Monday, February 21, 2011

Sumner County Historical & Genealogical Society: Saving the Belleview School House

Meeting: February 28th, 2011
Meal at 5:30 p.m.; meeting at 6:30 p.m.

Sumner Regional Medical Center Board Room
1323 N. A Street
Wellington, Kansas

Saving a one-room school house wasn’t on Mike Brunhoeber’s mind when he drove past the deserted schoolhouse with the leaning chimney, peeling paint, and missing shingles.

Instead, Brunhoeber was looking for another farm building to store his farm equipment in. But after he went inside of the Belleview School and saw the original wood floors, beautiful molding, and the slate blackboard that countless children had written upon, Brunhoeber thought to himself, “there is no way I can tear something like this up.”

On February 28th, at 6:30 p.m., in the Sumner Regional Medical Center’s lower level board room, 1323 North A (highway 81 north) in Wellington, Mike and Valerie Brunhoeber, Caldwell, will share their story of “Saving the Belleview School House” in a PowerPoint presentation to the Sumner County Historical and Genealogical Society.

After the Brunhoebers contacted the township that owned the schoolhouse they found out there were plans to burn it down. So the Brunhoebers asked how much the township wanted for the historic schoolhouse.

“I gave them a check for $50,” Brunhoeber said, adding that they bought the school house in September of 2009 and moved the 30,000 pound schoolhouse from its home along the Chisholm Trail northwest of Caldwell to its new home at their farm near the Chisholm Trail in February of 2010.

That’s when the hard work began…
“We’d quit in the field at dark, eat supper, get the kids in bed, and go work on the schoolhouse until one o’clock in the morning,” Brunhoeber said.

When they began to tear off the old wallpaper and take down the lowered ceiling, they were able to see that the school originally had a bell tower, two dressing rooms, and two entrances.  (One for the boys and one for the girls.)  Brunhoeber said that in the earliest school days, boys and girls were seated on separate sides of the room.  (Follow the Brunhoeber’s progress at http://www.belleviewschoolhouse.org/).

As near as they can estimate, because their school still had a stage at the front, and stages weren’t built much after the late 1880’s because too many teachers fell off of them, and because records indicate that the acre of land was bought in 1881 for $10, the Brunhoebers believe their school was built in 1882.

While none of the Brunhoeber’s ancestors sat at the desks or wrote on the blackboards, the Brunhoeber’s still enjoy walking into the school and hearing footsteps echo in the room and the floor creak when they walk across it and imagining what it was like when school children looked out of those same windows 130 years ago. 

What are the Brunhoeber’s plans for the school?
Brunhoeber said that often communities only had one building and it was used for the school, community building, and the church, and the Brunhoeber’s have already opened their school doors to the Caldwell Historical Society and to two school groups for tours.  In the future, they hope to re-enact school days of the 1880’s, including period clothing, lunches, the subjects that they learned, and the games they played at recess.

Brunhoebers said they are trying to keep the school authentic. There is no electricity, no air conditioning, and no indoor plumbing.  They hope to locate as much of the original equipment as they can, and are searching for photographs that will show them what the school looked like in its different stages.  They would love to find the original school bell that called the children in from recess.

“You walk in that thing right now,” Brunhoeber said, “and it looks like you are walking back into an old classroom.”

But when finding original equipment just isn’t possible, they plan to locate authentic period pieces.

A copy of the 1911 teacher’s class schedule tells them what subjects were being studied and what time they went to recess, and Brunhoeber said that they currently have some of the Sears and Roebucks desks that were used in the school house, but added that they were not the original school desks. 

Brunhoeber said that one lady who visited just liked to come back, sit in there and reminisce about her school days.

“You could see on her face that it brought back good memories,” Brunhoeber said, “we just kind of gave it a new lease on life.”

Contacts: 
Jane Moore – meal reservations & weather cancellations – 620-447-3266
Sherry Kline – questions & weather cancellations – 620-326-3401