From The Phonograph, Colby, Wisconsin

Thursday, June 17, 1897

Transcribed by Linda Ewen


We publish the oration of Miss Mary Eder, delivered at commencement, this week by request.




Oration by Miss Mary Eder


In the year 1872, our little city was but a straggling settlement in the woods.  It stood in the forest, an intruder upon those domains where the lofty pines seemed in proud supremacy to meet the deep blue sky.  It consisted of a few houses and one or two stores of general merchandise.


This little settlement was named in honor of Gardner R. Colby, an honorable gentleman, who, until the day of his death, always took great interest in the welfare of our city.


The houses were as a general rule, rudely constructed log cabins, most of them having but one or two rooms.  They seemed an imitation of those houses that were built at Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement of America.


There were no sidewalks, like we have now, but simply rude constructions, which answered the purpose at the time, and at many places where we now have convenient cottages and good sidewalks, the trees swayed their branches in still and calm sublimity.


Though the first houses of Colby were most rudely built log cabins, the occupants of those cabins were intelligent, ambitious and enterprising citizens, who bear the honor of laying the foundation of our own well regulated public school system.


The year 1872 marks an important epoch in the history of our city.  In that year, one of the threads of that great network of railways, which covers the United States was extended through our city.  It resulted in the building of a convenient and capacious depot, which is now the center of our commercial transactions.


Before this, the lumber [saw]ed to build the frame buildings of the city, was brought from Marshfield, over the railroad track with a conveyance called a pushcart.  It had to be brought at night for the railroad company would not allow the track to be used for such purposes during the day.


One might envy the old settlers their freedom and independence, but no one would envy them those nightly expeditions they were obliged to make.


The first school house was built in 1873.  It was a rudely constructed frame building, but it served very well as a school house and that was not its only use.  It was used as the public hall for all social and public purposes.  The first one to step into that building as the village school teacher, was a gentleman by the name of C.W. Blake.


The first postoffice was located in a small, log cabin, on the railroad right of way and Ira Graves was the first postmaster.  He held the office but a short time-two or three months—when he resigned.  Geo. W. Ghoca was then appointed postmaster and he removed the office into his store, in the building now occupied by J. E. Borden & Co. as a furniture store, where it remained for several years.


Even now, when our old settlers are meditating on past events, the sight of that building should recall to the time when they used to go there anxiously awaiting pleasant or, as the case might be, sad tidings from dear friends and relatives in the distant lands that they had left.


Mr. J. A. Parkhurst started a paper in 1875, called the Enterprise.  It was published but a short time then it was sold to a Neillsville editor, and was removed to that city.


When, in 1878 the first number of The Phonograph was issued, there was a paper established which remained here, and which we expect will continue to grow in fame and prosperity, speaking for itself and the people, as the name indicates.


In the year 1877, the Catholic people of this vicinity, purchased the old school house and converted it into a Catholic church.  Thus it was noted for three distinct purposes, being the first place of protestant worship, the first school house, and the first Catholic church of Colby.  In its place was erected the building in which are now conducted the primary and intermediate departments of our school system.


The new school house was built by Messrs. Record & Ferguson and its completion was celebrated by a dance, that being the first time that it was used for any public purpose.  The dance was largely attended and was one in which our old settlers gave vent to their wit and spirits.


In 1879, Gardner R. Colby Jr., donated $500 for the building of a public hall, and he with others donated $250 for a public library.  The hall was accordingly built and is now known as “Colby Hall.”  The donation of $250 also established the beginning of our present city library.  Thus we see the constant progress of Colby, and the evolution of its public schools, until we arrive at the point where the citizens of Colby and vicinity resolved upon the noble task of establishing a free high school.


In the year 1885 the question was submitted to a vote of the people.  The voters of the towns of Colby and Hull, at their respective town meetings voted on the questions.


The number of votes cast in the town of Colby was 122, of which 97 were for it and 25 were against it.  The number of votes cast in the town of Hull, was 105, of which 104 were for it and 1 was against it.


Accordingly the school was established and opened on Monday the 20th day of September, 1885, with Prof. J. F. Sims, who had taken so deep an interested in, and whose efforts went so far toward, the organization of the high school district, as principal, and with an attendance of thirty pupils.  It was conducted in the Good Templars hall until the year 1889 when the present high school building was erected.


Thus the task was completed.  No task could be more noble.  Our citizens acknowledged the fact, that some of the brightest intellects, the noblest characters and the greatest minds have originated among some of the poorer classes.  For example, Abraham Lincoln and U. S. Grant were poor boys.  In establishing this high school the citizens have given the rich and the poor alike, an opportunity to elevate themselves in the intellectual world, and attain those acquirments (acquirements) of knowledge, which are so much to be desired, fitting them, to fill important position sin the great world of struggle and labor. 


Many young men and women, who now hold honorable and profitable positions in this world of toil where all must labor who wish to reach the much desired heights of success and prosperity, were taught and trained at the high school of Colby.


Prof. J. F. Sims, the first principal, began his noted career, as a teacher, in teaching our high school.  He taught the school for six years.  Since then he has been ascending the stepping stones to learning, and is now one of the instructors at the River Falls Normal School.


He was succeeded by Mr. Ketcham who taught the school for two years.  Then comes our present principal who has held that position for the last four years.  Thus in tracing the History of Colby, we find that it has done its share in helping to enlarge and enrich that great institution which developes (develops) the moral and intellectual virtues of the people, and which has moulded (molded) the character of the history of that magnificent expanse of territory which is now occupied by the United States of America.


That institution is the public school.


Some of the ablest statesmen, the framers of the constitution, and the founders of our grand and noble government, received their education at schools that were in no way superior to our public schools.


We would not be surprised if Colby would some day produce a second George Washington, or a second Abraham Lincoln.


Some people have imagined that in twenty years from now, Colby will be a medium sized and beautiful city having spread out in all directions.  We hope that their pictures of imagination, will at the stated time become real.



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