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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 1873-1880

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The spring of 1881 was cold and wet.  On March 8, two sleights came into town and on March 19, another supposed to be the last of the season, also drove into the city.  In early April the river rose, bringing distress and suffering at Newton near Armstrong, especially among the colored people on the railroad lands.  On April 25, the river was at the point reached a few years before in 1877.  The Herald remarked that even the saloon keepers were getting ready to move to new quarters.

April 29, the "great flood" arrived. Old timers gathered and compared it to the 1844 flood of early Wyandot village days.  Late in May, Armourdale was recovering from the high water, although the colored population had been forced to leave and to find new homes in Wyandotte.  Streets and roads throughout the city were almost impassable on account of the rain.  The mud at Fifth and Minnesota prevented more than one person from crossing the street at the same time.

To the disgust of the "city farmers" of 1881, the hog law was being strictly enforced, to the point that it was no longer safe for hogs on the streets.  Cows grazing in public thoroughfares were driven to the city pound at the expense of the owners.  On one occasion a stray cow went on a rampage on Minnesota Avenue.  No one was hurt, but the rambunctious cow had hurriedly cleared the sidewalk of pedestrians.

Street CarThe city was in the throes of growing up.  Along with the mud and the livestock, came the mule-drawn street cars.  The Kansas City, Missouri carline met the Wyandotte cars at the State Line in old Kansas City, Kansas.  (Annotation:  Old Kansas City, Kansas - before the consolidation in 1886 - was the land on the peninsula bordered by the Kaw River, Missouri River and Missouri State Line - what was referred to in the 1900s as the "west bottoms.  Map of James Street, Kansas City, KS 66118 )  For almost a year they stopped at Third and Minnesota where passengers changed to another vehicle to carry them through the mud up Minnesota to Nugent's Alley near Sixth Street.  The carline was popularly known as G. O. and P - Get Out and Push - Line!  There the mules were turned on a turntable.  The seats on the cars ran lengthwise.  Straw on the floor, aided by a potbellied stove, tended by the driver, helped to keep the passengers' feet warm.

When five new street cars were added to the line, hundreds of visitors made the trip across the river to view the sights in Wyandotte.  Three runaways of privately-owned horses and buggies brought injuries to the owners.  Superintendent Porter Sherman and his wife suffered injuries in such an accident.  Streetcar Number 4 collided with a horse and buggy near the "iron bridge" and demolished the buggy.

President James A. Garfield was shot and killed in the fall of 1881.  At the hour of his funeral at two o'clock on the afternoon of Monday, September 22, memorial services were held in Huron Place.  Old soldiers and members of benevolent organizations marched in a procession to the services.  Minute guns were fired while church bells tolled.  During the religious services and the reading of many flowery resolutions, a high wind prevented the crowd from hearing all that was said on this momentous occasion.

In 1881 corn sold at thirty-eight cents a bushel.  The city needed more "tenement" houses, but brick would be scarce.  George Fowler contracted for a fine stone porch to be added to his mansion, at a cost of $2,000.  The Post Office planned a move to new quarters.  (Annotation:  Moved to 420 Minnesota Avenue and then to 520 Minnesota Avenue in 1881.)  The law against saloons was being ignored and twenty-eight flourished.  (Annotation:  In 1881 Kansas outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. The law, however, was generally ignored. During the next 20 years, many Kansans who witnessed alcohol's devastating effects fought to get the laws enforced)  However, the Sunday laws closed them for one day of the week.

A few miles down the river, Argentine was building up around the Santa Fe shops and August Meyer's smelting plant.  One prominent business man in Kansas City offered a $1,000 wager that in two years the Argentine smelter would do a larger business han any firm in Wyandotte or the Kansas Citys.  The bet was taken.

Interest in a library for the city grew.  The Library Association elected Dr. Gentry president and held regular monthly meetings.  In March, 1881, the Methodist church gave an entertainment to raise money to buy books.  Ladies interested in the association served a dinner at Dunning's Hall at Fourth and State, when the Republic convention met in the city.  The singing school that met in the Congregational Church gave a public concert, the cantata, "Queen Esther," as a library benefit.  Sixty dollars worth of new books was added.  The library, observed a writer in the Evening Star, was of "great benefit to the young men of the city."

A debating society was organized and held its meetings at Kawsmouth Chapel on Wood Avenue.  The first issue of a new daily, he Kawsmouth Pilot, came off the press on March 8, 1881.  Teachers formed the Wyandotte Literary Society and presented at the brick schoolhouse in April one of the "finest programs ever offered to the public."

Among children and young adults the death rate was high.  Tuberculosis, or consumption, took the lives of young men and women in families of all social levels.  There was seldom an issue of the paper that failed to carry one or more obituary notices for young people and children, who had died from contagious diseases.  It was not unusual for a family to lose two or three sons and daughters during an epidemic of scarlet fever or diphtheria.  [Annotation:  Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by bacteria whose scientific name is Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB most commonly affects the lungs but also can involve most any organ of the body. Many years ago, this disease used to be called “Consumption” because without effective treatment, these patients often would waste away. Today, of course, tuberculosis usually can be treated successfully with antibiotics]

Smallpox was feared less as a death cause, but it was disfiguring and dreaded on that account.  When cases increased in the summer of 1881, the Boards of Health of old Kansas City, Kansas and Wyandotte met to plan for a "pest house" where the sick could be isolated and cared for.  Tramps infested the city and had become "bold and troublesome".

