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The History of our Public Schools
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 1856-1867

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Few settlers came to make their homes in the struggling city during Civil War years.  Quindaro, six or seven miles up the river, was almost deserted.  Wyandotte County had given the Union forces more than a fair share of soldiers, and only the boys and old men were left.  When alarms were noised about, the women buried the family silver in nearby cornfields and hid the helpless members of their households.  In the basement of the Eldridge Hotel (the former Silas Armstrong residence) at Fifth and Minnesota, cannon balls were stored.  Wounded men were brought to hastily set-up hospital rooms in the residences along Washington Avenue.

Union members killed in the Battle of Westport, so the rumors said, had been buried in the Indian Cemetery and their names recorded at Topeka.  This battle, the "Gettysburg of the West," brought a measure of peace to the area in 1864.  When the railroad bypassed Leavenworth and sent the trains through Wyandotte, the little city begin to grow again.

In 1866 the population was 1200, and there was no town west of Seventh Street.  The Santa Fe and the Union Pacific railroads were opening their Kansas lands for settlement.  From Ohio, Indiana, and other eastern states, young families were migrating in search of cheap land and the opportunity to succeed in a new country.  Among such arrivals in old Wyandotte in 1866 were Mr. and Mrs. Porter Sherman.

Porter Sherman had worked hard in his early years in Michigan to acquire an education.  He was a teacher and a lawyer in his early thirties when he and his wife arrived at Westport Landing (then at the foot of Grand Avenue on the Missouri River).  The couple set out immediately on foot for Wyandotte.  In later years Mrs. Sherman recalled passing the State Line Hotel, a wooden building with a large sign above it, and also a soft drink parlor, before reaching the Kansas River.  There were no bridges nor certain ferries.  Her husband called to a man with a skiff to row them across.

Garno HouseThat night they stayed at the Garno House at Third and Minnesota, within walking distance of the levee.  Mrs. Garno's hotel had acquired a reputation over the years for the good food served there.  The town was only a village.  A drug store, variety house, and dry goods emporium made up most of the business section.  Minnesota Avenue from Sixth to Seventh was a residential street.  There was a church here and there, but no free school for the many children of the city.

Some private schools of the time were scarcely worthy of the name, according to Mrs. Sherman.  They were called schools because one or two children went to the home of a relative who hated to see them grow up without an education.  The school system really began when Mrs. Sherman and a group of women took the initiative in starting the movement.  They held a meeting, which afterward they learned was illegal, at which they decided to establish a school.  Legal or not, the meeting started the drive for public education.

The Cincinnati frame, grown to a school of several rooms, was the scene for the meeting that in 1867 voted $12,000 in bonds for a new schoolhouse.  Wyandotte had become a city of the second class on February 23, 1867.  Under Governor Crawford the Supplemental Act to govern the schools was issued.  Some provisions were:

  1. Schools were to be open not less than three or more than ten months of a given year.
  2. A Board of Education was to be established, two members from each ward, for a two-year term.  The Board would fill its own vacancies except those occurring within ten days of an election.
  3. The board would elect its own officers and make its own rules and regulations.  Separate schools for colored and white were to be maintained.  Whenever in the board's opinion the educational interests of the city demanded a high school, the board could establish one.
  4. The board was to elect a clerk who would also act as superintendent of schools, his term of office depending on the pleasure of the board.  The clerk would be required to furnish a $1,000 bond.
  5. School board members were to give their services free.
  6. Three persons would compose the Examining Committee of the Board of Education.  Every applicant for a teaching position must have a certificate from this committee.
  7. The board must have a written contract for transactions involving over two hundred dollars.

The First Ward was the section of the city lying south of Kansas (State Avenue).  The Second Ward lay north of Kansas Avenue.  Three councilmen controlled the affairs of the city.

On March 25, 1867, John McAlpine, trustee of the Wyandotte City Town Company, deeded lots 25-27, Block 115, to the Board of Education for the sum of one dollar.  The lots were the site of the frame building on Sixth and State.  Some Wyandotte County histories refer to this school as the first public school.  It was in no sense a public school until deeded to the board and turned over to the colored people after the erection of Central Public School.  Central was the first school erected by the City of Wyandotte, District 1.

