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First School House
5th & Walnut Area
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First School House Built in Pittsburg
- photo courtesy of The Crawford County Genealogical Society - Dorothy Benskin

This is a picture of the first permanent school building in Pittsburg. It was located west side of the street on Walnut between 5th and 6th streets. The wooden 2-room 2-story structure was built in 1877 at a cost of $1,200. The need for a bigger, more permanent school house became evident as the town grew and this building was moved to Third and Walnut and the Central School was built on the lot in 1893. The old school house became the city's first hospital in 1894 and operated from that location until about 1899 when the hospital moved to the corner of Eighth and Olive. The school house building was torn down in 1934.

Old Pittsburg Landmark, School Built in 1877, Razed to Make Way for the March of Progress

One of Pittsburg's historic landmarks has only recently passed from existence, and yet it passing has taken place virtually unnoticed. This can be attributed probably to the fact that so few of the city's first residents remain and those of later years are not familiar with many of the landmarks of real historic value here.The memorable object is the old 2-story dwelling, which has occupied the corner lot at Third and Walnut streets for so many years until work was begun about a month ago dismantling the structure. This building was the birthplace of Pittsburg's first schoolhouse and later the first city hospital, if not one of the first hospitals in southeastern Kansas in the early days. As told by several fob the students, who attended classes in this interesting old house, the structure was erected in the year 1877 at the corner of Fifth and Walnut, the present location of the Central school. This was the year following which the original plat of Pittsburg was filed, on May 20, 1876.

Had Large Steeple

The building when constructed appeared much the same as it did before being torn down, with the exception that it at first possessed a large steeple in which rested the proverbial school bell. It was a simple structure with just two rooms, one on the upper floor and one downstairs. It was constructed at a cost of $1,200, the limit of the bonds of the school district at that time. The late Judge Charles E. Cory of Fort Scott was one of the first instructors, and under his tutelage for a period of several years in this schoolhouse were a number of students who years later were to become some of Pittsburg's most prominent citizens. Probably the persons who yet live today and were the earliest attendants of the school are Mel. D. Miller and his sister, Mrs. H. W. Black, who began their studies in the winter of 1878. Mrs. Black only attended for one term, while her brother continued for three terms, quitting in 1880. Mrs. E. V. Lanyon also was a pupil. She started about 1879 and continued until she graduated form the schools here and years later became an instructor in the small 1-story building next to the big 2-story school in which she began her studies. The small bungalow was constructed to care for extra students, for Pittsburg had begun to take on the aspects of a town and many persons were settling here.

Some Early Pupils.

Among the scholars of the first school were Mrs. M. M. Hartzel, 721 West Third, and her brother Emery Shout, who went through the various grades of the school and graduated. Sam Holden attended one term in 1881. Mrs. D. W. Braznell, 424 West Fifth, and Mrs. Fred Bresse, 601 North Catalpa, both sisters of Mrs. Lanyon were also pupils there. Both the late Alvin and Alfred Lanyon were students. There are evidences of stormy times in this old domicile as recited by members of the early classes. Events are somewhat hazy and these former students, whose lives have been filled with so many important incidents, find it somewhat difficult to remember many things, which occurred in this first schoolhouse. Nevertheless they recall them with a smile and a hidden tear as they try hard to picture old scenes. "We had lots of fun in that old school," said Mr. Miller. "Schools those days differed a great deal form our present day schools. I remember I sat in the seat next to Alvin Lanyon. Judge Cory was our teacher. He was about 24 years old at that time and wore a heavy black beard that hung as far down as his vest. I can remember him quite well. He taught for about two or three years and was followed by a man by the name of Dan Hollingsworth."

Recalls Early Dance.

Con A. Miller, brother of Mel Miller, did not attend school there but remembers attending a dance in the structure shortly after it was built. Mr. Holden tells of going one night to a demonstration and lecture given by a man from out of town on the marvel of electricity. With him the entertainer had apparatus hooked up to two small dry cell batteries that caused a spark to jump from one pole to another on the apparatus. "We thought this was really wonderful in those days," he related. "After going just the one term I quit and began work weighing coal for the Charles Long Lumber Company. While going to school I well recall that all the land on which the YMCA now stands and north of that place was cornfield, and we never thought of buildings occupying the block where my store now stands. I also has as my teacher Judge Cory." The late Judge Cory probably will be better remembered by many here as referee of the federal bankruptcy court at Fort Scott, a position which he held for many years before his death. Mrs. G. D. Officer was another of the early day instructors in the first schoolhouse.

Lived at City Hall Site.

To give an idea of what Pittsburg looked like in those days, the Miller brothers tell of coming herein in 1878 with their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Davis S. miller. The family purchased the ground upon which now stands the city hall and built a home there and a livery stable adjacent, which Mr. Miller and his sons operated for years. At the junction of Fourth and Broadway a large well, which was used as a community well and also supplied water to the volunteer fire brigade. Some time later and after he had completed his short period of schooling, Mel Miller became a member of this organization. He narrowly escaped death on one occasion and experienced many other thrills in those days when fire fighting was a neighborhood sport. Late in 1892 the city was still greatly gaining in population and a congested condition was found in the city schools. For with it was decided to build a new school. The first bond issue for the school , was made in 1893 and was for $8,000. In a very short while it was constructed, a brick building, which came to be known as Central. The old frame structure was now no longer needed, so it was purchased by Dr. R. H. McKay of Girard and moved to his property at the corner of Third and Walnut.

