Rural Missouri - September 2011 - (Page 18)
photo by Heather Berry
Above: Volunteers at Sedalia’s Quisenberry School lower the flag following a work session at the one-room school. Students once said the Pledge of Allegience outside before class. Right: Mary Alice Higgerson was a student and the last teacher at the Higgerson School, which was named for her husband’s great uncle. Below: Books once used by former students can be found at the Cave Springs School near Sarcoxie.
School may be out for good, but memo
photo by Kyle Spradley
ith a bright smile and a broad sweep of her hand, Mary Alice Higgerson welcomes visitors to the old schoolhouse in downtown New Madrid in the way only a former teacher can. “Take any of these big seats up front,” she says as she prepares to tell about the days when the little school was the center of a community called Higgerson Landing located 11 miles east of New Madrid. She talks about the lunch pails that line a shelf in the back. She tells about stoking the coal stove that kept off the winter chill. She points out books that were used in the one-room school. Of all the treasures in the simple structure, Mary Alice is perhaps the greatest. She is a rare link to the days when one-room schools like this one were the primary source of education for rural kids. Starting in 1941, she sat in one of the desks as a student, completing all eight grades here before moving on to high school. Then she returned in 1955 as its last teacher, closing down the school in 1968.
by Jim McCarty firstname.lastname@example.org
Today, she is part of a growing movement to bring three new R’s to the remaining one-room schools: research, restoration and remembrance. Across the state, one-room schools are coming back to life. They are being restored to serve as historic sites or as the community centers they once were. And along the way, they are rekindling fond memories in those who once attended these icons of rural America. “They still have a lot of life and purpose,” says David Burton, civic communication specialist for MU Extension in Greene County and an expert on one-room schools. “I probably get five to 10 calls a month from people who own a school or are part of a group working to restore one. Everyone is working toward the same goal of saving these treasures.” Reunions are being held at one-room schools across the state. Research is being done on where they were located, who the students and teachers were and what other uses they may have had. Books are being written, and one-room schools are being added to the National Register of Historic Places.
“I think it’s one part of our history we should never forget,” says Jake Warren, a director for Gascosage Electric Cooperative in Dixon. “That’s where most of the learning took place back then. People who live in the cities, they can’t comprehend what life was like in the country back then.” For two years, Jake attended Liberty School between Dixon and Vienna. To keep memories of the area’s oneroom schools alive, he wrote a booklet called “Life in the One Room Schoolhouse in Maries County, Missouri.” In it, he tells about walking miles to school, playing games such as “workup” and “Annie over” and carrying buckets of water from nearby farmhouses. “Dogs would follow them to school and a lot of times, the dogs drank out of the water bucket,” Jake recalls. “Of course, if they told the teacher, she would make them go back and get a new bucket. But a lot of times they didn’t tell her. Where were the germs back then?” One-room schools functioned as more than just places for students to learn. They were also the community social center. Elections were held
there. They might be used as churches on Sunday or as meeting rooms for 4-H clubs. Missouri Rural Electric Cooperative got its start in the oneroom Todd School near Palmyra. Farm cooperative MFA can trace its beginnings to a meeting at the Newcomer School near Brunswick. Higgerson School is one of those brought back from the brink. For 14 years, it sat empty, suffering from the ravages of the weather and vandalism. But in 1997, the school was moved to New Madrid. “It was in a fallen down state,” Mary Alice recalls. “It was projected to take four years for the restoration. But the building was moved here I think on June 11, 1997, and on June 13, 1998, it was completed.” Today, groups come to the site to learn about education in those simpler times. Mary Alice and other tour guides tell how students then got a “cotton holiday” when it came time to pick the year’s crops. Mary Alice also tells of an unusual use for the school. When flood waters from the Mississippi River left residents homeless, they would move into the school until the water
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - September 2011
Rural Missouri - September 2011
Table of Contents
The story behind the stories
Hemp bales and history
Out of the Way Eats
Open up and say ‘neigh!’
Back to the one-room school
Hearth and Home
The Missouri artist
Rural Missouri - September 2011