By Julie Catalano
Remember when an entire school was one small structure?
Memories of one-room schoolhouses evoke a time in Texas history that will never be repeated. A new school year is just ahead — what better time to hear tales from back in the day?
Cordillera Ranch has a direct link to the one-room schoolhouse with the remnants of Panther Creek School still on its property. Kendall County amateur historian Bryden Moon explains: “There were two schools here, both called Panther Creek and both on different sites within Cordillera Springs. The first one was down by the creek and dates back to the late 1800s, with the first mention of it going back to Kendall County Commissioners notes dated June 17, 1878.” The school house also served as a voting place for Precinct No. 2, one of five election precincts. “The second school was built closer to Highway 3351, right at the turn of the century,” adds Moon.
Retiree Jerry Jones of WaterStone attended the second Panther Creek School from 1942 until he started high school in Boerne in 1950. His family lived in the Sueltenfuss house that was the original post office, now on Cordillera property.
Jones remembers a porch on the schoolhouse that faced gravelly Kendalia Road. In front was “a big rock that somebody had put there as a step, and that was it. At the back door there was another rock step.”
There was no plumbing and no electricity. Bathrooms were outhouses — one each for boys and girls. A potbellied stove provided heat in the winter, and “in the summer you opened the windows, three or four of them on each side of the school.”
Grades 1-8 studied together, ranging in size from three or four students up to 21. How did the teachers teach all the grades at once? “They just did,” he says. “When the teacher talked, everybody kinda knew what was going on with everybody.”
Although his parents often drove the 2.5 miles to school, Jones had another mode of transportation — a Shetland pony named Tucky. “I’d tie him across the road to a different tree every day so he could graze.” Jones learned an important lesson from a one-time mishap. “You don’t take the rope off his neck until you get the bridle on.” Tucky bolted with the saddle and headed home, leaving Jones to follow him on foot. “(When I showed up) my dad said, ‘I figured you’d be along in a little while.’”
A typical school day included lessons, recess and an hour-long lunch that usually included softball. “We had one teacher that if we let her bat, she’d knock that ball over the fence and we’d have to climb over it to get the ball. We learned that if we kept her batting like that she’d forget what time it was and we’d get an hour and a half.” After lunch they put their heads down on their desks — two to a desk with wooden seats that folded up — to listen to a daily chapter from a storybook.
Maps were nonexistent “until somebody scrounged up a map of the world from somewhere, and that was handy, ‘cause we’d dream about those places we could go.”
Sometimes excitement was a little closer to home, like an especially cold day at the schoolhouse. “My dad built a big ol’ fire in that little stove,” says Jones. “One little girl ran to the window and said, ‘Oh look, it’s snowing!’ My dad thought how could it be snowing? What had happened was that a spark had set the roof on fire. It wasn’t snow, it was ashes. My dad told us to go tell [the neighbors] to bring some water. We ran down the road about three-quarters of a mile and got them all stirred up.” The fire was out by the time Jones returned. “My dad took a seesaw board and leaned it up against the wall, climbed up and got on the roof and stomped out that fire with a sack he got out of his truck. It wasn’t a big fire. We got the rest of the day off.”
At Christmastime, “we’d take art paper and cut it into little strips and make chains and put them across the room. They’d usually have a little play and all the parents could come and watch. We always had a Santa Claus and you could always guess who it was ‘cause you could tell.” Except for one year, when a local childless couple was enlisted to shake things up a bit. “My dad got the idea to dress up [the wife] as Santa Claus and nobody guessed who it was ‘cause it was a woman. [Everybody] just had a fit when they found out.”
Jones brushes off any observation that those were hard times (“If you don’t know any better it’s not bad.”), adding that he enjoyed school. “It was really fun. I learned a little bit, how to read and write, all the basic stuff. It’s kind of neat looking back on it.” Yes, indeed.
Special thanks to Bryden Moon and Jerry Jones for their assistance in the research for this article, and to Pleasant Valley Community Center & Historic School for providing the historic photos and illustrations for Panther Creek and Pleasant Valley Schools.
Still Standing — and Moving Forward
Most of the early schools of Boerne and Kendall County are gone, but some live on, including a new one that will build on the past as it looks to the future.
Pleasant Valley School
What began as a one-room schoolhouse in rural Boerne around 1885 is now the Pleasant Valley Community Center & Historic School in Bergheim. It has a direct connection to Panther Creek School when, in the early 1950s, that building was moved board by board to the Pleasant Valley site as an addition to house more students. www.pleasantvalleycenter.org
The school on 402 E. Blanco Street in Boerne (Marker #1337 – 1986) was the beginning of the first official public school system in town which dates back to 1873, when the Boerne Gesangenverein (singing society) donated land for the two-room stone schoolhouse. Upon its completion in 1874, the Gesangenverein was granted the deed, “in consideration of the benefit accruing to us and our children from the establishment of an institute of learning in the Town of Boerne.” A small frame building was added around the turn of the century, separating the upper and lower grades. In 1910 a new two-story stone school was built and sold to the City of Boerne Utilities in 1951. www.kendallcountyhistory.com
The wood-framed Kreutzberg School building is located six miles north and one-half mile east of Boerne High School on Kreutzberg Road (the road to Cave Without a Name) on two acres, next to the old Kreutzberg Shooting Club. www.txkendall.com
The wood-framed Balcones School is located one-and-a-half miles south of IH10 on Boerne Stage Road. In her blog “Conrad’s Stories,” author Kathryn Adam-Hurst describes her family’s experience there: “During the 1908-1909 school year, [my grandfather] was the oldest boy in the school….In 1936, Texas was celebrating its Centennial. The school teacher took a number of the Balcones students on the train to experience the State Celebration and Fair.” (Source: conradsstories.wordpress.com. Sept. 9, 2011)
Van Raub School
Named for the historic community near Cibolo Creek and for businessman Van Raub Byron, the original school was established in 1885. The new Van Raub School will be constructed on a 19-acre tract on Dietz Elkhorn Road; the old community schoolhouse will be incorporated into the plan of the new campus. “Once Van Raub Elementary opens in fall 2018, we anticipate developing plans that will call for the utilization of the historic building as a district-wide resource center for student learning, perhaps with a focus on local and regional history,” says David Boggan, Director of Communication for Boerne ISD. “The opportunities are boundless and we are very pleased to have the historic building as a reminder of the importance of public education through the years.” www.boerne-isd.net