My Beloved Burtrum Schoolhouse

During another one of my binges scanning google maps, I came across a promising looking little town in northern Minnesota.  With a population barely reaching 144, there is nothing left of this little town but a few blocks of houses, a couple small town amenities and a large  three story building at the very edge of town.


On a cold February day, we were greeted with a significantly different view when compared to our first visit the Spring prior. No longer shrouded in foliage, an entirely new view was presented.  Shattered windows and boarded up doors provide a sharp contrast to the still sturdy brick walls and cement foundation.



With the back of the old schoolhouse completely open to the elements, we were fortunate enough to have full access through the boiler room to the stunning remains of this once expansive schoolhouse.  Your first view upon entering the heart of the school is a large wooden staircase with faded and crackled blue stairs.


A few steps to your right takes you into an old classroom, filled with broken furniture and a deteriorating piano.  The patterned tin wall coverings have spent years rusting and give the room an eerie orange glow.


The red and green bathroom holds it’s own unique beauty, with the original wood bathroom stalls and the vintage style toilet tanks.


Venturing up the deteriorating staircase provides a stunning view of the front windows.  The dusty filled light illuminated the peeling paint and the exposed wood beams.  The second and third floors also hold a treasure of old classrooms and walls full of broken windows.


As visible in all the pictures, the heart of the school was succumbing to extreme water damage and the rest was simply experiencing the cruel weathering of nature.  It was still so heartbreaking to hear of it’s final demise this year. It will always remain one of my most beloved locations and a stunning example of the beauty in decay.


55 thoughts on “My Beloved Burtrum Schoolhouse

  1. infraredrobert December 17, 2016 / 7:00 AM

    Looks like time has not been kind to this school…there seems to be a lack of outright vandalism…maybe because of its location…also no sign of homeless occupancy either. Very unlike the J.W. Cooper School I visited this summer. Nice work…Looking for the follow butoon on your site BTW


      • Mary September 6, 2017 / 10:39 AM

        We tried to buy it so many years ago, but the owner wouldn’t sell.


      • Irene Bjelland September 6, 2017 / 2:20 PM

        When I was 5-7 years old, Lawrence Gardener would hire me to clean and polish the piano at the school every Saturday for $5. Back then, $5 was a lot of money. When I was finished, he would take me to his house (across the alley from our house) and give me my $5, 3 sugar cookies and a cup of milk. He would go in the other room and read and I would sit by the pantry and eat my cookies. When I was finished, he would tell me it was time to go home, (I was a chatter bug, and I think he tired of my talking. LOL). I would walk to Bing’s grocery store and buy 2 loaves of bread, a gallon of milk, a pail of ice cream and a bunch of penny candy with the change. He would stand in his doorway and smile when he’d see me walking home, carrying my cache from the store, and one day he told me that he was proud of me for buying groceries for the family and not just keeping it for myself. That has stuck with me my whole life. That piano didn’t need polishing every week, but we did need groceries, and he knew it. To see that old piano in ruins now, hurts the very soul of me. 😥

        Liked by 1 person

    • Mari Valencia August 31, 2017 / 10:13 PM

      I use to love going to the schoolhouse as a little girl when Dewy Dix I believe was his name loved next to it. I wish my Dad would have kept the place up, it would have made an amazing museum.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Robin Johnson August 31, 2017 / 10:44 PM

        I remember going there for 4-H meetings.And when we came to town in 1970,my sister went to school….that was the last year i believe?? After that they held the Burtrum Bean Bake for several years…The lawn was used for Burtrum Fundays and horse shows….lots of memories.


      • Jessica Mae Olson September 1, 2017 / 8:33 AM

        I bet if it had been closer to the cities, someone would have taken the time and care… it’s just so far away from everything.


      • Duane Weisbrich September 1, 2017 / 11:00 PM

        Yep, Mari, it was Dewy Dix. My relatives, Jerry and Clara Taft, own his place now. I wish I would have gone inside the school when I was young and it was still a school. We played for hours on the outside equipment. Good memories.

        Liked by 1 person

      • JULI October 13, 2020 / 9:54 PM

        Does your dad own this property?


      • Juli October 13, 2020 / 10:01 PM

        Are they planning on tearing it down?


  2. taphian December 25, 2016 / 1:22 AM

    Wonderful photos. It’s such a pity that this beautiful building must decay and is not restored.


    • Mary September 6, 2017 / 10:41 AM

      I agree would of been amazing, I wanted to turn it into apartments

      Liked by 2 people

      • Jessica Mae Olson September 11, 2017 / 7:43 PM

        Oh that would have been stunning.. all those big windows..


