North Ward School hosts escapee, mortuary

January 31, 2019
Built in the late 1800s, the North Ward School eventually became Mt. Pleasant City Hall and has now served as a funeral home for almost 80 years.

Editor’s Note: Welcome to the Pioneer Association Archive, a look at some of the historical locations in Mt. Pleasant prior to the association’s annual homecoming luncheon to be held March 16, at the Mt. Pleasant North Stake Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 461 North 300 West. This year’s theme is “Looking Back in Time.” Doors open at 10:30 a.m., lunch at 12 noon.

MT. PLEASANT — Just one block north of Main Street, on 100 West in Mt. Pleasant, sitting amid the perfect landscaping and green lawn, the beautiful Rasmussen Mortuary can be found. Known to many local residents as the former Ursenbach Funeral home, the land upon which it sits started out just like most of the other homes and buildings in Mt. Pleasant.

The U.S. Government claimed ownership and the land was given by patent to William S. Seely, the town’s first Mayor. Mayor Seely issued a deed to William Morrison in behalf of Mt. Pleasant School District and in the late 1870s a school known as the North Ward School was built on the property. The building still stands on the corner of 100 West and 100 North and is one of the oldest buildings in the entire town of Mt. Pleasant.

The North Ward School used the building until 1898 when the school moved into the Hamilton School which was a larger three story building. The Hamilton School was built in a style similar to what is now the Fairview Museum and has since been demolished. It was located where the current Mt. Pleasant Aquatic Center now stands, 74 East Main.

When the North Ward School moved out, ownership of the property was transferred to Mt. Pleasant City to be used as the city hall.

It is remembered that there was a large potbellied stove in the main large room to heat the building. On the East side of the building there was an old time, “western movie style” jail cell. It was from that jail cell that a man waiting to face charges of murder escaped sometime in the early 1930s.

The name of the escapee and the particulars of the crime have faded from memory but the fright of some of the kids of that time hasn’t, as one Mt. Pleasant resident put it, ‘We did a good job of scaring ourselves about it.’ The escapee was later recaptured.

In December of 1939, Joseph and Amy Ursenbach bought the building. They remodeled, using half of the building for a funeral home and half for their living quarters. The building was only a one story building with very high ceilings but the Ursenbachs took advantage of the high ceilings and turned it into a two story with an upstairs.

The main bearing walls of the building are at least two feet thick. When the Ursenbachs bought the building there were large garages on the back of the building that were moved away by the city but the foundations had to be dynamited to be removed. The old school bell tower on the front of the building was also removed.

Ursenbachs lived in what is now the chapel, while the remodeling was being done. Their living quarters were old fashioned, the kitchen had a coal stove, a table, and a sink built on a small make shift counter. The furnishings may have been sparse, but it was a different time and many things were done differently back then.

In those early days, much of what is now done in a funeral home was taken care of right in the deceased person’s own home. Mr. Ursenbach would go to the deceased person’s home with his embalming kit and take care of everything right there.

Being around for more than a century, the old building has seen its share of hard times. In 1947, the building was flooded and the neighbor’s barn ended up in the yard. Some of the funeral home’s equipment was washed away. Flood mud can still be found in the basement.

In 1965, the building was purchased by Earl and Mary Ursenbach. Then in 1979, an addition was added on the north side of the building. Amy Ursenbach still lived in the building and stayed active in the business until 1996 when she passed away.

In recent years, there have been many improvements to the building, including the return of the bell tower to the front which restored a view similar to the original look of the building. It would be nice if the original bell from the tower could be found and installed also.

In 2001, Mary Ursenbach sold the business and the building to Kelly Magelby. It was operated as the Magelby-Rasmussen Mortuary for a short time until it was sold to the Rasmussen family. The business is now known as Rasmussen Mortuary and is operated by Jeff and Trish Rasmussen.

School, city hall and funeral home, in this building can be seen the many lives of an interesting and useful old building, after well over 140 years the community still sees benefits from the creative efforts of its pioneer progenitors.

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