SUBLETTE — For Barbara Woods, the little schoolhouse that is now sitting next to the Haskell County Museum in Sublette was a home away from home when she was a child.
“It was like another family,” Woods said.
The Independence School was located north of Sublette on SS Road and Road 70, where it sat for years and years after it closed some time in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s. Recently, it was moved to the museum in town and is awaiting refurbishing.
“A lot of the rural country schools closed around 1957,” said Darlene Groth, curator of the Haskell County Museum.
Woods attended the school from 1936 to 1940, from fifth to eighth grade. Even now, Woods, whose maiden name was Dawson, has a picture perfect memory of the daily routine at the school.
“When school started at 9 o’clock, the teacher rang the bell. If it was a nice day and it was sunshiny and warm, everybody went out and we raised the flag and we had the flag salute outside. And then we came back inside the schoolhouse and we sang a couple of songs, kind of patriotic or a little on the religious side, or something like that. And then she would assign the kids what they were going to do,” she said.
Around 10:30 a.m., Woods said, the students had a 10-minute recess.
“Everybody made a mad dash to the outhouse,” she said.
She said that students brought their own lunches, either in paper sacks or tin buckets.
“We had 30 minutes to eat, and then if it was nice weather, we could go outside and play,” Woods said.
She remembers a couple of the books that her teacher from fifth through seventh grade, Marie Forney, read to them.
“She read to us a lot. I can remember she read, ‘The Shepherd of the Hills,’ and the book ‘Heidi.’ All those books she read to us,” Woods said.
She said that Forney also played the piano and was pretty artistic, as well.
“We did some interesting things — whatever you can do with a piece of construction paper and a bottle of flour paste,” Woods said.
When the older kids finished their schoolwork, she said, Forney would have them sit down and read to the younger kids. Forney, she said, was like another mom to all of her students.
During the afternoon, the students would do arithmetic or spelling on the big blackboard that still covers one of the walls of the schoolhouse.
Some time in the middle of the afternoon, the students got another 10-minute recess.
“And everybody ran frantically to the outhouse,” Woods said, laughing.
When she attended school there, she didn’t believe there were more than 10 kids in the entire school, even though it housed all grade levels.
Groth had paperwork showing there were 18 students in the small 16-by-32-foot schoolhouse in 1931. And in the book, “Haskell County, Kansas, 100 Years Beneath the Plow,” former teacher James Garetson, who taught there in the 30s, said that as many as 41 students were enrolled in the school one year. He described those conditions as “crowded.”
In the book, Garetson also said, “My teaching career at Independence was during the worst years of the Dirty ‘30s. The windows in the schoolhouse were not too snug, and a suitcase farmer was trying to grow wheat north and west of the school. The dirt blew in so badly that I put the teacher’s desk and bookcase back to back and draped them with a curtain that we had for use for school programs. The next morning, I would gather the curtain by its corners and carry the dust outside to complete its journey to the gulf. I do not know why dust pneumonia did not claim most of us.”
Back then, schoolhouses dotted the landscape. Groth said there were as many as 24 schoolhouses in the area.
“The reason they didn’t have many students is because they had a lot of country schools. We had a country school every four miles,” Groth said.
Woods is working on a map that will show where each school was located, and also has collected several photos of the old schools.
The Independence Schoolhouse was located on Henry Nightengale’s property north of Sublette. Prior to it being moved next door to the museum, some of the Nightengale boys replaced the roof.
Groth said that the plan is to clean it up and do other repairs, with the aim of restoring it to its original condition, even using the original lights.
Woods said the school’s only light when she went to school there was sunlight streaming through the windows.
She also said that they used a coal burner stove for heat.
“So the bigger kids would bring in two or three buckets of coal, and we had a box sitting up against the wall, and so they filled up the coal box,” she said.
She also said that the students themselves were responsible for the upkeep of the school.
“About a quarter ’til 4, we cleaned up the classroom. All the trash was picked up; our desks had to be put in order. If there was trash, we had to carry it out to a dumpster,” Woods said. “And sometimes, if the weather was nice, we washed windows. We just did whatever needed to be done.”
Groth said that the plan is to have the old school house refurbished and ready for tours in about a year.