One-Room, Country, & Historic Schools of Bourbon County, Kansas

Central School in Fort Scott, Kansas about 1890.

Central School in Fort Scott, Kansas, about 1890.

The first schools in Bourbon County, Kansas, were private ones at Fort Scott, which opened in 1857.

The first school district organized in Bourbon County was what became District No. 10 on December 10, 1859. This was the only one organized that year. In 1860, four districts were organized. That year, S.W. Greer, Superintendent of Schools, reported on the condition of the schools in the Territory. His figures for Bourbon County stated there were seven organized districts with the number of students attending 74.

In 1862, eight districts were organized, at which time the number of scholars in the county was 722; in 1865, there were 3,261. In 1863, twenty-three districts were organized, and in 1864, eight.

Bourbon County, Kansas, by L.H. Everts & Co., 1887.

Bourbon County, Kansas, by L.H. Everts & Co., 1887.

Fort Scott City Schools District No. 55, in Bourbon County, Kansas, was organized in 1865 with Honorable P.P. Elder, an Indian agent, as president of the board of education, Honorable C.F. Drake, who became the president of the Bank of Fort Scott, as clerk, and “Uncle Billy” Smith, as he was familiarly known, as treasurer. At that time, including Government troops and refugees, there were about 25,000 people in the town.

The first school opened in the fall of 1865, and rooms for school purposes were fitted up in one of the old Government buildings on the plaza and the old courthouse on the corner of National Avenue and Second Street. Mr. Remsburg was the first principal, employed at a salary of $60 per month. The money for school support was from Government funds, and no direct assessment was levied.

At the close of 1865, there were 3,261 children of school age in the county. Many of these were children of refugees who had come to Fort Scott from Missouri and Arkansas. Through the efforts of C. F. Drake and a few others, school rooms were furnished and fitted up in the old hospital building and the old City Hall.

The few school buildings in the county were poorly furnished, the appliances were meager, and there was nothing like uniformity in books. The children brought the books that had been used by their parents 15 to 20 years before and represented nearly as many different states and kinds of books as there were children.

In 1869, the only school in the town was one of four rooms in the Government building under the principalship of Mr. Craven. The following year, 1870, in addition to this school in the Government building, henceforward known as the Plaza school, four ward schools, of one room each, were established in different parts of the city. Colonel T. W. McKinnie was elected superintendent, with some teaching to do, and the schools began under his administration to keep in step with the forward march of civilization.

During 1869 and 1870, the Central School, a large, 12-room brick building, was erected on the square bounded by National Avenue, Fourth, Fifth, and Judson Streets for $65,000. The building was considered the first modern grade school in Fort Scott.

In 1873, Superintendent McKinnie was succeeded by R.B. Dilworth. The new four-room building known as the Margrave school was first occupied in the fall of this same year. Mr. Dilworth formulated the first course of study and, although superintendent but one year, gave the schools an impetus that has been an inspiration for years.

Old government building in Fort Scott, Kansas.

Old government building in Fort Scott, Kansas.

Superintendent Hutchinson followed Mr. Dilworth and remained in charge of the schools during 1874-75 and 1875-76. In the two years following, 1876-77 and 1878-78, Superintendents Philo and Phales, respectively, were in charge. In September 1878, B. Hudson, a prominent attorney who was later the chairman of the metropolitan police commission of the city, was elected superintendent and served for seven years. Three additional brick buildings were erected during his superintendency, including the Eddy School, Wilson School, and the Plaza School. The latter was used for colored students only and supplanted the old stone Government building. Charles Demoisey succeeded Mr. Hudson in 1885 and remained in charge of the schools for two years.

In 1867, the organization of new school districts again commenced, and from that time to 1881, except in 1878, from one to nine school districts were organized each year.

In 1870, the number of students in the county was 5,312.

In 1882, the student population was 7,866 – males, 3,995; females, 3,871. The number of pupils enrolled was 2,921 males and 3,089 females. The number of different teachers employed during the year was 150; the average wages of males were $34.27, and females were $30.86. There are 100 schoolhouses in the county- two brick, three stone, and ninety-five frame. In the district school libraries, there were 350 volumes. The value of school property in the county is estimated at $89,672, and the total value of all school property in the county is $100,000.

In 1880, the number of scholars in the county was 7,015. By that time, there were 98 school districts in the county, including Fort Scott.

In 1888, Fort Scott, Kansas, grew to a population of 15,000 and became a first-class city; as a result, the tax levy for school purposes was reduced. The following year, the revenue was so reduced that Mr. Bemiss, to the regret of everybody, resigned to accept the superintendency of the schools at Spokane Falls, Washington, and became known as one of the best superintendents west of the Rocky Mountains.

