Douglas County KS Schools

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Douglas County KS School information provided by Raymond Stone 

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 Fred Eggert.
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 school board.
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 Topping.
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 fifty-seven years.
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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