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Walnut Grove School
Walnut Grove School District No. 11
Preparing the piece about this school is very personal and difficult for me
to accomplish. My Dad purchased this property in 1955. He was a carpenter at
Haskell Institute/Haskell Indian Nations University for many years and
eventually the Building and Grounds Superintendent/Maintenance
Superintendent until his retirement. He and my Mother wanted a place to
rehabilitate and to call their own. When they first saw Walnut Grove, it was
not visible from the road, due to the extremely tall weeds and brush. For me
as a child of five, this place was frightening! My sister three years my
senior, felt the same way. Dad could see beyond all of this and knew this
was the place for his family. I am not sure my Mother felt the same way!
After many days of cutting brush and weeds and various species of
vegetation, we finally could get to the building, we found the shell of a
building that once was Walnut Grove School, a valued place of learning for
85 years. The walls had been cut down, to lower the roof and to shorten the
windows. I should say window openings, there were no windows! Behind the
house we discovered a coal shed with an outhouse on each side. One served
our needs for five years, until we finally had modern plumbing. The coal
shed was utilized as my Dad’s very small workshop. We noticed something was
missing. Water! There was no well! None of this deterred my Dad, from
converting this place into our home! One of the first things he did was to
recruit my Uncle Darrell Grammer (who was 18 years old at the time, he was
born in the old Clinton School, now on the Register of Historic Places) to
help hand dig a well! Dad was always known for not hiring someone to do a
job that he thought he could do himself! Their tool of choice was an 8”
manual post auger with a handle about five feet long! If you are unfamiliar
with a post auger, it has a piece of pipe connected to two opening jaws with
a sliding lock to keep it closed when lifting from the hole. It has a “T”
handle used to remove it from the hole. This tool empty weighs about 25-30
lbs. Then you add a full auger of dirt, and extra lengths of pipe to deepen
the hole and the whole contraption gets extremely heavy, very quickly. Then
the process is to continually drop this in the hole and twist from the top,
and pull it manually out of the hole. Repeatedly, time and time again! The
plan was to add pipe extensions to the auger as needed to keep boring until
the desired depth was obtained. Finally at a depth of forty feet they struck
water. At forty-three feet, they called it quits. This well served our
family throughout our lives at Walnut Grove, never running dry! A couple of
those years were severe drought years, and we still had water. Thankfully, I
was too young to help with this daunting task!
One of the things that my sister and I discovered was that there were snakes
everywhere! All kinds of snakes, from ring snakes to copperheads! I have
many memories of these critters, which I will not dwell on now.
I specifically remember stripping the lath and plaster walls from the
interior. What a dirty, hot job! It was then we discovered the ancient
window weights inside the walls. Dad never threw anything away and many
years later put them to good use as counterbalancing a set of stairs to a
storage space above the garage. It was also during this construction process
that we found that the wall framing studs were not 2”x4”, but 2”x6” full
dimensional studs and made of yellow pine, which is very hard and extremely
difficult to work with!
Well, I guess I will share one story about the snakes. I remember when I was
seven or eight years old, I had to go under the house with my Dad to help
him do something, and of course it was extremely dark! Dad went in first and
told me to stay very close to him. He didn’t need to tell me twice! There
was a center foundation wall running the length of the building. As we
entered the opening of the center wall, Dad said “stay over here to this
side.” Of course I did as I was told! I was carrying a flashlight, as we
entered the right side of the opening, I shined the light to the left, and
yep, you guessed it, a nest of snakes! Thankfully, they were black snakes.
We did not take long to finish our work in the crawl space. Well enough of
my rambling, let’s get on with the history of Walnut Grove School.
Walnut Grove School District No. 11 was established on April 16, 1866 when
Paulina and John Saxton deeded an irregular piece of land containing one and
one-half acres more or less, about .3 of a mile south of N. 1250 Rd. on the
west side of E. 1600 Rd., ending at the dead end of said road at the north
side of the Wakarusa River. (I think far too often we accept these dates as
just another number. I often like to put these dates in a more formal
historical prospective, by relating to current events of the day. This
school district was established on April 16, 1866, this we know. This
district was established a short twelve years after Kansas was declared a
territory! This school was established just five years after Kansas became
the thirty-forth state of our nation, and just fourteen months after the
Civil War ended, and less than three and one-half years after Quantrill’s
infamous raid on Lawrence, Kansas!)
