Saturday, July 30, 2011

Silkville, Kansas

Two lane blacktops are becoming a thing of the past.

U.S. Highway 50 crosses the United States from Ocean City, Maryland to West Sacramento, California. In eastern Kansas, from Overland Park to Emporia, the route is overshadowed by the bigger and quicker I-35.

Silkville, Kansas one room school, circa 1890

I was driving south of Williamsburg on old Highway 50 toward Emporia. I drove this route only because I had traveled hundreds of times along the newer and faster I-35 from Wichita to Kansas City. I needed a break. Old Highway 50 is a meandering route that meets up with Emporia where the newer I-35 and I-335 are. West of Emporia, the highway heads through the Flint Hills crosses though Strong City, arrives at Newton, and then proceeds on to Colorado and eventually West Sacramento, California..

Going east of Emporia, it parallels I-35 for the most part, heading up towards Overland Park and Kansas City.. Often, while driving along, you can look to the left or right, for the road wanders back and forth across I-35, and see cars and trucks tooling along. crossing the newer highway her and there before swinging to the east.

Highway 50 is for most of the way a two-lane blacktop. Yes, the kind of road that reminds you of the 1971 movie of the same name, starring James Taylor and Beach Boys Drummer Brian Wilson. Today, the highway is so quiet you could drive for miles without being passed in either direction. But, there, a few miles south of Williamsburg, stood an old stone one room school house. The construction was familiar - native Kansas limestone packed with seashells. An entrance door faced south with one windows on either side. In many one room schools, double doors mark the separate entrances for the two sexes. This school was too small to accommodate the idea. On the east and west walls, three windows let in light for the students to study. The north-western wall was solid Kansas limestone, intended to shield the students from the hot afternoon sun.

Walking around the perimeter, revealed the old cistern where water was drawn for thirsty students. At the corner of the intersection Douglas and Arkansas, just off of old Highway 50, stood the remnants of an old tree cut down years ago. The size of the stump indicated that it had been there when children still went to school. An old mulberry tree stood to the rear of the school.

The interior of the school is open to visitors. If you go, please close the door.

Nothing remains of the interior, but the floor. As you enter the front door, five feet or so from the door, the chimney which heated the room stands tall and sturdy. Once upon a time, walls extended to each side of the school, providing some protection from the cold winters. The walls in the school were once stuccoed, but much of the stucco has either fallen or been defaced by students who scratch their names in the soft limestone.

The real story of Silkville, Kansas is quite interesting.

Silkville School 1884, from Kansas Memories
In the late 1860's, a wealthy Frenchman Ernest V. Boissiere purchased more than 3,000 acres of land in Franklin County. He had been banished from France by Napoleon III who thought Boissiere was too close to dissidents and the writer, Victor Hugo. France at this time was the France of Les Miserables and Boissiere believed that he could create an Utopia here. Learning that the climate of Kansas was similar to the silk-producing region of France, he brought forty French immigrants to work with Americans to create his silk-producing industry here. Boissiere's Utopia included an elaborate manor house with 40 rooms for his workers who ate at a common table. He filled a library with 2,500 books, the largest in Kansas at the time. Boissiere, himself, was a portly man in his fifties who loved books, music, and helping the underprivileged.

The Story of Silkville.

Boissere's workers planted seventy acres of Russian mulberry trees to feed the silkworms. Later, Boissiere learned that the Kansas Osage Orange were as good or better than the mulberry. Moreover, the Osage Orange withstood the harsh Kansas cllimate. One wonders if the old mulberry behind the school is a remnant of Boissere's plantings.

Utopias never last. Later, when his business failed, he made the mansion an orphanage.By 1878, Boissere left Kansas for France with little more than $200 in his pocket. The school house is all that remains.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Richmond Hill School, District No. 64

Richmond Hill School, also known as the German Lutheran School, was relocated from its original location at 95th and Tyler and moved to the Clearwater Historical Society Museum in Clearwater, Kansas. It rests on a temporary foundation and awaits loving rehabilitation.


