Most of us can look back at our childhood and pick out a couple of teachers that we connected with, helping make us who we are today. For seventy years, the Manitowoc County Teachers College was a place for these teachers to learn their trade.
In the days of early settlement, teachers were not usually trained as educators. The first school classes in Manitowoc County were held in 1837 in the corner of a warehouse owned by city founder Benjamin Jones at Sixth and Commercial (Maritime) Streets. The first public school class was held in 1839 at the county courthouse in Rapids. Growth continued quickly along with the influx of immigrants, and by 1860, the County had been divided into 86 school districts, with 3,971 children attending school.
The training of our County’s educators made a large leap forward in 1900, when the County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution to establish and maintain a rural teacher’s training school. The college began with classes being held in Garfield School from 1901 to 1904, when it moved to the second floor of the Manitowoc Public Library on North 8th Street.
After outgrowing this site, the County Board authorized a new building to be constructed for the College at Michigan and 18th streets at a cost of $53,000. In its new home, the County Rural Normal School, would go on to produce 2,500 graduates until its closing in 1971. Students completed a two year course of study at the school including history, sociology, English, library science, fine arts, psychology, geography, and science. The college also operated a laboratory school with elementary age students attending classes and provided hands-on teaching experience for the college students.
Manitowoc County Teacher’s College, as it would come to be known, offered a diverse range of activities for its students including basketball, football, volleyball, a cheerleading squad, pep club, conservation camps, a chorus and forensics club.
Following the Teacher College’s closing, the building became a home for various county offices and the County Board meetings until about 1996. A major step in the development site came in 1998, when the Society moved its administrative offices, exhibits, artifact storage and research library to the Manitowoc County Heritage Center after a successful $1 million fundraising effort to renovate the Manitowoc County Teacher’s Training College. The fundraising efforts of the Society resurrected the building to its 1922 appearance with a revived hand-painted auditorium, large windows, and an elevator. The Society ended the lease on the building in 2016 and brought all its operations to its property at Pinecrest Historical Village.
A new chapter for the County Teacher’s College begins later this month as the Manitowoc County ADRC (Aging and Disability Resource Center) and the County Veterans’ Service Office move to the Heritage Center. The County Board will again make its home at the historic building beginning on May 16.
At almost a century old, the “County Normal” holds a special place in the hearts of its graduates and Manitowoc County Historical Society. The Manitowoc County Historical Society continues to maintain a fascinating and diverse collection of photographs, artifacts and documents from the College. These artifacts hold many memories for alumni and ensure that the legacy of the institution will live on for perpetuity.