District No. 39, one room schoolhouse stubbornly remains in Walnut Township
November 11, 2021
One room schoolhouses are hard to find as most have deteriorated through the years by weather and abandonment. These one room schoolhouses dotted the country side, and were only a few miles apart, when farms were much smaller. Farm families needed schooling for their children. Without modern transportation, the schoolhouses were walking distance. District No. 39, West Walnut, stubbornly remains standing a few miles south of Northbranch.
This school district was organized in 1872, in the wee years of Jewell County. The Indian raids had ended in this area and the settlers were flocking in. Farmers and businessmen were coming west and start a new life. In much of what would become Walnut Township, came many of the Quaker faith. The book Prairie Jewels, written by Erma Dillon and Jeri Shute, states many of those of the Quaker faith came by covered wagon in 1871 from Marshall County, Iowa. Around a mile east of the District No. 39 School was where the Walnut Creek Friends Church was eventually built. Now all that remains of that church is the cemetery.
Ephriam Bowles, one of the early church members there, would later be associated with the District No. 39 School's history. Prairie Jewels reported, Ephriam walked to what was then Jewell Centre (Mankato) some 18 miles and back in the same day, to acquire public funds to pay the teacher's wages. Possibly Ephraim was serving on the school's board.
Another Quaker church was established in 1876 in a home started as a dug-out. Later a church building was constructed in Northbranch. This church is still going today. Another Quaker church, Oak Creek, was established in the eastern side of Whitemound Township. Today all that is left of that church is its cemetery.
In 1879, a group of Conservative Friends broke from the Walnut Creek Friends and formed a new meeting place north of Walnut Creek. It was called North Walnut. All that is left today is the cemetery. Several of the Quaker faith helped established schoolhouses close to their farmsteads and churches, including District No. 39.
District No. 39 schoolhouse was a large one room schoolhouse. On the north and south sides of the building there were eight windows. A school bell was on the east side of the roof. The main entrance door was on the south-east corner of the building. Another small wooden frame building nearby was where wood and coal were stored for the stove used to keep the schoolhouse warm during the cold weather. As with most all of the country schools, there was no inside plumbing so there were outhouses close by the schoolhouse for the students to use.
Eula (Winslow) Silsby, Esbon, remembers this one room schoolhouse. She attended school there her first and second grade years. She grew up on the family farm, just a quarter mile west of the District No. 39 schoolhouse. Her parents, Leo and Avis (Jones) Winslow, had both attended school there. When the weather was nice, Eula walked to school but when it was winter, her parents would take her. Lunches were made at home and taken to school in lunch boxes or pails.
According to Eula, there were quite a few neighbors then and several attended school there. She only had one classmate those two years, Twila Figgins, now Twila Morris of Burr Oak. At recess, students played softball and games such as Red Rover and Annie Over. During winter, Fox and Geese was played in the snow. There was no playground equipment at the schoolhouse.
Eula's first grade teacher was Doris Dodd who lived with the Winslows while she taught there. Eula said because the teacher lived with the Winslow family, she was able to start to school at the age of 5.
Her second grade teacher was Faye Corbett. Eula remembers the students sat in desks facing the east and the teacher was stationed at a large desk on a platform area with the blackboards behind her. She remembers the big snow storms that would often come during the winter School was called off when the storms hit. She added, "It seemed like the snow storms were worse than they are now." She also remembered competing with other neighboring country school students in spelling contests.
At the end of the 1940s, District No. 39, West Walnut, closed. The schoolhouse was sold to the West Walnut Home Demonstration Unit, a home extension group of women who lived in this area. For years there were community events and neighborhood pot-luck meals held in the schoolhouse. Eventually, as the area's rural population decreased, the building was again put up for sale. It was purchased by a farmer, Darrell Wester, who lived close by and used for grain storage.
Eula would attend District No. 111, Union South Country School, her third grade year. She remembered an ice skating pool, which was naturally provided during the colder winter months, was used by the students. Her teacher was Donna Blew. Two of her cousins, Vaden and Thelma Winslow, also attended school there. Again Twila Figgins was Eula's only classmate. The following year Eula began attending Burr Oak Schools because a school bus route went by the Winslow house. Eula went to Burr Oak Schools the rest of her grade school and her high school years.