Friday, July 25, 2014

Acker School-It wasn't all hard work and strict discipline

District 23-Acker School held classes from 1872 until May 17, 1963.  Like many other districts in Geary County, the lines actually crossed the county line to include parts of Dickinson County. When the school closed in 1963 there were 15 students; the next year, 13 began attending school in Chapman and 2 moved from the district.
 The stone building bearing the school’s name and district number above the door is located at the corner of K-18 and Milford Lake Road North and was built in 1911.  The stone school was erected by the Holmgren Brothers with stone from the quarry near Spring Valley School. At the time, the stone school cost $2500. The stone building, now a private residence, was not the first building to house Acker School children.
Acker began as a frame building in 1872.  The first building was moved to the Acker farm in 1911 when the stone structure was erected. The Acker family used the old frame school building as a wash house and butcher house, hopefully not at the same time.  The Acker family home burned in 1931 and the family moved into the frame building they eventually remodeled.
Acker was not the original name of the school.  Originally, the school was called Harmony Hill.  After 1917 the name gradually changed to Acker because the family was prominent in the community. Acker School held classes for over 90 years, and prominent families from Geary County spent their formative years within its walls. Altweggs, Gfellers, Hildebrands, Johnstons, and of course, Ackers all attended the school.
In the Altwegg family history it’s noted that the younger Altwegg children attended Acker School.  The family spoke Swiss, as they were recent immigrants, and so the children had to learn their English in school.  Their schoolmates called them the Dutch kids.  Instead of feeling discouraged, the children stayed in school, learned the language, and earned their schoolmates’ respect.  

1891-Acker School Original Frame Building.
Back: Henry Hildebrand, Millie Acker, Ben A. Johnston, Anna Kummers, Katie Carver, Annie Davis, (18) George Carver
Middle: John Kummer, Lottie Hildebrand, Clause Marston, Johnnie Acker, Emma Altwegg, Claude Kitsmiller, Bob Altwegg, Charles Wuethrich, Jerome Acker, Fred Hildebrand, Samuel Acker
Front: Lizzie Kummer, Mary Spessard, Charles Webber, Lizzie Altwegg, Ed Kummer, Mable Webber, Laura Johnston 
Country schools taught a wide array of subjects and they did it all in one room. Children were expected to do their lessons, keep quiet, and behave themselves.  Punishments were quite different from now, and included paddling.  According to the students, the worst day of the year “was when Jane Roether [superintendent of schools] would come to each school in the county and give tests. This was the most dreaded day of the year,” (Wayne Gfeller, 2010.)
If you look at the list of students with the photograph you’ll notice a number of the names are repeated.  Imagine going to school and being in the same room as all your siblings and cousins all day.  While this would have been nice because you’d never walk to and from school alone, it could also be bad because if you acted up at all your mother was sure to find out.
According to Gfeller, it wasn’t all hard work and strict rules. “There were times set aside for field trips. During the eight years at Acker School I remember visiting the JC fire department, Geary County Sheriff Department, KJCK radio station, Coca-Cola Bottling Company, [and] Shellhouse Bakery.” (Gfeller, 2010.)
At the closing picnic for Acker School more than 100 people attended and Mrs. Clarabelle Endsley, the final teacher, said, “The end of an era has come. Next fall most of the pupils residing in the Acker community will attend Chapman Elementary School. The one room rural school has served its purpose well over many years and it is not without regrets that it is put aside with the changing times.”(Union, May 28, 1963.)
Acker School-2013-Private Residence
Do you have a one-room schoolhouse story or memory you’d like to share? We are looking for stories of your own or your family’s experiences to include in the tour. If you have an amusing, interesting, or important story you would like to share with us please call or come by the museum. You can also write it down and send it to us at 530 N. Adams, Junction City, KS 66441 or

