There was a time when there were thousands of one-room schoolhouses active around the country.
Nowadays, there are only a handful of one-room schools in operation, but a photo exhibit is now on display at the Homestead National Monument of America to recall the importance of one-room schools.
Homestead’s Education Center will feature the exhibit from now until spring. The exhibit, as well as a film festival hosted by Homestead about one-room schools, are part of preparations leading up to a conference for one-room schoolhouse enthusiasts this summer.
The exhibit offers a collection of photos of one-room schoolhouses across the United States. Taken by photographer Gloria Hawkins, the photos tell the story of a bygone era.
Years ago, Hawkins decided to try and photograph all of the one-room schools in her home state of Kansas—where about 9,000 old school buildings remain—but she expanded her search to include the rest of the United States.
“She has traveled much of the country,” said Homestead park historian, Robert Marcel. “Visiting these one room schools and snapping photographs, trying to capture the feeling of these buildings.”
While the schoolhouses in the pictures no longer serve as schools, a lot of them have been re-purposed into homes or even businesses, Marcel said. There are many of the old buildings left, he said, but there are a lot of them that are in need of preservation.
Preservation is the main focus of the June convention of the Country School Association of America, a national organization made up of educators, school owners and one-room school enthusiasts, Marcel said.
Marcel attended last year’s conference in New London, N.H., and this year, the Homestead will be hosting the annual conference along with Southeast Community College in Beatrice.
The conventions feature talks on a wide variety of historical subjects, Marcel said, including preservation and conservation of the school buildings. They have speakers, storytellers, documentaries and hands-on demonstrations, he said, and it will also feature a bus tour of southeast Nebraska one-room schoolhouses.
The Homestead Monument is an ideal place for the conference, he said, because of the Freeman School that’s a part of the park. The Freeman School was in use from 1872 up until 1967 and became a part of the monument in 1970.
Even though it hasn’t been used as a school for more than 50 years, the Freeman School still promotes education among its visitors, Marcel said.
The school is a key resource for the monument, he said, and stressed the importance of education to the homesteaders and settlers who were heading west in the 1800s and early 1900s.
“We feel very fortunate that we're able to bring this event into our community here and to be able to share these pictures with everyone who comes by, and learn about how school used to be done,” he said.
The one-room schoolhouse photo exhibit is open to the public during park hours, as is the Freeman School.
“The overall experience is very familiar to just about anybody who's gone to school before,” Marcel said. “It's a real American story, educating your children, teaching them to read and write.”