Oak Ridge School History Goes Back Beyond Civil War
Chillicothe Constitution Tribune, February 16, 1957.

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by Mrs. Luther Boone, Wheeling, Missouri

reprinted with the permission of the Chillicothe Constitution Tribune

District in Western Part of County Consolidated Into Mooresville No. 3

Oak Ridge was one of the six original school districts, which became Mooresville consolidated District No. 3. It was consolidated with the Mooresville School in 1916, when J. W. Gallatin was county school superintendent and J. A. Boucher was superintendent of the Mooresville school.

Oak Ridge formerly was known the Matson School and it was not learned when the name was changed or for what reason.

According to information given by 82 year old Madeline Reynolds, for the Centennial edition of the Constitution-Tribune in 1938, the first building was of logs and on a different site that the other structures built through the years. It was moved however, before the Civil War, to a site where the second structure was built.  Early board members were Mike Tomlin, Grandpa Matson and “Uncle Tommy” Fields. Among the early teachers were Joe Clark, Angie Matson, Will Carr and Alice Herbert.

S. B. McClure of Chillicothe, who started to school at Matson in 1893 was able to furnish important data about the school’s early history. His parents were Mr. and Mrs. David McClur, who lived about 40 rods due west of the school.  He had seven brothers and three sisters who also attended. His first teacher was Lola Withers, a graduate of the 2-year high School at Utica. She received $23.00 per month salary and was allowed $1.50 per month for janitor work. She boarded in the neighborhood.

Mr. McClure stated that soon after the Civil War, families by the names of Huston, Knox, Treon, Adams, Hilt and Warner, came from Flat Rock and Newburn, Indiana, in a covered wagon caravan which was more than a mile long. Mr. McClure stated that it required three ricks of hay at time to feed their livestock enroute. They settled in the northwest part at Livingston County, bought land in the neighborhood and it was their children, for the most part, who made up the school's early enrollment.

The school took its name from Harve Matson who lived a short distance northwest of the school. The first frame building was described by Mr. McClure. It was approximately 24x36. It faced the east with a door in that end and three windows on both the north and south sides. Blackboards were wide painted boards. They were in the west end. This building on what is known as the Berkshire farm, 2½ miles west of Mooresville. It was sold in 1881 to R. A. Gaunt and moved to his farm three-quarters of a mile north of the school site. He used it for a barn.

Some of the teachers who taught in this first frame building were Mr. O’Neal, Hugh Gordon, Bill Carr, Lon Higgins, John Pardonner and Annie Collins.

A new frame weather-boarded building was erected in 1881 in time for the fall school term. Planed and finished outside, it was boxed inside. It was approximately 24X40 feet in size and was built on a site one-half mile northwest of the previous one. It was three miles northwest of Mooresville. Harve Matson gave the acre of land for the site.

It faced the east and had an entrance hall with two doors entering into the main room. This ante-room had shelves on the north and south for dinner pails. The schoolroom had three windows on both the north and south sides.   A four-foot wainscoting extended around the walls. The blackboards about 40 inches wide were across the west end and extended along the sides to the first windows. The plastering between the first and second windows on either side was painted for blackboard use. A rostrum extended part way across the west end with the flue on a bracket above it.

The floor was of 6-inch tongued and grooved pine boards.  There were four rows of double desks, which seated as many as 88 children during earlier years. These desks were made so that the lids lowered on hinges and books were kept underneath in a sort of trough. Two bracket-type, kerosene burning lamps with reflectors were on either side of the room, and patrons brought lanterns for extra illumination when there was a school entertainment.

A cedar bucket with three brass hoops was used to carry drinking water for the pupils from the Elmer Huston well across the road from the school. A tin dipper was used by all the pupils. The four legged box-wood stove had two cooking lids on top, and a hearth extending from its end door. It took a stick of wood 24 inches long. Wood was sold by the cord, and was let by contract. It had to be either oak or hickory and ricked on the schoolground.

Texts used at this time were McGuffey readers. Progressive spellers, Ray’s Arithmetic, reed and Kellog Grammar, Rand McNally Geography, Shinn’s History, Townsend’s Civil Government and Physiology. Slates were used for seat work and copybooks for penmanship. The school had a set of wall maps and there were charts for the primary children.

There were burr oak and walnut trees on the playground on the east side of the building.

Among the games played then were Whip Cracker, Fox and Geese, Dare Base, Black Man, Three Cornered Cat and Hide-and-Go-Seek.

Community activities included literary and debating societies, spelling and cyphering matches with other schools, such as Clay Hill, Trotter in Daviess County, and Elm Grove in Caldwell County. Last-day-of-school programs always included a basket dinner. Sometimes there were magic lantern shows. Mr. McClure told of a show put on by a Mr. sage who went through the country with a team and cart posting publicity bills. He was a sleight-of-hand performer, a ventriloquist, and could play on the banjo and sing.

