Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Walla Walla School District 24-A Unique Building and Unique Name

Organized in 1872, Walla-Walla was also District 24 in Davis/Geary County. Located near present day Milford Lake, the school district was organized in June of 1872 and school was held the following year in a house near the John Frazee home. The first teacher at Walla Walla was Charles Manley, Sr. While many people think of country school teachers as women, there were a good deal of men who also taught at country schools.
Many country schools began their tenure in the home of district members, and many teachers boarded with these families after the district built permanent schools. Walla Walla’s original schoolhouse was built in 1874.  The building was made of local limestone, and opened in 1875.
In 1873 before there was a permanent school, the district decided it should have two school buildings, but later decided that one in the center of the district would be a better choice. The schoolhouse they built cost $1000 to build and $500 to furnish.
Walla Walla is one of the more unique names for Geary County schools since unlike the most other country schools the name has no ties to the community.  According to Henry Lichtenhan, “Some of the Montagues made a trip to Washington, and when they returned, they talked about ‘Walla Walla.’ Later when people were seeking a name for the new district, ‘Walla Walla’ was the answer, and it stuck” (Project Heritage, 239).
One thing most people probably do not expect is that even rural school districts engaged in journalism.  Today, there are numerous classes devoted to the subject including newspaper, yearbook, and even television. And in 1935, Walla Walla published a student publication. For the anniversary of the school in 1935 this monthly publication, The Walla Walla Booster, wrote a history of the school for the previous sixty years. They covered the origins of their school’s name and the length of previous school terms, and much more.
For their school’s sixtieth anniversary the district sent out over 100 invitations to former students, teachers, school board members, and patrons. The program for the event was a prayer, dinner, a group photo by Anderson, and the community song followed by programs on a history of the school, school life sixty years ago, thirty years ago, and the present (1935), and finished with a ball game and visiting.
The original limestone building held classes until a cold December morning in 1943. While riding to high school in town with a friend, Norman Manz discovered the school ablaze.  He returned home and called in the fire.  However, it was too late and there was nothing to do but wait for the fire to consume the school.
Investigation of the burned school revealed that the windows on the south side were blown out, indicating that the furnace exploded.  Even though school wasn’t in session yet, the teacher and the 29 students, the largest number in the district, lost all their personal property in the building, some of which had been gathered for the Christmas program the next week. By the time the fire was out only the naked limestone walls remained. 
Walla Walla after the 1943 fire that destroyed the original building. This School is now private property at K-244 and the K-244 Spur south of Milford Dam.
Students attended Acker School, which was empty at the time, until a new building was constructed. The new building was erected in rather a different style than the original. The new building looks like it belonged in southern California, where flat top roofs are more common.  The new boxy building, was one of the most original-looking school buildings in Geary County. 
The school closed in 1962 when the district consolidated with neighboring districts and students began attending Tell, Joint District #88. Today the school is a private residence and stands surrounded by evergreen trees at the junction of K-244 and the K-244 spur just south of Milford Dam.
            While we have a lot of information on the school’s anniversary in 1935 we lack any other stories about the school or school life at Walla Walla.  We would love to hear from you.  If you or a family member attended Walla Walla, School District #24, please, contact the museum so we can record your stories.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Love Letter from George A. Rockwell

