Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Schools Were Community Centers

Column sent to Frederick Leader and Frederick Press
August 10, 2010
Isadore School, 1910
Schools were Center of Early Communities
Much of the area that is Tillman County was opened for settlement by land lottery in August 1901. The eastern part of the county that was in the Big Pasture was opened by bid in December 1906.
One-room schools were established three miles apart throughout the area, close enough to every new homestead that children could walk to school.
Farm life was not easy. Families lived in half-dugouts or often simple wood-frame structures. Tilling the land, raising food and crops, and caring for farm animals was constant, demanding work.
It is logical that the schoolhouse in those days served more than just an education function.
In many cases, church services were held at the school on Sunday. That was particularly true during winter months when travel to more distant church sites was difficult.
In the summertime, brush arbors were often built in schoolyards for church revival meetings.
The one-room schools also hosted community literary programs that featured lectures, speeches, plays, entertainment, etc. Ciphering and spelling matches were held in which young people competed against students from neighboring schools.
Each school had a stove that used wood or coal for fuel for heat in cold months. The stove usually sat in the corner of the one-room school, but in some cases it was located in the middle of the room. During winter months, teachers arrived early to build a fire in the stove.
A kettle was located on top of the stove for heating water.
Water at each school site was a precious commodity, as it was at homes.
Rainwater was collected in below-ground cisterns.
Mounts School
Mrs. Frances Goodknight attended school at Pleasant Valley in northeast Tillman County. She recalls that when she was a girl all students drank from a bucket using the same dipper.
Students were asked to dip only what they could drink. Any excess dipped water was put into a washbasin and used to wash hands. Hands were dried on a single towel that was made from a detergent sack.
The common dipper method changed in about 1928, though, when the state issued new drinking water guidelines for schools. Country kids usually had colds all winter and the common dipper drinking style was identified as a logical reason.
In the late 1920s a law was passed that required all rural schools to have a sanitary drinking fountain. The sanitary fountain used a specific kind of pump in the cistern with small buckets or containers on a chain. When a crank was turned, the small buckets stirred the water in the cistern. Because the pump had to have a cover, all schools had to build a well house.
Frances Goodknight’s teacher required all students to have a metal drinking cup, so he gave them a metal folding cup – an item that she still possesses.
Music was important in the one-room schools and students sang as part of every school day. Many schools had an organ.
Mrs. Goodknight tells the story of an unfortunate incident at Pleasant Valley. Workers had been making improvements at the school but left suddenly when a storm came up. Unfortunately, they left a window ajar and a raccoon got inside the school. The raccoon completely tore up the school’s organ.
NOTE: Information in this column was provided by Mrs. Frances Goodknight. Mrs. Goodknight volunteers every day at the Pioneer Townsite Museum and especially enjoys leading student tours of the museum’s 1902 one-room Horse Creek School.
Joe Wynn is a member of the Tillman County Historical Society’s board of directors. He can be contacted by e-mail at jawynn@cableone.net.

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