One-room Plymouth schoolhouse provides educational opportunities

By Kayla Overbey

Thursday, June 28, 2012

This year the Plymouth schoolhouse will celebrate 138 years since its initial construction.  The historic one-room schoolhouse was established on a farm in eastern Russell County, Kan., in 1874, where it served the population of pioneers and farmers as an educational institution. The Plymouth schoolhouse is now located in the heart of the Fort Hays State University campus. It serenely sits southeast of the Forsyth library, across from Tomanek Hall.

The restoration project began in 1975 and took four years to complete. Here, the schoolhouse sits in its original location in Russell County, Kan.

The idea to move and reconstruct the schoolhouse was developed by the FHSU chapter of Phi Delta Kappa at a leadership conference. During the road trip to that conference in Salina in 1975, chapter officers Allan Miller, Nancy Vogel and Bill Claflin talked about the historic presence of limestone in fence posts and schoolhouses throughout the western region of Kansas.

The leadership conference hosted Phi Delta Kappa chapters from multiple universities throughout the state of Kansas. As an activity, each university chapter was asked to propose a project to honor the organization.

“We didn’t really have an idea. All the other schools had these monstrous ideas,” Miller said. “It was almost like a bragging fest.”

Miller, Vogel and Claflin all decided that the preservation of a schoolhouse to represent the historic importance of education in Kansas would be a perfect proposal. During the drive home, the three truly contemplated their reconstruction idea and agreed that it was actually possible. After all, FHSU’s history is rooted in limestone schoolhouses.

“That’s the reason Fort Hays State University was founded,” Miller said. “to educate the teachers of one room schoolhouses.”

The Garvey Foundation of Wichita financially supported the project, along with various other small grants and donations. The restoration project was officially initiated in 1975.

Workers disassembled the house one limestone rock at a time, making sure to mark each stone for proper placement. The transfer and reconstruction of the house were all team efforts. Departments throughout FHSU were involved, as well as community members from Hays, Dorrance and Wilson.

After four years of construction, the restoration project was finally complete. On Sept. 22, 1979, the building was dedicated to Kansas’ pioneering ancestors, who furnished the importance of education in their children.

FHSU was nationally recognized for its consideration of Kansas’ educational history. Miller traveled to universities and presented an award-winning multimedia show over the Plymouth schoolhouse’s history and its reconstruction.

A pot-bellied stove was donated to the Plymouth schoolhouse to preserve authenticity.

“It developed a sense of community not only for Phi Delta Kappa, but for the entire university community,” Miller said. “It gave Fort Hays State and Phi Delta Kappa some national recognition because we showed the multimedia presentation to a national convention. Afterwards, it’s like it made us famous.”

The schoolhouse opened to the public for guided tours and viewing following completion, and remains open today. Schools are especially encouraged to participate. The same award-winning multimedia show titled “Education: Our Heritage on the Great Plains,” which specifically targets fourth through sixth grade students, is available to expose students to the documentation of early education in Kansas, as well as the Plymouth schoolhouse’s reconstruction.

In the early 1900s, this schoolroom would have housed grades ranging from first to eighth grade. According to school registers, the maximum number of students attending reached 36. Female instructors as young as 16 years old and most likely married with a child would instruct the students in mathematics, calligraphy, English and a variety of other subjects, all while critiquing posture and manners.

Many students had obligations to their family farms and would leave during harvest seasons to help with work. However, some students eventually continued their education. The school’s register states that a man in his 40s returned to complete his schooling.

While education was the top priority in the schoolhouse, the building acted as a room for various functions, including celebrations and city meetings. The building was valuable to the community and may have been protected from fires and floods by a trench.

The interior of Plymouth schoolhouse is filled with authentic desks and teaching materials from the 1900s.

Community donations made to the schoolhouse include a card catalog, which is not original to the schoolhouse, a pot-bellied stove donated by Malcom Shaw, Wilson, and a multitude of books that describe educational subject matter from the 1900s. These additions help furnish an accurate and historical atmosphere.

Thanks to the proposed idea in 1975, the Plymouth schoolhouse stands on the FHSU campus as a testament to the dedication of pioneers to education. This building provides an opportunity for exposure to education in the late 1900s.

For those who wish to relive the experience found in academic institutions of the late 19th century, tours are available by contacting Dr. Paul Adams, Anschutz professor of education and professor of physics in the Science and Mathematics Education Institute. Email padams@fhsu.edu or call (785) 628-4538. 

Check out the Fort Hays State University Facebook page for more of my photography. You can look at more in-depth photos of the Plymouth Schoolhouse right here.

(This article was posted on the Fort Hays State University website on Thursday, June28, 2012. I’m posting it here, along with pictures I edited, to archive my work.)

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2 comments on “One-room Plymouth schoolhouse provides educational opportunities

  1. Very nice. Looks like a lovely place.

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