Merrill’s Normal Park fills an entire city block along Center Avenue. For decades, the park has been filled with the sounds of Little Leaguers and ice skaters. Now the sounds of music often fill summer evenings.
Fast-backward to 1882, and the site would already be bustling. Government business would be conducted in the center of the block inside a handsome white building – the first Lincoln County Courthouse. It wouldn’t be until 1903 that our present landmark courthouse was completed and county business was moved several blocks south.
That first courthouse stood empty from 1903 to 1907, at which time it assumed a new role as a training school for teachers, called Lincoln County Teachers College or Normal School. Aspiring educators from all over the county attended to learn the principle – or norms – of effective teaching; they then went out to serve on one of the area’s dozens of one-room rural schools. And, for some elementary students, this was their school “home,” just as Leafy Grove and Barnes Creek were for other children. They experienced many “student teachers” from the college along with instruction from their classroom teacher.
The last graduates of the Normal School received certificates in teaching in 1967. The building was razed shortly thereafter. An important piece of local history lost? Although the building is gone, its important role in Merrill’s past need not be forgotten.
A grassroots movement has been organized to commemorate the site of these two important institutions. A granite bench has been planned for the park; it will bear an engraving of the building as well as the years it served each of its functions.
Several organizations and individuals have seen fit to make monetary contributions to the project thus far, bringing the total collections nearly to the halfway point. Contributions from many more will be needed to realize the plan. A tentative dedication date has been set for late summer.
Fittingly, the Merrill Historical Society has created an account designated for the Normal Park Bench Project. Donations may be sent to the History and Culture Center, 100 E. Third St., Merrill, with checks made out to Merrill Historical Society and “Normal Park Bench” in the memo line.