Annie Schilling

June 2017 - Edina's oldest surviving public building, a modest one-room schoolhouse, operated continuously from 1864 all the way to 1958. However, in its "heyday" around the turn of the century, Cahill School saw only a fraction of the traffic that passed through its doors in 2016. Cahill's successful reinvention as a field trip favorite owes much to the efforts of historical reenactors like "head schoolmarm" Annie Schilling.

Schilling took the reins as program director for Historic Cahill School more than 18 months ago after learning of the unique opportunity from a friend serving on the Board of the Edina Historical Society.

"We'd volunteered together for many years at a children's music camp in northern Minnesota," Schilling explained. "She knew that I was quite creative and worked well with children."
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Indeed, Schilling took to her new schoolmarm duties with alacrity. "Essentially, we see ourselves as historians - and continually stretch ourselves to learn regional history that we can apply to our teachings," she said.

Helpfully, Cahill School itself is bursting at the seams with history. Built nearly a quarter century before the formal incorporation of the Village of Edina in 1888, this clapboard structure has doubled as a Catholic church, hosted innumerable community meetings, and even witnessed weddings. Originally sited at the corner of West 70th Street and Cahill Road, the City restored the schoolhouse in 1969 and relocated it to its present location at Frank Tupa Park.

Schilling's curriculum freezes the schoolhouse circa 1900. Schoolchildren today learn about the past by doing: attending "class" in vintage desks equipped with chalk slates and learning turn-of-the-century games and songs. On average, Cahill draws about 3,000 children from across the Twin Cities over any given school year.

"We also offer summer camps," Schilling added. These include Homestead 101, "which teaches children the ‘ins and outs' of setting down roots in rural Minnesota in the mid-1800s." Churning butter, sewing, doing laundry and gardening are all covered in this course, which is as hands on as they come. Given the popularity of the sewing component, Schilling's team is also experimenting with a week-long sewing camp.

In another extension to the traditional field trip model, Schilling is piloting an innovative program called "Marm-on-the-Go," which brings 30- to 60-minute presentations to the classroom - in lieu of an on-site field trip. At the same time, Schilling is also partnering with staff at the Edina Senior Center to bring Cahill programming to entirely new audiences.

Schilling's drive is fueled by the intrinsic rewards of the job. "There is nothing better than looking at the faces of the schoolchildren listening to you, and knowing that they are wrapped around your finger as they listen to the amazing stories we call history!"