Local History: Once rural schoolhouse became many things as city grew around it
photo by: Cynthia Hernandez/Journal-World
Buildings that serve a singular purpose in rural areas often take on a new identity when they’re absorbed by a growing city — and modern observers might not even realize these places were once cornerstones of country life.
Take the Lawrence Board of Realtors building at 3838 W. Sixth St., for instance.
The structure dates to 1917 and was originally Brackett No. 54, a former school building about 3 miles west of Pinckney Elementary and about 2 miles east of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church. These distances illustrate how much Lawrence has grown to the west since the early 20th century.
Goldie Piper Daniels, in “Rural Schools and Schoolhouses of Douglas County, Kansas,” tells us that the site was used for a schoolhouse beginning in 1866 and was on the southwest corner of the Henry T. Davis farm.
Daniels notes that the road we know now as West Sixth Street began as the California Trail, then was known as the Fort-to-Fort Road after the two forts, Leavenworth and Riley, that it connected. It was also known as Highway 40 on the way to its present identification.
Daniels grew up in the 10-room stone house that Davis built in 1866 and recalls the rural school that stood to the southwest of the home.
She writes that the schoolhouse “was built of soft bricks laid three bricks deep to form thick solid walls and plastered inside directly on the walls with no air space between. Therefore when winter had really set in and the walls got cold, they were never warm again till summer. The old barrel stove at the front of the room glowed red hot, but the heat never penetrated to the corners or outer walls and many a dinner bucket contained some frozen food in zero weather, as it sat on the bench in the ante-room along with the coats, overshoes, shinny sticks and various impedimenta.”
Her description helps us realize the obstacles the children and the teacher dealt with.
Why was the school called Brackett No. 54? It’s named after G.C. Brackett, a Massachusetts-raised early pioneer who was a horticulturalist.
He had an experimental fruit farm about half a mile west of the schoolhouse, and he sought to change the image of Kansas from a Great American Desert to a land in which fruits, trees, flowers, crops and shrubs could flourish. The apples, pears, peaches, plums and grapes that Brackett planted and cultivated were a testament to what could flourish here.
Daniels recalled that a rural school continued on the site until 1963 and that the building subsequently was a market, a store and a home.
The current occupant, the Lawrence Board of Realtors, was founded in 1925 by six local real estate agents. In 1962 there were 13 member agencies with a total of 64 Realtor members. In 2018, there were more than 600 members. After stops at various locations, the organization moved to its present location in February 1992.
The building, while no longer a country school, continues to have an organizational usefulness and as such a recognized value and likely a future. No longer does it echo with the voices of young children, but it does resound with enthusiastic adults in the business of helping people find their next home.