Organizing Rice County's school districts

The Rice County Board of Commissioners held its first meeting in January 1856. One of the first orders of business was to organize the school districts. The board voted that the city of Faribault should be number 1, and what was then known as the Drake School (just outside of Northfield) should be number 2. It also organized District Numbers 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. Over the course of the year a dozen more districts were created.

In 1857, the total number of students reported in Rice County totaled 664. At the Jan. 5, 1857, County Board meeting several districts reported their student enrollment:
District 1 -­ 268 students
District 2 -­ 34 students
District 3 -­ 44 students
District 4 -­ 36 students
District 6 -­ 41 students
District 8 -­ 30 students
District 11 -­ 30 students
District 12 -­ 41 students
District 13 -­ 44 students
District 14 -­ 74 students
District 16 -­ 22 students
By 1930, Rice County had 128 school districts, each of which had at least one school. Ten of the rural schools were run jointly with adjoining counties.

Northfield has traditionally been known for its two distinguished colleges. Carleton College opened its doors in 1867, and St. Olaf followed seven years later in 1874. Carleton at one time published the only magazine in the U.S. devoted exclusively to astronomy, and Ole Rolvaag, "author of Giants in the Earth," taught at St. Olaf for many years.

Private schools

Faribault has also had a good reputation in the education field, with many public and parochial schools. Bethlehem Academy was established in 1865 when Alexander Faribault bought the school, a house and a piano. He also donated a cow to the facility.

The most notable of the private schools, though, were founded by the Episcopal Church and the Right Reverend Henry Whipple. Whipple stands out in state history for his humane treatment of Indigenous people. His mission was to convert them to Christianity, and he won enough trust from them to be known as "Straight Tongue."

Whipple came to Faribault in 1859 as Minnesota's first Episcopal bishop, and is responsible for the construction of state's first cathedral, The Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour in 1862. Built in the Gothic Revival style, the Faribault cathedral was place on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979

Shattuck-St. Mary's School

In a small rented building in Faribault,, The Rev. Dr. James Lloyd Breck established the Episcopal mission school and seminary from which Shattuck-St. Mary's has developed. Whipple took over the reins of the school, changing Breck's ambitious plan for "Bishop Seabury University" into something more realistic.

By 1866, more room was needed and, through Dr. George Cheyne Shattuck of Boston, Shattuck Hall was built specifically for the boys. Soon the grammar school itself became known as "Shattuck." That same year, Whipple opened a school for girls, St. Mary's Hall. The girls remained there until 1872 when Whipple moved to a new house and St. Mary's Hall was turned over to a Board of Trustees.

The Chapel of the Good Shepherd

In 1872, the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, located on the Shattuck-St. Mary's campus, was built through the generosity of Augusta Shumway of Chicago. Though she lost all her property in the great Chicago Fire, she kept her promise to build a chapel for "the Bishop's boys' school" by sending Whipple her insurance checks.

Considered one of the finest examples of English Gothic architecture in the Upper Midwest, the Chapel’s steeple is one of only a few in the U.S. constructed of stone. The chapel is constructed of blue limestone, quarried at the south edge of Shattuck’s campus. Interior features include a monastic pew arrangement (all pews face the center aisle) and stained glass windows designed and cut by Carvers of London.