            We have given a great deal of attention to Bertrand and Julia Rockwell’s story in the past. As the primary owner of the B. Rockwell Merchandise and Grain Company and the donor of the Ladies’ Reading Club building, Bertrand had a very visible presence in Junction City, but today we are going to share the story of George Arthur Rockwell, the younger brother of Bertrand.
Advertisement for the B. Rockwell store 1896
            George Rockwell was born in 1851 in Warsaw, IL and came to Geary County with his family as a young child. After running his own general store in Abilene, Kansas for eight years, George returned home to Junction City to help his father and brother at the B. Rockwell Merchandise and Grain Company. Together they acted as president, vice president and co-vice president until the early 20th century. When Bertrand and his family moved to Kansas City, to ensure their children received a cultural education, George took over the business as president.
            In 1870, George met Annie Clark of Collinsville, Kansas after she came to Junction City to visit her sister, Mrs. Howard, whose husband was serving at Fort Riley.  After she returned home, Annie and George began a correspondence, which they continued for five years before they were married. In these sweet letters, which start out in the spirit of friendship and progress over the years to declarations of love, George shares local Junction City stories to his sweetheart among surprisingly candid reports of his feelings throughout their long courtship. Following is a letter written by George Rockwell to Annie Clark on December 31st, 1873.
            My own sweet darling Annie,
Here I am again with my old pencil attempting to answer your dear sweet letter which I received this Eve. It is now 10.30 P.M. and this is the last letter that I shall write in the year 1873 and I am sure I should not be writing now if it was not for my own darling Annie whom, as the year begins to close, I find myself loving more and more and with the new year I will renew my vows of Love and Constancy to you my darling and if you have had nay doubts of my love for you in the past year, dear darling Annie, I want you to throw them away with the old year. Of course the year 1873 can never be recalled so let all your doubts of my love be left with it, never to be recalled and let us both enter this new year with determination to love and stand by each other even unto death.
            Yes darling Annie I will do anything in the world for you that I can, if I think it is for your good and I will not willingly do anything that I think would cause you in the future any sorrow or regrets, for I do dearly love you my darling more than I do my life.
            If I could only have you here tonight to hold in my arms and kiss and caress you as much as I like I would be the happiest person in all the world. But no! Fate is against me and I am compelled to be here all alone, poor miserable feeling fellow whose only hope and love is far far away from him. Nevertheless in my mind my own precious treasure, you are always with me when I am not busy at work and I hope the time will soon come when you can be with me in person instead of mind at all times when I am not busy. I wish I did not have to work at all for then I could be with the “Idol of my heart” all the time…Please wipe off all the old kisses and let us begin again. Just kiss yourself 999 times for me and remember that you and you alone fill up my whole heart.
            George and Annie Clark married in 1875. After working in his shop in Abilene or the first years of their marriage, they moved their family of four children back to Junction City where George, his son, and eventually his grandson all worked at the family store. When the Rockwell store closed in the 1920s, George moved his family to Florida.
B. Rockwell store circa 1896
If you’ve ever wondered about your own local family history, stop by the Geary County Historical Society. We might be able to help you with our collection of local family histories, obituaries, wedding licenses and other historic documents. Museum open Tuesday- Sunday 1pm-4pm, Research Room open Tuesdays and Thursday and the Second Saturday of the month, 1pm-4pm.

Friday, August 8, 2014

A Local Polio Story

A few months ago, we ran a story about the early polio vaccinations given to local school children in the 1950s. As a result, local community members came in to share their own stories about polio, the vaccinations and treatment during the early 20th century. Among these stories was the story of Ralph Settgast Jr.  Now living in Chapman, Ralph was born and raised in Geary County, where he contracted polio at the age of eight.
                Ralph’s grandfather came from Germany and settled in Clarks Creek in the late 1800s. There have been Settgasts in the area ever since. Ralph was born on Clarks Creeks, at the big stone house on the curve, in 1931. Ralph’s mother died at the age of 23 in 1936, leaving him and a sister. But on July 3, 1940, his father remarried a woman named Clara—“Mother Clara”—who had a child of her own. Eventually seven more children were added to the family and Mother Clara, who was born with the bottom half of her left arm missing, raised all ten children. In Ralph’s words “that’s some kind of woman.”
                In August of 1940, just one month after Ralph’s father and stepmother were married, Ralph contracted polio. Then known as Infantile Paralysis, polio was a dangerous illness for children that often killed or paralyzed the victims.
                Just before Ralph contracted the dreaded disease, he fell off the lumber wagon while helping his father and uncles load wood to be sawed.  His parents always blamed that fall for the polio, though the doctor said it wasn’t possible. While we now know that polio is caused by a virus that affects the nervous system, in the 1940s, the cause was unknown and childhood traumas were often blamed for the sudden onset of the illness.
                While speaking to me, Ralph recalled another boy who lived down the road from him who was about 6 or 7 when he also contracted polio. And, just a little while before he had fallen on a corn stalk and lost an eye, and then he contracted polio and was paralyzed from the neck down. Ralph seemed to remember that the boy’s mother said he lived until the mid-50s.
                At this, Ralph decided he was one of the lucky ones. He held up his right hand, which he has little control over and said, “I only got a bad hand out of it, so I guess I was lucky.” After contracting polio, Ralph was sent to see a specialist in Topeka.  He was only eight years old, and when the doctor told him he would need surgery on his hand, he was scared. So, the doctor told him, “Well, we can cut your hand off right here at the elbow. Then we’ll fix your hand and you can come back and sew it on.” That didn’t sound like such a good idea to Ralph though, so he let them operate.
                And his recovery must have been smooth, Ralph said, because he was back at school that September.