Leased as Hospital.

An item taken from The Headlight of Jan. 2, 1894 reads thus: "Dr. R. H. McKay of Girard has purchased the old frame school building and is moving it onto his lots in the Santa Fe addition, where it will be put through a course of repair and fitted up for a a dwelling house." Dr. McKay did intend to rent his newly acquired house as a dwelling but Dr. George Williams, who was a prominent physician here at the that time, succeeded in leasing the house from Dr. McKay of the purpose of establishing a hospital. The lease was made by Con Miller. According to Mrs. Charles S. Smith, the daughter of the late Dr. williams, her father conceived the idea of a hospital after the great mine disaster at the Santa Fe mine No. 2 of the Pittsburg Cherokee Coal & Mining Company located at Frontenac. Forty-seven out of the 164 men were killed in probably the greatest mine explosion that ever occurred in this field. "Father had been here only a short time then, " said Mrs. Smith. "But he was fast acquiring a large practice and gaining a most desirable reputation as a surgeon. This being a great mining center and work being so hazardous, my father began to see the need of a hospital here and spent many years previous to its actual founding in trying to interest the public in its organization."

Kept Him Very Busy

"Father was a very busy man in those days and I can't remember of a night when his sleep was not broken by at least one call and sometimes he went many nights without sleep. He was a broken man long before his death. many persons used to call my father an atheist because he did not attend church, but this is not so. He believed in God and was a good man, but his professional services were so much in demand he had not a minute to spare. What extra time was his he required for est and sleep." So in the early part of 1894 Dr. William's dream of several years was realized and Pittsburg's first hospital was established. The staff consisted of Dr. Williams and his brother Dr W. W. Williams, Dr. A. O. Blair and Dr. A. C. Graves. Mrs. E. E. Hillis, who was the widow of the late Dr. Hillis, became the first matron, later to be relieved by Miss Molly Caffey. There were no funds back of the institution for non-paying patients and for several years, and it was operated and maintained entirely by private capital. In this hospital Dr. George Williams performed the first surgical operation in Pittsburg.

Lived at Cherokee

Dr. A. C. Graves is the only doctor of the original staff who survives today. He did not live here at the time the hospital was founded, but had offices here on the corner of Fifth and Broadway, where the First National Bank building now stands. His home was at Cherokee, where he continued to live until 1900, when he moved her. "I used to drive a horse and buggy to Chicopee," he relates "from where I took the street car into Pittsburg, arriving here about 10 o'clock in the morning and spending until 4 in the afternoon, when I returned via the same route. Dr. Williams, the head of the staff, did all surgical work, his brother and Dr. Blair did general practice and I was in charge of the eye practice. These were the days when we doctors had just begun to specialize and I had only a few months before returned from a special post graduate course in eye treatment in New York City. Our new venture proved to be quite successful and our business continued to grow to great proportions until after five year we found we must have a new and much larger building, so we built the Samaritan hospital on the corner of Eighth and Olive and used this building until 1912."

Was Fine Surgeon

Dr. Graved emphasized many times that Dr. Williams was one of the finest surgeons he had known and that he established the reputation of being the best in his line in this part of the country for many years. "Probably one reason why our hospital was a success," he added, "was that we were headed by such a man and the remaining doctors also had large practices. It was necessary for persons all over this section of the country either to come to Pittsburg or go to Kansas City for their surgical work. Our hospital drew patients form a vast territory, since it was also the first in this part of the county." Graduating form Vanderbilt University at Nashville, Tenn., in 1882, Dr. Graves began a journey down to the southern portion of Texas, where he though eh might locate. But upon arriving in Cherokee he was much impressed with this part of the country and decided to make his home at that place. He lived and practiced in Cherokee until about 1900.

Into New Quarters.

Because their business had grown to such large proportions in 1899, the staff of the city hospital moved to new quarters and abandoned Dr. McKay's building. Mrs. Mary Krois, 204 N. Walnut, who came with her husband to Pittsburg in 1883, settled at her present residence, where she had continued to live all these years, just two doors being the historic building. "I knew that old building well," she said, "I have watched it down through the years. I remember it as a school for I sent several of my children there. As a hospital too, I was much interested in it for I was a nurse for a long time, not in the hospital, but I talked frequently to the doctors and nurses there. They were fine doctors. The hospital was there for only a few years. After this house was rented to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Tinker, who operated a rooming and boarding house for a long time. Mr. Tinker died years later but she continued on there until 1920. It was then rented from time to time to several persons and in these past few years I have not been so well acquainted with the renters." O. L. Stamm has been in charge of the property since about 1914, when he was a member of the firm Ellis & Stamm. He has not announced what will be done with the lot, when work of cleaning it off is completed, but neighbors to the former building say it will be "another filling station." So ends the history of one of Pittsburg's most useful buildings. - The Pittsburg Daily Headlight, 13 January 1934.

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