The heavily forested hills were purchased by J.C. Lanerberg who bought up lots from the government, railroad, and other landowners, intending to start a Swedish village. He called the area “Venner’s Villas,” a name that eventually became Venersborg, loosely translated as “A haven for friends.” Venersborg was settled in the early 1900s by immigrants who saw pamphlets circulated in east coast cities about land said to resemble rural Sweden. The pamphlets were written in Swedish, guaranteeing that nearly everyone who responded came from Sweden.
When the settlers arrived, they purchased ten acre lots. Forests were cleared to provide wood for their homes and barns, and the cleared land became their pastures and gardens. The residents found the land particularly good at growing fruit trees. Even today it is easy to find hundred year old fruit trees that still bear.
The Venersborg One-Room Schoolhouse
County records report “The Venersborg School is historically significant for its association with rural public education in Clark County and for its associations with the settlement and development of the Swedish immigrant colony of Venersborg.” The building is the oldest continually operating community building in Washington.
In 1912 a Venersborg resident and carpenter John Kullberg built the Venersborg one-room schoolhouse so village children had a place to learn to read, write and become good citizens of the community. Mr. Kullberg also built the church next door and many homes throughout Venersborg.
The only other non-residential building in our village center is the Venersborg General Store that is currently closed.
The Venersborg Social and Athletic Club started in 1915, organized by young men, mostly single, who met on Sundays to play baseball, games and visit with each other.
Back then Venersborg was a fruit-growing center and many farms had drying barns. The fruit was of such high quality it was dried and shipped via train to many large cities. Local farmers did well until the refrigerator was invented in the 1930s and people were able to keep fruit in cold storage. That put a damper on the fruit drying industry. The village struggled to redefine itself and become profitable again. Meanwhile, other changes were afoot.
In 1931 the community’s children were absorbed into the Battle Ground school district. The schoolhouse sat empty for a year. Then in 1932, the Venersborg Social and Athletic Club purchased the building.
The club’s members loved music and gatherings. Under their care the building hosted weekly dances and community functions. Local musicians made up the orchestra: Hjalmer Ostrand on accordian, Ed Martinson violin, Edna Martinson (Risto) on piano, Cliff Kullberg banjo, and Wally Risto on drums. The dances were immensely popular and people coming from afar to attend. Eventually these events became so rowdy that proper control became impossible, so in 1940 the community brought the dances to a close.
After that the club’s focus shifted and the women members changed the name to the Venersborg Homemakers Club. During their tenure, the building hosted youth groups, Bible classes, wedding receptions and community services. In the 1950s the east wall of the schoolhouse was taken down and a kitchen added to the building, allowing more use for village events.
The schoolhouse walls still display the vast number of Clark County Fair ribbons won by the homemakers. Fair participation made for a busy time. The VHC annually presented a display made by members, always with a challenging theme. Individual members entered additional categories and also brought home ribbons. This was a group of many talents!
This routine remained unchanged until the early 1990’s when, due to most members getting on in years, the VHC stopped participating at the Fair. At that point the remaining members redefined their purpose, opened their membership further and became the Venersborg Community Club.
THE COMMUNITY CLUB TODAY
Today the Venersborg Community Club maintains and manages the Venersborg Schoolhouse, now called the Venersborg Community Center. The building is open to the community-at-large for meetings and functions.
Monthly business meetings at the Clubhouse often had food, speakers, crafts, and other educational activities. Each spring and fall the Club continues to host community potlucks and happy events through the year.
In 1988 the old school house earned a position on the National and the Washington Register of Historic Places.The building is the oldest continuously operating community building in Washington. Now incorporated, the club enjoys the privileges of a full 501-3(c) non-profit organization through its sister organization, the Venersborg Historical Preservation Society. VHPS accepts tax deductible donations from local businesses, residents, and volunteer organizations to keep the building in good shape.
Over the years the number of active club members has fluctuated as elder members pass on and new members step forward to help with projects and events. Each year the Club comes up with creative methods to pay insurance, electricity and general operating expenses.
A few years ago the entire community pitched in and raised funds for a long-needed septic system and they provided many hours manual labor to build an indoor bathroom. The local paper reported that “Venersborg was flush with generosity.” It was an exciting moment when we retired the two outhouses, now part of the historical memorabilia on our land.
We appreciate the wonderful volunteers who maintain the building and its grounds. Their ongoing support is so valuable to us. Our doors are always open to neighbors who’d like to become members of our friendly group.
BECOME A FRIEND OF THE VENERSBORG SCHOOLHOUSE
We know many of you have busy lives and don’t have time for meetings but you do care about your community. We have a simple way to share your support with us.
A donation of any amount makes you a member of the Friends of the Venersborg Schoolhouse. These donations go to our maintenance fund and help us with ongoing expenses that keep the building in good repair. Thanks so much for your support! Contact the key-keeper or the treasurer to make a donation.