A project building on previous studies of the county's country schools will lead to educational opportunities and support tourism, according to members of the Winneshiek County Historic Preservation Commission (WCHPC).

This fall, the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors endorsed the Commission's application for a $14,885 Certified Local Government (CLG) grant to assist the Commission's research of country schools. The outcome of the application should be known next month.

The Commission's application cites Bill Sherman, a member of the State Historical Society of Iowa Board of Trustees and a member of the Country School Association of American Executive Board, who is recognized statewide as a country school preservationist.

"Since 1998, I have visited country schools throughout Iowa and many states. I believe Winneshiek County has the most important collection of preserved country schools in America," Sherman said.

Commission member Dean Thompson initially discussed plans to research and document country schools with the supervisors in July.

"We're not starting out fresh," Thompson told the supervisors, referring to previous projects.

A CLG grant in 1987 enabled a countywide reconnaissance of country schools. Steve Johnson reported finding 145 country schools: 55 on original locations, 35 moved to other locations and 55 razed. The study determined three country schools were built in the 1940s in the International style by noted Decorah architect Charles Altfillisch.

A CLG grant in 1989 supported an intensive architectural and historical survey of 17 sections in four townships.

In April, the WCHPC developed a plan for geographic information systems (GIS) based inventory of the county's country schools. More than 180 locations were inventoried, including 30 previously unrecognized country school locations. GPS coordinates were logged for more than 180 country school locations and buildings, and digital images were obtained.

"Country school experiences are part of a shared identity among a large part of the country, and rural America in general," Thompson said in July.

"We want to build on the 2012 inventory for long-term study, public education and preservation of county schools."

WCHPC will match the CLG grant, if awarded, in cash or through in-kind contributions totaling $10,592. Thompson said the Commission has funds available for the match.

Thompson said he could envision developing country school programs for schools, and the presence of country schools could attract conferences to Decorah.

Supervisor Bill Ibanez commented the Commission's ideas are "excellent."

"Go ahead and go for it. I endorse your activities," he said. "It's enhancing the reasons to come to Winneshiek County ... it's a boon for tourism in Winneshiek County."

The project description in the grant application states:

"The next phase of work in 2013 is intensive architectural survey of at least 16 schoolhouses and development of their historic context in Winneshiek County resulting in a minimum of one nomination to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP)."

The Commission, in cooperation with Bear Creek Archaeology, is working on possible nominations for the Highlandville School and Bouska log schoolhouse in Spillville.

"Subsequent phases of study will result in additional nominations to the National Register of Historic Places; education of private school owners with regard to preservation management and benefits; public education and popular publication in guides, pamphlets and web/GIS and professional presentations and publication," the grant application explains.

The research and documentation gathered would be linked to the GIS database currently under development as a separate project.

Information obtained in the study could be used for a driving tour brochure and publications on the county's country schoolhouses.

The Commission's CLG grant application notes a significant percentage of county residents older than 60 attended country schools in Winneshiek County townships.

"Strong memories of the country school experience inform collective histories of local families and small communities. The reconnaissance studies in the mid-1980s and 2012 and results of the proposed study will support 1) conservation of privately-owned schoolhouses 2) education of town and country communities 3) historic tourism in Winneshiek County and 4) rehabilitation of schoolhouses and country school properties," the CLG grant application states.