In 1955, 15 years after Ralph contacted Polio, Geary County first and second graders received the Salk polio inoculations at the Health Center. Nearly 700 children from the county were immunized against the dangerous disease.Here they line up for registration.
                Thank you to Ralph Settgast Jr., for stopping in to share this story. We love adding new histories to our archives. If you are interested in learning more about early 20th century medicine in Geary County, stop into the museum to see our exhibit Healing Geary County! Open Tuesday-Sunday 1pm-4pm, the medical exhibit will run to Spring 2015.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

This JC Woman was a Feisty Pioneer

As we have delved into family histories and accounts of the people who settled this area, we have noticed that a great deal has been written about our Junction City founding fathers, but very little has been recorded about the lives and adventures of the women who pioneered right along with them.
When we did encounter frontier life from a woman’s perspective, it was usually recorded by the lady’s own hand in a journal or diary, or a mother’s or grandmother’s experiences were recounted by other family members. It seems that very few of these pioneer women’s exploits were known outside the family circle. However, there was at least one feisty exception by the name of Anna Elizabeth McCauley Henderson.
Born in Ireland in 1828, this plucky little woman immigrated to Davis (Geary) County in 1855. At Fort Riley she married a cavalry soldier, Robert Henderson, whom she had known in the “old country.” Together they had the dubious distinction of being the first family to live on the Junction City town site.
We all know this because Mrs. Henderson’s spunky spirit made enough of an impression upon George W. Martin, the editor of Junction City’s first newspaper that he wrote and printed an interesting account of her life and experiences in Kansas. One of these experiences revolved around a much-traveled pump organ.
Robert Henderson left his wife and family including year-old twin daughters, to look after his land and homestead while her was off fighting with the Union in the Army in the Civil War. During his absence both the little girls took sick and died within 36 hours of each other. It was shortly after this tragedy that the battle of the organ took place.
As Martin tells it, “during the term of service of the Rev. David Clarkson as Chaplain at the Fort, an organ was presented to the parish at Fort Riley by Major J. P. Downer. Downer disappeared with the Second Kansas Infantry, a three months’ regiment, and a change occurred in the chaplaincy at the Fort.
“Before leaving, Chaplain Clarkson left the organ with Mrs. Henderson with the statement that it belonged to the Junction City parish. The new chaplain claimed the organ as property of the Fort parish, and there being evidence of some trouble, Mrs. Henderson carefully nailed down her windows and awaited the outcome.
“A sergeant and five men came over on May 5, 1863, with orders to seize all Fort property. Thereupon an exciting battle occurred in which Mrs. Henderson, with rifle in hand, stood in the door of her house defying the soldiers. She prevented the sergeant from entering, but while he complimented her on her soldierly qualities, a detachment on the opposite side of the house effected [sic] an entrance and made away with the organ she was so loyally protecting.”
Two days later Mrs. Henderson, accompanied by the constable, attempted to “replevy” it, but they were driven off by the guard. The following October, the case came before a justice of the peace, and the verdict was given by the jury to the town folks. It was then appealed to the district court, where the case was dismissed for informality.
A party of soldiers in waiting seized the instrument, put it in a wagon, and started to carry it off. It was retrieved before the team left town, and to provide against further seizures, P. Z. Taylor sewed it up in army blankets. The most rigid search failed to reveal its hiding place and on Sept. 18, 1865, the ownership was finally declared to be the town parish.
Martin finished the account, “the Fort people paid over $250 costs in the suit and the instrument was finally disposed  of for $60. The fight made great excitement in our little town, and clearly showed that the good man who went to war could not lay claim to all the fighting qualities of the family. 

Elizabeth Henderson died in 1917 at the Geary County home she helped build, secure, and defend. She was 89 years old.