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MEMORIES IN FOCUS: A single room with a singular place in history years ago

MARION HISTORICAL MUSEUM PHOTO

This undated photo shows the original one-room Dobbs School, located in what is now the swimming beach area of Marion Reservoir. The first teacher there, in 1873, was Josephine Colton of Peabody, who, as was the custom in those days, left after she married George Moulton of Marion in 1875.

EMPORIA STATE UNIVERSITY PHOTO

Here’s what the relocated and restored Dobbs School, moved stone by stone to Emporia, looks like today at the National Teachers Hall of Fame on the campus of Emporia State University. It was donated to the university by Mr. and Mrs. Harvey Kruse, reopened in 1969, and now operates as a museum.

For 78 years, children growing up near what’s now Marion Dam were schooled in one of the state’s few surviving one-room schoolhouses.

Dobbs School, built in 1873, six years before Gale Township was carved out of Centre Township, served upward of 40 students annually until it closed in 1951 and schoolhouse equipment was auctioned off.

It was the sixth of what eventually were 130 schools in the county, preceded only by schools in Marion, Antelope, two near Florence, and one a mile north at Wren.

The cut-limestone Dobbs School, built on land submerged to form the swimming beach of Marion Reservoir, remained there until 1965, when it was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Harvey Kruse and relocated, stone by stone, to the National Teachers Hall of Fame at Emporia State University.

Reconstruction of the school was completed in 1969, and regular tours of the refurbished classroom began being offered in 1991.

The school is named for William B. Dobbs (1840-1908), a Pennsylvania-born agribusiness entrepreneur on whose land it was build — possibly by his own hands.

A noted stone mason, Dobbs came to Marion County with his wife, Susan (1838-1925), sister of prominent Marion attorney Lewis F. Keller Sr. (1844-1918).

In 1879, Dobbs operated a large tree nursery, with 800 to 1,000 apple trees in 25 varieties. He sold out a large supply of soft maples, many of which were transplanted along Marion streets.

In 1880 he was contracted to lay stone sidewalks along N. 2nd St. in Marion.

In 1882, he hired crews to quarry stone ballast for railroads in the county.

In 1886, he was the owner and stone mason for a large warehouse on the south hill in Marion, from which he sold coal, hay, and feed.

By 1887, he had become one of the county largest hay balers and exporters, 10 of whom were selling hay primarily to New Mexico farmers for $17 a ton (about $460 today).

Two years later, he bragged his was the largest of the 10 businesses, with annual hay sales totaling $23,650 ($660,000 today).

“After furnishing us with all our hay and grazing and over $80,000 worth ($2.2 million today) of hay to spare, who will say that there is no money in the grass of Marion County,” the Marion Record quoted him as saying.

Later that year, he relocated to Lost Springs, where he had built another large warehouse that later was destroyed along with tons of hay in what was thought to be an arson fire.

After years of wrangling over losses from that fire with a local bank, which ultimately failed in the Panic of 1893, Dobbs relocated to Niotaze in southeast Kansas’ Chautauqua County.

In 1893, he purchased a 40-acre farm there to handle bees and poultry. He died 15 years later, shortly after a return visit to Marion, and was buried in Marion Cemetery.

The school bearing his name wasn’t just a place for children of all ages to receive their first years of education from a lone teacher, typically a recent high school graduate.

It also was a community center. Settlements within the county often were referred to not by town or church names (Strassburg, in this case) but by the district number of the local school (District No. 6).

In February 1877, the school was one of the anchor points for a county wolf hunt. Three months later, it was the site of fraternal Grange meetings for farmers.

In January 1879, it provided a home for a fund-raising “mitten party” in which ladies would make a pair of mittens, keep one, put the other in an envelope, then watch as gentlemen arrived, purchased envelopes at the door for 50 cents (about $13 today), and were paired up with the maker of its match for supper, beginning “at early candle light.”

Two months later, a circuit-riding minister was conducting services in the school.

In 1901, Dobbs School was joined by the Wren, Hutchins, and Belton Schools as comprising Rural Route 1, the first rural free delivery of mail in Marion County. Route 2, established at the same time, went north and east of town, primarily to the Youngtown area. Boxes were constructed at the schools for farm families to pick up their mail.

Dobbs School, for which its namesake helped buy furnishings in 1883, was noted for its annual Christmas tree ceremonies and for concerts by students and Canada’s community band.

In 1904, Fred Spicer of Marion conducted one of the school’s more unusual entertainment events. Listeners were invited to hear recordings played on a new-fangled invention he had purchased, a phonograph.

“He has a fine instrument and 125 good pieces,” the Marion Headlight, later to merge with the Record, wrote at the time. “The small admission of 15 cents ($4.33 today) was charged, and no one regretted it after hearing such music.”

Personal tragedy almost struck the Dodds family at the school bearing its name in 1886. The later-defunct Marion Register reported it this way at the time:

“A little girl of William Dobbs fell off the steps of the school building yesterday evening and was picked up for dead. Dr. (Joseph N.) Hannaford was immediately called and found she was suffering from concussion of the brain. He performed an operation that soon relieved the little sufferer, and she will soon be as well as usual.”

Although the school taught many students, it wasn’t until 1907 that it conducted its first public commencement, including organ and orchestral music, with violin and cornet, and vocal duets.

Each of five graduating students — Ross Moulton, Mary Meisinger, William Schlotthauer, salutatorian Pauline Ehrlich, and valedictorian Alex Stenzel — delivered an oration, which the Headlight deemed impressive.

“We shall certainly be proud to refer to the first graduates in public at the old Dobbs schoolhouse,” the paper wrote. “They show that the teacher there (Bessie Weaver) is up to date in all educational lines.”

Nowadays, the old school is used not only for tours but also for presentations on American history and how teachers of the time overcame obstacles to provide solid education.

“I am humbled whenever I stand in the front of the classroom at Dobbs School and think of the shoulders I stand on,” unofficial curator and Emporia State professor Scott Waters is quoted as saying.

Last modified Oct. 24, 2019

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