The first building constructed here in 1866 was a small wood frame
structure. This small building with, the chimney in the center, had two
windows on each the north and south sides and a single door on the east end,
which was the front of the building. This small, but adequate building
served the district for 29 school terms.
In 1895, a new and larger wood frame building was constructed, and the
smaller building was relocated to the north about three-quarters of a mile
to the John Garrett farm. It was later moved to the Bill Lemon farm, just a
few hundred feet south and used as a barn or storage shed. This
unrecognizable and hidden piece of history still stands today, although in
very sad condition.
The second and last building had a native limestone foundation over five
feet deep. These native stones were hauled from Pleasant Grove, several
miles to the southwest, by horse and wagon. In 1957, I had the privilege of
talking to a neighbor (Charles Shirar, his home still stands
about-three-quarters of a mile north). He told me the story about his
helping quarry the stones for this foundation. He was a young man at the
time. Mr. Shirar went on to tell me the stones came from the north side of
Pleasant Grove Hill. He said they would pull the horse drawn wagon up the
hill and push a log through the wagon wheel spokes to prevent it from
rolling down the incline. Then they would load the wagon with the rocks by
hand of course, until they had a full load. With the team of horses
un-hitched and free of the wagon, they would remove the logs in front of the
wheels, and try to control the wagon manually as it slid/rolled down the
hill! When the wagon reached the bottom of the hill, they would hitch the
team and proceed on the long journey to Walnut Grove.
There were two doors on the east end of the building (front), each entering
a cloak-room, one for the boys and one for the girls. In the front center of
the east end, between the cloak rooms, was a raised platform (we called it
the stage) where the teacher’s desk was placed. At the rear of the building
(west end) sat a pot-bellied stove, with a chimney rising to the peak of the
roof. On the north and south sides of the building there were three equally
spaced tall narrow windows. One single door was located in the center rear
of the building. The wood framing of this building was of native cottonwood
and yellow pine. Because there was no water well on this school site, it is
believed that water was carried from the house directly across the road, by
the older boys. To the west of the schoolhouse was a coal shed with a boy’s
outhouse on one side and the girl’s on the other. Just behind these
buildings was a small shed and corral for the teacher’s horse. A concrete
sidewalk lead from the road to the front of the school, and completely
encircled the building. This sidewalk continued completely around the school
building and to the coal shed and to each outhouse.
Walnut Grove School District No. 11 was divided by the Wakarusa River. The
children on the south side of the river needed a way to walk to school, so a
swinging suspension bridge was constructed. This swinging bridge was
approximately forty feet about the river! A concrete abutment was on placed
on each side of the river, with components consisting of cables, spanning
the river, and what appeared to be some kind of fencing material on the
sides with one row of 2”x12” planks placed in the center to walk on. The
bridge provided the children a way to negotiate the river crossing, on their
walk to school. The Wakarusa River Suspension Bridge served District No. 11
for eighty-five years! Most of the children that crossed this bridge were
from the Douglas County Poor Farm, located southeast of the Wakarusa River
Bridge on Dg. Co. Rt. 1055. When we first moved here, there were always
daring teenagers attempting to cross the bridge even though the wooden
planks had been removed many years earlier. Fearing for the safety of these
dare-devils, my Dad approached the county to have the bridge removed. This
was accomplished by cutting and removing the cables and suspension
components. The concrete abutments which supported the ends of the bridge
still remain on each side.
Walnut Grove No. 11 received its name from the many walnut trees which
shaded the school grounds. When we moved there, many had already been
removed. Only four remained and three were hollow, posing a safety issue. As
the years progressed, they were all removed, but one. It was removed to
provide clearance for a power line to the new sanitary sewer treatment plant
on the south side of the river. There were also several majestic cottonwood
trees present. (One recently was taken by the Wakarusa River.)
