Friday, April 24, 2015

District 9-Wetzel School

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?
Wetzel School, 1933-3rd Row-Nellie Kramer, Leonard Moyer, Mildred Turnbull, Edwin Adams, Laverne Moritz-Teacher, ?, Alberta Moyer, Warren Adams, Ione Schmedemann; 2nd row-?, ?, Alvin Warner, ?, Marcella Turnbull, ?, Mary Erickson; 1st Row-?, ?, Harold Erickson, ?, ?.
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.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Gordon Beauty Shop

            The Gordon Beauty Shop was open for 50 years in Junction City, and during that time the owner, widow Mary Ellen Gordon, saw styles come and go, adapted to new beauty techniques, and incorporated expanding technology in the business. Mary Ellen was a widow with two daughters, Vivian and Amy Jane, when she came to Junction City in 1923. Later that year, Mary Ellen opened a beauty shop at 120 W. 4th in the west apartment on the ground floor. Not only did she use this space for her business, but she and her daughters lived in the space as well. In the salon space, private cubicles were curtained off so customers getting facials could have privacy.
            By March 1928, she bought a home at 115 W. 4th street where she continued to run her beauty shop. At 115 W 4th, the rooms upstairs were made into an apartment and the ground floor served as the beauty shop.
            In the early years of her store, Mary Ellen used rainwater that she collected in a cistern until it was prohibited by law due to new concerns about public health. While using the cistern she pumped the water into the building by hand before heating it in a teakettle on a special one burner gas plate.
            In the early years of her store, facials were an important part of business. Not just confined to the face, facials treated the neck, arms and hands as well. But Mary Ellen was primarily sought after for her expertise in marceling. A marcel was a hair style invented by M. Marcel to imitate the natural wave in hair, which was particularly popular in the 1920s and 30s. This style was done with a heated iron. The iron was first tested on a strip of newsprint before the hair was lifted with a comb and the first impression made, little more than an inch from the part of the hair. Then the iron was turned in a flat motion and held loosely in the hair while the comb guided the direction the wave would take. These two movements were repeated all over the head until the hair was waved.
            Mary Ellen took great pride in the finished product of her marcel. She waved not only the top layer of hair, as many marcels were done, but every layer of hair. When done correctly, a marcel could be combed and brushed without coming undone.  In 1928, Mary Ellen charged 75 cents for a marcel, and $1.25 for both a wash and a marcel.  She would do a retrace for 25 cents—which refreshed the marcel at the top. Finger waves were 50 cents and a shampoo and water wave cost $1.00 and perms were $3.00.
            Before the invention of the cold wave, permanent waves (perms) were done by a machine that resembled a medieval torture device. The machine had a set number of curl heaters, so depending on the amount of hair, would have to be done a few at a time. These heaters were attached to the machine with long electric wires. To complete the perm process, the hair was wound on curlers with a protective pad next to the scalp. The heaters were then clamped over the curls. The time of heating varied from 7 to 20 minutes according to the machine and texture of the hair. Great care had to be taken to keep the heaters up and away from the scalp in order to avoid burning and even unintentional electric shock!

            To see one of these early permanent machines, stop by the Geary County Historical Society and check out the new 1950s exhibit: “He Didn’t Wear a Top Hat.”  Open Tuesday-Sunday, 1-4pm. And on April 26, stop by the museum for our first Classic Car Show! A great time to see some classic cars and learn a little 1950s history while you’re at it. Please contact the museum for more information at 785-238-1666. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Golden Belt Highway

            Around 1910 tourist travel in our wonderful state had increased and several associations realized there was a need for visitors to drive from one end of the state to the other without getting lost in a wheat field. This kind of travel would require a system of cross-state highways that linked Kansas with other states and provided travelers with the necessities en route. Up to this point these requirements were only being met by private individuals and private initiatives. The route was first marked between Junction City and Salina, and then in 1911 it was extended to create a link between Kansas City and Colorado Springs. This route came to be known as the Golden Belt Road, and became one of the most important of seven highways that crossed Kansas by the end of 1911.
            The Golden Belt Highway got its name from the band or belt of yellow paint on roadside telephone poles. These yellow belts guided and reassured travelers in the 1920s that they were still following the path they intended to. These belts marked the Golden Belt Highway, now Highway 40, all the way across Kansas. These bands were painted by members of the Geary County Automobile Club.
            The club was formed on June 6th in 1913 and had approximately forty members to its name. At their suggestion an advisory board was named with one member from each township in the county and two from the city. The matter of painting signs on the poles throughout the county on the Golden Belt Highway was taken up at the first meeting. Twenty men volunteered their services and went out the following Monday to paint the yellow rings around the poles on the route.
            Very soon this highway connected Kansas to other major highways across the country including the Old Trails Highway to the Atlantic Coast and the Trail to the Sunset out of Chicago. Eventually the Golden Belt became part of a national highway known as Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway to advertise its tourist attractions.
            By 1924 the American Association of State Highway Officials stepped in. They recommended a new country wide system of numbering highways. It was decided that roads going from east to west be given even numbers with chief routes assigned numbers 10, 20, 30, 40, etc. North to south roads would be given odd numbers with main roads ending with 1 or 5. The success of the numbered system was immediate and overwhelming.
            Highway 40 is mentioned in the “WPA Guide to 1930s Kansas” which in addition to facts and historical trivia boasted some of the best travel information. These guides were researched and written by unemployed Americans, the WPA (Works Progress Administration) writer’s project which kept these people busy producing guides to all 48 states. The tours highlighted different aspects of the Kansas landscape and tourist attractions. For example, Tour 3 started in Kansas City and headed west on Highway 40 through Topeka, Junction City, and on to Weskan. The trip would take you 451.1 miles from the Missouri line.
            As you travel along old Highway 40, once named the Golden Belt Highway, you are actually following some of the same route that was used in the settlement of this country.

Henry Harrison (H.H.) Ziegler was the president of the Geary County Automobile Club