Minnesota’s First Vocational School

  • August 27, 2014

In February 1915, students poured into the first vocational school in the state. Located in the mining town of Eveleth, this school was the first education building in Minnesota to be devoted entirely to industrial subjects. The Prairie School style building was designed by William Bray and Carl Nystrom of Duluth for around $48,000. The building was constructed of gray Menominee brick and terra cotta. The exterior featured an intricate cornice and a diamond pattern in the brick above the factory-style windows on each end of the building. A relief carving just under the cornice in the center of the school announced that this was the Eveleth Manual Training School.

old photo1

The interior of the Manual Training School was functional and modern. It was thought to be completely fireproof because reinforced concrete was used for the floors and ceilings, and the interior walls were made of light-gray brick and tile. The only material used in construction that would have been flammable were wooden floors in the corridors and lecture and drafting rooms. The building was wired for electricity throughout and was heated by a steam vacuum system. Skylights brought abundant daylight to the large drafting and woodworking rooms, as well as the electrical “laboratory”, on the second floor.

The Manual Training School offered general courses in the manual trades for high school students, and vocational training for adults who were willing to learn a skill that would be useful at one of the many nearby iron ore mines. The first vocational classes to be offered included sheet-metal work, forging, and gas engine repair. During their first year, students would learn how to handle and repair the machinery that they would be working with and receive basic instruction in their chosen trade. The second year of the two-year vocational program would teach students to read and comprehend mechanical drawings, as well as offering hands-on, practical and technical instruction.

In order to receive a graduation certificate, students in the woodworking program needed to be able to answer questions like these:

1) Give order of procedure, with reasons for each step, in planing two edges and two sides of a board to a given width and thickness.

2) Describe the following joints and give two uses for each: butt joint, half-lap, mortise-and-tenon, miter joint, and dovetail.

3) Make a sketch of a footstool showing all the necessary views and required dimensions.

4) Name the parts of a wood lathe.

5) At what speed would you run a wood lathe when making the roughing cut on a 3.5”x3.5”x10” piece of wood?

By 1919, the class offerings had expanded to cabinet making, wood turning, elementary wood working, plumbing, printing, electrical work, and mechanical drafting. Sheet-metal work and gas engine repair were still the most popular programs offered at the school—each program had 114 students enrolled for training that year. Students planned, designed, and created items that could be used at the school such as metal wash basins, lockers, electrical boxes and junctions, work benches, drafting tables, and stools. Plus, there was never a problem with the plumbing or electrical systems that the students couldn’t fix.

In 1980, the National Register of Historic Places recognized the architectural and historical significance of the Eveleth Manual Training School. It was added to the register on August 18th of that year. The building still stands next to the senior high school, and the exterior looks very much as it did in 1914. Credit should be given to the residents of Eveleth for embracing the historic buildings in their town. Several nearby buildings, schools, and a lovely Carnegie library, were built in the same decade as the Manual Training School and have been minimally altered since then. While in the midst of a budget crisis in 2009, the Eveleth-Gilbert School Board voted against closing the Manual Arts Training Building. Still, at least one member of the Eveleth City Council doesn’t see the value of keeping historic buildings in his community. During a city council workshop on March 15, 2011, Councilor Bradley Hadrava suggested that the Manual Training School and Junior High School should both be closed. He went on to state, “the manual training building needs to come down.” Thankfully the city didn’t have the money to demolish the building at that time. Hopefully, they will find a way to reuse these historic buildings. I always hate having to end an article with the words “the building was demolished to make way for a parking lot.”

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