  3. Linda Gates August 31, 2017 / 8:40 PM

    Oh my goodness, this brings back many fond memories. I attended 1st through 6th grade in that Burtrum school. I remember when President Kennedy was shot, we had a television brought into the classroom so we could watch the news coverage.
    Punishment at the school was a spanking with a rubber hose!! I never did experience that one!
    We had three classrooms, 1st and 2nd, 3rd and 4th and 5th and 6th. Three teachers shared the two grade levels. Those were the days!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jessica Mae Olson September 1, 2017 / 8:34 AM

      Thank you so much for sharing your story Linda. I love learning anything I can about places such as this one ♡


  4. Bonnie August 31, 2017 / 10:55 PM

    So many memories of this wonderful place. Two beautiful oak trees used to welcome you to the immaculately kept grounds. Softball games and hide n’seek, and home made butter are a few of my favorite memories. A historic landmark! Such a shame!!!! Thank you for recognizing its beauty…great job!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jessica Mae Olson September 1, 2017 / 8:36 AM

      I can only imagine what this school looked like in its prime… Gorgeous I’m sure


  5. Marilyn Bertsch September 1, 2017 / 8:32 AM

    Oh how sad but great that it has not been vandalized. It looks like there are still some great useful pieces of wood and tin walls that could be incorporated into the antique look. Wood spin dale – perhaps bookcase—wow! What a find!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ronald Stumpf September 1, 2017 / 2:05 PM

    I remember this old school very well, I went to the brick school house near the Dan Bloxam farm, we used to play soft ball there, Charlie Robadou would use his dads Minneapolis moline tractor and wagon to get us there, if only we could relive those days over….Ronald Stumpf, Melrose MN

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jenny Unger September 1, 2017 / 3:47 PM

    These are great pics. We used to drive by the school every weekend on our way to grandmas house in Swanville. I’ve always wondered what it looked like inside. I’m curious what you meant by final demise? I could swear it was still standing a few weeks ago when we drove through town. Thank you for sharing your pics though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jessica Mae Olson September 1, 2017 / 3:49 PM

      Last time we were there, they were tearing apart the entire back side. It feels like they are either slowly tearing it down to use the pieces elsewhere, or they are going to try to do something with it. Who knows though!


    • Mary September 6, 2017 / 10:44 AM

      I was wondering about that too


  8. Duane Weisbrich September 1, 2017 / 11:08 PM

    It seems a bit strange, but even though the pictures are showing a run down, decaying building I keep: hearing kids voices and music, visualizing art projects being made, seeing children running up and down the stair cases, watching meals being served, and so many other mind’s images. Thank you for sharing these wonderful photographs, Ms. Olson.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Jim Molkenthin September 2, 2017 / 5:27 AM

    Oh the memories…My grandfather, Clyde Golden, was the “janitor…maintenance engineer” from the 1930s to the early ’60s. My mother, Adeline Golden Molkenthin graduated from Burtrum High School. I attended the school during second grade. The school was the playground for my two brothers and me during the summer months and holidays when we were at Grandpa and Grandma’s. And yes the school was the centre for the Bean Bake and other community events. In the 1930s Burtrum School District had an opportunity to become the area high school for Burtrum, Grey Eagle, Upsala, and Swanville. It never happened and the school merged with Grey Eagle…and that is another story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Zach johnson November 5, 2018 / 10:11 PM

      And just think now grey eagle is gonna be the same way I loved that school💔


    • Charlotte Smith November 26, 2020 / 11:15 AM

      I knew the Golden’s as a young child in the 50″s. My father was the part-time pastor at the Congregational Church. We lived in Mpls. but drove up to Burtrum on the weekends. Often held church social events at the school. Many good memories of the Goldens ad being guests in their home. One in particular stands out for me — she alwys baked date cookies just for me because I loved them so much.


  10. Marlea September 2, 2017 / 5:21 PM

    We used to go in there when I was a kid in the 80’s, we were not suppose to but we were kids and you couldn’t tell us any different. It was a neat experience. I believe my mom went to school there when she was a kid.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Jill Miller September 3, 2017 / 8:33 AM

    My dad Myron Roste, who is now 79 years old, went to this school. He said in the summers they would put up a big screen and show movies outside on the front lawn. I had always wanted to see the inside of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jessica Mae Olson September 3, 2017 / 8:35 AM

      I am envisioning it with all the kids out laying in the grass.. So cool. Thank you for sharing


  12. Lisa Collier September 4, 2017 / 12:09 AM

    Our lake place is on Pine Lake in between Upsala and Swanville. It’s become an annual event for my siblings and I and all of our children to go into the Burtrum school house just for the experience and maybe a little scare. These photos are simply beautiful and I really enjoyed your article. When we found out the building was coming down we were all quite sad. The schoolhouse is a true testament to a bygone era and simpler way of life. Thank you again for sharing these beautiful pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jessica Mae Olson September 4, 2017 / 10:39 AM

      Thank you for sharing Lisa! From what everyone has said… the rumors of it coming down have been around for a long time! So maybe it will be another 10 years.. but it does seem to be in the process. So heartbreaking


  13. Mary Margaret Durand September 10, 2017 / 7:05 AM

    My Grandmother, Margaret (Knapp) Durand went to that school. Grandma graduated High School at age 16 from there. My Dad has her original diploma! 🙂 Grandma was the smartest most wise woman I ever knew and I was SO Blessed to spend many a summer vacation with her and Grandpa. Every time we would pass her school house I’d ask her to tell me more stories of those days. Dad told me that one of the reasons no one preserved it was that the cost to remove asbestos was prohibitive to anyone who wanted to rehab it for further use. I am certain I do not know, but it will stand as a catalyst to fond and golden memories in me, forever. Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. William June 13, 2018 / 2:20 PM

    Thanks for an excursion through a special place. I never attended the school but L.C. Gardner, who first bought it, let his nephew Richard and me use the school for an office in summer of ’73 and ’74. I got the library and Rick the principal’s office. We were aspiring fiction writers. When L.C. closed up at night, he would leave a written critique of our day’s work signed by Silas Law, Janitor of The University of The Imagination, his name for the school. Both Rick and I published some of the work we did there. I hadn’t seen the inside since ’74. I recall the blue stairs, especially. Thanks so much. BTW-One faculty of the school corresponded with Laura Ingalls Wilder for many years. L.C. Gardner truly had a heart of gold.


    • Jessica Mae Olson June 13, 2018 / 6:39 PM

      Wow.. What an incredible story! Thank you so much for sharing this with me William. I love hearing so many fond memories of these locations. So much love still lives on from them!


  15. Logan Johnston June 23, 2018 / 6:10 PM

    Who owns this place currently and how would I be able to contact them?

    I am looking for video locations for a found footage horror film for my videography class and this place would be excellent for that.


    • Jessica Mae Olson June 23, 2018 / 6:23 PM

      I actually don’t know who owns the property. You could probably look up tax records though!


    • Mari Valencia November 4, 2018 / 10:14 AM

      Ernesto Valencia


  16. Alex June 24, 2018 / 10:05 PM

    Is this place still explorable? I’d love to go inside and take a look but dont want the cops called on me haha not worth it at that point


    • Jessica Mae Olson June 25, 2018 / 4:06 AM

      I really couldn’t tell you one way or another. There’s always a risk of that when exploring!


  17. Kathy Detloff November 7, 2018 / 10:27 PM

    When I was in my early teaching career at Swanville High School, my husband bought the Burtrum school lectern from Ernesto as a gift for me for Christmas after he saw it on a tour that Ernie gave us one fall. The lectern graced each of my many classrooms during the years I taught at Swanville. It was used for spelling bees, plays, prom introductions and programs as well as in my classes every day. I always told my students that this was the “official” lectern from the Burtrum school house. When I retired, I passed it on to my daughter who is a teacher in Chokio-Alberta High School in western Minnesota. We cherish its history.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jessica Mae Olson November 9, 2018 / 2:59 PM

      Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful story! It’s so incredible to hear that someone saved a beautiful piece of history and that it continues to be shared and loved.


    • Mari December 7, 2020 / 8:38 PM

      O wow! I don’t think I ever knew this, how awesome!! I’m so glad something from that school got some use. I get sad every time I drive by this place which isn’t often but trying to talk to my Father about doing something with it is like taking candy from a baby😢


  18. Jana September 25, 2019 / 3:51 PM

    It is so sad seeing these neat old school buildings rotting away. I would love to go exploring in them sometime. I love looking up online abandoned schools, so interesting and neat.


  19. ray drews May 4, 2020 / 10:37 PM

    my grandmother ruth mcdermond taught there in the early 1920s.

    Liked by 1 person

      • ray drews June 2, 2020 / 9:04 PM

        no maam. i do have photos of inside culdrum school house though of students and building where she also taught


  20. Leila Allison May 28, 2021 / 6:19 PM

    We drove through Burtrum last Sat. May 22, 2021 on our way to Breezy Pt, MN. Both my husband and myself noticed this old school building, it would have many stories of the past to tell I am sure. It could have been made into apartments, or restored somehow. So very sad to see this beautiful old building decaying like this. Leila Allison Woodbury, MN


  21. Elaine Ostlund July 19, 2021 / 10:40 PM

    Our family has a cabin on Mound Lake nearby so we drive there often! We can’t understand for such a small town why such a big school??! Was there that many kids in the area to go there??It seems like a poor town to so unusual that there was enough money to build a school like that!?The streets in Burtrum are still dirt even!!! Thanks for sharing photos!!


    • Juli Devriendt July 23, 2021 / 10:24 AM

      I was told that it was built to be used eventually as a high school for Grey Eagle and Swanville but that never happened.

      On Mon, Jul 19, 2021 at 10:40 PM Abandoned Midwest wrote:

      > Elaine Ostlund commented: “Our family has a cabin on Mound Lake nearby so > we drive there often! We can’t understand for such a small town why such a > big school??! Was there that many kids in the area to go there??It seems > like a poor town to so unusual that there was enough money t” >


  22. Ron Kuehne January 27, 2022 / 8:53 AM

    I just came across this and have so many memories as I also spent 6 years of school there. I live close by so I see the building slowly decaying, SAD


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