Florence residents watch as old school building fades away, stone by stone

FlorenceESRazeB672.jpg
FlorenceESRazeB672.jpg

The old Florence Grade School as it appeared in late July. Most of the limestone bricks were hand-carved, adding to the uniqueness of the historic structure that is now being razed after being condemned years ago.

OldFlorenceElementary.jpg

This is a photo of the old Florence Grade School before the demolition project began. Florence Grade School closed with the 1970-71 school year. With no students to grace its hallways, deterioration soon followed.

The old Florence Grade School will live on in the hearts and minds of its residents and former students even as demolition of the building continues.

With only three walls left standing, Jeff Masters of Jetco Construction in El Dorado, who owns the limestone structure, isn?t without empathy.

?The grade school was already condemned when I bought it, so I had no choice but to take it down,? Masters said. ?The masonry between the bricks was gone, making this a very dangerous situation.?

He said it?s not unusual for people in Florence to stand nearby and watch the demolition.

?Many watch with tears running down their face,? Masters said. ?I think there?s a lot of sadness seeing (the school) go away.?

Masters said he hopes he might ease some of that ache by letting people know the limestone hasn?t fallen by the wayside.

?We built a new $3 million house in El Dorado, and from the ground up we used the school?s limestone,? he said. ?It is the best built house in Butler County.?

In addition, Masters said he has sold pieces of the building to people who have inquired.

?I had a lady call me recently asking for two hand-carved limestone window headers,? he said. ?She told me she went to school there and plans to make a garden out of the limestone.?

Masters said he also has five buildings in Hidden Creek that will need to come down brick by brick.

?It?s a sideline for me,? he said, ?but I want to recycle as much of old buildings as possible.?

Masters said he gets calls during the week from people wanting to buy a piece of the grade school building.

While not trying to sell stone for collectors, he said he doesn?t want to discourage it either.

For more information about buying a piece of grade-school history, Masters can be reached at 316-390-5002.

Trying to identify how old the Florence school was, Masters said he found a lot of notes inside the school.

?We even found a math paper from 1876.?

What makes the building special is that so much of the stone was hand-carved.

Masters said he also bought the bus barn and high school in Florence, but has no plans to take them down.

Prior to Masters buying the three buildings, Mike Miller of Wichita owned them. Before that, the succession of owners is sketchy.

Linda Heath, a 1965 Florence High School graduate, has many fond memories of the school.

?I sure hated to see it torn down,? she said. ?There is so much history in that building.?

One event she recalled was the 1951 flood.

?Many people were housed there because they had no other place to go.?

Heath went to Florence schools for all her 12 years.

?My father, uncle, cousins, brothers, sisters, all went to Florence schools,? Heath said.

Neva Robinson, Harvey House (museum) trustee and past president of the museum board, said her children attended private schools, but she lived in Florence and saw the changes.

?The high school consolidated with Marion in 1969,? she said, ?but so many details about the school are sketchy.?

All the other grades were bused from Florence to Marion with the 1971-72 school year.

Referring to a book written by Sondra Van Meter, ?Marion County Kansas Past and Present,? Robinson said Van Meter?s facts about Florence schools were the most detailed she has seen.

Van Meter wrote that Florence School District No. 4 had 53 children enrolled in 1872-73 and three teachers were employed there.

?School terms only averaged three months per year during the 1870s,? she wrote.

Because of increased enrollment, another grade school was erected in 1878 on West Sixth Street. By 1883, about 360 children were of school age with only four teachers available.

The rural economic decline across the country during the decade of 1970-80 forced many schools to voluntarily close or otherwise consolidate.

Van Meter?s book is available at public libraries in the county.

Duane McCarty and his mother, Estelle, were also associated with the school in the days before consolidation.

?My mom was a cook at the school for 15 years and my sister also went to school there,? he said. ?It was sad, but I know the school was falling apart.?

Florence Grade School closed with the 1970-71 school year. With no students to grace its hallways, deterioration soon followed.

Even though the school will no longer be a fixture, Florence resident Scott Zogelman said the local PRIDE committee is selling 8×10 prints of the old school to fund its Crossroads Newsletter.

Anyone wanting to buy this photograph is asked to contact Zogelman by e-mailing him at Crossroads@florenceks.com.

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