Friday, September 26, 2014

Snapshots of Geary County Schools

As most of you know I have been looking into the country schoolhouses in Geary County for the last year or so trying to develop an audio driving tour.  This project  is very time interesting and yet very frustrating. We have scoped out the schoolhouses we’re going to include in this tour, they are the ones that are standing, or mostly, and have enough information to be included in the tour. 
Some of the schools that I want to include because they’re still around I may not be able to because their stories lack depth. While I have the district boundaries and the open dates and the closing dates on all the school I am lacking those personal stories that really bring a historic building to life.
Today I am going to highlight two of those schools and I am hoping that you all can help us flesh them out so we don’t have to cut them from the tour.
Maple Grove or District #15 is just a stone’s throw from US-77 at the intersection of Dundon and Range Roads. District 15 was organized in 1869 the first classes were held in the upstairs rooms of a log house on Archie Stittsworth’s farm across the road from the current school building. 
A new frame school building was built and held classes until it burned in 1925. On the morning of September 7, the just before first day of class for the new term, a prairie fire started in the grass near the school yard and the blaze spread to the frame schoolhouse.  Luckily no children were in the building because the fire started early in the morning.  There is no record or hint of arson for this incident, but one cannot help but wonder if there were children who, just maybe, were not quite ready to go back to school.
The current structure was built in 1926. Like many of Geary County’s school districts the boundary lines changed several times often crisscrossing county lines into Riley.  In June 1873 the district was changed to Joint #10, Riley and Davis Counties, but was still known as District 15 in the 1940s. 

After the school district dissolved to join Milford in 1946 the building was converted to a private residence and remains private property.  The stone with the district number and date is still above the front door.  This is all the information I have on this school and I hope someone out there can illuminate this part of our history.
Half Acre or District #12 is located on Clarks Creek Road in southern Geary County and was an impressive limestone structure that was two stories and had a T shape.  The building now is private property and the building is in disrepair. 
According to Irene Jeffries who wrote a brief history of Half Acre, Union District #12 was first formed from Davis and Morris Counties on October 21, 1865. Later by mutual consent of the county superintendents of both counties, this union was dissolved July 25, 1872 and permanent boundaries for the district were established. On February 8, 1864 the first district officers were elected.  When the Junction City Area of Retired Teachers was researching for the book Project heritage most of the information found was lists of names of treasurers, directors, clerks, and teachers.

Unfortunately the only photo the museum has of Half Acre is from after it closed down. 
This Photo is a class of students from 1927.
We lack any personal stories of this school and the children who went there or the teachers that taught there. The most we know if it was located in the same section as land owned by John Aylward Jr., James A. King, the John King estate, and Mary I. Munsell in 1987. The district was disorganized June 5, 1959 and the students were divided between Berry, Humboldt, and Engstrom Schools.
Please if you have information about either of these schools, photos or stories, we would love to hear them or make copies. You can mail items to the Geary County Historical Society, 530 N. Adams, Junction City, KS 66441, or you can email things to  Or you can come by any of the days we’re open, Tuesday-Sunday 1-4.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Fogarty Mill-The Davis County Dam in 1888

I was reading through some of the items on the research shelves in the Main Office when I again glanced at the jewel of a pamphlet, Description and Narrative of Davis County Kansas issued by Greene & Bartell Real Estate Agents in Junction City, KS and printed by George Martin, Junction City Union, in 1888.
Inside this pamphlet are descriptions of various things in Davis County extolling the geography, soil, rivers, and weather of Davis, now Geary, County, Kansas.  The descriptions are flowery and an obvious effort to persuade people to move to Davis County; however, while some of the descriptions are a bit flowery, there is a core of truth in them all and a rich history is contained in its pages. The description of Fogarty Mill for example is marvelous.
Fogarty Mill and Dam on the Smoky Hill
“Fogarty’s water-power mill is three quarters of a mile from Junction City. The dam is in a bend of the Smoky Hill. The river at this point hugs close to the foot of the great, rugged, romantic bluffs, on the south side. The dam has been built eight years, and it has stood several severe tests of its strength. A competent dam builder from Minnesota was employed to superintend its construction, and Mr. Fogarty himself was on the ground from daylight to dark, pushing the work to the utmost. It is what is known as a brush or timber dam, notwithstanding which there are over one hundred cords of rock used in its construction; and the western bank is well protected against washing by piles and rip-rapping.
“The water power is estimated at two hundred and fifty-horse, which drives a turbine wheel of fifty-six inches in diameter, equal to sixty-horse power. The capacity of the mill, with five run of stones, will be three hundred and fifty barrels of flour every twenty-four hours. The dam is nine feet high, which makes fifteen feet of water under the bridge.
“On the opposite side of the river from town, on a rugged bluff’s edge, built on solid rock, is located the mill. The building is four stories high, 36x46, with capacity for five run stones, of which but three will be used at present. These are of the best old-stock French burr millstones, well fitted up with glass globes, silent feeders, etc. The machinery is of the very best, and consists of a zig-zag oat separator and cleaner and two combined smutters and separators; six reels, each twenty feet long, covered with bolting cloth of the finest quality, and with numbers graded to do the best work. A Howe-truss bridge crosses the stream just above the dam, within one hundred feet of the mill.
“The hillside is a magnificent location for a number of manufactories. There is an abundance of power. With the unequaled advantages which our system of railroads, reaching north, south, east, and west, afford, may we not hope to see ere long the banks of the Smoky lined with factories wherein wool from New Mexico , cotton from Texas, and straw, flax and hemp from our own prairies can be profitably manufactured and exported. We venture to predict that in ten years Kansas will be one of the leading State of the Union, and Junction City its principle metropolis” (Description and Narrative of Davis County Kansas, 1888).
Today, as you travel down eastbound I-70, if you glance to the south while crossing the Smoky Hill River you can see the remnants of the Fogarty Mill, constructed in 1874 and discontinued in 1907. So remember as you travel the highways and back roads of Geary County that you’re driving past the foundations of this county, and if you look around at the right time you can see our past.
Fogarty Mill on the Smoky Hill River, photographed by E. Stahl 2000
If you have any questions about this or other Geary County History please contact the museum at 785-238-1666 or email