Reverend Henry C. Bosley followed Superintendent Bemiss and began work in the fall of 1889. He was a graduate of the University of Rochester and a man of many years of experience. Still, at the time he took charge of the Fort Scott schools, he was in very poor health, and after a long and heroic battle with that dread disease consumption, he died on February 27, 1890.

Guy P. Benton, educated at the Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, who was principal of the high school at the time of Mr. Bosley’s death, succeeded the latter.

In the early 1890s, eight buildings were owned by the board, and three rented ones were used for school purposes. The estimated value of school buildings was $110,000, and the bonded indebtedness was $60,000. The 1892 census showed 4,317 children of school age and an enrollment of 2,603. Forty-four teachers are employed in the schools, four working exclusively in the high school.

The course of study in the grades was eight years in length and three years in high school; a diploma from the latter admitted to the State University without examination.

Any teacher passing the teachers’ examination with a minimum grade of 70% in any one branch and an average of 90% or above in all branches was granted a first-grade certificate, which was valid for life in the city of Fort Scott.

Kansas Normal College in Fort Scott, Kansas.

Kansas Normal College in Fort Scott, Kansas.

Fort Scott Normal College

The Fort Scott Normal College was organized in September 1878. It was an incorporated institution that conferred degrees upon its graduates. The purpose of the school was to offer young men and women the opportunity to take any studies they wished and at any time they might be able to enter.

The methods of instruction were the best. The school proposed to keep abreast of the times. Students had a good library for reference, school work, and general reading. The expenses were very low. Tuition was $10 for ten weeks. Good board and rooms could be secured for $2.00 per week. The school closed in 1899.

Mercy School of Nursing opened its doors in 1914 under the guidance of the Sisters of Mercy and continued to operate as a successful educational facility until 1975. This was the first school of nursing in Southeast Kansas that trained black students as nurses. The former school, at 810 S. Burke, now houses the Fort Scott Community College School of Nursing and other programs.

Hawkins School

Hawkins School, Fort Scott, Kansas.

Hawkins School, Fort Scott, Kansas.

Between 1865 and 1955, four African American schools were located on or adjacent to land that now comprises Fort Scott National Historic Site. The last of the four, the 2nd Plaza School, was a consolidated school for all African American students in Fort Scott for grades 1-9 and was located at 111 Hendricks Street. This school was part of a continuum of African-American education that began with the Civil War and ended with school integration in 1955. To honor Professor Ernest Hawkins, who served here for many years, the school was renamed the Hawkins School in 1946.

Classes at the Hawkins School included mathematics, art, English, social studies, and music. There was also an Industrial Arts Department for boys and a Home Economics Department for girls. All of the teachers and principals were African- Americans. The Hawkins School was closed in 1956 when the public schools of Fort Scott were integrated.

Professor Ernest J. Hawkins

Professor Ernest J. Hawkins

Professor Ernest Hawkins was born in Fort Scott in 1875 and devoted his life to African-American education. He was a part of Fort Scott’s African-American schools for 65 years, first as a student, then as a teacher, and then as principal. Professor Hawkins encouraged his students to “look sharp, be sharp, be somebody.”

Prominent Americans who attended Fort Scott’s African-American schools included George Washington Carver and Gordon Alexander Parks. Born a slave, Carver gained renown as an artist, educator, chemist, agronomist, and botanist. Parks, an author, composer, photographer, and poet, was acclaimed Kansan of the Year in 1985 and received the National Medal of Arts in 1988. Carver attended the Fort Scott Colored School in 1878-79; Parks attended the 2nd Plaza School in the 1920s.

The Hawkins School was closed in 1956 when the public schools of Fort Scott were integrated.

Fort Scott Community College

Fort Scott Community College, Kansas.

Fort Scott Community College, Kansas.

Established in 1919, Fort Scott Community College is the oldest public community college in Kansas. The first graduating class in 1921 had two members. Originally, Fort Scott Junior College shared the Fort Scott High School building and operated as an extension of the high school program for students in the 13th and 14th years of public education.

After Bourbon County voters approved a general-obligation bond issue to purchase the land and construct the first two buildings, about 200 students moved to the present 150-acre campus in October 1967. Some federal funds also paid part of the original $1.2 million cost. In 1967, the college also began offering courses in Paola.

The Administration Building was added in 1973. This building includes administrative offices and meeting rooms, a cafeteria, a college bookstore, classrooms, and an adjacent dormitory. In 2010, the building was renamed the Dick Hedges Administration Building.

In 1982, the college completed the 38,500-square-foot Arnold Arena. The arena serves agricultural, business, sports, community, state, and regional organizations. One side consists of a rodeo arena with an earth floor, and the other half contains a basketball gym, weight training area, athletic dressing rooms, classrooms, a computer lab, and athletic offices.

