The Westboro School in 1994, shortly before its closure.
By Matthew Barnes
This issue of “School days gone by” will feature the Westboro school. The only district in the county to exist as a rural, independent, consolidated, and reorganized district at one time or another, it existed much longer than the other consolidated districts of Atchison County. As a result, there is much more subject matter to cover. Therefore I’ve decided to divide the history of Westboro schools into two parts. I hope you enjoy the history of Westboro schools!
The first school at Westboro was a subscription school, started in 1881 by a Mrs. Howard in the upper room of the Morse Hotel. Like most town districts, Westboro started off with a rural district status. In 1882 two men by the name of Raynolds and Grainger built a two-story framed building containing two classrooms at a cost of $1,500. This building was located behind the old Christian Church at the top of Main Street. It was destroyed by a tornado on July 13, 1883, and classes were temporarily held in a building downtown while a new school was built. It was reported that not a single board from the old school was ever recovered. The new building, a grand structure, contained four classrooms, two cloakrooms, and a small library. For the first few years, only the bottom floor was finished due to a lack of funds.
A high school was established at Westboro in 1897 with Professor J.E. Bell as the first teacher. The first graduating class consisted of Bessie Johnson, Effie Turner, Katie Smith, Myrtle Duncan, Mariah Duncan, Anna Bowers, Ed Frazer, and Clark McCall. High school classes were held upstairs in the building. The first mention of sports being held at Westboro is in 1910 when the Westboro basketball team lost to Rock Port. Early basketball games were held in the City Hall or an outdoor court. At some point, the Wildcat mascot and the colors orange and black were adopted.
In 1916, there was agitation in the area for consolidation. The proposed consolidated district included Westboro, Enterprise, Tarkio Valley, Cyclone, and Walden Grove. On September 28, 1916, the Westboro C-4 school district came into existence with 59 votes in favor to 47 against. Members of the first Board of Directors for the new district were J.W. Peck, J.H. Flack, G.E. Peck, G.W. Daniel, J.L. Filson, P. Utter, and W.H. Shough. H. N. McCall was hired as the first superintendent. The first priority of the new board was to construct a new modern school building. Later that year a bond issue was passed totaling $19,000 for the construction of a modern school building, and a building was designed by H.W. Underhill & Co. On January 26, 1917, the district purchased nine acres, known as the Utter pasture on the north end of town for the site of the new school. On February 1 bids were received for the construction of the building. The contract was awarded to W.S. Weeks Construction for $15,021 and to W.D. Reed for $4,475 for the heating system.
The construction of the building had many obstacles. The contractor failed to complete the building by the August 15 deadline. A 15-day extension was granted, but the school still wasn’t complete by that time. The third floor was complete so high school classes began there on September 3, and the lower grades continued to meet in the old building. The building wasn’t fully complete until the beginning of 1919, but all records indicate that all classes were being held in the building by mid-1918. Other issues included the installation of the boiler system. Due to World War I, many materials were not readily available, therefore, there was no heat for the first few months of school.
The initial bond covered the expenses associated with the construction of the school. However, they did not cover the cost of equipping the new school. In May 1917, another bond was proposed to equip the new building. The bond issue failed by a large margin, so therefore the school was not fully equipped right away. The district made do with older desks and outdated textbooks for several years, and new supplies were purchased as money allowed.
By 1920, Westboro boasted the finest school building in the county, and had the first rural school bus route in the county. Westboro differed from other consolidated districts in that they continued to operate the rural schools. However, grades 7-8 were transported to the central school along with the high school grades. This kept the class sizes in the district consistently around twenty and allowed for a larger variety of classes for the seventh and eighth grades. Miss Mary England replaced Mr. McCall as superintendent that year. Home Economics and manual training were added to the courses offered in the fall of 1920.
In 1923, an 11-man football team was organized and a football-baseball field was constructed to the north of the school. An activities committee comprised of the superintendent, principal, a board member, and a community member to oversee school functions was also formed at that time. In 1923 Mr. Schiller Schroggs was hired as superintendent, and band and glee club were added during his tenure. Westboro saw a Mr. Crosswhite and a Mr. Byrant serve as superintendent in 1924 and 1925 respectively.
