I'm carrying on my mother's research into our family history. I've self-published some family memoirs & learned a lot about different eras.
One-Room Prairie School in Kansas
My dad, Clyde Martin, attended Prairie Belle, a one-room school in the 1930s. He was one of four generations of the Martin family to attend the small Greenwood County, Kansas school. The school existed for sixty-six years, starting in 1886. It cost $450 to build the school in those early days.
My family had the school records, since the Martin family was active on the school board and served as the treasurer for the school. My mother combed through these to write a history of the school. In addition, she interviewed a number of former students of Prairie Belle school, including her husband and her sister-in-law, Dorothy Jones. A few years ago, the family donated the records to the Greenwood County Historical Society in Eureka, Kansas.
Here's a glimpse inside a one-room prairie schoolhouse in Kansas. Although the school building is gone, the memories remain.
(Photo from the Martin family album)
My father's biography includes a detailed history of Prairie Belle School
Profile of My Dad Whose Memories Are Shared Here
Clyde Martin grew up in Greenwood County, Kansas in the 1930s. A hard-working man, he started out farming like his father, but switched to oilfield work to support his growing family. Roughneck, Driller, Tool-Pusher were some of his job titles during the years in the El Dorado oilfield of south-central Kansas. After retirement, he had time for fishing, gardening, selling at the farmer's market and many other activities.
The book also traces the Martin/Joy/Kennedy family history in Kansas. It brings alive Douglas County, Greenwood County and Butler County history ranging from territorial strife to the El Dorado oil boom.
This is the black-and-white paperback version and there is a heritage hardback edition also that includes some color photos.
Excerpt from Clyde Owen Martin (My Father's Book)
A story about the school bell
Clyde tells a story about an unusual accident he had at school that required a trip to the doctor's office in Madison for stitches.
"One lunch hour it was my best friend's turn to ring the bell. I slipped around the school and crept up behind my friend and jumped at him yelling BOO. Well, I scared him so bad he slammed the bell back over his head and connected with my head, resulting in a bloody mess and two extremely excited kids."
1907 Photo of Prairie Belle School
Own a Piece of Americana
If you wander enough antique shops or check on eBay, you'll find a vintage school bell. They've also been reproduced as a more affordable memento of the good old days.
Just don't whack anyone on the head with one. These can be decorative as well as useful (ring the bell to call everyone to dinner or train the dog to come in from the yard with it).
1923 and 1934 - Students at Prairie Belle School
Learn More about One-Room Schools
This Photo Includes the Generation after My Father
Teacher on the Steps of Prairie Belle School
Links about One-Room Schools in Kansas
I find these old schools fascinating. If you want to read more, here are some great links I uncovered. Learn about the architecture of these schools and check out the vintage photos.
Find out More about One-Room Schools
- One-Room Schoolhouse Center - This site fascinated me. It has links arranged by state to quite a few old schools including ones in Kansas. There are sections of school memories and lots of history.
- Kansas One-Room Schoolhouse Photos One Room School House Photo Album collected by Kansas Heritage Group
- One-Room Schools - Architecture - This is a nationwide listing but has some Kansas schools listed.
- Kansas One-Room Schools - Written memories of these schools.
Where to Visit a One-Room School in Kansas - Historic sites and museums
Plan some day trips to one-room schoolhouses near where you live. If you don't live in Kansas, maybe a longer trip is the way to go.
- The Haun Museum in Jetmore, Kansas - The museum has a recreated interior of a one-room school.
- Prairie Museum of Art and History in Kansas | eHow.com - At one time, 94 one-room schools dotted the countryside of Thomas County, Kansas. The Nicol One-Room School typifies the kinds of schools small farming communities throughout Kansas used for education, community events and public meetings.
- Lanesfield School Near Kansas City - It consists of a restored one-room schoolhouse, outbuildings and a visitor's center featuring an exhibit on Kansas'one-room schools called "Just Plain Simple: The One-Room School in Kansas."
Another School Scene in Kansas
We used to have a set of these and when I was a kid, we played "school" for hours. One of us was the teacher and the others were the students. Lots of fun.
They can also make a great vignette in a room. Add a school bell and put some dolls in period outfits on the seats.
Video of 1930s/40s One-Room School
This is not Prairie Belle School, but it gives you an idea of what the school day would be like. It's rare to have film from that period, so the quality isn't super, but still interesting.
