Very early in Missouri history, certain government owned lands were set aside for the exclusive use of rural primary schools. Early settlers rented these lands until land sales began in 1822. It was specified by law that at least one school should be started in each township as soon as practical and necessary. Rural schools built on these lands were “subscription schools”, the teacher being paid $1 per month for each student, and would receive his or her room and board among their families. It was purely a private enterprise, the teacher taking the risk of getting enough to pay for his time and the community at large providing a school house, which was also used for Sunday preaching and other public meetings of the neighborhood. Classes consisted of a few disciplines – reading, spelling, arithmetic – and writing was accomplished with a goose quill pen, with pokeberry juice for ink.
In 1876, a site for a Lafayette County rural school east of Lexington was purchased from Young Ewing Hicklin (b.1842 d.1912). Young was the son of James Hicklin (b. 1795 d. 1875), one of Lexington’s first settlers; James bought the land on which the Hicklin School stands in 1825. In 1877, a new one-room school building was finished at a cost of $379. The rural community that was served by School District No. 1 (later No. 11) named the building the Hicklin School. This was a one room building, with four windows on each side and a door in the south end. Double desks and seats were on either side of the classroom, with painted blackboards and a place for wraps. The windows were painted in order to keep the students focused on their studies.
In 1914, a “modern” Hicklin school, using a plan developed by the Felt architectural firm, was erected on the site of the original Hicklin School at a cost of $1,600. This was the second school to be erected on the present site.
The School Day
The first teacher in the new Hicklin school was Bertha Sue Larkin, who returned in the 1950’s to teach again. Ms. Larkin’s starting pay in 1914 was $100 per month; her last pay in 1956 was $184 per month. The solitary teacher was responsible for teaching large (up to 45 students) classes simultaneously to students of varying age groups, supervising recess, monitoring students for cleanliness, accidents, and mental health, keeping the schoolhouse warm in the winter, and anything else during the school day. The teachers were primarily single young women. Male neighbors assisted with heavy work around the school while older students helped younger students with their class work.
The Hicklin School had a term of eight months, September through April. The typical school day was from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Children would walk or ride their ponies to school. Formal activities started with a song from The Little Golden Book of Songs and the pledge of Allegiance. There were six grades to be taught, so each class was short. After a fifteen or twenty minute class, students continued to work in their seats. Instructions were on the blackboard because there was no time to repeat them. Homework was always expected and included math, spelling and reading. Somehow the teacher met with everyone and reviewed the various subjects as required by state law.
For lunch, the students brought food from home in lunch buckets or wrapped in wax paper. In the winter, students volunteered ingredients to be brought the next day to make a hot dish. Before lunch, a prayer was offered by the teacher or a student. During lunch recess in good weather, all the children participated in softball, and played on the swings, teeter totters and with the tether ball. In the winter, on snowy days, the children brought their sleds to sleigh ride. When recess was over, the teacher would ring her hand bell to summon the children. For emergencies, one raised a hand for permission to go outside to use the privy.
The final event of the school year was the last day of school. A covered dish meal and a program put on by the students were the highlights. Then farewells were said with wishes for a happy summer, and the children were off.
In 1927, Alma Davis Hicklin organized the first rural Lafayette County PTA at Hicklin School with a charter membership of 29 patrons. Throughout its history, the school was blessed with able teachers and relatively low teacher turnover. Perhaps this is why the school was rated “Superior” in 1920–1922 and rated “First” in 1927–1946.
In April 1937, the Hicklin School Rhythm Band, under the leadership of student John R. (“Jack”) Hicklin, Jr. and accompanied on piano by Mrs. George McKean, was awarded first place in the town bands in the Class A Division of Rural Schools. Miss Ethel Ritter was the teacher. They had plenty of competition, as there were eight other bands in the Class A group. The two selections played were “Beautiful Blue Danube” and “The Glow Worm”. The following words were sung to the chorus of “The Glow Worm”: “Dear Hicklin School, We love you. We’ll ever be true. Education is our goal. That makes us strive each day.” The Rhythm Band received the princely sum of $7.50 as their prize.
The Hicklin School continued operations until May 29, 1957, when reorganization of the district was approved by a vote of 1,314 to 330. This consolidation created a new district Number 5 in Lexington proper, which consisted of the former Lexington, Burns, Dover, Elm Park, Hicklin, Locust Grove, Maple Glen, Marshall and Slusher school districts. At that time, the Hicklin family purchased the Hicklin School from the county, and it became single family home until the early 1960’s. The building has remained vacant since.
In 1996, the first round of exterior renovations to the Hicklin School were completed and a reunion of many of the students who attended Hicklin School was held there on June 15, 1996. In 2004, the Hicklin School was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Interior renovations were completed in early 2006.
Missouri has many one room country schools scattered across its landscape, but only a few remain standing in their original state as a reminder of how young children were educated before school buses and elementary schools. The Hicklin School, constructed in 1914, stands as a good and relatively intact local example of an architecturally designed plan book building. We believe It also the only remaining example of a Felt’s one-room school house in Lafayette County on its original site. A model rural school, it was designed by J. H. Felt and Company, Kansas City, MO and Mason City, IA . For a brief period of Missouri history, beginning around 1910, Felt’s plan was the only one-room design included in the annual Missouri Report of Public Schools.
The Hicklin School is a frame, cross-gabled, one-story school house surrounded by fields under cultivation, just as it was when it was built. It has walls of traditional white clapboard, a roof of charcoal gray asphalt shingles, and rests on its original foundation of poured concrete. The building’s footprint is essentially square, although there is a vestibule to enter the basement on the east wall. A cistern is to the right of the front steps. The modestly flared roofline becomes a pent roof across the gable faces and there is a centrally-placed brick chimney. There is a round-head louvered window centered in the gable.
Unlike the vernacular one-room American schoolhouse, where the front door opens directly into the classroom, Hicklin School has a vestibule that serves as a sort of buffer zone against inclement weather. The vestibule has a narrow coat rack with hooks along the west wall, and a sink and hand pump were on the east wall. The pump is original to the school and has maintained its place in the new bathroom. Before the sink was installed, the children would use their cups to dip their water from a central bucket. Pine chair railing encircles the main classroom, vestibule and library. Ceilings are twelve feet high.
The classroom was oriented from east to west, with the teacher’s desk facing west from its position in front of the windowless east wall. The original slate blackboard extends across the entire east wall. Six large windows are centered in the north façade. This arrangement conforms to the theory offered by education experts in the 1890’s that light should fall over the left shoulder of pupils and come from one primary source, preferably the north, to prevent eye strain from cross-lighting. There is an opening in the south wall of the classroom for the chimney of a pot bellied wood stove to attach to the masonry chimney. The school desks were arranged in six rows, with the younger children seating closest to the heat source.
The library is the second largest room in the school; it has its original white pine bookcases and is now a kitchen. The partial basement was added in 1923. There was a cobb house where fuel for the stove was stored, and a boy’s privy on the northeast side of the building; however, only the concrete foundation of the cobb house remains. The girl’s double-seat outhouse still exists.
Many thanks go out to those former students of the Hicklin School for providing information for this pamphlet. They include Eileen Hicklin Belcher, Virginia Hicklin Thieman, Robert Catron, Dorothy Luehrman Neiman, Katherine Marie Luehrman Dryer, Sarah Drake Olario, Margaret White Seek and Walter Luehrman. It was a pleasure sharing their memories of the life long friends made, of community activities hosted and of the challenges of elementary school.