Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The ins and outs of Garfield School

We've had some good clean fun this week sorting out the identity of this school building over on the "You grew up in Chariton if you remember ..." Facebook page. The postcard view turned up on eBay, Ray Gwinn found it and posted it to Facebook and the conversation began. It's identified only as the "East Ward School" in Chariton.

The major identification difficulty is that Chariton had two elementary school buildings from late in the 19th century until 1914, when one got a facelift, that looked very much alike --- Garfield in the southeast part of town and Franklin, in the northwest. To confuse the issue a little, neither was known to any of us as "East Ward School." And while Franklin hadn't changed much by the time it was taken down in 1964, Garfield --- still with us although repurposed --- looks radically different.

So I went out to the museum yesterday and found another photo of Garfield in its earliest incarnation to clarify the issue. It's not the best of images, but it has the advantage of having both the name of the school and its location printed underneath it.

Garfield was built during 1881 at the intersection of South Seventh Street and Armory Avenue; Franklin opened during the fall of 1890. Although 10 years apart, they were remarkably similar, four-square Italianate brick buildings, four rooms up and four rooms down, each with a turret to house the school bell. Garfield was known only as "East School" and Franklin, as "West."

Two buildings constructed in the late 1870s already were in use when these then-state-of-the-art structures came online. The betowered and beturreted South School, later called Columbus, was just up the street from where I live. The fourth, very similar to the East and West buildings and called, as you might expect, "North," was on the current site of the Chariton Community Center, just west of the "new" (1923) high school.

During 1892, the Chariton School Board --- apparently tiring up directional designations --- gave all four schools names: Garfield, Franklin, Columbus and Bancroft. "Garfield" probably was selected to commemorate President James A. Garfield, assassinated during the year the school was built.

In 1914, responding to the need for more room, a four-room addition (two up and two down) with new central entrance was attached to the east front of the Garfield building, masking the original facade and presenting the streamlined front we see now when driving by on Seventh Street. That project cost roughly $16,000.

During 1940, the decision was made to demolish most if not all of the original Garfield building --- still in use behind the 1914 front --- and construct on its footprint a new wing containing three classrooms, a community room (usually called the gym), a new heating plant and various subsidiary rooms. Hardwood floors were added throughout as part of this project, tile went down on hallway floors and everything was spruced up and repainted from top to bottom. Grand opening for that $50,000 project was held during February of 1941.

Garfield in this form served elementary youngsters in Chariton until it was retired by the school district during the late 1990s. 

Then, Garfield got very lucky. It was purchased in 1998 by Trish and Paul McKinley as headquarters for their company, McKinley Inc. No attempt was made to mask the original character of the building. Modern offices, work areas and store rooms were inserted into the unaltered high and light spaces of the original building. 

Although it's obviously a working enterprise, former students who visit have no problems recognizing their old school.

This photo dates from November of 2010, when the Chariton Historic Preservation Commission presented its annual preservation award to the McKinleys to recognize their sensitive adaption of a vintage structure. That's Alyse Hunter, Commission chair, on the left; Trish McKinley, on the right.


Whitney said...

I bet there are others like me who can't get back to see the interior of buildings like this. Would love to see pictures from the inside.

Delores Ranshaw said...

Thanks, Frank, for solving the mystery! Never realized Garfield had such an interesting history.