School children earned praise and criticism.  A group calling themselves the "Dirty Dozen" gave trouble.  Youth had an "unenviable reputation" for their conduct at public assemblages, it was said, although they behaved at the cantata at Dunning's Hall.  An anonymous contributor to one of the newspapers indignantly stated that "boys need the rod, and they know it.  They delight in teasing, which encourages juvenile impudence.  In the good old days boys got two whippings a day."

On October 20, 1881, Professor Sherman proudly reported that a letter from the office of the Western National Fair Association in Lawrence had included a check for nine dollars.  This was an award for the best five papers on United States history entered by Wyandotte schools in the Educational Exhibit at the fair during the summer.

The board of Education met frequently in 1881 at the major's or County Attorney James W. Gibson's office.  For the first time in fourteen years the board was engaged in a building program.  The census of 1880 listed 2107 of school age.  In 1881, the number had increased to 2967.  Eleven assistants (teachers) were employed 1880-1881, in addition to two principals, at the cost of $11.71 per pupil.  The average enrollment per teacher was one hundred with an average attendance of sixty-five to a room.

In March the board and public realized that two new schools had to be erected to accommodate the enrollment of 1500 expected within a few years.  The board called for a bond election to be held April 5, 1991.  The people were asked to vote for $15,000 to build two new schoolhouses.  One would be built on the site of the old colored school at Sixth and Kansas (State Avenue).  The other would be on the north side of Everett Avenue, between Fourth and Fifth Streets.  After years of being referred to as the "colored" school, the Sixth Street School would be called Lincoln.  Plans called for a nine-room brick with steam heat and a seating capacity of 490.  The Everett building would be an eight-room brick, also heated by steam, and would seat 433 pupils.  Both buildings would have doors opening outward.

The newspapers urged upon voters the need of going to the polls.  The bonds carried, and the board prepared to build.  James Furgason, president, appointed a committee to look for schoolhouse lots.  One hundred dollars was given to this committee to spend as a down payment on suitable lots.  The following purchases are on the records for Everett School:

  • June 11, 1881 - From Mrs Mary P. Sheldon and others, Lots 49 and 50, Block 72, on the north side of Everett Avenue between Fourth and Fifth Streets for $250.
  • June 18, 1881 - From Amos Poole and wife the same property for $250.
  • July 5, 1881 - From A. D. Downs and wife, Lots 47 and 48, Block 72, for $500.
  • September 10, 1881 - from Mary H. Shelby and others, Lots 45 and 46, Block 72, for $250.00

The property measured 150 by 150 feet.  Some citizens, as usual, were dissatisfied with the board's choice of location.

In June, 1881 the board added to the colored site by buying from John M. Funk, Lot 25, Block 115, old Wyandotte, for $300.  On July 6, the old schoolhouse on Sixth and State was sold to the highest bidder for $115.  Excavation and stone work on the new buildings began in July.  P. Knoblock was appointed to supervise the work.

Contracts for excavating were let to Drought and Ryus in August, with school to begin on October 1, 1881, and run for eight months.  More money was needed to go on with the plans.  The board held a special meeting and drew up a circular giving the financial condition of the board.  An addition levy or bond issue for $6,000 was needed.  The city council refused to approve the level; the board refused to levy again and said, "No School!"

Then the board announced that it would build the new schoolhouses according to plans and specifications already adopted.  When available funds were exhausted, the building would stand unfinished.  By November, the buildings were ready to be closed, but were not completed until the following summer.  Board member P. Knoblock had the contract to furnish the seats for the new buildings.

Sometimes the Herald editor, Vincent Lane, drew the board's attention to matters that might have been overlooked in the business of erecting new schools.  He paid an unexpected visit to the colored school one day.  Upstairs Mr. Lane found two women teachers, Mrs. Bowser and Miss Lewis, occupying the same room.  One had seventy-five pupils, the other thirty-four.

The children were packed in like sardines in a box.  Downstairs, Mr. Anderson was teaching a class of thirteen in a room of the same size.  This situation the editor pronounced all wrong, saying sickness and disease could easily follow.  The board, he said, was primarily responsible for such a condition, even if it existed without their knowledge.

In 1881, Mr. Conrad was allowed $30 to purchase a "leunatellus" for the school, $30 rent was paid for the "Sons of Protection Hall" for November.  The board worked in six committees:  Finance, Ways and Means, Teachers and Visiting Schools, Printing, Grievances, Building and Grounds.  The schools held an exhibition of the best work of the pupils on a Saturday night in June before school closed.

A few private schools, such as the School of Whitlock under Professor Whitlock's direction, continued to operate.  The colored in the Third Ward (north of State and west of Fifth) were informed that their school problems were in the hands of the city engineer and plans "would be formed to their best advantage."  Riverview and Wyandotte used Summundowat Street, later known as Orville, as a dividing line between them.

The county leased the northwest corner of Huron Place to the Wyandotte Lumber Company for a period of five years.

Next Section   1882 

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