The original school is a one-story, wood-frame building measuring 25 by 17 feet, built in 1875. This is the oldest surviving one room school in Sedgwick County. The shutters might serve as protection from the weather. Three curious children watch the camera and wait for school to start.


Clearwater states that it owes its existence to Jesse Chisholm and the Texas cattle drives. While Chisholm never drove cattle, in 1865 he broke the trail for a freight train wagon route south from Wichita to Oklahoma Indian Territory. In doing so, he crossed the Ninnescah (Osage-Sioux name meaning "water clear") River southeast of the present Clearwater. Beginning in 1867, after Chisholm's death, cattle were driven north from Texas over the route blazed by Chisholm.

The arrival of homesteaders changed things. Settlers raised their own breeds of cattle which were often infected with disease spread by the Texas Longhorns.And even though drovers posted bonds for crop damage, settlers fenced in their property. The Clearwater Historical Museum has a copy of a diary by Abbie Bright, a 22 year-old school teacher from Indiana who staked a claim west of Clearwater, close to her brother. On June 4, 1871 Abbie wrote,
"Every week 7-10 thousands of Texas cattle are driven north over the trail. If the cattle stampede, and don't (sic) want to cross the river, the hearders (sic) yell and fire off their revolvers. Sometimes we hear them here, and it sounds, as I suppose a battle does. It is the catttle that keep the trail worn so smooth."
By 1883, the railroad extended to Caldwell on the border with Oklahoma. 

Schools and Education

Schools brought civilization to the prairies. Quaint customs such as the ciphering match, spelling bee and basket dinner, where students might bring in the rabbit, snared or shot by a local boy, combined to create a special camaraderie among students. Many of the area farmers were German immigrants and it was not uncommon to hear German spoken in the classroom. Drought and locust were always on the mind of the farmers who depended on their crops for a living.The phrase "right as rain" always had meaning in Kansas.

End of an Era

The last term at Richmond Hill School was a single semester in 1941-42. In 1947, the rural school district was unified with the city of Clearwater.

Clearwater Historical Society Museum maintains the school and is currently planning restoration of the historic school now located on museum property. Issues such as whether to remove the front addition and whether to restore the clapboard side need to be decided. Plans are being made to recreate a historical setting with costumes and original materials.

The Clearwater Museum has an extensive collection of artifacts from the city's early days. Visiting hours are 1 - 4 p.m. on Sunday.



Built in 1869, the Lanesfield school is on the National Register of Historic Places, its historic location on the Santa Fe Trail, near Edgerton, close to its juncture with the Oregon Trail at Garner, Kansas.

In November 1869, the community of Lanesfield paid William Humbert $200 in exchange for land to build a school.Nine townsmen voted a construction bond of $1,000. An architect was not used. Instead, the building was built with common techniques using native Kansas limestone. In the spring of 1870, 69 students enrolled.

Lanesfield School

The arrival of the Santa Fe Railroad altered the course of history for Lanesfield. A railroad depot was constructed two miles away at Edgerton and the towns people moved to be closer to the depot. The school became a rural one. All that remains of Lanesfield today is the schoolhouse. In the years to come, rural Lanesfield school competed with nearby Edgerton and Garner for students. The school was finally closed in 1963.

Today, the schoolhouse is a museum run by the Johnson County Museum. The museum offers classes to children with a "strict teacher" in period costume teaching "penmanship, mental arithmetic, geography and spelling in a turn of the 20th century school environment". Brochure.

For more information, click here Lanesfield School (1869, altered 1904),18745 South Dillie Road – Edgerton.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Van Huss School

This, as Wikipedia would say, is just a stub and needs to be expanded on.

The Van Huss School, number 86 on the list of rural Butler county Schools,  was established in 1872 and closed due to consolidation in 1946.. The exact address is "Leon Rt. 2 Consol w/ #59 Leon". Today it is used as a private residence. There are several references to the Van Huss Community near Leon. At least four brothers, Isaac, Daniel, J.B. and Joseph Finley Van Huss, left Tennessee after the Civil War to settle in Butler County.

Check the Register of Deeds in El Dorado for records. The Index of 1882 shows Daniel as the grantee of deeds from the United States. Other transfers occurred between brothers.