Friday, July 18, 2014

Geary County and Baseball: A Long Standing Love Affair

This county’s love of baseball has spanned nearly 150 years.  This city has seen amateur leagues, little league teams, professional leagues, army teams, and farm teams.  There is no doubt that Geary Countians love their baseball.
The love of baseball began when Junction City’s first ball club was formed in 1867.  It’s unknown what field these gentlemen played on, but the Weekly Union reported that for the team, to “become an organization of which Junction City may justly, feel proud it needs only close application to, and strict observance of the rules of the game, together with the highest respect for any and all officers who may be chosen from time to time.” 
By the 1890s there were numerous teams in Kansas and it seems in 1895 that there was a decent rivalry between the Junction City team and that of Enterprise.  In 1895 the Republican felt that, unlike the team in 1867, the Enterprise boys were not behaving in a manner befitting ball players. The Junction City team lost to the Enterprise team and the paper quipped, “The Junction City team still preserve their good name and honor. The bruisers and bummers at Enterprise can keep the $25 and with it employ some one to teach them a grain of common decency.”
During the 1890s baseball fever was rampant and parties of fans, tally-ho parties, would gather and ride a stage or wagon to other towns to watch the Junction City team play. The Republican reported, “a tally-ho party was made up Tuesday and those composing the party all started for Enterprise with gay and joyous hearts to see the bloody battle.”
Milford Ball Team circa 1900
By the 1920s baseball was well established in Geary County and there were teams across the county and in the different cities.  Milford, Wreford, the Union Pacific, and other areas all had their own teams. There was a ball field along Grant Avenue where the teams played until Rathert Field was completed in 1937. 
The Y ballpark was located about halfway to Ft. Riley by the Union Pacific Y near the shops.  According to Keith Hemenway, “The open air street cars would pull on to a side track, to load and unload the fans.”  For years this field was not supported by funding from a Junior League as later fields were.  Milton Clark, a longtime Junction City baseball fan remembered that the players would chip in money every week so they could buy the ball for Sunday’s game, and “on Sunday morning everyone would be at the ball grounds with rakes and hoes to clean the field” before the afternoon contest.
Y Ball field along Grant Ave near Union Pacific Y
Geary County was lucky and during World War II a number of pro-ballplayers played on the Army team: Archie George played for the Browns, Joe Garagiola played for the Cardinals, Harold Reiser played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and Alpha Brazle played for the Boston Red Sox. 
Geary County has even had a few home grown people go on to play professional ball.  George Giles played for numerous Negro League teams in the 1930s and Joey Devine was drafted and played for the Atlanta Braves from 2005 to 2011.
Baseball season in Junction City is nearly over, and we all wish the season would last just a few weeks longer so we can watch the Brigade from the green wooden bleachers of Rathert Field.  While enjoying the games at Rathert it can be easy to forget that we’re sitting on a piece of history.  Rathert Field was a WPA project in 1936 and 1937 and has been the venue for professional and historic teams like the Kansas City Monarchs.
So this summer as you’re sitting down on the bleachers or in front of the TV to watch a game, remember that your love of baseball has deep roots in Geary County and that fascination with America’s Favorite Past Time has been shared by its citizens for 150 years.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Raising Morale: Letters Home During the World Wars

“There is nothing better than to come in from a hard day and find a letter waiting. Of course, I never get enough because letters from home are so welcome.”
                                    -Bill Insley, 1945
Tucked away in attics, closets, and basements throughout this country are millions of letters written by men and women who have served in the armed forces. There are also countless e-mails being written by active duty troops serving in countries throughout the world right now. These letters are an irreplaceable record of the sacrifices made by military personnel and their families.
Many of these letters are also historically significant, offering eyewitness accounts of famous battles, historic events, or encounters with prominent military leaders. But even the more personal correspondences, such as heartfelt expressions of affection or words of support and encouragement between separated loved ones, offer valuable insight into the wartime experience.
Geary County is a community with a long history of military involvement. Families from this area have sent sons and daughters into the military from the founding of Geary County in the 1800s to the present day, and the letters and souvenirs they sent home helped their family and friends, and now us, connect to their wartime experiences.
Delivery of mail was particularly vital during both World War I and II, and soldiers and the army as a whole relied on letters to keep up morale.  Receiving well wishes and gifts from home was one of the few comforts a soldier had on the Western Front. The majority of them spent more time fighting boredom than they did the enemy, and writing was one of the few hobbies available to them. For some, it was a welcome distraction from the horrors of the trenches and battlefields.
V-Mail Packaging during World War II
During World War II, wartime mail became too much for the Post Office to send between the soldiers stationed abroad and their family at home, but because it was such a vital part of morale upkeep, the War Department looked for new ways to get letters to their soldiers.  As a way to cut back on the bulk, a new type of mail rose: V-Mail. Short for Victory Mail, V-mail was a unique type of messaging system. Soldiers write on standardized stationary, the letter was censored, and then microfilmed. The microfilmed letter was shrunk down, shipped overseas and then magnified and reprinted on American soil. By using V-mail, the postal system saved huge amounts of shipping space, and the 37 mail bags required to carry 150,000 one-page letters could be replaced by a single mail bag.
V-mail sent by Artie O'Donnell

Letters from serving soldiers had a powerful role, not just in keeping families informed of the well-being of their loved ones; they also helped to sustain popular support for the war across the home front.  So, while mail was encouraged between soldier and family, censorship was a serious issue during both World War I and World War II.  In part this was a way to prevent the enemy finding out secret information, but it also prevented bad news from reaching the home front and lowering national morale.
            Artie O’Donnell, the son of local doctor Art O’Donnell, mentioned this challenge in a letter to his brother, “…maybe I’ll be able to fill this letter out with news about that, Lord knows that with censorship and all that we have to go thru, its darn hard to think of anything worthwhile to write about…” Artie knew that each letter was read and censored by the army before it was mailed, a stamp placed on it to show that it didn’t reveal any important information. If the censor felt that too much was said, the words were either blacked out or physically cut out before the remainder of the letter was sent, which meant that a soldier had to be very careful about what he said! 
Whether the soldier was on the battlefield at Gettysburg, in the trenches of World War I, or in the jungles in Vietnam, the mail service has long provided serving men and women with a way to connect to their loved ones. And now at the Geary County Historical Society, we are sharing local military stories through their personal letters written to and from the war front.
            Stop by the Geary County Historical Society to see our new exhibit “Letters Home,” now open! See examples of V-mail and censorship, read letters of hope, fear and love written by our local soldiers from 1890-1990 and then tell us where your soldier has been. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 1pm-4pm, admission is FREE.

Check out this interesting youtube video for more information: