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Exchange School History

Gloria Christiansen stands in the main room of the Antelope County District 70 school museum in Neligh. Instead of telling the story of pioneer school days, it tells the story of education from the beginning of the public school system through the 1980s, but its focus is the 1940s to the 1980s. 

NELIGH — From the outside, the simple, white building looks like a typical 1900s school.

Inside, it still features the oak floors and wainscoting installed when it was built.

But there's more to this school than first meets the eye. Instead of telling the story of pioneer school days, it tells the story of education from the beginning of the public school system through the 1980s, but its focus is the 1940s to the 1980s.

"No one has that era," said Gloria Christiansen, who spearheaded the effort to acquire the school, get it moved and transformed it into a museum in Neligh.

Plenty of "heritage schools" — as she calls them — tell the story of the very early days of education in the state, but none focus on this time period, the Neligh woman added.

Christiansen's interest in education stems from her years as a teacher in Clearwater and a media coordinator for Educational Service Unit 8 in Antelope County.

During that time, she collected the technology of the day — including 16 mm and film-strip projectors that use cassette players, overhead projectors and more — with the hope of having a museum where it could be displayed and used.

Her mission got a boost in 2013 when Merlin and Janice Bolling donated the old school building located on their property west of Neligh.

Built in 1916 to replace the existing District 70 School, it served until the spring of 1973. By the time Christiansen acquired the building, it was in rough shape.

But professionals deemed it solid enough to be moved, so Christiansen and the committee involved raised the $125,000 needed to relocate and restore it.

Two grants aided their efforts.

On Feb. 13, 2018, the building made the nine-mile journey from the Bolling farm to its new home among the Antelope County Historical Society's other buildings in Neligh.

Once on its new foundation, workers refurbished the interior and exterior, saving the original floor, wainscoting and framing around some of the windows.

"We wanted to make it as close to original as possible," Christiansen said.

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They filled it with school desks representing different eras, a bookcase that served as the school's library, a piano, cabinets, tables and more. Furnishings came from a variety of sources, including St. Boniface School in Elgin, which was recently torn down.

"We bought a room and took what we wanted," Christiansen said. Among the items they acquired from the school were chalk boards and bulletin boards.

The museum houses Christiansen's collection of audio/visual equipment that has been in storage for years. Now, people of all ages can experience school as it was before computers, iPads and smart boards ruled — when film strips, cassette players and chalk boards were cutting-edge technology.

In fact, Christiansen hopes students from the area will spend time there experiencing the early days of education.

"My dream was to make it a functional school," Christiansen said.

She's also collecting stories and memories from people who attended country school. The last country school in Antelope County closed in 2005, so memories of those schools will be fading fast.

Which is why the school museum is so important.

"It's about people who love country school," Christiansen said.

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