WINTON – A few years ago my husband Mike and I started looking for a cabin. We ran across a listing the Ely area real estate guide. The listing was for a year-round historic home with access to Fall Lake. It had formerly been a school.
I had grown up in Ely in the 1960s and ‘70s, yet I wasn’t aware there had been a school on Fall Lake. We were intrigued. Upon further inquiry we found the house had been built in the late 1890s as a school for the Swallow and Hopkins Lumber Company. We purchased the house in the spring of 2014 and began discovering more about this converted school.
We were given a photocopy of a picture of the school as it looked in 1900 by the Maki family which showed the original 20-foot by 40-foot building with five evenly spaced windows on the east side. We surmised that the west side also had five windows. It showed the original entrance on the north end which at some point was replaced by a wood-burning fireplace. There are 25 students and two adults shown in the picture. The Makis had family members who attended the school and reportedly carved their names somewhere in the structure. The school was probably built around 1898 as that is when Swallow and Hopkins started their mill.
Early in our investigation of the school’s history, I connected with Margaret Sweet at the Ely-Winton Historical Society. We were able to track down another photo of the exterior of the Fall Lake School, date unknown. There are twenty-two students and a teacher pictured outside the original entrance. This photo shows that an addition had been added to the east, lake side, of the building.
In 1914, a new seven room brick school was built in Winton. Swallow and Hopkins Lumber Company ceased operations in 1915. We don’t know when the Fall Lake School stopped functioning and if the students went to the new school in Winton or if they went to the Section 30 School, as the Fall Lake School was in Lake County.
The St. Croix Lumber Company also had a school on the west side of Winton that was supposedly built in 1893. By 1918 the St. Croix ceased operations. The assumption is those students were probably attending the new school after it opened. The original Winton School no longer exists. The brick school was open until 1940 when it closed its doors due to declining enrollment and consolidated with Ely public schools. That building was later a hospital and apartments and was torn down after a fire destroyed it.
We are not sure when the Fall Lake School building became a residence. The history on the property abstract shows George Carpenter taking ownership in 1931. We were told that Mrs. Carpenter was a midwife and our neighbor, Jimmy Maki, was born in the house. Paul and Gladys Mittermaier had the deed from 1945 to 1956. They had Evergreen Lodge on Basswood Lake. We found a sign in one of our outbuildings, “No Parking—Duck Only—Evergreen Lodge.”
The last owners before us were Bob and Leone Hayes, 1956-2014. Leone told us that the knotty pine on the walls came from buildings on Basswood Lake. She said that “two portages and many trips” were made to bring back salvaged materials to be reused. When we removed a drop ceiling to expose the original 10-foot ceiling height, we found a 2-by-4 stringer board that had names and dates and addresses carved and written on it. We are guessing it was signed by fishermen who stayed at Johnson Brothers as Leone’s family owned that resort and it was brought back in the salvage from Basswood Lake.
Throughout the last couple of years as we have been renovating our house, we have been mindful of preserving as much of the original character and details as we can. We have removed dropped ceilings, tongue and groove knotty pine paneling, tons of lathe and plaster, interior walls, vinyl floor coverings, carpet, wallpaper, windows, an old chimney, kitchen cabinetry, light fixtures and wiring, doors, plumbing, ducting, insulation and concrete.
We have uncovered original bead-board on the walls and ceilings and diagonally laid maple hardwood floors which we have brought back to life. We discovered in the original cloakroom, holes in the boards where the coat hooks were with students’ names written below them. We found evidence of another addition and entrance being added when we exposed original wood roof shingles and exterior wood sheeting in an interior wall we opened up. We were excited to find a 2-by-4 stud in a wall we removed that was marked with School Dist. #3. We were told by the former owner that the casing on either side of a pair of windows in the living room was not flush to the wall because that was where the blackboard had been.
We have tried to use old school materials in our renovation efforts. Our oak window and door casings are salvaged from a former school in Chisholm. Our kitchen cabinets and a pair of doors are from a school in Bovey that was being torn down. A pair of French doors from Hibbing’s high school has been retrofitted into bedroom doors. We have other oak classroom doors we are hoping to repurpose in the dining room as wainscoting.
Our renovating of this piece of local history is ever evolving. As we continue we hope to learn more and share with other people who are interested in our preservation project.
Pam (Loe) Turnbull grew up in Ely, MN. Fall Lake/Winton is located approximately four miles northeast of Ely. This article was shared with Hometown Focus by the Ely-Winton Historical Society (EWHS) with the permission of Pam Turnbull. The EWHS is located at Vermilion Community College in Ely. To learn more, find the EWHS on Facebook or call them at 218-365-3226.