Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The History of Spring Valley Historic Site

In honor of Celebrating Past Times Saturday April 26th and Sunday April 27th I thought I would explore the History of Spring Valley Historic Site.  Originally Spring Valley Historic Site was the site of the Spring Valley Schoolhouse, which still stands on the rise of the hill in its original location. 
The schoolhouse was built in 1873 on an acre of land donated by the Bailey family.  The school, District School #21, known to all as Spring Valley, was named for the springs that lay just to the south and north of the school.  In the early days, students hauled the water for the schoolhouse from one of these springs.  It was not until the early 20th Century that the county installed the water pump and students could fetch the water from across the schoolyard. 

District 21 Spring Valley School

As time progressed, the school added electricity, a coal furnace replaced the old coal and wood stove in the center of the room and a gas furnace was in place when the school closed.  However, this was as modern as the school’s conveniences got.  Before the school closed in 1958 is was the last open country school in Geary County without running water or indoor toilets.  
After it closed, Spring Valley Schoolhouse was used for community meetings, and Smoky Hill Township was responsible for its care.  In the late 1980s, the Geary County Historical Society began leasing the Spring Valley School site for $1.00 a year.  They leased the land and the school for several years before signing a 25 year lease in 1993.  It was during this time that the Historical Society purchased the land and building from Smoky Hill Township.
In the 1990s the Historical Society improved the property by adding a replica pony barn on the original foundation.  This building was where the students who rode horses to school would house their animals during the day.  The building was built from reclaimed wood from barns in Geary County. The water pump was restored along with the original outhouse.  The two major additions to this property are the Little Cabin and Wetzel Cabin. 
The Little Cabin is an original one-room log cabin which used to reside along Lyons creek.  No one knows who originally owned the cabin, but the Homestead Certificate, No. 530, shows that it was owned by Wilhelmina Freitag Staatz.  Wilhelmina was born in Germany and married George Freitag in 1859.  She was widowed and then married Christian Frederick Staatz in 1870.  The original location of the cabin was in section 30 in township 13 along Lyons Creek.   
While we don’t have any more details about the original owners, this one-room cabin is similar to others of its time.  In this area there were plentiful trees in 1850 along the creeks and rivers so many of the founding families lived in cabins similar to this one.
The final feature that has been added to Spring Valley Historic Site is Wetzel Cabin. This Cabin is on the National Register of Historic Places.  It has been moved from its original location along Clarks Creek.  The cabin which belonged to Christian F. Wetzel, and his family, held the first Lutheran Church services in Kansas. 
In the days before steady populations and thriving cities, circuit preachers traveled around to local homes, cabins, and public buildings and held church services for people in the area.  This cabin held the first congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in Kansas on August 17, 1861.  
Wetzel Cabin was moved from Clarks Creek to a spot along Highway 40 in 1955 and was moved again to accommodate I-70; the cabin finally came to rest at Spring Valley Historic Site in August 2004.
All three of these buildings represent prairie and pioneer life in Kansas.  To see what life was like in Geary County in the mid-1800s come out to Spring Valley Historic Site April 26th from 11a-3p and see demonstrations on cabin life, farming, and crafts.  There will be games on the grounds and lessons in the schoolhouse.
There will also be events at St. Joseph Historic Church and Cemetery the same day from 10a-12p as well as coffee and refreshments.  On Sunday April 27th come by the museum from 1p-4p and see our new exhibits.  You can also attend a 1:30p program at Starcke House where “Eunice” will reminisce about her time at the home, and Mike Lacer will give a talk about antique toys at 3pm in the museum Auditorium.  See our website www.gchsweb.org or Facebook page for more details.