SHELDON—Sheldon is home to a unique place where history and art come together.
The Prairie Arts Historical Park features a historical Sears, Roebuck and Co. mail-order catalog house, the Dan McKay Pioneer Home and four former one-room schoolhouses.
“We’re the only town in the U.S. that has four country schools located in one area that are used in four different ways,” said Karin Vanden Berg of Sheldon, the board secretary for the Prairie Arts Council, which oversees the historical park.
That fact came up during the 18th annual Iowa Country School Preservation Conference that the council and Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon co-hosted in October 2017.
The schoolhouses located at the historical park are:
- Baker Township No. 5, which originally was located in O’Brien County.
- Floyd Township No. 8, which originally was located in O’Brien County.
- Lynn Township No. 1, which originally was situated in Sioux County.
- Prairie School No. 1, Sheldon’s first schoolhouse.
The council offers tours of the historical park’s facilities and grounds 1-3 p.m. Thursdays May-October and by appointment only during the other months of; the year. The historical park operates thanks to volunteers.
“We would love to hear from those who have a love of the arts and history of the Prairie Arts Historical Park, and wish to help keep it alive and well in our fair town,” Vanden Berg said. “We can always use and welcome new members, board members and volunteers.”
The historical park provides a plethora of programs to the public, including:
- Sewing classes, which are held during the spring and fall inside the Baker Township School. Cheryl Hilbrands of George teaches the courses.
“She’s taught for years,” Vanden Berg said. “She’s taught for different colleges. She is fantastic. She’s very, very patient.”
- The Little Picassos Kids Arts Club, which meets most Saturday mornings inside the Baker Township School’s basement. The group is for students in grades K-4, but fifth- and sixth-graders also are welcome to attend.
“We were given this basement for the kids, which was wonderful,” Vanden Berg said. “We do this to keep art in town for the kids.”
- An annual craft fair, which is held in June.
“We have artisans and crafters here,” Vanden Berg said. “We’ve had people who blew glass; we’ve had people who did designs on glass. We’ve had winemakers, quilters, metalists, jewelers. And people who paint.”
- A free Halloween Carnival, which is held near the end of October every year.
“There are all kinds of games,” Vanden Berg said. “There are prizes and food. It’s wonderful. It’s amazing. Everybody comes in costumes.”
She mentioned that a new ceramics class will be started in the spring at the historical park.
“We have quite a few molds,” Vanden Berg said. “We’re getting them ready so that people can come in and purchase an item and they can glaze it or paint it — whatever they want — and take it with them.”
The nonprofit Prairie Arts Council operates primarily on donations, fundraisers, grants, membership dues and fees people pay for the various classes the historical park hosts, including NCC’s art courses that are held inside the Lynn Township School.
Vanden Berg mentioned that longtime council board president Harold “Hal” Tuttle, 91, will retire in May from the organization, which he has overseen for years.
Tuttle, a former one-room country school student, was instrumental in founding the historical park in 1972. He was a longtime art teacher for the Sheldon School District and NCC.
The historical Sears, Roebuck and Co. mail-order catalog house is home to the Hal Tuttle Gallery, which features a collection of area artwork, books and musical pieces, among other items.
“It’s hard for him to leave,” Vanden Berg said. “We wouldn’t have what we have if it wasn’t for him. This was his dream.”