Amidst the cornfields and prairies of northeast Kansas, a limestone-clad schoolhouse sits on a dirt road across from an old farmhouse. In the morning, its bell rings loud and clear across the fields, reminding students to show up to class on time or else earn the sharp rebuke of their teacher.
Granted, “students” to this historic school usually show up today wearing jeans and t-shirts, pulling up in 21st-century cars rather than wooden carts or on horseback, and tapping away on smartphones instead of slates. But stepping through the doorway of Lanesfield School takes them back 100 years to a school day circa 1904.
The original Lanesfield Schoolhouse was built in 1869, replacing the original log schoolhouse. The school and the town of Lanesfield sat along the Santa Fe Trail, which brought plenty of activity to the little town.
At its height, Lanesfield boasted a population in the triple digits (impressive for a tiny Kansas town of the time) and had three churches and a two-story hotel. However, the new Santa Fe Railroad came through and pulled the population away to nearby Edgerton, and Lanesfield’s boomtown status fizzled out.
However, the schoolhouse endured, providing education to the rural farming community. The school taught all grades simultaneously, from 1st to 8th; sometimes, the older children helped teach the younger. 1904 was a hallmark year for the little school. A year before, lightning struck the schoolhouse and caused a fire that destroyed a good portion of the building, leading to extensive renovation.
This unfortunate accident ended up being a boon for future researchers, as extensive records of repair work, blueprints, and lists of purchased supplies provided a snapshot of the school when it reopened in 1904.
The school remained in use until it closed in 1963, having welcomed generations of students through its doors for nearly a century. It reopened in 1967 as a museum operated by the Johnson County government. In 1988, the Lanesfield School was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Visiting the schoolhouse today recalls all the hallmarks of early 20th-century education. Visitors sit in the school’s original desks, reminded by a strict schoolmarm or schoolmaster to keep their feet flat on the floor and their backs straight.
Lessons are conducted in spelling, penmanship, arithmetic, geography, and Kansas state history with an emphasis on memorization and answers sometimes written out on slates. Penmanship lessons use real ink and blotter paper, and cursive is mandatory.
If a visitor acts out of turn, they might earn a sharp ruler strike to the corner of their desk. If they’re especially disruptive, they may be forced to stand with their nose pressed to a chalk circle on the chalkboard—Lanesfield records never showed any use of the infamous dunce hat.
After a hard day of learning, students can explore the nearby visitor’s center, covering the history of the one-room schoolhouse in Kansas. Visitors may feel relieved at how far education has come in a century, or they might leave with a sense of nostalgia for a long-gone way of life.
Know Before You Go
Lanesfield Historic Site is open to the public on the second Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.