Phyllis Scherich has unique memories of the Santa Fe Trail — and no, she did not travel this trail as a pioneer in search of a better life. She played on the trail, years after the pioneers came and went, while attending a historic one room schoolhouse in McPherson County.
“We played in [the] ruts during recess. I'd say they may have been 6 inches or so deep in some of them,” Scherich said.
She will be sharing memories of that school during a 2 p.m. Oct. 5 presentation at the McPherson Museum and Arts Foundation, 1111 E. Kansas Ave.
The old Santa Fe Trail, an important trail for commerce and settlers in its day, ran through the school yard of the old Santa Fe School. That trail will celebrate an anniversary in 2021.
“The Santa Fe Trail ran through present day McPherson County prior to the formation of the county,” said Linda Colle with the Santa Fe Trail Association “ The Santa Fe Trail was a trail of commerce, the interstate of it’s time. It was a two way highway with both the American traders taking goods to Santa Fe, New Mexico and the Hispanic traders taking goods east.”
The Santa Fe Trail began in 1821 with Missouri trader William Becknell’s first trip to Santa Fe — meaning the anniversary of the trail is less than two years away. The Trail opened up Kansas to settlement during the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854.
“People moving west used the trail as a route west and people moving into McPherson County used it as the county was settled,” Colle said. “The Santa Fe Trail pretty much ended in 1879 – 1880 when the railroad finally reached down to New Mexico. However, the use as a commerce route ended earlier in Central Kansas as the railroad reached this area in the mid- 1860s.”
The Santa Fe School was located in Section 10 of King City Township — located on the east side of 15th Avenue in the NW/4 of Section 10, T20S, R3W at the north edge of the half-mile line.
“Nothing is left now that can be seen but the built up area in the field where the stone foundation used to be,” Colle said. “Historical records indicate that ruts were visible in the schoolyard. The D.A.R marker located south of McPherson on the east side of 14th Avenue and north of Eisenhower Road was originally located in the school yard north of the school and was later moved to its present location.”
There were several different schools in the same location named Santa Fe School throughout the years. As the schools were outgrown or deteriorated, a new school was built. In September, 1887, the McPherson Freeman reported that District #21, having outgrown its old school, had sold it in the spring of 1887 and built a new one. An article in the McPherson Republican dated May 23, 1984, states the original school was built in 1884 and it was celebrating 100 years in 1984. However, another article dated April 24, 1879 stated “The Santa Fe school house was blown from its foundation yesterday and badly racked.” An even earlier article dated December 26, 1878 was posted, “ Miss Axtell called on us last Friday and had some cards printed. She is teaching at the Santa Fe School house, three or four miles south of town.” The History of the Santa Fe School on file at the Old Mill Museum in Lindsborg says “The original Santa Fe School District #21 was organized in 1884. It was located one mile east of its current location. Alvin Chatteron was its first teacher.”
“I found confusion on when the original Santa Fe School was first in existence,” Scherich said. “Depending on when the history on file at the Old Mill Museum, it may have been referring to the two-room Santa Fe School that was built on 14th Ave and Eisenhower in 1950 when it stated it was one mile east of the present location.”
The school she attended was destroyed in a tornado in June of 1950. At the time a new two-room school was already under construction. The final Santa Fe School was officially closed in 1984.
The McPherson County Historical Society and Quivira Chapter, Santa Fe Trail Association are helping keep the memory of the school alive with presentations like the one at the museum.
Scherich will share stories and photos from days at the Santa Fe School. She hopes others will join in.
“I hope the pictures I will be sharing and history bring back some memories for some attending. For younger folks I hope they learn of the importance the rural schools during this period of history,” Scherich said. “ ... We especially would like anyone who ever attended Santa Fe to come and share memories and any pictures you may have from your school days.
“I hope that people will get a sense of the rich history of our area and what it was like to attend school and play at recess right in the historic Santa Fe Trail ruts,” Colle said. “This trail was an international interstate now nearly 200 years old and here was a school set nearly right in its ruts.”
Contact Chad Frey by email at email@example.com or follow him on facebook at @ChadFreyKS.