Some taxpayers of the district at the time Mr. McClure went to school included families by the names of Treon, Goodman, Infield, Cross, Huston, Sullivan, Snook, Reynolds, Gaunt, Altman, Hudgins, Vorhees, Franicure, Tomlin, Roberts and Gray.

Directors included Reuben Treon, Elmer Huston, Mike Reynolds, D. McClure, George Snooks and R. A. Gaunt.

When heavy snowfalls came after the children had gone to school, patrons living near the school often kept the ones who lived at a distance overnight.

At the beginning of Mr. McClure’s first term, a mad-dog entered the schoolroom and nipped Hattie Woolsey on the leg. Her heavy ribbed stockings prevented the dog’s teeth breaking the skin of her leg. All the pupils climbed on top of the desks to keep out of the rabid dog’s path. It was killed the following Sunday by John Burry, having traveled more than seven miles.

Other schoolmates of Mr. McClure included Jackie and Willie Treon; Maggie, Letitia and Isola Knox; James, Fanny and Jenny Reynolds; Paul, Dollie, Steve and Hugh McClure; Addie, Ada and frank Gaunt; Flora Altman; Henry, Lizzie and Jack Goodman; Edna Franicure; Ida and John Gray.

Mrs. Roy Gaunt, who lives in the Oak Ridge district, furnished the names of the following former teachers of the school: Cicero Fleming, Eva Hilt, Fannie Reynolds, J. W. Rozzelle, Clair Collier, George Blackwell, Bessie Hargrave, Earl Gray, Frances Hutchins, Anna Hargrave, Alzora Vadnais, Dollie Trosper, Frank Meyers, Dollie Carey, Mary Morsr, Sadie Close, Coleen Rogers, Anita Beson, Mabel Reynolds and Reynolds Achauer.

Mrs. Hubert S. Maupin of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, was Miss Olive Peterson of Chula when she taught Oak Ridge School for two term beginning in 1935. She also taught the fall of 1939. Mrs. Maupin has taught continuously for 26 years. She is now teaching in the Truth or Consequences schools where she has charge of the library and the study hall. This makes her second consecutive term there. She received her B. S. degree from New Mexico Western College at Silver City, New Mexico.

When she taught at Oak Ridge School she boarded in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Roy Gaunt. She paid $12.00 per week for room and board. She states that nowhere else has she ever been made to feel so much at home and accepted as one of the family. These kind people met her at the county line on Highway 36, winter and spring when she returned from her home at Chula on weekend trips. Often, because the bus was late, they had to wait for her a long time. Also they were concerned about her trips o and from school in bad weather, as she walked the mile distance through the fields. One year when the ice made walking treacherous for six weeks, Roy and Clarence Gaunt made cleats for her overshoes. Book packs and gallon lunch pails were coasted down the slippery hills first, and then the teacher would try to follow.

When she taught Oak Ridge School, the wainscoting in the school room was painted buff with walls and ceiling painted a lighter color.  The floor was oiled and slate blackboards had been installed. There was a framed picture of George Washington on the wall and she hung other pictures which she had, and changed the pictures often.

The pot-bellied stove would lose both doors, and the stovepipe would fall down at the least provocation. This happened one day during the civics class when Rev. LaVerne Rudolph of Chillicothe and a neighboring teacher were visiting the school.

The cloakroom was used for wraps and had an old-fashioned jar-stand for water, but instead a bucket was used most of the time. Drinking water was obtained from the McClure farm just across the road from the school. As there were 29 pupils and the teacher, it always took a full bucket of water at a time to quench their thirst and sometimes two.

The teacher’s desk had a black-grained oilcloth on its top. It had three small drawers on the right and a long shallow drawer at the upper left. Through the years, the tops of the old-style double desks had been well carved, however, all but one were in good condition.  The only bookcase had four sections and the loose shelves would fall often, then all the books would have to be replaced. All the books were old. The teacher borrowed many new ones and bought some. She wore out two suitcases while she taught there, taking public library books to and from the school for her pupils to read. The maps used were from National Geographic and others, which she tacked or hung above the blackboard. There was a sand table, which was in constant use. She had a number of phonograph records, which were used on a borrowed machine for awhile.

Supplementary scenes were created by the pupils conforming with their lesson studies. The health program carried out the individual drinking cup, many of the pupils using tin cans. The teacher furnished towels, soap, toothpaste, brushes and combs for some. The health chart was put out by Lifebuoy Soap and had gold stars to present to those pupils getting perfect health scores. Because each helped the other very few missed getting their gold stars.

