Tag Archives: School House

Bavaria Highschool 1925

Sometime in February of 2010 I came across a small unincorporated town in central Kansas with a highschool building dating back to 1925.

I remember it being a bone chilly day when I came into town.The sky was bleak and uninteresting; and not a single person but myself seemed to be outside or maybe even in town itself. I had knocked on the doors of a few houses with the hopes of learning something about the history of this school, but no one answered. I sort of suspect that a few had ignored me and watched me from behind the curtains.

The architecture of the school was the standard for this era of American high schools and my guess is that this little village was probably the largest of little unincorporated villages within several miles and therefore became the logical choice for a more central school that could educate a growing population. My other guess is that eventually, like many other rural communities across the country, the school most likely was closed sometime between the 1960’s and 1970’s for consolidation with an even larger school in a larger nearby town. As modes of public transportation improved and the American population both swelled and shifted from rural isolation toward more city centered locations – due in part to economic and cultural changes – it became financially necessary for midsize rural towns to once again combine their resources with an even larger and more modern school buildings in larger towns that had the ability to serve to a wider territory.

I wanted to and it was possible, though unsafe, but I didn’t climb into the school at this time; nor have I had the chance or luck of returning to reshoot and explore the area further.

Peering into the interior through a broken window I could see inside was loaded with what appeared to be several decades worth of unwanted and broken property from possibly the entire town. Dusty tables, broken lamps, rusty bicycles, deflated basketballs and much more were all in view. There was barely any space to comfortably stand let alone walk around and I suspect that my presence in the little village was seen as intrusive; I don’t know if this was an accurate vibe or just my imagination. From what I could see, beyond the junk, was a large open space that was very likely a gymnasium and/or multipurpose room serving also as the cafeteria and assembly hall. I remember my old elementary school, that was also once a the high school with separate entrances labeled for boys and girls, having a similar layout and the room functioning as several rooms throughout the day.

I am still devising a plan to return and take better photographs of this high school – please don’t judge me on these two – and of several other nearby buildings on my list; and spending more time in the region talking with locals, hopefully a less chilly atmosphere. I currently have a couple of regional contacts and hopefully more will come.


Elmira Schoolhouse

When I first spotted this beautiful old wooden schoolhouse around the bend, I almost drove off the road.

 

It was a sizable century old building situated relatively close to a narrow two-lane road in Elmira, Illinois; and, despite its physical fragility, it had a powerful presence that demanded your attention as you passed it by.

It was impossible at the time for me to stop, due to work, but for the next several hours all I could think about was returning to this building for a closer inspection. I had become so obsessed with the thought of returning that I literally drove three plus hours out of my way to retrieve my foolishly forgotten camera from a hotel room in Iowa, just for last twenty minutes of available daylight. I was worried that if I didn’t make it back before the sun had completely set then I might not have another opportunity in the future.

The schoolhouse was in very poor condition and looked like it was barely holding together when I was walking around the premises. A large section of the Western facing wall is missing along with most of the back wall and portions of the floor. The wood was splintering and coming down plank by plank. The school had many long windows but the glass panes, along with the doors and steps leading up to the front entrance, no longer existed.

Information about the town of Elmira and its abandoned school was practically nonexistent. What I did manage to find was that the town is unincorporated, as are most towns in the surrounding area, and a statement dating the schoolhouse to 1903. The date seemed about right and was pretty close to my first guess, mid 1890’s. I knew it had to have been before 1910 because most public schools built afterwards were standard two-story brick building.

I am going to assume that this building was used not only as a schoolhouse, but also as a meetinghouse and place of worship for the local community. Multiple usage of a focal building in a small rural community was common. This Schoolhouse had two large rooms plus a basement. Considering the size of the town and number of surrounding farms it is hard to imagine that there was enough students to fill each of the rooms during the school week a hundred years ago let alone today. The bell in the steeple could easily have been used to call students to the classroom along with the congregation to a Sunday sermon.

I suspect that the Elmira Schoolhouse has been abandoned for several decades, possibly sometime in the mid 20th century. The students would most likely have transferred to a larger school nearby, as a part of the school consolidation trend.  In addition to the students leaving, a church with modern amenities was built nearby for the congregation thus ending the need for the now decaying schoolhouse.

