Driving down the rural Lawnsdale and Milky Way Roads in town of Waukesha, it's easy to see an outline of where a small school building once stood, but its history is not so obvious these days.
Obviously, the school is gone now, though that doesn't mean it has been forgotten, and its recent demolition has prompted interest in the site's history and its future.
Patrice DeMeyer was one of those town residents who was left wondering as she drove past the site of Lawnsdale School.
DeMeyer, who has lived in Waukesha for about 25 years, was on her way to visit a relative when she spied the vacant site where a school house, which had been a familiar site for her, stood as recently as early last fall.
"My husband and I pass this building numerous times and have always wondered about the history of it," DeMeyer said.
Its recent history? That's a bit clearer.
John Marek, chairman of the Waukesha Town Board, said the school was demolished a few months ago after residents made complaints about the building. The former school was in such bad shape and beyond repair, the owner decided to have it torn down, he said. That decision was a matter of public record.
"The owner filed a demolition permit to have it done," Marek said.
True to school
But its more distant history was left to those who appreciate such things.
Roy Meidenbauer, who was president of the New Berlin Historical Society, also had more direct connection to the school. Three generations of his family – his father, uncle and daughter – attended Lawnsdale School.
He proudly said he and other people created a three-ring binder containing the history of the building.
Lawnsdale School was originally built in the mid- to late-1880s as a one-room schoolhouse, which stood until the 1950s. Another school house was built on the property in 1956. The school closed in 1976 and stayed quiet within the green and brown patches of fields until 2016.
Meidenbauer, who graduated in 1946 from the school and went on to high school, remembers all the grades being in one room. He explained sometimes there were as few as 10 children in the room and the most was about 14.
"Somehow I made it through," he laughed.
A memory that has stuck with him is of the merry-go-round on which the kids played. It had iron chains that the students would hang on to.
"You hung on and ran around. If you had more kids, the faster you would go, and pretty soon you were off the ground," Meidenbauer recalled.
The merry-go-round taught the kids to have quick reflexes. He joked sometimes a kid would fall off, and the chain would smack someone not paying attention.
Meidenbauer also recalls field trip in the spring in which they walked to a creek south of the school. They would see tadpoles and crayfish. They also looked at the spring flowers as the bloomed.
"I remember skunk cabbage (a foul-scented perennial wildflower that thrives in wet areas of forest lands), which I haven't see since then, he said.
Meidenbauer is very fond of his school memories and was on a reunion committee for his fellow alums. Eight years ago, there were about 100 past students who came to reminisce.
The reunion was held across the street from the school. Former pupils brought back items for a show and tell.
Meidenbauer still has a wind-up record player, which played 78-rpm records from the school. He also ended up with a piano from his school days.
While the physical shell of the school is no longer on Milky Way Road, the spirit of education remains in its current limited use.
Green Power Garden has been using the property to teach people about growing food on their own.
Master Gardener Volunteer co-chair Molly Llanas explained the organization, which started in 2010, is based on the vision of Sandra Roback and Ken Miller, who wanted to help underprivileged children learn about eating healthy.
Llanas said the food grown is donated to The Hope Center and The Food Pantry in Waukesha.
Green Power Garden has grown to three gardens and the two-year harvest total is over 4,400 pounds of fresh vegetables. The Hope Center distributes fresh produce and uses the produce to make healthy meals for the homeless and others who are impoverished.
In 2012, the gardens were combined into one large area donated and tilled by Larry Spleas.
Through the years they borrowed a sheds, water storage tanks, and received donations of many plants, seeds, tomato stakes, wagons and hand tools.
Llanas said children love to see the progress of what they planted, weeded and pulled. Meidenbauer remembered seeing dozen of children working in the field as he drove by.
"It is good kids are learning where food is coming from," he said.
For more information on Green Power Garden, visit https://www.facebook.com/pg/GreenPowerGarden/about/?ref=page_internal.