More Memories of Prairie Belle
Excerpt from the book, Clyde Owen Martin
"All we had to drink was water and lots of it carried in from the cistern in the school yard. We used a long handled dipper to dip our drinks from the bucket" Clyde's sister, Dorothy, remembered. In 1928 the community bought a watercooler to put the water in and everyone brought their own cups but the water still had to be pumped from the cistern. Dorothy concluded, "We ate at our desks unless the day was extremely cold, then we huddled around the stove. On hot days the teacher went outside with us to eat in the shade of the only tree!"
Here's the Kind of Stove That Prairie Belle Might Have Had
The School House Sold in 1951
The Madison News on February 3, 2011 featured a story that it originally ran 50 years before on February 1, 1951. It was in the Looking Back column.
"The District 102 (Prairie Belle) school house was sold to Chris Sauder at the auction held Saturday, Jan. 20. The land went to Parker Cox. A good crowd was present according to Roy Richards, District No. 79 school board member who clerked the sale, and the district realized a total of $641, of which one building brought $490.
One of the furnishings which was not sold was a religious picture which had been given to the school in 1935 by Miss Verna Brumbaugh who taught her first term of school there in 1890-91. The picture, a head of Christ, had hung in Miss Brumbaugh's school room during all her teaching career which included 21 years as second grade teacher in Madison, and was given to her first school after her retirement in 1932. At Miss Brumbaugh's request it will now hang in the Madison eighth grade room. She also taught eighth grade in Madison for three years."
The school buildings and property were advertised in The Madison News on January 18, 1951.
"Roy Richards, clerk of the Madison school board has advertised the property formerly belonging to District No. 102, for sale. It will be sold at auction to the highest bidder at the site. Included in the sale are the school building, 2 outhouses, coal shed and some of the contents of the school building. District 102 was recently consolidated with Madison district."
Cover of the Greenwood County History
Thanks, Dad, for the Memories!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2010 Virginia Allain
I Hope You Enjoyed Your Trip Back to 1930s School Days - and My Dad's Memories
Carolan Ross from St. Louis, MO on January 26, 2015:
Lovely way to preserve these special memories. Love stories of one room school houses.
David Stone from New York City on January 31, 2014:
A great way to keep history alive, and yes, I enjoyed it.
blessedmomto7 on June 11, 2013:
Very cool. We have a vintage bell and antique school desks like those pictured.
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on April 09, 2013:
@ChristyZ: That's great that you the children get a sense of how things were in the "good old days."
ChristyZ on April 09, 2013:
This is a very interesting article. My children's public school takes the children to the local pioneer village so they have the chance to experience the one room schoolhouse first hand. They also tell the children stories of how the children were punished for things like having dirty fingernails, writing with your left hand, etc. Back then kids respected (or at least feared) their teachers. Terrific lens!
Peggy Hazelwood from Desert Southwest, U.S.A. on March 27, 2013:
Love the idea of a one-room schoolhouse where the older kids helped the little ones. I think those kids learned a lot more in many cases than kids do today.
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on January 27, 2013:
@Brandi Bush: I have a cousin in Kansas that owns one. She and her husband lovingly restored it and furnished it like a museum.
Brandi from Maryland on January 27, 2013:
Oh, I am absolutely in love with one-room schoolhouses. Someday I'm going to own one. :)
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on January 23, 2013:
@heytoto: It must have been challenging for a teacher with multiple grade levels to teach. These country schools did a remarkable job educating the rural population though.
Karen Kolavalli from Lexington, Kentucky on January 23, 2013:
@Virginia Allain: I always liked to listen to the older kids having their lessons with the teacher (when I was supposed to be doing my own work at my desk!). Their lessons seemed much more interesting than mine!
KarenTBTEN on February 26, 2011:
My mother went to a one room schoolhouse in Kentucky. SquidAngel blessings.
darciefrench lm on February 14, 2011:
Very cool lens- $450 to build the school back then- must have been a lot at the time. Today, would buy a few books? Here's a Cupid Kiss- Happy Valentine's Day -:)
poutine on January 22, 2011:
Both my parents attended a one-room school, and they both remembered those days with joy.
grannysage on June 19, 2010:
I went to a one room school in Michigan. It was a special time. It is still operating today for the kids of Copper Harbor. There is a picture of it on my lensography.
I remember the old school desks too. I always hoped one of the mean boys didn't sit behind me!
I am glad your family kept such good records. Thanks for sharing.
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on June 19, 2010:
@mbgphoto: I went to a two-room school in the 1950s/60s. The teacher had four grades to teach and it actually worked quite well. While one grade was instructed in a subject, the other grades worked at their desks on assigned work.
Mary Beth Granger from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA on June 19, 2010:
I always enjoy reading your small town Kansas lenses. It is amazing how they held school in those small buildings with all the classes in one room!