Remembering Ozarks One-Room Schoolhouses

Jul 1, 2018

As people meander through Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park, they can wander into what looks like a set for Little House on the Prairie.

This is the Gray/Campbell Farmstead, and on this property is preserved Liberty School, an old one room school house from the north of Springfield. While the school is no longer in operation, there are still those who remember going to class there.

“I attended as a five year old. In 1947 they didn’t have Kindergarten, but they let me go.”

Norma Tolbert is a former student of Liberty School, and is now the President of the  Board for the Friends of the Gray/Campbell Farmstead. She and her husband, Jerry, were sweeping up and letting the warm summer breeze clear out the small space.

We sat down at her old desk and she recalled memories from her years there as she pointed out artifacts around the room. She was one of two students in her grade,  she says. And  overall, there were 15 students at the school from first to eighth grade during her time there.

After her fourth year there the school closed, and she switched to a new school. Yet Tolbert felt that those years in a one-room schoolhouse were the best in her entire education.

“So you could listen to the second grade, and the third grade, and fourth grade. So you could listen and learn ahead of your own class.”

Now the place is a museum of sorts, but a place where kids can play in the environment, says Tolbert.

“This is a hands-on museum in that respect, we encourage students to sit here and gently handle the books. They’re very old, none of them are copyrighted past 1950.”

The inside of Liberty School
Credit Claire Kidwell / KSMU

While one-room school houses have been romanticized in television and books such as Anne of Green Gables and works by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Tolbert assures us that those  actually paint a  good representation of what it was like.

She fears that we’re losing the heritage of one room school houses. And that’s why she and many others are determined to help preserve  Liberty School.

The Springfield Public School system still likes to give their students a taste for what it was really like back in the day. Every year social studies classes will come out to Liberty School and the Gray/Campbell Farmstead to get a feel for what life was like there.

These kids will work in the classroom and even eat food made over a fire nearby, though Tolbert says that was only common in the winter.

“There were times in the winter, we would bring sweet potatoes or Irish potatoes and put them in the coals, and then we had good old hot baked potatoes for lunch!”

She recalls walking the five miles over to the next school for softball games, having spelling bees on Friday afternoons, and putting on performances or Christmas programs.

Liberty School was moved in the early 50’s when a drought struck the area and Fellows Lake was created, said Tolbert. It was then preserved and moved to its resting place now in the southwest part of town.

The school house is mostly the same, though there are a few changes. New windows were added in their original spots, and the bell that calls visitors into the school was donated by locals.