Some of the one-room schoolhouses in Geary County jump out at you as you drive by, Pleasant View, Spring Valley, Kickapoo, and Brookside, for example. Others, like Wetzel, take some serious GPS guided searching and occasional blind luck. In preparation for our tour on the remaining one-room schoolhouses in Geary County we used a 1905 map, Google, GPS, and land descriptions to try to find the remaining buildings. And on our initial search on the country roads we’d thought we’d found Wetzel.
What we thought was Wetzel was a small, yet tall, stone building with what looked like a school bell mounted on a pole outside. We also had issues because the online map we used to track addresses and GPS was WRONG. (Lesson: always double-double check your research before driving halfway across the county in search of something.)
After we returned from a day of what seemed like a game of hide-and-seek of Geary County schoolhouses we discovered that in fact what we thought was Wetzel, was not at all. This prompted another jaunt into the county in search of the illusive schoolhouse. We did finally find it, but it took driving north not south on Clark’s Creek Road. Going south, the schoolhouse is half-hidden in a grove of evergreens.
This schoolhouse is small, unimposing, and located on a hill overlooking Clarks Creek Road. The district was formed in 1867, and the stone building was likely built not long after that. The stone building was in use until 1956 when the district was annexed into District 14-Berry School, just a little ways north.
There was a time that class was held in another building while Wetzel underwent repairs. These days we hear about delays in construction, and projects taking six months, or sometimes a year, longer than originally planned. Meanwhile, students usually attend class in another school or district building. It was a little different for Wetzel students.
In 1914, lightning struck the building. While the stone survived, the roof and all other wood on or in the building were destroyed. The school received a $541 insurance payment and they went to work rebuilding their schoolhouse. However, construction was not finished by the time school started and so class was held in the horse barn for about a month. I wonder if the horses got to attend class as well?
We interviewed Nellie Kramer Smith about her time at Wetzel School; Nellie started school in 1926 and spent all eight grades at Wetzel. Unlike many children in other school districts Nellie did not attend school with siblings. Her brother was seven years older than her so she went to school alone. She did have a close friend that attended Wetzel with her, Hazel Turnbull.
According to Nellie, children, it seems have not changed much. We know all school kids are guilty of daring, double-dog-daring, and triple-dog-daring, and children at one-room schools were no different. Nellie and Hazel were dared by other students to put their tongues on the railing by the door to the school in the middle of winter. I know many of you are cringing right now, but Nellie and Hazel did it, thinking that it would be no big deal.
But Nellie remembered, “We put our tongues on it and we were bawling by the time we got off there. That stuck right to us, it was so cold that day. . . the teacher come out and poured cold water, that’s all they had, she poured cold water over that rod, on our tongues and on the rod to get us off, and we had the sorest tongues for two weeks afterword.”
Many of the memories that Nellie shared with us were about the games that children played. She shared memories of playing baseball, shinny, Andy-I-over, fox and geese, and pull-me-away. Pull-me-away was a game where one group of kids hung onto the stone fence around the schoolyard and another group tried to pull them off. If they let go then you were on the other team.
Playtime wasn’t the only thing that Nellie remembered. Wetzel, like many schools today, had the experience of outbreaks of illness among the children. When one child gets lice, they all get lice; or for many of us, when one child got chicken pox they all got chicken pox. There was a chicken pox outbreak at Wetzel School while Nellie was a student and the district was ready to close the school down until the disease ran its course.
Another problem schools experienced before the advancement of vaccines was polio. Jacky Swenson, a student the same time as Nellie, was playing on the stone fence around the school yard and he fell and hurt his leg. Not long after that Jacky came down with polio and the disease affected that side of his body and he was crippled after that. In the days before the polio vaccine, it was a common belief that a fall would bring on polio.
The school records for Wetzel show varying attendance over the years. For a few years in the 1930s there were over 50 school-age children in the district; Mrs. Ralph Munson remembered “when enrollment was so large that the children had to sit three to a double desk.” As the years went by though, Wetzel’s enrollment, like most of the other rural schools, dwindled, and in 1955 the district voted to annex. Wetzel School disorganized February 16, 1956 and the school district was annexed to District 14-Berry School. The building and land are now private property.
|Wetzel School on Clark’s Creek Rd. in 2014.|
If you have any information, photos, letters, report cards, or stories from your days at a one-room schoolhouse that you would like to share please contact Sarah at the museum, or stop by. We’d love to record your memories. 530 N. Adams or call 785-238-1666.