History Nebraska Blog

Brown County’s Sod High School

Lakeland High School students at the new building. 1934
Lakeland High School, believed to be the only sod high school in the nation, was built in Brown County, Nebraska, in 1934. RG3183-4-5

During the Depression years of the 1930s, Nebraskans were faced with a shortage of funds for school construction. Due to the lack of available wood in many areas of the state, early settlers had constructed some buildings of sod, abundant on the prairie and a good insulator against heat and cold. In 1934 in Brown County the residents took a lesson from their ancestors and constructed a sod high school. Accounts of this undertaking are recorded in a 1935 report of the Nebraska Emergency Relief Administration (NERA), a copy of which is in the Library/Archives of the History Nebraska.

Three Brown County rural school districts, located about twenty miles southwest of Ainsworth, decided to build a consolidated school, with sod as the basic construction material. After receiving NERA approval and funding, work was begun on July 20, 1934. Sod was cut from old lake beds in the area and a foreman was hired from relief roles. A sod roof supported by pole rafters topped a two-room structure, consisting of a classroom and living quarters for the teacher. It was completed on September 10. Several outbuildings, including two toilets and a barn for the students’ horses, were also built of sod.

The dedication of the building on September 19 was attended by over fifty persons, including State Superintendent of Public Instruction Charles W. Taylor. The school opened with eleven students under the tutelage of E. E. Holm. Ninth, tenth, and eleventh grades of study were offered. The first graduates of Lakeland High School were Robert Vanderlinde and Sterling Wales in 1936. Altogether thirty-three students attended Lakeland. Eventually the building began to deteriorate, and the school was closed in 1941.

 

60 miles west of Merna, Custer County, in 1889.
This photograph by Solomon D. Butcher depicted a sod school about sixty miles west of Merna, Custer County, in 1889. RG2608-1774

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