M6 I68 1994 MNHS Library)
- Employer Employee Education [EEE] Day booklet, November 14, 1951. Saint Paul Public Schools. Miscellaneous School Materials. Minnesota Historical Society. Location 114.C.2.5B
- Photographs, 1958-1964. Saint Paul Public Schools. Miscellaneous School Materials. Minnesota Historical Society. Location 114.C.2.5B
- 75th Anniversary History of McClellan School. Saint Paul Public Schools. Miscellaneous School Materials. Minnesota Historical Society. Location 114.C.2.5B
- 1. The Saint Paul Globe (Saint Paul, Minnesota) · Fri, Aug 26, 1887 · Page 21
- 2. The Saint Paul Globe (Saint Paul, Minnesota) · Sat, Jul 2, 1887 · Page 13
- 3. The Saint Paul Globe (Saint Paul, Minnesota) · Mon, May 30, 1887 · Page 5
- 4. The Saint Paul Globe (Saint Paul, Minnesota) · Fri, Jul 27, 1888 · Page 7
- 5. There were several Northern Pacific Shop fires. http://www.crowwinghistory.org/brainerd_fires.html
- 6. The Saint Paul Globe (Saint Paul, Minnesota) · Thu, Sep 8, 1887 · Page 8
- 7. History of McClellan School. Saint Paul Public Schools. Miscellaneous School Materials. Minnesota Historical Society. Location 114.C.2.5B
Do you know some interesting history about your home, your neighbor or about the Como neighborhood? Anyone is welcome to do an interview, share historic photos or do a write up for the Know Your Como segment of our newsletter! For more information on how to submit go to our Know Your Como page.