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Recollections of Union Valley School

Recollections of Union Valley School

District No. 39, Republic County, Kansas


Richard L. Mikesell

The following is taken from
History of Republic County, I. O. Savage (Beloit KS: Jones and Chubbic, Art Printers, 1901)

"School District 39 was organized May 23d, 1871, and the first school meeting was held on the third day of June following. The first school district officers were Andrew Engle, S.A. McKay, and John R. Bowersox. The first three months of school in this district was taught by Mrs. Zuretta Rockhold in a dugout on the SE corner of section 22, the site of the present school building." The first students were "Frank Cooper, Calvin Gant, Charles Gant, David Hall, J. Householder, Daniel Householder, Geo. Page, Van Rockhold, Fred Rockhold, Arther Rockhold, Eddy Simms, Rose B. Woods, Racena Cooper, Albina Gant, Caroline Gant, Mary G. Householder, Clem Landreth, Esther Page, Lefa Robbins, Loretta Rockhold, Anna F. Small, Rachel Small, Orpha Rockhold, Irene Woods, Sarah E. Woods."

The following is from
The History of Republic County, (Belleville KS: The Belleville Telescope, 1964)

"The first schoolhouse was built in 1872 and was used until 1874 when it was deemed necessary to have a larger building. This building was built on the southeast 1/4 of 22 where the present building stands. The north room was added in 1891. Mrs. A.B.Marble taught the first school in the new frame building in 1874. She also taught the four month summer school in the summer of 1874.

"Union Valley was the first and only rural school in Republic County to employ two teachers and introduce a 10 year student course. The first graduates of District 39 were in 1895, Bert Morris, Ernest Mikesell, Minnie Bowersox, Nellie Nelson, and C.E.Johnson. Union Valley was the largest district in the county and at one time had over one hundred children of school age. Consolidation added Odell and Elm Grove to the District but in 1962 the district closed the school as only three pupils attended the 1961-62 term. Union Valley had 91 years of school. District 39 was voted and annexed to Belleville, District 14 in 1962."



Built in 1874, 1 story over crawl space, wood frame, 2 rooms plus coat room/vestibule, bell tower, built on standard township dedicated land of apx. 5 acres. Also included a separate large coal storage building and two outhouses. Water was supplied from roof drainage through a charcoal filter bin into a cistern equipped with a bucket-chain hand pump. Heated with coal and lit with kerosene lamps until 1952 when electricity and a propane floor furnace were added. Playground equipment consisted of a large swing set, teeter totters, a merry-go-round, two basketball goals, and a softball field. My dad and my grand dad both attended this school. It ceased operation in 1962. The building still stands.


Pupils sat at the standard folding school desks, both single and double, lined up in rows from front to back. Around the walls were the standard issue pictures of Washington, Lincoln, Blue Boy and Pinkie. At the front hung a set of pull-down world maps and a globe. Slate blackboards lined most of the walls. There were many glass-fronted bookcases full of books and encyclopedias, a piano, and an area that had a sandbox table, plants, and assorted colored papers, modeling clay and such for special projects or play.


I attended from fall 1946 to spring 1954 and during that time the number of pupils ranged from 8 to 21. The day usually began with the walk to school. I lived a mile away; others lived from 1/4 to 2 miles away and most walked. Weather permitting, some rode bicycles, and some, seventh and eighth graders, even drove cars. All the roads were dirt so when it rained parents could not drive without getting stuck so walking was still the way to get to school. Snow sometimes caused the same problem, and many pupils would walk through the snow and arrive at school with extremely cold feet and hands. This was normal then, today it would probably be considered child abuse. At these times, the coat room would be littered with wet mittens and 5 buckle overshoes (and puddles) and the coal stove would be cherry red and surrounded with thawing kids. When blizzards came a trip to the outhouse, about 100 yards away, could be an adventure.


Class time was from 8:30 to 4:00 with a morning and an afternoon recess, and lunch hour, and was convened with a brass hand bell or with the big bell in the tower (pupils were almost always outside before class). First came the flag salute and the Lord's prayer, and then current events. Pupils were encouraged to bring clippings from newspapers and these would be read and discussed. Occasionally a pupil would have caught a live wild animal or reptile of some kind at home and would bring it for all to see at this time. Reading was the first subject and all grades, consisting of 1 to 4 pupils, took their turn with the teacher around her desk at the front of the room which was also a raised stage. I always thought this was a good system as all pupils got the benefit of hearing what was being taught in the grades ahead and could learn from that too. After that came arithmetic and then Social Studies. Following lunch the teacher would have chosen a book, and would read a chapter of it to all pupils each day. Classes then would be geography, english and spelling. Art was worked in to this schedule also. After electricity came there was even a filmstrip projector which was used nearly every day. After school most were able to walk home accompanied by others going the same direction. Discipline varied with the particular teacher (I had six different ones, all women) but was usually corporal and was followed by standing in the corner, or worst of all, cursive writing exercises. Discipline at school was ALWAYS followed by more of a similar nature at home.