To the east of the Indian Cemetery on the edge of town lay a weed and brush patch marked "Huron Place" on the city map.  The Wyandotte City Board of Education petitioned the city council for permission to build the schoolhouse for District 1 on the part dedicated for seminary purposes.

The council granted the request and deeded to the Board a plot "bounded by Sixth Street, north and south by church lots, west to boundary."  The council then added "sixty-five feet whole length of first grant."  The section set aside in 1859 for seminary purposes was an irregular strip facing Minnesota with a frontage on Ann and Sixth.  The Sixth Street frontage was 154 feet, Minnesota and Ann each 88 feet.  Owing to curves, tangents, and radii on the original map, the chart is almost incomprehensible today.

Isaac Shoemaker, contractor, erected a nine-room, two-story brick building with a basement.  It covered a plot of ground 60 by 65 feet on the top of a twenty-foot hill and was one of the few buildings in the city with a steam heating plant.  The cost went far above the $12,000 voted by the citizens.  The seating capacity was 542, averaging over sixty pupils to a room.  The school was occupied in late 1867 or early 1868.  The records differ as to the date.  An issue of the Kansas City Kansan, October 2, 1921, has in it a picture of this first Central School.  It can be seen on microfilm at the library.

Henry C. Alden probably was the first principal.  He was a young law student about twenty-one years of age at the time, and his duties involved the superintendency of the two schools in the system.  When he passed the law examination in 1870, he left teaching.  In 1882 he was elected county attorney, and for many years was a prominent figure in Wyandotte County affairs.

Not everyone was pleased with the new school.  Its architectural plan offended some eyes.  Perched high on the hill, the school had "all the beauty of a hennery," declared one critic.  It was too far from the center of town and difficult for children to reach, said others.  At that time a large ravine split Minnesota Avenue between Fifth and Sixth Streets.  When the ravine was partly filled a year or two later, the contractors used the plentiful yellow clay of the district for fillings.  In rainy weather the mud made the street almost impassable, and children arrived in the morning, shoes lost in the mire and clothing bedraggled.

Vincent Lane, early day Wyandotte editor, told of having to carry a young daughter on his back to school during rainy season.  The city council finally ordered the street commissioner to lay two planks lengthwise for a sidewalk on the north side of Minnesota.  As the planks were just one foot wide and nailed one foot apart on a two-by-four studding, only a skilled walker could cover the distance safely.  At times when the clay was soaked after a hard rain, the planks would slide.  Then the youngsters might roll down the muddy bank and land in an unfilled portion of the ravine twenty or thirty feet below.

McGuffy's Reader and Webster's Bluebacked speller were the popular texts of the opening years of the school.  Teachers then and for years afterward called he children into the schoolhouse by a bell in the cupole over the doorway.

William R. Keeler, who attended Central in the eighties, has told of the boys climbing into the tower each Halloween and fastening the bell rope beyond the reach of teachers.  On the playground children enjoyed "town ball" and cricket.  Later they took up baseball, then in its formative stage.

O. C. Palmer followed Henry Aldan as superintendent and principal.  A native of Vermont, Mr. Palmer came to Wyandotte in 1869 and remained here for eighteen years as a leader in education.  He married Miss Sarah Brooks of Greenwood, Missouri, also a teacher.  Professor Palmer as he was known to hundreds of early citizens, remained in charge of he two schools until shortly before he established a private high school in 1878.  Some early teachers were Mr. and Mrs. Porter Sherman, Jessie Kerstetter, Bridget Cushing, and William Boylan.

Mr. E. F. Heisler promoted his library movement by setting up in 1871 a permanent notice in the old Gazette:

Library Rooms - E. F. Heisler's Office under Dunning's Hall [4th & State]
Open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Small, well-selected, best periodicals on file.
Become a member by paying $1 fee

Next Section   1872   

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

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