“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” –Franklin D. Roosevelt
Coming into fall of 2020, Plymouth, with the rest of America, anticipates a new school year. This comes after a time of disruptions and changes to routine amidst the Coronavirus pandemic. Teachers and students are embracing new learning methods through in-person, hybrid, and distance learning. This all takes place within the currents of an upcoming presidential election as we consider what a “new normal” may mean.
Plymouth schools have weathered changing needs in the face of adversity and shifting currents in the past, an interesting exemplar being the former Beacon Heights School building (1939-1940).
The school’s origins date back to 1858 with the founding of Plymouth, when a simple log cabin served as the town’s one-room school house. As enrollment increased, this was replaced in 1872 with a larger, wood-framed building. It served as the city’s school through the early 20th century.
Following the Great Depression, American approaches to education began to shift. Though a time of economic difficulty, construction of buildings for education increased rapidly. Plymouth, following national trends, saw a rise in enrollment in this period, necessitating a new school building.
This 1940 WPA-style building was constructed by Cavanagh Brothers Builders, a local firm founded by Plymouth resident William Cavanagh Jr. and his family. The original two-story rectangular brick building contained two classrooms, an auditorium, and kitchen. This followed the national call to design schools with rooms dedicated for different programmatic needs all for the ultimate purpose of raising educated democratic citizens. By 1946, the Beacon Heights District 95 became consolidated with Wayzata schools to meet students’ evolving education needs. Several additions were built during this period, with its eventual closure as a public school in 1982.
It may be easy to miss this building as you drive down Highway 55, but the school still stands, visually demonstrating its years of adaptations and various commercial uses. Today, it currently serves as a childcare and preschool facility, returning to its educational roots but for a new audience today.