Prior to 1925, students were transported to town on wagons. However, in 1925 six new Ford buses were purchased to haul the students to town coming within a half mile of all pupils’ homes. This allowed the rural schools to be closed and all students were transported to the central school. In 1926, Mr. Leroy Nelson was hired as superintendent at a salary of $1,800. In December of 1927, a fire broke out in the furnace room. The girls’ restroom, 1st-grade room, and typewriting room were badly damaged. Those classes were briefly held in other rooms in the building while they were repaired.
It is said that there wasn’t much discipline at WHS in the early 1930s. One year for a prank, a cow belonging to the Sipes family was stolen and painted green. It was then led up the three flights of stairs and left in the superintendent’s office. Unfortunately, the cow licked off some of the paint and died, leaving both Mr. Sipes and Superintendent Nelson irate. Another shenanigan that happened around that time began when a student unlocked the study hall window on Friday. That night he along with several other boys returned to the school. The bricks on the southeast corner of the building were mismatched, creating a series of holes that allowed one to scale the building. Upon entry, the students took the typewriters and hid them under the stage in the basement. The typewriters were returned to the room when the students finally fessed up Monday afternoon. In 1935, Mr. Nelson assumed the superintendency at Browning, Missouri, and was replaced by Charles Rupert, formerly superintendent at Rushville, Missouri. Upon arrival, Mr. Rupert became determined to restore order at the school. He reportedly stated, “This school will be like a country club no longer!” Westboro did not field a girls’ basketball team during Mr. Rupert’s tenure because he deemed it “indecent.”
While the gym in the basement of the main building was used for practices, most basketball games were held in the city hall due to the many challenges the gym provoked. The free throw circles and the center circle overlapped, further, there was an I-beam that obstructed the basket. Those issues coupled with the lack of space for spectators frustrated Wildcat fans and visiting teams alike. The football program was reportedly disbanded at some point, and Westboro did not field a team for a number of years. A team was again organized in 1935, but with sparse equipment. George Laur, who played on the 1935 team stated, “The shoulder pads didn’t do much good.” Westboro also joined a six-man Northwest Missouri football conference that year, and reportedly had a great deal of success over the years, winning several district championships. Westboro player Kenny Nuckolls was chosen six-man All-American by “American Boy” magazine in 1938. The $19,000 bonds for the construction of the school were also paid off at that time.
The year 1938 was a big year for Westboro C-4. Bleachers were installed on the hill to the west of the ball field, and lighting was installed on the athletic field. A track team was also established at that time, practicing on the streets of Westboro. Mr. Rupert was hired as superintendent at Coburg, Iowa, in 1941. He was replaced by Charles Konarska of Tennant, Iowa. On April 10, 1941, the school board voted to place a bond issue on the ballot for $15,000 which would pay for an addition to the school. The addition was to include a gymnatorium, a music room, and a vocational agriculture space. The proposition apparently failed as no addition was ever made. Heating was also installed in the school buses that year much to the joy of students
Mr. Konarska left Westboro in 1944 to assume the superintendency at Garden Grove, Iowa, and was replaced by Jonah Long. Under Mr. Long’s enthusiastic leadership many improvements were made. A hot lunch program was established at a cost of 15 cents per student. A committee of community members was organized to can fruits and vegetables for the school lunches. A home economics class was also started. In 1949, a petition was started to hold an election to vote on bonds to the amount of $40,000 for an addition to the Westboro school. The addition was to include a gymatorium and music room. Plans also called to convert the old gym into a kitchen, cafeteria, and an additional classroom along with installing a home ec room on the third floor. The bond passed overwhelmingly with 130 for and 26 against.
Due to increased spending by the federal government during World War II, the United States was experiencing inflation. The price of the addition was nearly three times that of the addition proposed in 1941 and was slightly smaller in size. The bid for the addition was received on June 13 and was $42,379.23 which alone exceeded the budget. Another $10,000 was voted on at that time which covered the completion of the building and the installation of the home economics room. The renovation of the old gym would not take place for a number of years due to a lack of funds. Several fundraisers were held to equip the new gym, and there was reportedly much excitement at the first game held there in the fall of 1951.
(To be continued)