ABOVE: Melanie Hull, one of three schoolmarms, enjoys being part of living history at the Lanesfield School. Photos courtesy of Kiesa Kay
Special to The Gardner News
The sun shone brightly on Lanesfield School, and the schoolmarm’s dark skirt slid through the grass with a sweet hiss. Melanie Hull, one of three schoolmarms at the one-room schoolhouse, looked back with a smile.
“When you know the history of your area, you have a better appreciation of why things are the way they are, how they came to be,” Hull said. “You can judge history harshly by today’s standards, but when we begin to understand that people share the same struggles through time, it makes us better people, too.”
Lanesfield School, built in 1869, served rural farm families through 1963, and has been restored to its 1904 glory. The school is open from 1 to 5 pm on Fridays and Saturdays throughout the year for tours. By appointment they often offer an Escape Room, “Scandal in the Schoolhouse.” For $20 each for three to eight guests or $50 for two, visitors discover why the teacher has gone missing.
Three women with a penchant for history take turns in the role – Jessica Doyle, Brooke Leisinger, and Melanie Hull. When being schoolteachers, they keep a stern demeanor, but they thoroughly enjoy the work.
“I like to see our guests’ excitement as they learn about local history,” Hull said.
The school also offers Living History field trips. School children in third and fourth grade can attend class as if they were students at the school, and kindergarteners through second grade do a Farm Family program, with farm chores as well as school.
“In the one room schoolhouse, students learned to read or write cursive,” Hull said. “It’s important now, if we want to read our grandparents’ letters or diaries. It’s too easy in these busy times to lose touch with the legacies of our own family history, which is so valuable.”
Hull’s love of history took flight when she studied abroad in Jerusalem, because seeing history come to life meant more to her than sitting in a classroom. She does teach history at Johnson County Community College, but it’s the real-life learning that means most to her.
“This whole schoolhouse is an artifact,” Hull said. “People usually can’t touch artifacts, but here you can come inside and see what it feels like to live in this special place. I really enjoy it when former students and teachers visit.”
On a recent weekend, Geraldine Roberts, who taught at the school in 1948, visited Lanesfield. She taught there one year.
Many of the teachers taught only one year, because when they married, they were expected to leave their jobs and take care of their homes and families, Hull said. Men who taught got paid more, because they were expected to be providing for their families. It was a different time.
“Kids could leave to work on the farms, and then come back and pick up where they left off,” Hull said. “Education had to be individualized more. Two things are lacking today: respect for teachers and respect for the idea of education. Then, students had to take responsibility for their own learning, and it was considered a great privilege to get an education. Now, it sometimes is seen as an obligation.”
Lanesfield School, at 18745 Dillie Road in Edgerton, sits in an area steeped in history. The town used to have 100 residents, stores, a hotel, and a post office. As Kansas became a state, the battle for whether it would be a free or slave state grew fierce, and the territory covered by the school grounds stood in the thick of the conflict.
The school got built to last in 1869, and Lanesfield was a mail stop on the Santa Fe Trail, Hull said, but in 1870, most people in the community packed up and moved to Gardner or Edgerton, because the railroad built its station there. The Dillie family remained, and the school house now is the only public building still standing from Lanesfield’s heyday.
Hull told the story of when 1400 to 1600 members of the Missouri militia came from the Westport area to one side of Bull Creek, greatly outnumbering the local forces of 200 to 400. Those men, led by James Lane, circled the ridgetop for hours, to make it look like they had more force than they had. They even carried a stovepipe aloft to make it look like a cannon. To their great relief, the Missouri militia got spooked by their shenanigans, and left the area without firing a shot.
“There’s so much history here,” Hull said. “It’s truly fun.”