Friday, September 12, 2014

Finding Fun before Nintendo

This week the Geary County Historical Society is highlighting one of our Traveling Trunks, “Finding Fun before Nintendo”, which is designed to teach what kids did for fun before computerized technology was readily available. This trunk is one of eight that the museum owns and can lend out to schools or groups. The museum can also provide a docent who will present the trunk to your class or group.
One of the items in this particular trunk is a Cootie Catcher. These have been made for hundreds of years all over the world under a variety of different names. They have been called “salt cellars”, “fortune tellers”, “chatterboxes”, and “whirlybirds”. They are an origami form originally observed in the English speaking world in 1600 in England. There are two versions of the game involving this folded design, the first being a way to eradicate cooties from a girl who was said to be “infected” with them. The cootie catching device was folded and then the player used the thumb and forefingers open and close the paper form like pincers. On the inside of the cootie catcher on the four flat surfaces the player would have drawn small cootie bugs while the opposite four surfaces were left blank. Any child could contract the cootie germs but it was said that girls were the source of the cooties, and when a child was “infected” with them they were ignored and avoided. The “cootie infected” child would be touched with the folded paper cootie catcher thus eliminating the cooties. The other game associated with the folded paper toy was one that told the future of the player or her friends. Colors are written on the four outside flaps, and then on the eight inside surfaces the numbers 1-8 were written, and when the inner surfaces are flipped up they reveal the fortunes written on their interior side. The “fortunes” can include things like “You need to help with the washing”, “You will get an excellent grade”, and even something as silly as “You will kiss a frog”. The holder of the game will ask the player to first pick a color, then a number, and then corresponding fortune would be revealed. Between the questions the holder of the game alternately opens and closes each side of the cootie catcher while counting to the number of letters in the word, or to the number the player selects. This side of the game relies on the role of “luck” in girls’ lives.
Mary and Josephine Grammer playing house together.
            Another game highlighted in the trunk is Jacks. The game of Jacks has been around for hundreds of years and was originally played with five of any small found objects and a stone. The name “Jacks” is a modern one, and the game is known by many names all over the world. Jacks can still be found today and are now made of six knobs or points protruding form a center form, the Jacks are generally metal or plastic and the set comes with a rubber ball. However you do not need to purchase a Jacks set to play. When playing Jacks almost any collection of small objects will work—beans, rocks, stones, and even bones. Throughout history, kids in virtually every culture on the globe have sat cross-legged and played some version of the game. Pre-historic parents may have encouraged their children to play jacks on cave floors, to increase the eye-hand coordination vital to later success at hunting. Kids in ancient Egypt played “knucklebones” with sheep toe bones. The game of knucklebones led to dice games for boys, and jacks, usually played with a wooden ball, for girls. The object of the game is to collect the jacks between bounces of the ball. First six jacks are scattered in front of the player in one throw, then the ball gets bounced and with the same hand the player quickly picks up a jack and then catches the ball before it bounces a second time. Set the first jack aside and repeat until all six jacks are picked up. If this is done without missing then you toss the jacks out again, this time picking them up two by two, three by three, and so on until you scoop up all six at once. Variations on this game do exist, but these are the most popular rules.
These and many other historic toys are highlighted in the “Finding Fun before Nintendo” trunk as a way to teach what free time was like before e-mail, Nintendo, and smart phones. If you are interested in the “Finding Fun before Nintendo” trunk, or any of our other eight trunks, you can contact Meg at the museum to schedule a presentation for your group or classroom. To see these and other historic toys, including the first generation Nintendo, visit our “Playtime” exhibit, on display now through early 2015.