Penn No. 4 Country School

When my parents bought a farm in 1952 four miles south of Dexter, Iowa, along Old Creamery Road, an abandoned country school sat on the corner just north of us. Old Penn No. 4. I wish I’d appreciated it’s history back then.

Penn No. 4 country school, four miles south of Dexter on Old Creamery Road, which is the wider one in the picture. Our farm was just across the road to the south, or lower left.

Two dozen years earlier, my mother’s family had moved into the neighborhood, adding five more students for Hazel Wetrich to teach at that one-room school. I wish I’d asked Mom more questions about her only year in a country school. She was the only third grader.

Five of the eleven Linn children also attended there.

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Penn No. 4 School, Madison County, Iowa (four miles south of Dexter on Old Creamery Road), 1927. Front: Harold Jobst, Charles Davidson, Fred Morford Jr., ____ Linn, Darlene and Dale Wilson (1st graders), Marjery Wolf, ____ Linn. Middle: Donald Wilson (6th grade), Lee Barr, Paul Willrich, Robert Davidson, Ivan Barr (peeking around Darlene), _____, Doris Wilson (only one in 3rd grade), ____ Linn. Back: Delbert Wilson (6th grade), ____ Linn, teacher Hazel Wetrich, Howard Davidson, Ray Thrailkill, Ilene Jensen, ____ Linn.

Earl and Bernice (Lenocker) Linn had 11 children. Joyce Linn died in 1927 after the birth of the youngest. What a poignant story.

Children: Darrell (1908), Lloyd (1910), Laurence (1911), Wilbur (1913), Irene (1914, m. England), Vivian (1917, m. Boston), Earline (1918, m. Gutchall), Ila (1921, m. Silverthorn), Earl Jr. (1923), Thelma (1925, m. Inman), J. Bernard.

I’ve never been able to find someone to identify the Linn children in the 1927 photo.

Mom’s oldest brother Delbert said that Howard Davidson was the biggest kid at Penn No. 4 in those days. They got into a scuffle and Delbert beat him, but they became good friends all the way through high school. Another good friend was Ray Thrailkill. They played on ball teams together. In fact, at least nine of the children in the photo graduated from Dexter High School.

Dexter graduates who attended Penn No. 4 country school were Delbert and Donald Wilson, Howard Davidson, and Ray Thrailkill.  Howard Benz, at left, joined the US Navy later that year, assigned to the cruiser USS Chicago (CA-29). The next January Delbert and Donald joined up and were also assigned to the Chicago.

This was the only time the Wilson children attended a country school (except for when Delbert started first grade north of Stuart). The fall of 1927 they moved into Dexter.

Penn No. 4 School Bell

My dad was given the old Penn #4 school bell. He later gave it to his brother, and it eventually ended up with Judy Neal Johannesen in Texas. She and her husband recently brought it back to Iowa and donated it to the Dexter Museum.

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Historian Rod Stanley with the bell from Penn No. 4 school at the Dexter Museum. Oct. 5, 2018.

Rod and Kyle Stanley built a museum display for the old school bell from the Penn No. 4 country school.

Penn No. 4 school is in the first part of Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression. Leora was the mother of the Wilson children in the 1927 photo.


  1. I attended a two-roomed school throughout my primary school years: three grades taught together in one room and two in the other – complicated by the fact that I was the only English-speaking child there for the first two years. That experience influenced my desire to become a teacher later.

    • What memories you have! I watched the Bosnian children as they started school in Iowa–with no English. I’m not a fan of TV, but even their parents learned faster from Sesame Street. I noticed that the girl who came at age 6 still has an accent, but her cousin who was barely 2 does not. As soon as I heard the 6-year-old answer her mother with, “Oh, man!” I knew she’d do just fine. ha

  2. I love the picture of the children gathered in front of the school house, wearing various versions of scowls on their faces. I’d say they were squinting into the sun when the photo was taken. I was glad to see that the school house bell was donated to the local museum.

    • Wow, so was I! Especially since I’d hoped to get the bell, only to learn that Dad had given it to Uncle Bill! Then to learn it had gone all the way to Texas with my cousin. Yes, thankful it’s back.

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