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 29 November, 1990.
Silver Lake School, District 76, was located three-quarters of a mile north of the lake after which it was named. It was three miles east of downtown Pomona and a half mile north on the east side of the road (see map).
The original school was built in 1875 and burned in 1928.. After the fire, school continued in the Methodist Church at Richmond until a new building was constructed.
The contractor was Joe Sassaman and the new building met all requirements for a “standard school.” which was considered topnotch.
The school operated until the spring of 1952.
The district was exceptional when its many features are considered. It included the small town of Richter, was bisected by the Missouri Pacific and Santa Fee Railroads, and K-68, and was bordered on the south by the Marais des Cygnes River.
A band of red gravel pits extended across the north half of the district and all district roads were graveled with that rock.
On the corner south of the school, where the Silver Lake Golf Course sign stands now, there was a beacon light that guided night flights between Wichita and Kansa City in the 1930s. There was an old river crossing two miles south of the school called “Wheeler Crossing.” The approach is still visible.
When the first schoolhouse burned, according to Allie Mae (Mantle) Woodsum, a former student now living at Ottawa RFD 4, the teacher, Grace Connor, sent someone outside to see where the smoke was originating.
Owen Heidner, Ottawa RFD 3, recalls that the teacher had the pupils gather up their belongings and go out to the road. There was no telephone, but a farmer came by and managed to save the school seats. Heidner said he still remembers the school bell giving a final gong when the roof collapsed.
Helen (Fleming) Smith, now of Abilene, remembers climbing through the fences going to and from school, when cutting across the section from Richter, and that her clothes had lots of tears and snags.
Hayden Shaw, 1547 S. Orchard Dr., said he remembers walking to school barefooted when there was frost on the ground.
A Christmas parade used to be held in Ottawa at night and many rural schools participated. Bruce Fleming, a former Silver Lake pupil, recalls that one year Silver Lake had a float whose theme was “Spirit of “76,” and another year there was a big painting of the lake with all the student body on the float,”and sometimes we just marched as a group.”
The state corn-shucking contest was held on the Ben Heidner farm south of Richter (about 1938) and school was let out early so pupils could attend. Cecil Vining of Richmond was state champion for several years and it is believed that he was that year also.
Fleming said many skating parties were held at Silver Lake in the winter, with hugh bonfires built to provide both light and warmth.
About 1938 Raymond Bitts, farmer and orchardman (whost daughter, Mildred Heathman, 1026 N. Cherry, was a pupil, brought a bushel of apples to school to give to the kids. It was an unusual treat, following the drought of the early ‘30s.
Alva and Ruth Kinery live in the old schoolhouse west of Centropolis. They bought it at auction when the district was disbanded. The building looks much the same, except for a small addition and a new window.
Silver Lakes last teacher was Ina Bainer. Other teachers who taught there include Lillian Lantis, Ruth Hiatt and Thelma Clinkenbeard.
Members of the last student body were: Shirley Mae (Heidner) Fritts, Vera (Humphrey) Bridwell, Rex Montague, Catherine Rocker, Walter Ottaway and Thomas Meyers.
Former pupils still living in Franklin County, and not previously mentioned, include Jim Parks, Don Fleming, Duane, Rex and Daryl Montague, Beth (Briles) Gentry, Ernest and Vera Sink, Max Gilmore, Opal (Ottaway) Neldon, Mabel Hay, Maxine (Shaw) Baldwin, Charlie Cain, Herio Hernandez, Clarence Graves, Dorothy (Moore) Louderback, Sue (Hagerty) Skoog, Marilyn (Crawford) Talbott, Shirley (Heidner) Fritts, Bob Moore and Flora (Ralston) Smith.