A friend of mine asked me when the first public school was chartered in Aurora, Missouri. I found an old document in a box that talks about the first school house in town was noted in 1873 and was a “little white frame building,…near where Franklin School” used to stand.
To us, this is the vicinity of Elliott Avenue, near the neighborhood where Michel Motors is today. This little school was 24 x 36 feet, had four windows on each side, and one door on the east.
Each window had eight panes—the size of 10 x 12 inches each.
The teacher’s desk consisted of a pine table. There were no chairs for the students in 1873. They sat on the floor or stood. There were three directors, one of whom was Stephen Elliott…the town’s founder. It would later be renovated and added on to, bricked and refurbished. It would eventually be known as Franklin School.
A school year typically started in October and ended in February. This was because most of the teachers had other occupations and the students were expected to help out on the farm or with their parents’ business interests.
There was a small skating pond near the Church Street intersection. A crab apple thicket was nearby, as well. The school house was the hub of the community and served as a platform for ice cream socials, revivals, spelling bees, pie auctions and voting.
A teacher’s salary was $30 to $40 per month. Out of that, they had to pay about $12 in room and board, if they did not live locally. Teachers were expected to do all of their own janitorial work. Male students were expected to carry the water from the well on Mrs. Thompson’s place.
Everyone used a common drinking dipper and students were called inside to class with a hand bell in the teacher’s hand.
The school usually had at least 40 students each year.
The mining days brought the need for more schools and additional facilities in the 1880s. The early modes of teaching focused on repetition and memorization. By the turn of the century, educators were focusing on hands on learning and real life situations according to an account by Lyda McNatt, an Aurora educator for decades.
She indicated the addition of the teachers’ college in Springfield in 1907 improved salaries and opportunities for local educators until the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Mining and the population boom forced the need for another school—and Lowell School was built on the town’s north side. Soon, the high school was constructed near the railroad tracks.
Some graves were removed, while others were dozed during the 1923 construction process. Ghost stories were shared as Franklin School was built near a cemetery, too.
Reports indicated the body of Uncle Billy Cline was moved to Buck Prairie when the new high school was built. He was shot by bushwhackers in 1863 as he was in bed at home one night. While school officials offered help with the grave removal, there were few takers as no trace of the relatives of those buried there could be found.
The school was known as Central and held grades three through eight and two years of high school. This program would later expand to include a full four years of high school training and education.
Her records indicate the first high school class at Aurora graduated in the spring of 1890. There were nine graduates, including: Eva Boone, Emma Goodman, H.D. Pryor, Clyde Ruby, Lizzie Gray, Eual McLeoud, Cora Goodman, Charles M. Killey and Lizzie Howard.
I can’t help but wonder what these first nine graduates would think of our high school today. Would they marvel at our hot lunches and intricate bell system? Would they be excited just to have a place to sit down?
Oh, how I wish we could ask them.
(Kim McCully-Mobley is a local educator, historian and storyteller. She is active with Main Street Aurora, Aurora Rotary, the Aurora Chamber of Commerce and the Eurea Springs Writers’ Colony. Her passions include her family, friends, Civil War research and driving the backroads and byways of the Ozarks region.)