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Wyandotte County, Kansas




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KCKS Public School System, 1819-1961
by Nellie McGuinn
Copyright USD 500, Feb 1966

Return to Previous Section 1819-1856

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Dr. J. P. Root, Thomas Swope, Thomas Eldridge, John McAlpine, and Silas Armstrong were leaders in the New Wyandotte Town Company.  They had little difficulty in buying the forty-acre plots of the Indians.  The company divided the land into lots and laid out the four Possibly M. Splitlog's sawmillmain streets, Washington, Nebraska, Kansas (now State), and Minnesota.  Steamboats on the trip up the river discharged at the levee more passengers than the few hotels could accommodate.

Matthias Splitlog's saw mill scarcely could supply lumber fast enough for the carpenters, who received five dollars a day in gold for their work.  Fortunately the new town was somewhat removed from the turmoil in the remainder of the state, and from the border troubles infesting other eastern Kansas settlements.  [Annotation:  The picture at your left is possibly one of Splitlog's sawmills.]

When their holdings were divided by the Treaty of 1855, the Wyandots reserved some sections for tribal ownership.  These were the lots where the two churches stood, a strip of land at the levee, and Huron Place and Cemetery.  Huron Square, in the years since, has played an important part in the history of the school system.

The land west of the cemetery belonged to Hiram Northrup.  Northrup was an Eastern Home of Matthew and Eliza Barnett Splitlogfinancier who came here in the early 1840's.  He married a chief's daughter, Margaret Clark, was adopted into the tribe, and became a loyal and respected member.  Northrup deeded the northwest corner of the square to the south branch of the Methodist Church, and the southwest corner to the African Methodist Church.  The two other corners were designated by the Wyandots for church property also.  Thus, it was hoped, the cemetery would forever be assured of protection.  A segment of the Place was set aside for seminary purposes, and the remainder for a public park.  Two plats were filed, one in Leavenworth County and the other in Wyandotte.  The plats were not alike which led to difficulty later.

By July, 1859, a new brick building on the levee was ready for the fourth Kansas Constitutional Convention.  A city newspaper was established, and the owners distributed copies to the delegates during the session.  After a month of work, the convention members submitted a constitution to the people who approved it for adoption.

The years 1856 to 1867 were blank as far as public education in the city was concerned.

(Annotation:  Early Newspapers in Wyandotte County - The Weekly Spy came into existence in the year 1880, and was the property of B. M. Brake. In September, 1882, Charles H. Van Fossen & Felix G. Head bought the material of the Weekly Spy, and commenced the publication of the Daily Evening Globe September 5. It is a sprightly evening journal with experienced men in charge, and will till the field now open for it creditably. Mr. Felix G. Head, the editor, was for several years connected with the St. Paul Pioneer Press; and Charles H. Van Fossen, the business manager, is an old resident of Kansas City, Kan., one of the early settlers of the Missouri Valley, a man of much newspaper experience and one who has made life and business a success.) 

The constitution provided for a uniform system of schools in the state.  Two sections of land in each township and seventy-two sections at large were to be used for the support of schools.  Because of technicalities due to previous Indian ownership of the land and hardships of the war years, nothing was done about public schools in the new city until eight years later.

It was during this eleven-year period when no public education was available, that subscription schools sprang up.  They served only the families that were willing to pay for their children's education.  Sometimes a relative would assume the task of teaching children to read, write and "figure."

Boats from Cincinnati or St. Louis, in the late fifties, brought new town houses ready to set up, forerunners of today's "pre-fabs".  A group of parents bought one such "Cincinnati house" by subscription and located it at Sixth and State.  The Town Company donated the ground, which is the present site of the Young Women's Christian Association.  The parents engaged a teacher and operated the school until 1867.

In 1859, Abelard Guthrie, husband of Quindaro for whom the town of Quindaro was named, wrote a paragraph in his diary concerning the education of his daughters, which he said had been almost entirely neglected when they were younger.  When older, they attended a convent school at St. Charles, Missouri, where the nuns placed too much emphasis, he felt, on art and music, and failed to give the girls enough basic education.

Today we are indebted to the late Lillian Walker Hale, member of the prominent Wyandot Walker, for an account of the private schools of the early sixties.  Writing in 1921, she recalled that the Reverend H. H. Craig, pastor of the Methodist Church (South) at Seventh and Minnesota, had a school there.  All the big girls and many of the boys attended.  At the North Methodist Church a Miss Huldah Holcomb conducted a school for the children of members.  many well-known citizens, still living in 1921, had attended Miss Holcomb's school.

The Wyandots considered education of first importance, and Mrs. Hale recalled that in her childhood there had always been schools.  The earliest she remembered had been conducted by Mrs. Lucy Armstrong and Miss Sara P Ladd, sister of Mrs. Matthew and Mrs. Joel Walker.

Also, among the first schools was one on the second floor of the old frame store building at Third and Nebraska.  After Wyandotte County was formed in 1859, this building served as the courthouse when the District Court held its infrequent sessions.  Miss Anna H. Ladd, sister of Mrs. Hale's mother, and Miss Eliza Carpenter were the teachers.

The courthouse faced a street paved with cobblestones.  This was the old way to the steamboat landing and to the railroad depot later.  Isaiah Walker sold the building to the county, after operating for years the general merchandise store of Barker and Walker.  The commissioners moved the building to the front of the lot and built a jail at the rear.  The first post office occupied the front room.

In spite of upset times, learning flourished.  At five years of age without benefit of schooling Lillian Walker could say the alphabet, count to any number in English, and up to ten in French and Wyandot.  Her brothers taught her Wyandot, and a French-Canadian in her father's employ taught her French.  Miss Mollie Cowan moved during Civil War years to the room previously occupied in the courthouse by Misses Ladd and Carpenter.  Once when visiting this school, the small Lillian exhibited her skill at spelling four letter words.  She argued with Miss Cowan to prove that "joke" and "oak" had the same endings, and was informed that she was just a visitor and not a pupil.  Mrs. Hale described Molly Cowan as a lovely person and excellent teacher.

