Education in early Oklahoma was very different from what kids experience today. There were very few amenities in the schoolhouses (if there was a schoolhouse) and not always enough materials to go around. In fact, did you know…
- Before there were schoolhouses, school took place outdoors under trees or in tents. Imagine the fun of keeping books and tents from blowing away in the Oklahoma wind.
- Boys and girls did not socialize. They ate lunch and had recess separately.
- Many schools were heated using box stoves. Sometimes for lunch, they would set a pot of water on top and add whatever vegetables students brought.
- Every once in a while the teacher would bring meat.
- Students took turns providing fuel for a fire during the winter months. These schools were locally funded. There were no funds provided by the state or federal government.
- Sometimes there was not enough money to purchase books for every child. More often than not children had to share.
- Firewood was scarce so cow and buffalo chips (dried manure) were used as fuel.
- Some schoolhouses had dirt floors before the community could afford to install wood.
- Chalkboards were made using anything from horse hair and plaster to burnt sweet potatoes and milk. Many can still be used today.
- Some teachers’ contracts forbade them from marrying or being seen with men. They even had to ask permission to leave town.
- As you visit historic one-room schoolhouses throughout the state you will find one common theme. Early Oklahoma settlers worked hard and made a lot of sacrifices to bring education to their communities.
- A majority of the early schools were organized and paid for by parents and community members. Present day, the number of schools built is dictated by population; but, in the early years of Oklahoma’s statehood, there were no such laws. The early settlers knew that in addition to working the land, they had to expand their knowledge to be successful.
There are a plethora of one-room schoolhouses in Oklahoma. Here are just a few of the schoolhouses that are perfect for day trips in or close to Oklahoma City. These historic and mostly free sites take Oklahomans back to a time when education was a luxury and not necessarily available to all residents.
1889 Territorial Schoolhouse • Edmond
As the first school built in Oklahoma, the 1889 Territorial Schoolhouse (124 E. 2nd St., Edmond) was built in April in Edmond and the first class was held in September of that same year. The local Ladies Aid Society decided they wanted a free school for the community and made it happen. At the time, there was no money from the government to build the school so the society borrowed the money for the lumber and community members provided the labor. They hosted ice cream socials and a Thanksgiving dinner to raise funds to pay back the loan. Within 10 years, the community had outgrown the building.
This schoolhouse has been beautifully renovated and, during the renovation process, it was discovered that many of the original features were still intact. That’s amazing considering the building was used as a private residence, a storefront and by four different churches at various times during its history.
This schoolhouse is free to visit and is open on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m. or by appointment. Call 405-340-0078 to learn more.
Verden Separate School or the Allen Toles’ African-American One-room Schoolhouse • Chickasha
This schoolhouse was built in 1910 by an African-American man named Allen Toles. He built it on his land south of Verden, a town about an hour away from Oklahoma City.
The Verden Separate School (E. Ada Siquel Ave. & S. Jackson St., Chickasha) is the only known original wood-framed schoolhouse built by an African-American man to educate African-American children. Even after he passed away, the new owner of his land, S.C. Loveless, allowed the school to continue to operate. During this time, African-American children worked on farms with their parents and were only allowed to attend school when the weather made it impossible to work outdoors.
The school closed in 1935 when the county consolidated schools and began bussing students to Lincoln Separate School in Chickasha. During this time, African-American children attended separate schools as a part of segregation laws. Unfortunately, many of these separate schools were underfunded and lacked basic amenities.
This schoolhouse sat in a field for 90 years before being discovered in 2002 and moved to Chickasha. In 2005, the schoolhouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places and was fully restored by 2007.
This schoolhouse is free to visit and is open by appointment only.
Turkey Creek Schoolhouse at the Humphrey Heritage Village • Enid
The Turkey Creek School District was formed in April 1895 and served students until 1947. The Turkey Creek Schoolhouse (507 S. 4th St., Enid) was then moved to the Cherokee Strip Heritage Center to continue to provide education to Oklahoma’s children as a museum exhibit.
