“Old School” Schoolhouse
For just a moment, imagine going to school in a one-room schoolhouse. A couple of teenagers sit at their desks next to a 6-year-old student. Each child writes on a slate while working on a specific lesson for his or her grade level. The teacher is at the front of the room beside a large wood-burning stove. With chalk, she’s writing a few math problems on a section of horizontal pine boards that have been painted black for a chalk board. She’s wearing a long-sleeved cotton dress that touches the floor. Her instruction is interrupted by a train traveling through town, and the children look out the west windows to watch it pass in the distance. A spooked and boisterous horse tied to a post close by protests the train’s loud noise, and the students chuckle at the disruption.
The scenario could have been an average winter day in the late 1800s in Edmond’s historic schoolhouse. As its school bell rang each morning, nearby residents must have listened with pride, knowing their cooperative efforts were worth the work.
Today’s Edmond school children will soon have the chance to learn about such school days as they tour the first public schoolhouse in Oklahoma Territory. Located at 124 E. Second St., the schoolhouse museum has been undergoing renovations since 2001, when it was purchased by the Edmond Historic Preservation Trust. This preservation endeavor has been one of the first official Oklahoma Centennial projects, and much attention has been given to details that once again have required the cooperative efforts of Edmond residents. It is the oldest documented building still standing in Oklahoma County and a statewide historical gem.
The building was originally built with funds raised by the Ladies School Aid Society under the leadership of Mrs. Jennie Forster. On Sept. 16, 1889, the school opened and Miss Ollie McCormick was the first teacher. With 19 students of various ages and grade levels, she was paid $30 per month for an eight-month term. The early Edmond city council appointed a three-member school board (John Pfaff, P.R. Prickett and J.R. Taylor). It was a great birthing for Edmond schools and it created an educational status for the small, new town. The Land Run had happened earlier that year (April 22, 1889) and Oklahoma’s Unassigned Lands were opened for settlement. Thus, Edmond had become an instant town with many needs. The need for a schoolhouse had been at the top of the list and Mrs. Forster, along with many volunteers, made sure the building was completed in time for the local children to start school that fall.
The schoolhouse was also the site for the establishment of four local Protestant churches that met in the schoolhouse on Sundays. In fact, the first recorded wedding in the county occurred in the Edmond schoolhouse. Many other social events of the community were held there as well.
It was later converted to a private residence in 1900 when the Edmond Public School needed more room and moved into a new two-story building (named Kingsley in 1918). The town was rapidly growing.
The original schoolhouse became Sanders Camera Shop in 1950. The Camera Shop occupied the building for 25 years, but then the building was vacant for several years following the shop’s closing. The Edmond Historic Preservation Trust acquired the property about five years ago from W.W. Sanders.
A mural just west of the schoolhouse provides an additional glimpse of Edmond history and compliments the nostalgic building. The mural of early settlers was created by Bob Palmer, a professor in the art department at the University of Central Oklahoma. He and some of his students painted the mural on the wall of the nearby shopping center in 2003. The artistic composite was taken from actual Edmond photographs from the late 1800s.
Lucille Warrick, vice chairman of the Edmond Historic Preservation Trust, and Carolyn Roberts, trust member, are two Edmond women who have been involved with the museum project since 2001. They are very familiar with the history of the site and have been instrumental in the project’s progress and accuracy of development.
“We can’t wait to see the museum open and see the impact it will have on our school children as they visit and learn about their ancestors and early settlers of Edmond. It’s rich Oklahoma history,” Roberts said.
Warrick reported that the schoolhouse project has been of great interest to several local organizations and volunteers, such as those in the Edmond Women’s Club and Campfire/Scout troops. Just as the original construction required many volunteers, so will the continued renovation and completion of the schoolhouse museum.