The records of 1897, indicate James R. Shirar as the school board director.
He served in this capacity through the 1900’s. Charles Shirar, Son of James,
was elected to the school board in 1909, and served on the school board for
forty-two consecutive years, until the district was disorganized in 1951, to
consolidate with India School District NO. 55.
In 1895 the director of the school board James R. Shirar asked his son
Charles Shirar to clear the property of unwanted trees to allow space for
the new school which was to be constructed in. It was during this time, he
met a young attractive teacher by the name of Alice Cooper. It seemed to his
father (James Shirar), that this task was taking far too long to accomplish.
When Charles was questioned by his father, he explained he had met this
young school teacher soon to become Mrs. Charles Shirar. James Shirar
completely understood the reasoning by his young son, as he was the person
responsible for hiring the young teacher and soon to be Mrs. Charles Shirar.
Teaching the 1897-98 term term with 28 students was Stella Neal. The
recorded school board was represented by J.R. Shirar, and Henry Pringle.
Among the 31 children of school age was Charles Shirar.
Martha Koehring taught 22 students during the term ending in 1899.
Emma Catlin was the first teacher of the 1900’s, followed by May Clark,
Nellie Perkins, Genivive Kirby, Ethel Kohler, Alice Cooper, Catherine Long,
Susan Todd and EthelWard. Representing the district school board for the
term ending in 1910 were Charles Shirar, James Shirar and J.W. Michael.
Teaching the next decade were Ethel Ward, Nellie Bryant, Cecile Kiefer, Mary
Stephens, Roa Frye, Alice McDonald, Myrtle Russell, P. Wingate and Aimee
Piper. The school board was comprised of E.L. Brown, Charles Shirar, and
Emma Olson was the first to teach in the 1920’s followed by, Marie Preston,
Hazel Hamer teaching 5 months with Nellie Perkins completing the term and
five more, ending in 1930. There was an enrollment of 20 students. School
board members were E.L. Brown, Mrs. Elmo Garrett and Charles Shirar.
Teaching the first four terms of the 1930’s was Lucille Garrison followed
by, Blanche Weaton, and Clarine Beyer. With only five children of school age
in the district, there was no school held for the terms of 1936-37, and
1937-38. Mrs. Ross Clayton taught the 1938-39 term with only four students.
With only six children of school age for the 1939-40 term, no school was
held. Charles Shirar, Charles Whedon and Mrs. William Lemon served on the
With the opening of the Sunflower Ordance Plant during World War II, there
were 15 children of school age in the district. School opened again for the
term of 1940-41, with Betty Kersley teaching. Esther Brecheisen taught the
next term with an enrollment of 11.
There was no school held the next five years. Children of school age in the
district had dwindled to only 2-4 and they were sent to India No. 55, with
tuition paid by District N. 11.
By the school term of 1948-48, there were 13 children of school age in the
district. Edith Moses was hire to teach and taught through 1951. Charles
Shirar again served on the school board with Raybert Thornton and Mrs. Dick
Walnut Grove School District No. 11 was disorganized on March 26, 1951 when
it was absorbed into India School District No. 55.
The building and grounds were sold at auction to Mr. Park Hetzel. He in turn
removed the bell and belfry, lowered the roof, by shortening the walls. He
then sold it to John R. Blevins. The property sat un-occupied for several
years, until it was sold to Charles W. Stone on August 3, 1955. Charles
Stone converted the former shell of the second building to serve as Walnut
Grove School District No. 11, into a beautiful home for his family for
Charles Stone passed away in his home in 1996, followed by his wife Wilma in
February of 2013. On December 11, 2013 the building and grounds were sold to
the City of Lawrence, as a buffer area for the recently developed sanitary
sewer plant on the south side of the Wakarusa River. A few months later the
house and out buildings were demolished, ending the history of Walnut Grove
School District No. 11.
It has been mentioned that someday this spot along with the property on the
east side of E.1600 Rd. (about five and one-half acres total) may possibly
be utilized as a park. My wish, if this were to happen is that it be called
“Stone’s Walnut Grove Park.”
Walnut Grove No. 11 with teacher Florence Claxton
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