|City/Town: • Topeka|
|Location Class: • School|
|Year Built: • 1907 | Year Abandoned: • 1954|
|Historic Designation: • African American Heritage Site|
|Status: • Abandoned|
|Photojournalist: • Emily Cowan|
The history of the McKinley school and property dates back to 1879, before it was McKinley at all. Starting out as a small district one-room schoolhouse with about 30-40 students attending and one teacher. Then in 1882 in order to progress with the growing attendance three wings were added to creat four classrooms and the name ‘Lane School’ was picked out for the building. Professor S.G. Watkins was given the role as the first principle of the growing student body. At the beginning of its existence it only included grades up to sixth grade, students would then transfer to the nearby Grant or Quincy schools for their continued education.
McKinley Elementary School
Around 1905 a petition from students, parents, and teachers went around to build a grander and more accommodating school. Thus became McKinley Elementary School, construction was underway by Lundgren & Carlson Contractors from 1906-07 and finished at a final cost of $24,922, allowing for students to begin classes in the new building in 1908. The new building had nine classrooms, two floors and boasted around 175 students, five teachers a principal and a janitor as of 1914. It was one of four all-Black elementary schools in Topeka including, Monroe, Washington and Buchanan.
It was brought to the attention of the board in July 1914 that two of the rooms in the school had never been floored and that there were no sewers in the school district making sanitary conditions unacceptable. The school board took this into consideration and approved modern toilet facilities to be installed in the building. The Board of Education then a few years later took bids to construct a sewer system from the school to the North Topeka river. Around the ’20s attendance continued to grow to reach around 230 with ten teachers. The playground was too small and the classroom sizes were too crowded. Another addition of a few rooms was added to try and relieve some of the overflow of students enrolled.
In 1941, Harrison Caldwell became the Superintendent of Topeka’s four all-Black elementary schools, including Mckinley. He was known as a hard worker, very involved in the community and schools and doing his job well. At the time he took over he oversaw almost thirty teachers 8..land around nine hundred students. Linda & Terry Brown of the famous Brown v. Board of Education case and the Sumner School attended Mckinley Elementary School for a while when their father was assigned to the nearby St. Mark AME Church. The school was highly reputable in their education, morals, and the students they put into the world.
Former student Carolyn Campbell said with pride, “I am thankful to share my journey that began as a proud product of segregation. Of all four Black elementary schools (Monroe, Buchanan, Washington and McKinley), my home away from home was McKinley Elementary in North Topeka. At McKinley, we were educated, nurtured, and valued. Every day we stepped through the doors, well-educated, strict but caring Black teachers stressed excellence. I hope I am making it clear there were high expectations, our teachers saw potential in each of us. Ethel Williams Barbour was our principal, she had a beautiful smile and nurturing spirit. Mr. McDonald was our kind custodian, and my next-door neighbor, Geraldine Harmon, was my second-grade teacher. My mama had to tell me that I couldn’t call her Jerry at school. One of the life skills we were taught was saving money. There was an actual bank modeled after real banks, and we could open a savings account.”
Palmer Blackwell gave his account of relying on teachers for more than education, “The teacher Mrs. Monroe would come to my house and pick me up and take me to school,” he said.
During the flood of 1951 many students were transferred to the Buchanon Elementary School as North Topeka had gotten hit pretty badly. After the landmark decision of the Supreme Court in the Brown v. Board of Education to desegregate many schools closed in Topeka. McKinley was closed shortly after at the end of 1954 due to Topeka’s new neighborhood school district plans. Unlike the Monroe & Buchanan Elementary School schools that were able to be restored into functional facilities once again. With Monroe becoming the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site ran by the National Park Service. And Buchanan being renovated to become the Housing and Credit Counseling, Inc. facility. McKinley and Sumner, the school at the center of the Brown v. Board of Education case, sit and further deteriorate. The McKinley school is and has been used as storage for many years but according to the owner has suffered at the hands of a few break-ins where vandals have done stolen and damaged items inside.
Article by AKS Photojournalist Emily Cowan
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