A 1905 map of Butler County and its townships sets forth registered property owners. Go to Hickory Township, which is south of Higway 54 and just to the west of Beaumont where you will find John F. Van Huss and James Brewer as neighbors. John married Jesse Brewer, the daughter of James Brewer.

I have included this article because my wife's maiden name is Van Huss. Her father Robert Van Huss was born in Beaumont, Kansas. His father Fred, also of Beaumont, was son of Joseph F. Van Huss.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

One-room Schoolhouses, Butler County

One-room Schoolhouses, Butler County Kansas. 

As I discover new ones, I will add them to the list.

1. Ellet School located in Latham, formerly located 8 miles west of Latham.
2.Van Huss School, located on Route 2 off of Highway 400 and north towards El Dorado.

This 1905 map showing the townships of Butler County is online at There are literally hundreds of schools identified throughout the many townships. Geneology Trails lists the schools for convenience. Sadly, most of the one room schools do not exist today.

Of course, someone had to pay for these schools. In the early days, the land for the school was set aside by the community as it was organized. Sometimes, the land was donated by a local farmer. Some early schools were by subscription from the families, but eventually school districts were formed and the schoolhouse, its upkeep, the books and teacher's salary were all paid for by local property taxes.

The period around the Second World War saw the consolidation of many of the school districts in order to save tax dollars. The advent of the automobile made transportation to schools an easier matter. Thus, the era of the one room school was at an end.
Kathryn Berger (Alley), born in 1891, grew up in Douglass, Kansas and, during the early 1920's, taught in the Superior school, northeast of Rosehill, and Pleasant Center school, township of Pleasant. She was paid the princessly sum of $40 a month and, like many other single female teachers, lived with a neighbor during the school year. Again, like many single female teachers, she married and raised a family.

An early history of education in Douglass Kansas is available online at William G. Cutler's, History of the State of Kansas. The portion on Douglass Kansas is reprinted here:

The educational history of Douglass Begins with the spring of 1870, when Miss Stine, now Mrs. George L. Fox, taught a subscription school. A district school house was built in 1871, at a cost of $3,000, and school taught that year by Miss Alma Henderson, now Mrs. Neil Wilkie, who also taught in 1872. From that point to 1876, the records fail to give the names of the teachers employed, the first entry after 1872 being that recording the engagement of Prof. J. W. Shively, who taught in 1876-77; J. C. Elliott taught in 1878-79; H. S. Hulse, in 1880; A. Gridley in 1881, and T. Schumaker in 1882. The school now numbers nearly 200 scholars, and has so far outgrown the school building as to necessitate the renting of two rooms in town, and the employment of four teachers.
Butler County, Part 11, Douglass

Superior School, located in north west Butler County in Richland Township outside the city of Whitewater, was created in 1872. It's exact location is at "R3E, T29S, Sec 5, NE ¼; Consol. w/ #120 Floral".

The Pleasant Center School, located in south west Butler County, the present city of Rose Hill, was created in July of 1892. It is located at "R3E, T28S, Sec 23, SE ¼; Consol. w/ #110 Rose Hill".

Butler County Rural Schools, 1854 - 1966
contains a complete list of Butler County schools and their locations.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Acorn School, Franklin County

The Acorn Schoolhouse is located in Franklin County. To get there leave the interstate and take Old Highway 50, a two-lane blacktop, south from Ottawa to Williamsburg. At John Brown Road go south a couple of miles to Iowa Road. The schoolhouse is on a slight rise to the north watched over by a solitary tree and a merry-go-round.

The white clapboard school was built in 1900 replacing an earlier structure built in the 1870's. The faint inscription over the door reads "Acorn School, District 74, built 1900". The school has two doors, one for the boys and one for the girls. It was usual for boys to sit on one side of the school and girls on the other. There was a space for coats to be hung in the winter and lunch pails to be stored, as well as wood for the pot-belly stove and a water pail.

Irene Herron, a teacher in the 1950's, recalls preparing lunches for the school children cooked on a pot-bellied stove. The menu included rabbit the school boys hunted, perhaps seasoned with local wild garlic and prickly pear. Family gardens would be a source for plenty of fresh tomatoes, potatoes, and onions.

