Menomonie was one of the largest cities in western Wisconsin as it entered the 1890s. In this city of more than 5,000, there were five newspapers, 12 hotels and boarding houses, several churches, and numerous retail stores. Industries ranged from such diverse businesses as brick and cigar-making to milling, and even a merry-go-round supplier. By far though, the city's largest employer was in lumber - the Knapp, Stout & Co Company.
For more than 50 years, the Knapp, Stout & Co. Company played an important role in the development of western Wisconsin. At its height, the company employed more than 2,000 people in Menomonie and the surrounding area. In Menomonie alone, the company had lumber mills, stables, a store, machine shop, blacksmith shop, grain warehouse and grist mill. Several of the owners made their homes in Menomonie, where they left lasting marks on the area's history. Wilson, Tainter and Knapp - the names that appeared in yesterday's social pages are today associated with many of Menomonie's buildings and streets. However, no name is more identified with the area than that of Stout.
James Huff Stout, the son of a member of the board of directors of Knapp, Stout & Co. Company, was born in Dubuque, Iowa. The heir to a large fortune, Stout served in several positions with the lumber company before making Menomonie his permanent home in 1889.
Stout had a continuing interest in manual training that may have begun when he was assigned by the company to work in St. Louis. In 1880, St. Louis became the home of the first manual training school in the country. According to legend, Stout agreed to pay for the education of a friend's sons in manual training. When he moved to Menomonie, he proposed to the city's common council to field an experimental program in the subject. It was difficult to turn him down. Stout offered a building, equipment and staff:
"I will place upon the school grounds, in a place designated by the Board of Education, a building of proper kind and size, furnished with all of the equipment necessary for the instruction of classes of boys and girls in the subjects included in the first year in a course of manual training. I will also pay the salaries of the necessary teachers, the cost of all necessary materials and supplies, and all of the contingent expenses for three terms, or for a time equivalent to three school terms, except such a part thereof as shall be paid by five hundred dollars, which is to be provided by the Board of Education."
Following the agreement, Stout and Menomonie school principal R.B. Dudgeon, traveled across the country, touring several manual training institutions. They sought advice and the views of others on manual training. By the time a two-story frame building was erected, three faculty members had been hired from the manual training school in Toledo, Ohio. They were Lillian Goldsmith, cooking and drawing classes; Mabel Wilson, sewing and dressmaking; and C.P. Friedman, woodworking and mechanical drawing.
The school opened January 5, 1891. It was an immediate success. The following year, caught up in his own enthusiasm, Stout proposed to donate a much larger and more complete manual training school. Without a hint of hesitation, his offer was accepted by the city and construction began on a new building. The building was ready for occupancy in early 1893.
Shortly before that, Stout, who was also active on the local school board, named J.E. Hoyt to replace Dudgeon as superintendent of the Menomonie Public Schools and principal of the high school and training school. Dudgeon had accepted a similar position in Madison. Hoyt was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and was principal of Columbus High School before coming to Menomonie. In his new post, Hoyt was responsible for 27 teachers, three special high school teachers and four instructors in manual training. His importance to the manual training school increased when much of Stout's attention was diverted from the school following his election to the state Senate in 1894.
Stout's experiment in manual training nearly ended in 1897 when the new building was destroyed by fire. The school was important to the community however, and the mayor and several other leading citizens presented a petition to Stout requesting that a new building be constructed. Stout agreed, with the condition that the city build a new high school adjacent to the manual training school. The stately brick building, with its huge tower thrusting high above the city, was opened to students the following year. Still an area landmark, the manual training building is now known as Bowman Hall.
At the time, the Stout Manual Training School consisted of three departments: mechanic arts, domestic arts and art. Each of the departments was equipped with the most modern equipment and was supervised by well-respected teachers. President Charles Kendall Adams of the State University of Wisconsin, stated:
"We have in this state the best manual training school in the country, and probably the best in the world. At the Menomonie school, boys and girls are taken from the grammar school and high school into the manual training department for an hour a day without in any way detracting from the amount or quality of their lessons in the regular program."
In a school that was already innovative, it is interesting to note that the Stout Manual Training School had an art department, highly unusual for the times. Stout, who valued art education, established the department in 1894. Art director Kate Murphy was sent around the world to collect art works to aid in teaching and to exhibit in the school. In later years, the art department's profile decreased for a time, only supplementing course work offered through mechanic and domestic arts.
Just as innovative was the creation of the School of Physical Culture under the guidance of N.J. MacArthur. Stout believed that young people should be physically as well as intellectually educated. To meet the physical needs of the students, Stout paid for the construction of a gymnasium-natatorium building in 1900. Included in the building was the first indoor swimming pool in Wisconsin, as well as bowling alleys, dressing rooms, club rooms, Turkish baths and a fully equipped gym. The building continued to be used by students and residents of Menomonie until it was torn down in 1964.
The event that helped dictate the future of the Stout Manual Training School was the introduction in 1899 of the Kindergarten Training School, a two-year training course in the kindergarten teaching. One of the earliest programs of its kind in the country, students served in the Menomonie schools. More important, the kindergarten training program established teacher training at Stout.