As part of the 150-year anniversary celebration of the city of Parsons, there will be an open house tour of the Oak Grove schoolhouse on Saturday, May 15th. The school will be open for visits on that day from 9:00am to 5:00pm. The address is approximately 20505 20th Road (one half mile east of the intersection of Trego and 20th Roads).
Oak Grove is a stone schoolhouse that was built in 1877. Situated on its original location, about four miles north and five and one-half miles east of Parsons, Oak Grove is one of the few surviving one-room school structures that once dotted the countryside of rural Neosho and Labette counties.
The open house is sponsored by the Oak Grove School Historical Society, a non-profit 501(c)3 organization whose mission is to “restore the Oak Grove schoolhouse to serve as a location where elementary school children can journey back in time and share a fun, unforgettable experience in learning about the history of southeast Kansas, increasing their appreciation for their heritage and strengthening their desire to be good stewards of their local community.” The Oak Grove experience will be patterned after a program that is offered by the Kansas Historical Society in a one-room schoolhouse on their museum campus in Topeka.
Listed on the Kansas and National Historic Site Registers, Oak Grove is a living example of the 1870’s era of southeast Kansas’ settlement. The school was built on what was originally the Osage Reservation. Following the Civil War, the Osage signed a treaty to move their reservation southwest of Independence and open the Neosho river valley to pioneer settlement. As early as December 1865, settlers began migrating to the area to homestead farmland. In the absence of any formal road system or any bridges across the Neosho River, these settlers followed the routes of the Osage Trail and crossed the river via the fords that had been utilized by the Osage since the early 1800’s. Oak Grove was originally organized as District 20 (Neosho County) in 1867. The first schoolhouse was a log structure, located on the Osage Trail just one mile west of a popular, established ford across the river (known as Trotter’s Ford). In 1877 the existing stone schoolhouse was built on higher ground just one-half mile further west, again on the Osage Trail.
Oak Grove is uniquely connected to the city of Parsons as it was built during the period of Parsons’ founding and was built by some of the same craftsmen who built much of Parsons’ original downtown and railroad structures. Throughout the years of its operation, Oak Grove served not only as a school, but as a center for community social life (local community meetings, box supper fundraisers, Sunday School picnics, political campaigns, 4-H club meetings, etc.). In just one example of its popularity, a newspaper article in August 1904 noted that over 2,000 people were expected to attend a Sunday School picnic on the schoolground site.
With the assistance of a Heritage Trust Fund reimbursement grant from the Kansas Historical Society, the Oak Grove School Historical Society has been working to restore the Oak Grove school to its original 1877 appearance. The restoration is not yet complete – and will require additional work over the next twelve months – but a lot has been accomplished to date. The exterior stonework has been cleaned and re-tuckpointed. The interior walls have been re-plastered and painted and the original ceiling restored. The flooring has been partially restored with additional work planned for this year.
So, make plans to visit Oak Grove on Saturday, May 15th, and learn more about how Oak Grove will bless the lives of area school children. Some special activities are planned for the day, including a dedication of a site historic marker and a portrayal visit from President Rutherford B. Hayes (president of the United States in 1877 and who visited the city of Parsons in 1879)!
With respect to COVID safety precautions, the number of people permitted inside the school will be limited to a few at a time. Everyone will be asked to wear masks inside the school and to clean their hands with hand sanitizer before entering.
Anyone interested in donating to the Oak Grove restoration effort can do so by writing a check to the “Oak Grove School Endowed Fund” and mailing it to the Parsons Area Community Foundation, P.O. Box 894, Parsons, KS 67357, or by making an online donation to the “Oak Grove School Endowed Fund” at https://www.parsonsareacf.org/.
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