Farmers Branch holds claim to the first organized school in Dallas County. The first classes were held in 1846 in the Methodist church. This school was built around 1900 near the intersection of Valley View and Dennis Lane. Around 1915, the T-shaped building was split into three parts. This one-room portion was relocated to Bee Street in Farmers Branch and used as a home. In 1985, the building was moved to the Historical Park and restoration was completed in 1991. Educational artifacts are used in the structure to interpret a turn-of-the-century, one-room school.
School House - The Story
The first school classes ever held in the Peters Colony were held in early 1846 right here in Farmers Branch. Students attended class in the Methodist Church and were taught by Thomas C. Williams, the first teacher in Farmers Branch. The second school was taught by Mrs. Mary Ann Ryland West in her home in fall 1846. Many years later, Mrs. West’s daughter Alice remembered the school as “built of logs with puncheon floors and puncheon seats without backs. We used slates which we held on our laps. We hung our wraps and slates on nails in the wall. We had a fireplace and drinking bucket and a common dipper, but each family had their own cups with their lunch.” Members of the community felt the West home was not in a central location and built a new log school house alongside Rawhide Creek. A.J. Downing was employed as the teacher. These early schools were private, sponsored by citizens who joined together to hire a teacher and build a school, paying the teacher’s salary through the students’ tuition. The state constitution of 1876 provided funding for public or free schools and a public school was in operation by the late 1800s.
The school house here at the the Historical Park was originally located near the intersection of Valley View and Dennis and built sometime between 1900 and 1910. In 1915, a new brick school house was constructed that boasted of an auditorium and six classrooms.
Before the new brick school could be built, the old school had to be moved. It was divided into three sections. The part you see here at the Park was used as a residence on Bee Street and moved to the Historical Park in 1985 to be restored to a one-room school appearance. The other section of roughly the same size was used by the First Baptist Church of Farmers Branch and torn down in 1980. The third section, a porch, was used as an animal shed on a local farm and later destroyed.
Unlike today’s schools, several grade levels were taught in the same room and generally the number of children in each grade level would vary with local populations. In two-story schools, the higher level grades were taught upstairs, hence the term “high school.” Older children were expected to oversee the “low school” if the teacher was occupied upstairs.
In early Texas schools portions of the walls were painted black so they could be written on with chalk and/or the students had their own personal slates at their desks. In rural Texas, younger students primarily used the slates and blackboards. Older students getting ready to leave school in a year or two were allowed paper and ink. This was mainly due to economic reasons. Paper and ink were a luxury which many parents could not afford.
Children sat at single or double desks and were taught the basics: reading, writing, spelling, history, and arithmetic but many times the curriculum included rhetoric, penmanship and elocution.
The most commonly used books were Webster’s Blueback Speller and McGuffey’s Readers. It was common to have a recitation bench in the front of the room, where children recited poems or speeches, multiplication tables and other memory work. School terms might vary from seven to nine months, sandwiched in between fall harvest and spring planting. Like the church, schools were also used for community activities like quilting bees, spelling bees, holiday celebrations, parties, and political rallies.
A typical school day was 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with morning and afternoon recesses of 15 minutes each and an hour period for lunch. Older students were given the responsibility of bringing in water, carrying in coal or wood for the stove. The younger students would be given responsibilities according to their size and gender such as cleaning the black board (chalkboard), taking the erasers outside for dusting plus other duties that they were capable of doing.
Transportation for children who lived too far to walk was often provided by horse-drawn kid hack or sulky, which could only travel a limited distance in a reasonable amount of time each morning and evening, or students might ride a horse, these being put out to pasture in an adjoining paddock during the day. In more recent times, students rode bicycles.
The vast majority of one-room schools in the United States are no longer used as schools and have either been torn down or converted for other purposes. However, in some rural communities, including among the Amish, one-room or two-room schools are still used, primarily for elementary education, with students graduating to local or regional middle and high schools.
The School is interpreted as a one-room school from 1900-1915. During these years, Farmers Branch teachers included: Minni Moore (1908-1909), Fannie Baskett (1908-1909), Ednah Andrews (1909-1910), Mabel Killough (1910-1911), Mr. Linville (1914) and Miss Simpson (1914). The average monthly salary for a teacher in Texas about this time was approximately $53. Teachers had to follow certain rules, as determined by their community.