If anyone knows the history of this schoolhouse please contact me. I would greatly appreciate knowing more about it.


School Is Out

I came across this wonderful example of a prewar high school building several years ago; it wasn’t until recently that I managed to locate the owners and gain access inside. Several times I had tried to learn the identity of the owners through online searches and a visit to city hall, but had no luck. Finally I decided to stop and talk to the locals in town, and eventually one person lead me to another who lead me to another until I found someone who knew the answer to my quest. I was given all the information I needed and kindly informed that similar requests had been made before but not granted.

After leaving my business card with a member of the owner’s family and playing short game of phone tag with the owner, I found myself on the in. The owner liked the work he saw on my website and agreed to let me inside under the condition that I do not reveal the location of the building and kindly share with the owner some copies of the photos; as he is planning to renovate the building soon and would love to have a documentation of what it was like prior to renovation.

Conditions were fair enough for me. I would have given him copies anyway, as it is only a fair exchange for his generosity.

Plans were made to meet outside a week later and the owners gave me a lovely tour of the building prior to my photo shoot.

The high school was a large building constructed in 1922 and originally served only the local town population until eventually it served as the main high school for the entire county until it closed its doors in the mid 1970’s. At that time the high school students were relocated to the newer high school building, built to accommodate the growing population, and the original high school building was converted into a middle school for the next 15 years. The building has been empty since maybe 1989 and the gymnasium, built in the back in 1952, was used until the mid 1990’s.

In the school’s early years a small open room in the school’s basement served as the only space sanctioned in the surrounding Baptist County for social dances. It was hard to believe that this room was meant for social parties when it was so dingy and dark. There were no windows to this room, only a large door leading to the back. This same door was also one of my only two ways out of the building should I need to leave or escape.

When we first entered the building the owner wanted me to wait by the back door so he could check ahead for squatters. Apparently he and his girlfriend noticed a broken window the previous day and were not sure how long ago it had been broken. When they bought the school a year ago there was an issue of squatters and they wanted to check the area thoroughly before leaving me alone inside. I could appreciate that!

The first floor was where the science rooms existed. There were lecture rooms that reminded me of modern college stadium style classrooms, but much smaller in scale; pipes and electrical outlets that would have been connected to chemistry tables. There was also a dark room with attached art room. The art room still had an easel and one of the doors had old set of earphones hanging on the knob.


In the front and center area of the building existed the main stairway from the front entrance leading up to the second level. Walking up these stairs I could see the grind of thousands of previous footsteps on the edge of stone steps. The students were no longer around, but they left their mark.

It was on the second level I found the principal’s office, library and study hall room and, most excitingly, the lower access into the school theatre.  The theatre was my favorite room. I found myself walking back to it several times. There were a few rows of seats that dated back to the original 1922 seating and the rest were from the 1960’s. Some of the seats were missing, a couple of doors rested in the aisles and the light fixtures were damaged from previous destructive trespassers. A set of eerie gray curtains still hung as the stage backdrop and plenty of lovely light came in from the large windows. The theatre took up two floors, most of the back center of the building and was complete with loft seating from the third floor.

The third floor was filled with simple classrooms with some old school chairs and the access into the theatre loft seating. I found plenty of graffiti left on the chalkboards from previous students. I think the owners were going to find a way to preserve those. The chalkboards were in great shape and it was amusing to read some of the written comments from former students.

Surprisingly the damage found inside the school was minimal. There was some roof leakage in the front. The leak made the walls and floor weak, visible on both the third and second floor. In the back corner of the theatre room was another leak. Both the leaks were fixed by the current owner to prevent the damage from getting worse and areas affected will eventually be repaired. Beside the two small sections to be avoided for safety reasons I had no problems or limited access with the rest of the building.

I spent about 4-5 hours inside; taking my time and returning to several interesting spots as the natural lighting outside changed. There was one point during my day when I stopped everything and sat in the doorway of one brightly painted room just to gaze down the empty hall; taking some time to reflect in my sketchbook on where I was and what I was finding. With the exception of the pigeons and muffled sounds from the outside world, it was rather quiet inside. I felt alone in my own little world and wanted to enjoy that moment before it was time to leave. I like to think that buildings like these have their own souls and will connect with a person, such as myself, in the same way that I often feel connected with them.