The books we used were purchased at the local drugstore which was an agent for this purpose. Always included was the ever present Big Chief tablet, and a pencil box was considered necessary although they cost as much as 50 cents and most parents opted for a cigar box or the wooden box that cheese came in. Kept in these boxes were wooden pencils or a Scripto eversharp, a ruler, crayons, a pencil sharpener, a gum or pink pearl eraser, LePages or Carters glue (which was usually eaten more than glued with), a protractor, and a compass which was used mostly for making six-petal flowers, for scratching initials in the desk, and for puncturing the kid sitting in front of you. The books that I most remember were "readers". The first ones were published by Houghton-Mifflin (sp?) and were the home of Jane, Tom, Muff (cat), and Spot (dog). The ones for later grades were (I thought) surprisingly sophisticated and included stories by Antoine de St. Exupre' (sp?) and such works as Hiawatha, the entirety of which was read aloud by pupils in turn over several sessions at about the seventh grade level. All other textbooks were accompanied by a workbook which was nothing but questions to which answers were to be written. If I remember correctly the end of each chapter of these had a test which was graded. In addition, all subjects were integrated through the use of "The Weekly Reader", a kind of small newspaper given to each pupil each week which was read from, talked about, analyzed, (and folded into giant paper airplanes). "Childcraft" was also available as were special papers made by the teacher on a primitive mimeograph which consisted solely of a wooden tray filled with a gel onto which a stencil was placed and inked and then paper laid over the gel to transfer the text to many copies. Arithmetic and english classes always had part of the time devoted to "figures" or sentence diagraming at the blackboard.

Pupils also had duties on a rotating basis. These would be "clapping" chalk erasers on the front steps to clean them, bringing water in to fill the drinking fountain, emptying the drain tank on the drinking fountain, bringing in buckets of coal from the storage building, emptying coal ash, watering indoor plants, putting up and taking down the flag, etc. Later in life I came to realize that the amount of work and organization done by the teachers, working all by themselves except for the pupils, was amazing, not to mention the support given by parents.


Recess was a time of games, with all pupils required to participate and no deference given to the sex of the pupil or the temperature outside until it got down to about 20d. Games included softball, basketball, tag, dodge ball, Black Man, Capture the Flag, Red Man, and others. With snow on the ground there were snowball fights, snow forts, and Fox and Geese was played. And sometimes plain old Cowboys and Indians.


Lunch boxes varied from the store bought Roy Rogers type and the ubiquitous round-top black ones to lard cans which had bails. Most lunches consisted of two sandwiches (four slices of bread) with either lunch meat or peanut butter and jelly or an occasional hamburger or roast beef filling. Included would be an apple or a banana, cake or cupcake or pie (always home made), possibly potato chips and/or a pickle, and very rarely a candy bar. All of these were wrapped in wax paper. A thermos would have milk or chocolate milk (made with Bosco, a chocolate syrup) or sometimes Kool-Aid. Nothing but water was available at the school.


all brought about the same general activities. At Halloween, pumpkin (witch, black cat) drawings would be supplied and everyone would stand at a window with the pumpkin sketch pressed to the glass tracing it onto another paper which would then be colored with crayons, cut out, and displayed on the walls. At Thanksgiving the same would be done with turkeys and pilgrims, and at Christmas with Santas, trees, packages, etc. Decorations would also be made for a Christmas tree using construction paper chains, popcorn strings, cranberry strings, paper cutouts, and foil "icicles". Then a few days before Christmas there would be a special Christmas party in the evening with parents attending and bringing tons of food for a big supper, and then there would be a "program" including a play performed by all the pupils. Each pupil also had to say a "piece", usually a poem, from memory and all the pupils would sing several songs accompanied by a piano and some simple rhythm instruments they played. All of this was weeks in preparation. Then there would be games and a gift exchange. Gifts were brought by girls for girls, boys for boys, and each group would form a circle and pass the gifts around while music was played on the piano, keeping what you had in your hands when the music stopped. It seemed that someone would always wrap a bottle of hair oil (a much despised thing to receive) and all the boys were very good at detecting which gift it was and would do their best to avoid having it when the music stopped. All this was done in the light of kerosene lanterns and the smell of coal smoke. This routine never varied in the eight years I attended school except in the number of people involved (and the heat and light source).


were also held at country schools. Many were used in the evening for 4-H meetings, for voting places, and socials. Nearly all parents took their turn at being on the school board, and all helped in maintaining the building and grounds as well as making things like ping pong tables and benches. A yearly ordeal for the school board was at Halloween when the outhouses were tipped over and the bell in the tower was "turned over" (so that the pull rope would not rotate the bell). This was an expense and an inconvenience not taken lightly. I remember my dad and a few other board members hiding on the roof of the school one Halloween night with shotguns to scare off any would-be pranksters.


of the country school was this: The parents were the neighbors were the board members were the friends were the teachers were the company that came to visit on saturday night were the same farmers as you were the people you saw at church in town on the road in the fields at the store. You attended this school, one or both of your parents attended it, and maybe your grandparents as well. The effect of all this on a child was the perception of utter stability and continuity. This was a product of it's time and when this kind of unity was no longer possible the country schools were no longer viable. The feeling shared by all who were a part of them is not easily explained and is not likely to return in the foreseeable future.

The Kansas Heritage Server would like to thank Richard L. Mikesell (rktex@netzero.net) for contributing these photos.

Attached are two pictures of students at Union Valley School, District 39, Republic County, Kansas - taken about 1952. I know they're authentic, I was there.

Union Valley - Whole School - apx 1951

Union Valley - Kids & Parents - apx 1952

Attached are two photos of Union Valley, District 39, taken in 1999.

Saturday, February 14, 2004 2:35 PM

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