The schoolhouse is part of the Humphrey Heritage Village, which also is home to the only surviving Land Office from 1893. This Land Office served to assist homesteaders in legalizing their claims and settling claim disputes. It closed in 1902 and was auctioned off and converted into a private residence.
In addition to touring this schoolhouse, don’t miss the other attractions in this area. Nearby Gloss Mountain offers spectacular views of the surrounding area and the Alabaster Caverns State Park boasts the largest natural gypsum cave in the world that is open to the public.
The Turkey Creek School at the Cherokee Strip Heritage Center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is $7 for adults, $4 for children 6-18 and $18 for a family of up to six. Children under 5 are admitted free. Learn more at csrhc.org.
Horse Creek Schoolhouse at the Pioneer Heritage Townsite Center • Frederick
The Horse Creek Schoolhouse (201 N. 9th St., Frederick) was built in 1902 but was moved to the Townsite Center in Fredrick in 1977. This Center is an official Oklahoma Historical Society museum and it shows in the quality and quantity of exhibits. The most unique feature of this Center is the Frisco Depot. It was scheduled for demolition but a group of dedicated individuals recognized its value and worked to have it moved to the center in 1985. This exhibit explores the dependence of early settlers on trains (much like our dependence on the internal combustion engine today) and preserves some of the more colorful aspects of railway life. There are seven more buildings to explore that preserve different aspects of life in early Oklahoma.
When you visit the Horse Creek Schoolhouse, take some time to visit some other area attractions. The Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge is along the driving route to Frederick from Oklahoma City and it is well worth a stop. There are views to be had even if you don’t want to hike. A few other favorite destinations for families include the WWII Airborne Demonstration Team Hanger and the Hackberry Flat Wetland, a birdwatcher’s paradise. Visit www.visitfrederickok.com to learn about what this community has to offer.
The schoolhouse is free and is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Learn more at okhistory.org/sites/pioneertownsite.
Osage County Historical Society Museum • Pawhuska
The Osage County Historical Society Museum (700 Lynn Ave., Pawhuska) features displays about early life in Oklahoma, including education. The museum houses a one-room schoolhouse where visitors learn all about early education in Oklahoma. The schoolhouse has been completely restored and visitors can see the historic desks and chalkboards that would have been used by some of Oklahoma’s first teachers and students.
The museum is located in the largest county in Oklahoma and is about as “Wild West” as Oklahoma gets. This county also is famous because it is home to the first Boy Scout troop in America. In addition to seeing the historic schoolhouse, the museum is home to a Boy Scout exhibit featuring a statue of a Boy Scout in a 1909 uniform.
The museum is free and open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1-4 p.m. on Sunday.
Rock Bluff School at the National Route 66 Museum Complex • Elk City
In addition to some educational history, visitors to Rock Bluff School will be immersed in Oklahoma history. The National Route 66 Museum Complex (2717 W. 3rd St., Elk City) takes visitors on a journey along the historic route through hands-on displays, a “drive” in a 1955 pink Cadillac and a replica drive-in movie.
The museum complex reveals Oklahoma’s education history at the schoolhouse but also offers insight into the lives of pioneers, ranchers oil men and blacksmiths.
Many of these historic buildings were auctioned off and converted into private residences, churches or businesses. Without the work on Oklahoma’s historical preservationists, many of these buildings would have been lost to history.
Hours vary depending on season. Visit visitelkcity.com/museums for current hours of operation. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for children 6-16 and seniors and free for children under 5.
Travel Tips: Some of these schoolhouses are operated by a staff of knowledgeable and dedicated volunteers and are not always open during “normal” business hours. Call ahead to verify the hours.
BONUS: Harn Homestead offers field trips to students that allow them to see inside the site’s territorial schoolhouse. Call 405-235-4058 to schedule your trip.
[Editor’s Note: Mae Kiggins is an Edmond mom of two who is passionate about helping her kids learn outside the classroom. To learn more about her adventures, visit www.outdoorsmom.com]