Central Huron square, early 1900s

With school back in session, we thought it the perfect time to highlight the early history of USD 500.  

The story of public education in Kansas is older than the city or the state itself. It goes back to 1819, when Methodist missionaries established a church and a school in the Wyandot Indian village of Upper Sandusky, Ohio.  

Most of the Wyandots who came here in 1843 had been educated in that school. In 1844 they erected a log church, the “Church of the Wilderness,” at what is now about 22nd and Washington Boulevard in the Westheight addition. The same year they built a log one-room school on what was later to be Fourth Street between State and Nebraska Avenues. 

This school (known as First or National School), built and taught by John McIntyre Armstrong, was the first free school in Kansas (then Indian Territory) and the first built solely for school purposes. The building housed the school from 1844 to 1852, when children went to private homes or churches for instruction. When the Wyandot sold to white settlers in 1856, no school existed publicly until after the Civil War. 

In 1867, the first school of District Number One, called Central Public School, Wyandotte County, was built in Huron Park, where the Main Library now stands. The City gave the Board permission to build on the land designated for seminary purposes by the old Wyandotte Town Company. “Part bounded by Sixth Street, north and south by church lots, west to the boundary.” Sixty-five feet were added to the whole length of the first grant. 

The probable date of occupation for the first Central School is 1868. Henry J. Alden was the first Principal of the nine-room brick building (two stories and a basement), steam heated, with a seating capacity of 542, located on a twenty-foot hill on a 60 x 65-foot plot. The contractor was Isaac Shoemaker. 

In 1868, not everyone was pleased with the new school. Its architectural plan offended some eyes. Perched on a high hill, the school had “all the beauty of a hennery,” declared one critic. It was too far from the center of town and difficult for children to reach, said others. At that time, a large ravine split Minnesota Avenue between Fifth and Sixth Streets. When the ravine was partly filled a year or two later, the contractors used the plentiful yellow clay of the district for fillings. In rainy weather, the mud made the street almost impassable, and children arrived in the morning, shoes lost in the mire and clothing bedraggled. Vincent J. Lane (early Wyandotte newspaper publisher and founder of the Wyandotte County Historical Society and Museum) told of having to carry a young daughter on his back to school during the rainy season. The city council finally ordered the street commissioner to lay two planks lengthwise for a sidewalk on the north side of Minnesota. As the planks were just one foot wide and nailed one foot apart on a two-by-four studding, only a skilled walker could cover the distance safely. At times when the clay was soaked after a hard rain, the planks would slide. Then the youngsters might roll down the muddy bank and land in an unfilled portion of the ravine twenty or thirty feet below.  

The current Kansas City, Kansas school district came into existence in 1886 as the result of the Consolidation Act of 1886, wherein the cities of Wyandott, Kansas City, and Armourdale (including Riverview and Armstrong) were united, forming a city of the first-class known as Kansas City, Kansas, which contained 10 square miles. The original school district was comprised of separate schools from the consolidated cities (consisting of 9 schools with an enrollment of 3,643 and 56 teachers) and organized under the leadership of John W. Ferguson, Superintendent. For the year 1886-87, the cost per pupil was $11.40, and the maximum yearly salary paid for teachers was $720. The entire budget for the school year was  $41,533 

By the mid-1890s, the old Central School was seriously outmoded, and the Board of Education began to consider plans for a new high school building on the same site. The city went into court and asked for an injunction restraining the Board of Education from erecting its proposed building, alleging that the ground known as “Huron Place” had been dedicated by the town company for park purposes only and that the Board of Education had no rights there. The District Court granted the injunction. The immediate effect of this was to change the location of the new high school to the northwest corner of 9th and Minnesota, while a new Central Elementary School was built on the site of the present Wyandotte County Courthouse. Central School was razed in 1902 to make room for the Carnegie Library. 

–From the History of Our Public Schools in Wyandotte County, Kansas, 1844-2012 at kckps.org 

Stay tuned for the next local history post on the history of Kansas City, Kansas, and Wyandotte High Schools!