By John Skipper
The Cedar Valley Seminary in Osage owns a special chapter in the history of education in Iowa. And thanks to a dedicated group of historical preservationists and some timely philanthropy, an important piece of that history was saved from the wrecking ball and has resulted in what will be, when completed, a $5 million investment.
It is a fascinating story of determination from its beginning, to its near-miss ending.
In the mid-19th century, the Rev. Alva Bush, a minister and pastor at a small Methodist College in Fayette, was an affable gentleman who enjoyed cordial relationships with school administrators, faculty, students and residents of the town. He was an ambitious man who set high goals for himself and his students and thrived on achievement.
In 1862, two of his students, Charles and Mary Sweney, who lived in Mitchell County, encouraged Bush to help with an exciting new project in the county. The Baptist Association and a group of county residents wanted to build a seminary that would also be a center for learning. They had the idea and they had a plan. What they needed was a leader and they asked Bush to take that lead.
Bush, who had been ordained into the ministry at Strawberry Point in 1859, thought about it, prayed about it and discussed it with his family. In January 1863, Bush loaded his wife and children into a buckboard and made their way in the wintry cold on snowy dirt roads to begin a new life in Mitchell, which at that time was the county seat of Mitchell County, a stone’s throw from the Minnesota border.
The seminary now had a leader, but it did not yet have a building. Bush and his family made their home temporarily in the sheriff’s quarters of the Mitchell County Jail. Classes were started in the county courthouse.
On Jan. 12, 1863, the school opened with 17 boys and 14 girls. Five years later, the county seat was moved to Osage, the fastest-growing city in Mitchell County and a place that seemed perfect to build what would become the Cedar Valley Seminary. The citizens of Osage formed an organization and raised $10,000 to build a two-story school building. The cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1868, providing the community with an extra special Independence Day celebration.