In 1986, the college acquired the Pittsburg School of Beauty from Pittsburg State University.

In 2004, FSCC purchased the Sisters of Mercy Convent upon its closing. The college renovated the space for community rooms and the nursing program. The same year, the college remodeled a wing of the former Miami County Hospital at 501 S. Hospital Drive in Paola, which became the Miami County Campus. This expansion nearly doubled the campus in Paola and created more opportunities for programs in the northern tier.

In 2009, Fort Scott Community College opened the new Danny and Willa Ellis Family Fine Arts Center. This building includes a 600-seat theatre, community meeting rooms, the Gordon Parks Center for Culture and Diversity, and the Kathy Ellis Academic Hall, which houses art, band, choir, speech, and theatre.

The college is at 2108 South Horton Street in Fort Scott, Kansas.

Today, there are two school districts based in Bourbon County. Fort Scott USD 234 is headquartered in Fort Scott, Kansas, and the district includes the communities of Fort Scott, Fulton, Devon, Garland, Hammond, Pawnee Station, and nearby rural areas. Uniontown USD 235 district is headquartered in Uniontown and includes the communities of Uniontown, Bronson, Hyattsville, Mapleton, Redfield, and nearby rural areas.

Historic Schools of Bourbon County
Name District Years of Operation Location & Information
Eugene Ware Elementary School 234 1935-??
Eugene Ware Elementary School in Fort Scott, Kansas.

Eugene Ware Elementary School

The school is a Colonial Revival-style brick building with one- and two-story sections centered around a central two-story gymnasium/auditorium. It was a Public Works Administration project. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in June 2005. It is located at 900 E 3rd Street in Fort Scott, Kansas.


Fulton 27 1917-1966
Fulton School in Bourbon County, Kansas by Kathy Alexander.

Fulton School

The Fulton High School and Grade School is comprised of three buildings. The 1917 Progressive Era school building is a two-story brick building. In 1936, a gymnasium/auditorium was attached to the north side of the brick school. This gymnasium, constructed as part of a Works Progress Administration project, contains salvaged limestone from demolishing an 1882 school building at the same location. The third building at the site is a free-standing, one-story cafeteria constructed in 1964. The property functioned as a combined high school and grade school until 1966, when the high school consolidated with Fort Scott. The elementary school closed in 1978. The property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015. It is located at 408 W Osage St in Fulton, Kansas.

Guinn 36 1895-1940s
Guinn School in Bourbon County, Kansas.

Guinn School

The Guinn School building’s construction date is estimated in 1895 after School District #36 received ownership of the one-acre site in 1894. In 1945, the building was sold to the Drywood 4-H Club and served as a community center. Historic photos indicate that it functioned as a school through the 1940s. The rectangular wood frame school with its clapboard belfry tower is much deteriorated. The interior has wood floors, beaded board wainscotting, and plaster walls. It is located at 599 US-69 Highway in Fort Scott, Kansas.

Redfield Grade School ?? 1938-??
Old Redfield Grade School in Bourbon County, Kansas.

Old Redfield Grade School

The old Redfield Grade School is a one-story brick building designed in the Late 19th & 20th Century Classical Revival style with a gable roof and parapet. Serving as a residence today, it is located at 101 W. 4th Street in Redfield, Kansas.


Xenia 1866-1880
Old Xenia School in Bourbon County, Kansas.

Old Xenia School

The one-story old Xenia School is a two-story rectangular building built in the vernacular style with a gable-front roof and a brick chimney on the west. Both the exterior walls and the roof are covered with asphalt shingles. The Xenia Masons contributed to the construction of the school building so that they could meet on the second floor. A new school building was constructed east of the old school in 1880, but the Xenia Masons chartered in 1866, continued to meet in the old school building and still hold monthly meetings today. The building contains many original furnishings. It is now called the Xenia Masonic Lodge No. 47 and is located north and east of K-65 Highway on 65th Street.

©Kathy Alexander/Legends of Kansas, December 2023.

Also See:

Bourbon County, Kansas

Historic Sites

Kansas Ghost Towns

One-Room, Country, & Historic Schools of Kansas


Cutler, William G; History of Kansas; A. T. Andreas, Chicago, IL, 1883.
Fort Scott Community College
Fort Scott Tribune
Fort Scott Tribune and Fort Scott Monitor, September 25, 1895
Historic Marker Database
Kansas State Historical Society, The Columbian History of Education in Kansas, Hamilton Printing Company, Topeka, KS, 1893.
Robley, T.F.; History of Bourbon County, Kansas, Press of the Monitor Book & Print. Co., 1894.