A Tour of Southwest Franklin County by Catherine Jane Richards and Deborah Barker.

The school is District Number 74 on the Franklin County, Kansas Atlas, 1903.

detail of Franklin County, Kansas Atlas 1903
Driving along John Brown Road the houses are few and far between. But things were different in 1903, as Homewood Township. Also note that John Brown road ended at Iowa Street, probably due to the several creeks to the south.

detail of Homewood Township, School District 74, Franklin County

The school closed in 1959. A former student who maintains the school described her feeling when the Franklin County schools were consolidated -  "I was a country girl and had to dress in city clothes to go to a city school with city kids. I missed the small schools." And maybe the rabbit stew.

The school is preserved by the Acorn Ladies Club and the local landowners.

On a return visit in August of 2014, I took these images on a cloudy day.

Acorn Schoolhouse, Franklin County

Acorn Schoolhouse, Franklin County

Acorn Schoolhouse, Franklin County

Acorn Schoolhouse, Franklin County

Monday, July 11, 2011

Bazaar Schoolhouse

The Bazaar Schoolhouse sits off of Highway 177, just to the west of the town of Bazaar in Chase County Kansas. The highway is part of the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway. Although the building is large for a one room schoolhouse, its interior design still reflects one common room where boys and girls of all ages were taught. I do not at this time have any information about the school. I hope to come back and supplement the article at a later date.

Bazaar Schoolhouse, July 4 2013
It is almost two years later and I am driving down Highway 177 from Cottonwood Falls to Cassoday. The date is July 4, 2013, and, as you can see, the time is near sunset, which in Kansas at this time of year is 8:30 p.m.. The old schoolhouse at Bazaar stands silently by the roadside as the sun sets.

William G. Cutler's 1883 History of the State of Kansas, Chase County, Bazaar Township, contains a biographical sketch of the prominent farmers, stock men, doctors, general merchants, and dairymen of Bazaar. Samuel Baker of Massachusetts, for example, was a staunch Abolitionist. He came to Kansas in 1854, fought in the Civil War, and returned in 1866, at which time claimed 160 acres of land situated on the South Fork of the Cottonwood River, under the Homestead Act.

Chase County

Bazaar, Kansas is located in Chase County. You can think of Chase County as a time capsule. Its population in the US Census of 2010 was 2,790, which is slightly more than the 1870 population of 1,975. The county lies to the north of Butler County and west of Lyon county where Emporia is located. The turnpike I-35 crosses the southeast corner of the county, but if you want to enjoy the true flavor of Chase then you need to travel Highway 177 north from Cassoday or Highway 50 west from Emporia.

The county was named for Salmon P. Chase, former senator and govenor of Ohio, then Secretary of the Treasury for Abraham Lincoln. If you read the 2005 book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, then you will remember that Chase was a staunch Abolitionist who had presidential designs of his own. Chase, as a radical member of the Republican Party, coined the slogan of the Free Soil Party, "Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men". Chase was a bit of a thorn in Lincoln's side, often threatening to resign if he didn't get his way. Lincoln surprised Chase by accepting his resignation as Secretary of the Treasury. And when Chief Justice Taney of the Supreme Court died, Lincoln nominated Chase as his replacement.

North of Strong City and Highway 50 is the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Highway 177 intersects with Strong City here. Going south along Highway 177, you pass through Strong City and nearby Cottonwood Falls before coming to Bazaar and its schoolhouse. Bazaar remains an unincorporated city in Chase County.

Highway 177 is part of the Kansas Scenic ByWays, a 47 mile stretch of highway from Council Groves to Cassoday through the Flint Hills. The road from Cottonwood Falls to Bazaar parallels the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad and the South Branch of the Cottonwood River. In the heyday of the Texas cattle drives to Abilene this was one of the many routes that cattle drovers herded their cattle. In 1867, Bazaar received its own spur of the Santa Fe. The addition of stockyards and the tall grass prairies made Bazaar, by the end of the century, the largest cattle-shipping point on the Santa Fe. Chasing Cattle Thieves in the Flint Hills, 1899, by Jim Hoy.

