From “The hitching post…” column in the Ottawa Herald, a series of articles about early Franklin County schools researched by Bruce Fleming and written by Herald Editor and Publisher Jim Hitch. This article appeared 1 November, 1990.
It has been nearly seven decades since Island School even existed and so no picture of it is available. But Harold Staadt, 1100 West 15th, remembers that it looked quite similar to the picture of Diamond Ridge School, except it had no bell tower.
The Island School district was dissolved and merged with the Ottawa school district and the school equipment was auctioned off Aug. 12, 1921.
The school was built on the flood plain in an unlikely spot, that had very poor drainage. The school was flooded many times from the overflow of the Marais de Cygnes River.
Its exact location, according to Fleming, was three miles west of Seventh and Main on the northeast corner of the intersection (see map)
The school was named “Island “ because in the middle of the last century the river changed course and shortened itself by about six miles, joining with Appanoose Creek about three miles west of Ottawa.
According to a 1985 article by John Mark Lambertson of the Franklin County Historical Society, the island covers nearly two square miles and is shaped much like the piece of a jigsaw puzzle.
K-68 crosses across two arms of the island. The Indians referred to the island long before white men came to the area. Lambertson wrote, “An 1864 map shows the Marais des Cygnes River taking a much longer and twisting route to get to the then infant town of Ottawa.
“That old river bed is now the west, south and east borders of the island. Appanoose Creek was longer then, two miles or so, as it flowed along the present river bed and entered the Marais des Cygnes just three -quarters of a mile from Hope Cemetery.
Sometime in the 1800s, the narrow neck of land between the two streams, near the center of section 32 (upper left hand corner of map) eroded through. For a time ‘Old Mary’ flowed on both sides of the island. But later she took the straighter, more northern course, which she still travels today. The old river bed then became known, aptly, as Island Creek.”
The exact date of the course change is not known. Staadt recalls seeing a map dated in the 1850s that showed the river in the old river bed. There is also a note in the Historical Society archives that said some Indians came to town in the 1850s and said they were camped on the river 2½ miles southwest of Ottawa.
Oldtimers still know the road running north from the school site as “Thirty-Foot Road” because of a deep hole in the bend of the river at road’s end.
A man known as “Dust Bowl Jones” from western Kansas, moved into a house a half mile east of the school about 1936. The neighbors warned him the area sometimes flooded, but he said it couldn’t get too wet for him. After he had been flooded several times, he moved out.
K-68 in the vicinity of the school site may have been the roughest road in the county in the 1930s. The road was covered with Joplin flint, which was sharp and caused many flat tires. It may have been an experiment because it was never used after that.
In 1896, there were 9,284 school districts in Kansas and by 1945 the number had decreased to 8,438. But by 1958, the number of districts had been reduced, dramatically, to 2,794.
In Franklin County, during the 1937-38 school term, there were 73 country schools with 1,020 pupils. In the 1962-63 term the number of country schools had dwindled to 20.