To save their new high-topped shoes, two small pupils came to school one morning through a cold rainy, snow barefoot. Mrs. Peterson quickly heated water and washed their faces, hands and feet in an effort to prevent their taking cold.

Baseball was the game most enjoyed. The smaller pupils were fielders and ball chasers. All the pupils entered with zest into any game played. In winter, when the snow was on, sides were chosen, forts were built and snowballs made for two days before the snow-battle began. When the weather would not permit outdoor playing, quiet games, reading and singing were enjoyed inside.

A Maypole dance was given by the pupils the last day of school one year. Clarence Gaunt and Tom Hershberger put up the pole, which was decorated with crepe paper.  The girls wore dresses of crepe paper as they danced to music around the pole. Another play given indoors was “Cinderella.” Kate Cornue, who was then teaching in the Mooresville School furnished the robe worn by the king, Hubert Simmons. It was a royal purple trimmed with white fur. A Christmas tree was furnished and placed in the schoolroom by the Gaunts. A large crowd came to enjoy it and the program given. Some of the patrons brought popcorn balls, candy and apples. The teacher and the pupils drew names and exchanged gifts.

Mrs. Maupin pictures the little schoolhouse at the foot of a high hill on the north side of a dirt road that wound around the hill before reaching the top. Just behind the schoolhouse to the west, there was a bridge over a creek. Large blackberry bushes were on the northeast with elms and apples to the west. A coal shed was on the southwest corner of the yard. The flag was raised and lowered on its pole each day by two of the pupils.  The Pledge of Allegiance was given each morning as part of the flag raising ceremony.

Miss Peterson entered into the neighborhood activities and fun. A group of the older boys met at her boarding place one Halloween and the group went Halloweening. Of course, it was not in the teacher’s plan that any real mischief should be done; however, the next morning Ernest Walz found all the tires on his car flat, and a rain barrel was overturned at another farm home. She enjoyed visiting at night in different patrons homes and would take some of the girls home with her to spend the night, and on occasion, took some of the older girls to her Chula home to spend the weekend. When she stayed in the neighborhood during the weekend she attended church services and she enjoyed going to see the neighbors and to see the free shows in Breckenridge on Wednesday nights.

Early one afternoon a storm cloud began forming. It was so ominous that the teacher dismissed school in mid-afternoon, so that pupils living near could get home before the storm hit. Those who lived at a distance, together with the teacher put on their wraps and went out to the fence and the buckbrush and held on as tightly as they could when the wind came.  The cyclone barely missed the schoolhouse. Water was sucked from a large pond west of Highland, chickens were bared of their feathers and straws were driven into trees. One school, not too far away, in the path of the cyclone, was almost demolished.

All but the seventh grade was taught in 1935-36. The following pupils attended that term: Lois, Sam and Denzil Mclure; Phyllis, Elmer, Shirley and Charlotte Tomlin; Henry, Lewis, Lela and Melvin Goodman, Leland and Leonard Fair; Raymond, Mildred and Donald Treon; Sadie Sullivan; John, Bertha, Margaret and Dorothy Lotz; Glenn, Flora, Don, Jesse and Rosa Allnutt; Maxine Snook. Directors were Bryan Snook, Mr. McCleary and Mr. Bryan.

Though Oak Ridge School was consolidated with Mooresville in 1916, the school continued to operate until 1940. Herbert Woolsey was the last teacher, and the last pupils were Bobby Eller; Goldie and Julia Ann Simmons; Donald Treon; Madeline and Mary Howerton; Odus and Marjorie Harper; Margarte Ruth and Mary Lou Mitten; Donald and Gordon Howerton.

When the building was sold at a public auction, to the Robertson Motor Company of Chillicothe, Elmer McClure bought the ground for $55.00, and the five walnut trees on the land paid for it.

The following information was obtained about former teachers and pupils of Oak Ridge School: Henry Goodman, a former pupil, went down in a plane somewhere over France in 1945; Bobby Eller, a pupil in 1937, is now with the Norman Funeral Home in Chillicothe. He plays piano professionally; Russell Walz became a radio announcer at Durango, Colorado and Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, and later came back to the farm to live; Leonard Fair became a doctor; Leland Fair is an Army officer; James Reynolds, a pupil in the early days, became a wealthy Texas cattleman and merchant and owned oil wells; Joe Wesley became a lawyer in Salt Lake City; Charles Reed, a former teacher, later taught on an Indian reservation in Arizona; Harvey Snook was conductor on the Burlington railroad and lives in South Carolina; Mike Reynolds is a Milwaukee conductor living in Los Angeles.

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