Bazaar and the surrounding Flint Hills remain famous as a feeding ground for beef cattle.  Each summer a million head of cattle are fattened on the Bluestem Tallgrass of the Kansas Flint Hills.

One Room Kansas Schools

The idea of a one room school is not unique to Kansas, nor is it unique to the United States. One room schools exist wherever parents hold out the hope for a better future for their children. Communities come together to build the schools knowing that education holds the key to a better future.

At its beginning, the founding fathers of the United States recognized the need to provide for the education of its citizens. Unable to tax citizens directly, the job of building schools and paying for teachers was a local respnsibility. Nevertheless, with the expansion of the United States into territories across the Appalachian Mountains, the Federal Government took steps to insure that schools would have a source of funds. Thus, the Land Ordinance of 1785, adopted in May of 1785 provided a means to raise money from the sale of land across the Appalachia acquired at the end of the American Revolution under the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1783). Land was systematically surveyed into square townships, six miles (9.656 km) on a side. Each townships was sub-divided into thirty-six sections of one square mile (2.59 km²) or 640 acres. The unique feature of the law was that section 16 in each township was reserved for the maintenance of public schools. Many schools today are still located in section sixteen of their respective townships, although often the land was sold for the maintenance of existing schools.

Kansas did not benefit from the provisions of the Land Ordinance. Rather, education at the local level again became the sole responsibility of the settlers and the communities that they created. The Federal Government did step in with respect to higher education with the passage of the Morrill Act of 1862 (aka Land Grant College Act). This law created the land grant colleges. Each state received 30,000 acres of public land for each Senator and Representative, the land to be sold to raise money to support colleges emphasizing agricultural and technical/mechanical education.

One room schools in Kansas were part of the earliest settlement of the territory. Missionaries working with the approval of the Federal Indian agents and the many Indian tribes located in the territory of Kansas established schools to teach English and later manual trades. Among the first was the Shawnee Methodist Indian Manual Labor School, the result of an agreement in 1838 between the Office of Indian Affairs and the Methodist Episcopal Church to operate a school at the Shawnee Methodist Indian Mission - in present day Kansas City, Kansas - to teach English, trades, and agriculture to children of all Indian nations. A year later a trade school was begun at the new site of the mission, now preserved as the Shawnee Indian Mission State Historic Site in Fairway, Kansas. Kansas Historical Society, Indian Mission Schools.

The Everett School (renamed Grant School in 1923) which opened July 1, 1844 at 4th and Everett in Wyandotte, now Kansas City, Kansas claims the distinction as the first free public school in Kansas. Its doors were open to Indian and white children alike. History of Wyandotte Public Schools.

Subsequently, wherever settlements were made, schools were built. The struggle thereafter was to be between the one room school house and the larger public schools which were built in the cities and towns. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse

Lower Fox Creek School, April 2015

See my update, 2015.

Built in 1884, the Lower Fox Creek school is 2 miles north of Strong City on the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway (Highway 177), within the Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve. The school was in operation until 1930 and the National Park Service operates a one day educational program.

Lower Fox Creek School, north view

Below is an 1887 map of Chase County,  Kansas Historical Society, view a bibliography of articles on Chase County schools. The school is located in the top row, third column.

Township Lower Fox Creek, 1901

Above is a plat map dated 1901, showing the township and the location of the Lower Fox Creek School, number 14, bottom row. Other schools are marked. See detail below.

The deed for the school was recorded in 1882 and the first school term began, September 1, 1884, Dora Peer, teacher. She was paid $35 a month.  

The land for the Lower Fox Creek school was donated by Stephen F. Jones, Strong City Bank President, lumberman and cattleman, who owned the Spring Hill Farm, now part of the Kansas National Prairie Reserve.

The school has two entrances, for boys and girls, with windows on all sides except the west. A water pump is attached to the school. Behind the school are the remains of a privy.

Remains of the privy
Nearby is Lower Fox Creek where even in July of 2011, clear spring water still runs.

view from Lower Fox Creek
Detail of 1901 Chase County township showing school number 14, Lower Fox Creek School