One room schools, end-of-year community plays and “teacherages” are obsolete education terms, but there was a time they were pillars of the Gillespie County school system and a vital part of life in the county.
The Friends of Gillespie County Country Schools (FGCCS) is furthering a campaign to repair the 12 deteriorating remaining school houses and pavilions, restore panoramic stage curtains used in end-of-year student performances, and through it all sustain the connection to the county’s education roots.
The bygone school period from the 1880s to the 1960s taught rural children through 44 country schools overseen by the county judge as superintendent. The Gilmer-Aikin Law, passed in 1949, consolidated schools, and today, 12 remaining country schools are left in the public domain to remember the teachers, students and administrators of the historic era.
Over time, elements of structural integrity have faltered within the 12 remaining schools, according to FGCCS representatives, and the need to restore and preserve them is dependent on raising funds.
Nebgen resident and FGCCS member Jo Jenschke whose father and older brother attended the community’s rural school said, “It would be such a shame to let these treasures go. We’ve done so much work over the years to keep them up, if we don’t work on them now, they’ll be gone.”
Taking Steps Toward Preservation
Cave Creek resident and FGCCS member James Lindley, MD said many volunteers and generous contributors have made great strides in making improvements over the years, and an estimated $215,000 is further needed to repair the old facilities. He said funds are to be raised through monthly open houses at the historic schools, individual community club fund raisers, school facility rentals and an FGCCS annual barbecue event April 12.
Dr. Lindley said many volunteers are working hard within each community to preserve the schools, and he gave four examples of county schools needing repair. In Willow City, the two-story rock school house needs repointing or, he said, it will fall down. The Luckenbach School has wood rot around the windows, deteriorating walls, and the teacherage building has a wall, he said, that has drifted six inches off plum. The Wrede School roof must be replaced and a large dying oak tree must be cut down, he said, or it will fall into the building. The Cherry Spring School pavilion has rotten wooden posts in the foundation.
During the country school era, the end of each school year was a big deal to each community, according to Dr. Lindley. The school children would perform a play, including Shakespearean works, for the community. A giant pavilion curtain opened and closed the stage, and on the curtain was a panoramic scene of the Hill Country, underwritten by local businesses. Some of the old curtains are still around, he said, and the borders are marked by sponsor names and early telephone contact information, such as “Dial 1.”
“These curtains are significant to our history,” Dr. Lindley said, “They’re an important symbol of what the country school meant to the community.”
The FGCCS has taken steps to preserve the curtains by identifying an expert in restoring them and commissioning the conservationist to teach other volunteer artists how to restore them. Once completed, Dr. Lindley said, the curtains will be displayed at the Pioneer Museum in Fredericksburg.
Seeing the old, restored curtains, the 100-year-old buildings, and hearing the old stories are all experiences that Dr. Lindley said people are seeking. “Historic tourism is a big business and what the Friends of the Gillespie County Country Schools is doing is helping historic tourists see what the schools mean to the county.” He went on to say, “As far as we can tell, we have the largest collection of country schools that are in the public domain, in the United States.”
Seeing the Schools
The Gillespie County Commissioners Court established the Gillespie County Country Schools Trail in 2006 that links all 12 schools.
Also, community clubs host domino and card games at the schools, and the clubs collectively have an estimated 500 members, according to Dr. Lindley. New members are welcome. More information about clubs, trails and events can be found at www.historicschools.org or by calling the FGCCS at 830-685-3321.
The 12 remaining public Gillespie County country schools are: Cave Creek, Cherry Spring, Crabapple, Lower South Grape Creek, Luckenbach, Meusebach Creek, Nebgen, Pecan Creek, Rheingold, Williams Creek (Albert), Willow City and Wrede.