The job of educating the children of Marceline began in a one-room school north of the present city limits in 1887 and in 100 years has, through excellent leadership and determined community support, grown into a modern, top-rated school system on an attractive campus at Santa Fe Street and Missouri Avenue.
The first school, called Hayden’s School, served rural residents before the city was founded and attempted to serve the children of the railroaders and others who pioneered in Marceline. The basics of reading and writing, with the 20 or so students attending only two or three terms, served the community until 1888 when the booming population demanded expansion.
The one-room school building was moved south into town and served only a couple of months until twin frame school houses could be erected for the 1888 – 1889 school term R. J. Cunningham of St. Catherine and William E. Parks, who would become a long-time contributor to Marceline education, were the first teachers. One school house was placed on West Ritchie Street; the other on East Howell Street.
In 1889, George Moorman founded a school for the blacks in Marceline. (The races would remain segregated until the 1950s when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such facilities unconstitutional.) The school was first located in an abandoned carpentry shop on East Walker Street. When that proved inadequate, the school was given the old Hayden’s School building, which was moved to the East Walker Street lot after the carpentry shop was razed. This served the black students until 1931, when fire destroyed the building. The school moved into temporary quarters at the Second Baptist Church until a new building could be built in 1933.
The two school houses for the white students quickly became overcrowded because of the rapidly growing community. Overflow students were taught in rented space – first in a building owned by J. R. Wrenn and later on the second floor of the Alhambra Hotel at Gracia Street and Kansas Avenue. Plans were made for constructing Central School, but investors were hesitant to buy the bonds and it was 1894 before funds could be raised. The building was put at Santa Fe Street near Missouri Avenue on what is now the Marceline R-5 campus. The high school was located on the second floor and the first class graduated in 1896. There were three graduates.
Two private schools thrived in Marceline as well. One was St. Rose’s Hall, a Catholic school, which was operated by Bernadette Logsdon and Nora Trew. Located at Howell Street and Kansas Avenue, the school had a 12-year curricula.
St. Bonaventure parish took over the parochial school function in 1918 when it established a Catholic grade school in the old Eagles Lodge building on West Gracia Street. Sisters from the Order of St. Francis taught and administered the school and it was named St. Bonaventure. In 1922, St. Bonaventure opened a high school in the same building.
Older residents of Marceline were offered lessons in the private Professor J. W. Roney’s Marceline Business College. Classes in bookkeeping and penmanship were held.
The public school system in Marceline entered the 20th Century with enthusiasm. Ward School was constructed on West Booker Street in 1901 and Park School was constructed in 1907 at Chestnut and Ritchie streets. Also in 1907, Superintendent L. A. Moorman and principal Martha Smith were successful in getting Marceline’s high school accredited by the State Board of Education. This meant that graduates could enter universities and colleges without further studies.
As early as 1914 plans were made for construction of a public high school building. It was the summer of 1929, however, before the bonds could be passed for the $90,000 structure. The Central School building was razed with the use of dynamite and by 1930 the city’s present high school The R-5 district also developed respectable programs in building was erected. The bell that-called students to the basketball, track, wrestling and golf. Central School now sits on the lawn of the high school and is the center of attraction during bell game activities each year when Marceline footballers challenge the Brookfield Bulldogs.
Marceline High School has taken pride in its football program since before 1920, during a time when players hit the field with little padding or other protection. During the 1919 season, for example, two boys received broken legs and one a broken nose. But the danger didn’t dampen the spirit, especially after 1920, when the rivalry between the Marceline Tigers and the Brookfield Bulldogs began.
The first “bell game” was played in the fall of 1920, when Brookfield boasted a state championship team. Brookfield won, 16-13, but before long Marceline developed a team that could challenge the Bulldogs. In 1923, Marceline defeated Brookfield twice, on Armistice Day, 12-0, and on Thanksgiving Day, 19-0. In 1924, the Tigers beat the Bulldogs 44-0 on Armistice Day and 12-0 on Thanksgiving. Since then, however, the teams have traded victories, with the winner of the now single, annual game keeping a coveted brass bell as trophy.
by Jim Aucoin