Woodland was once a one-room school in the Fort Osage School District before its 1958 conversion into the district's Gragg Administrative Center. Located on the high school campus at what is now U.S 24 and Missouri 7, the spotlight will be focused on this historic structure July 10, with an open house from 3 to 5 p.m. commemorating the 60th anniversary of the district's central office building.
“The community is cordially invited to take a walk back in history as we celebrate how the Fort Osage School District began,” says Stephanie Smith, director of public relations, noting the original wood-frame Woodland School opened in 1895, was destroyed by fire in 1919 and was replaced by today's brick structure.
As Stephanie and two other Fort Osage supporters – Jerry D. Brown, curator of Fort Osage Virtual Museum, and Richard Thompson, retired Fort Osage educator – recently met in the conference room of the remodeled administrative center to discuss the upcoming celebration, Stephanie noted: “This is literally the foundation and the building (you see). We just added on and changed the walls a little bit. When it was Woodland, it was used for teaching, and its last purpose before becoming the administrative center was as a kindergarten center where all the kindergartners went.”
According to 1958 board minutes, the decision was made to remodel Woodland and get it ready for the 1959-60 school year, Jerry recalls, adding: “Based on board action in July 1958, the Woodland one-room school building became the administrative offices of the Fort Osage School District. Prior to that, the board met in the rear of the Bank of Buckner to organize the one-room schools into becoming the Fort Osage School District.
“Jerry is the curator of our virtual museum, and we have sought to remember the history of the 16 one-room schools that made up the Fort Osage School District,” Richard explains, adding: “(Woodland) is the only one of those 100 country schools that is still being used for education. The others have been burned down, torn down, destroyed. … and a couple of the 100 schools were used as residences. But (Woodland) is the only one that has continued to be used for education.”
“We also have good news that the name of the (district's) new early childhood center is Woodland Early Childhood Center. So the name of this one-room school house will live on,” Stephanie says. “It's a continuation of history.”
Ask Stephanie what stands out the most to her about the district she serves and she'll tell you: most people don't know its rich history.
“So when you tell them the history that this building use to be a one-room schoolhouse and has been around for ages … and what it looked like before it it was built into the campus it is today, I think it starts to intrigue them on the history of the school district," she says.
Woodland School was described as having the shape of a boxcar with three or four windows on the east and west sides. The only door was on the south side of the white-painted building, where there was a topless concrete porch.
Richard Thompson says the outward walls of the old school are still visible. He notes that U.S. 24, the road to Woodland school, was only two lanes when the school first opened. It ended at the flashing lights at Twyman Road. From there, you existed onto a gravel parking lot in front of the school.
A natural spring was across the road from Woodland, and Richard recalls the older kids took turns crossing the road and returning with buckets of cool drinking water. That ended around 1936, when the district put in a hand-dug cistern with a charoal filter for drinking water.
Richard, principal of Buckner Elementary School when he retired, says there is joy working in the district and in seeing people who grew up in the district – as he did – stay and work in there.
“That's part of what makes for such a rich tradition in our district, and that is what makes Fort Osage an investment in the community.”
Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.