Miss Cowan also had a school for years in the old, pre-fabricated schoolhouse at Sixth and State.  Many families in town - the Parrs, the Specks, Kirkbrides, Walkers, and Handfords, sent their children to Miss Cowan.

The children went to Walker's Grove for picnics.  The grove, owned by Lillian's uncle, William Walker, lay "north of Garrett, near Virginia Avenue."  On one occasion Annie Speck was the May Queen.  She wore a white dress and her brown hair was done in a "waterfall," with a net of crimson chenille.  Will Parr was the king, and as he placed the crown on the queen's head, the crown, either by accident or design, slipped down and encircled Annie's neck.  A favorite school game of the sixties was "Copenhagen," played in a circle with a rope.

Molly Cowan married John Van Fossen of Leavenworth.  Mrs. Hale could not recall how long she taught the school at Sixth and State.  However, she remembered that Miss Cowan was known as one of the best of the pioneer teachers, with great influence over her pupils.

Lillian Walker Hale's first regular school was held in an old frame building with a cook stove for heat.  No one seemed to know why a cook stove was used, for school had to be dismissed on cold days.  Miss Emma Scales, a cousin of Mrs. Byron Judd, was the teacher.  She was near-sighted and rang a little tinkley bell when the children grew noisy.

On Friday afternoons the school gave programs.  Miss Scales would read aloud to her pupils.  One of her books was Ike Marvel's Dream Life.  After sixty years Mrs. Hale remembered this book as "one of the vivid bits of literary music" of her early education.

After one winter and spring of teaching, Miss Scales married a Mr. Bartlett.  One of Emma Scales Bartlett's daughters became the wife of Loredo Taft, the famous sculptor.

There were other schools Mrs. Hale attended.  From those she said she received little except the opportunity to indulge in constant reading.  The "New York Ledger" was the popular magazine of the day.  Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth, Mary Jones Holmes, and the Beechers were popular and well-paid contributors to the periodical.

An early day educator in Wyandotte who later was county superintendent, county assessor, and editor of the old Kansas City Sun was Mr. E. F. Heisler.  In 1921 at the age of eighty-two, he kept up a long-time habit of walking around the town to observe changes in the growing city to pick up items for the "Sun".  One of his favorite stories was of the time he was left for dead on a Civil War battlefield and then lived to tell about it almost sixty years later.

Mr. Heisler at one time taught at the little frame school at Sixth and State, "within shouting distance of Sixth and Minnesota," he said.  The Cincinnati one-story school building grew from one to two or three rooms before it finally became a school for the colored in 1867.  In 1921 there lived but twenty-nine of the first class of eighty-six taught by Mr. Heisler.  He had outlived two-thirds of them.  Of those still living, he could name them all, among them Henry McGrew, Edward Blum, Annie, Joseph, Mary and Richard Speck.  His early day pupils remembered learning states and capitals by singing them with their teacher at geography time.

As superintendent of Wyandotte County schools, Mr. Heisler held the unusual of being elected three terms in succession.  When superintendent, he walked all over the county visit the schools.  During his three terms of office, he influenced school board to replace the first log schoolhouses with substantial buildings and to install blackboards.  Mr. Heisler went as a delegate to the National Education Association, established in 1857, at one of the earliest meetings.  He was active in the school affairs of the state, and promoted public libraries at a time when there was no demand from the people for such service.

"The Charter and Ordinances of the City of Wyandotte," signed by Governor S. Medary on January 29, 1859, outlined the procedure for establishing a public school system.  Stated briefly, some of the items in this early document follow:   (Annotation:  The Common Schools - Kansas School System)

  1. The Council would divide the city into school districts and procure a site for a school.  The Council was empowered to levy one mill on each dollar until a sufficient sum was obtained to buy or erect; and to levy two mills on the dollar to defray school expenses.
  2. The schools would be free and accessible for ages five to twenty-one, but no black or mulatto would be permitted to attend.  School taxes assessed in the property of black or mulatto must be used for the education of black or mulatto.
  3. Voters of each ward would select two "judicious and competent persons, having alderman qualifications," as trustees of the common schools.  These persons would be called the "Board of Trustees of the Common Schools in Wyandotte," and would hold office one year.  The City Council would fill and confirm vacancies.
  4. The trustees must visit every school once a month and report to the Council on finances and other matters.
  5. Money would be deposited with the city treasurer and spent for no other purpose than the schools.
  6. A member absent from meetings six successive weeks, unless sick or away from the city, would have to leave the board.
  7. The Council would appoint five examiners of "competent learning and abilities."  These would be called the Board of Examiners of Common Schools in Wyandotte, and serve two years.  They would examine teachers, schools, discipline, and the course of instruction.
  8. The City Council would set up rules for the school.

If any schools were ever organized under the 1859 rules, the records have disappeared.  1867 is the earliest date given for a public school in Wyandotte.

Under Governor S. J. Crawford, revised rules were published in 1867.  The county had begun the division into school districts almost as soon as it was organized.  It continued to do so as the population spread, until it was completely sub-divided.  Wyandotte was district Number 1.

The Civil War was going on when thirty-four teachers met in Leavenworth in September 29, 1863, and formed the Kansas Teachers' Association.  At a three-day meeting the founders wrote and adopted a constitution.  The following year, Mr. H. D. McCarty, state superintendent of schools, was elected president and appointed editor of the Kansas Education Journal.

Next Section   1867-1871

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History Site created on December 02, 2002
Page last updated: 02-Jan-2012

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