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Early Schools

1874-1904: Early Bartlesville Schools

Today state income and local ad valorem taxes provide free public schools to our children. Real estate in the Cherokee Nation was not taxed, however, until 1904 and there were no free public schools in Bartlesville until 1899. Before the advent of public schools there were a variety of small church or "subscription" schools where parents paid the teachers directly. Tuition was typically 50¢ to $1 per month per student, which could be reduced by in-kind payments in food or lodgings. Indian children were not charged, for the Cherokee Nation paid the salaries of their teachers. These schools often met in homes or in buildings donated by civic-minded residents. Some teachers had simply earned a high school diploma, while others had college degrees. Schools were often seasonal to allow students to work in the fields, so terms were seldom more than three or four months long. School materials were scarce: a slate board, slate pencil, and lead pencil were the norm while paper and textbooks were rare.

Silver Lake SchoolSilver Lake/Delaware-Baptist School: 1874
The Delaware settlers of Silver Lake built a school about one mile north of the lake, near the southeast corner of what is now Hillcrest Country Club. The building was also a church, with services given in Delaware and then translated into English. The school was known as both Silver Lake School and the Delaware-Baptist School. It served both Indian and white children until the 1890s, when the students transferred to the Rice Creek School. The picture at right was taken in the 1920s, showing Bartlesville founding father George B. Keeler and early lawman/historian Francis Revard.

Carr Subscription School: 1877
Nelson Carr built a small trading post along the Osage Indian trail on the Caney River at Black Dog ford northwest of present-day Bartlesville in 1867. He established a subscription school at that site in 1877. Mellie Smith of Coffeyville was the teacher at the log school, and she courted John J. Seidle and they were married in 1880. She continued teaching at the school for a few more years. Mellie is buried with John in the Stokes Cemetery near Bar-Dew Lake.

Smith-Bellows Subscription School: 1879
Henrietta Smith-Bellows, Mellie Smith's mother, operated a subscription school on the west bank of Coon Creek north of present-day Price Field on Tuxedo Road, about 3/4 mile east of the Bartles store. Many of the students at that school later attended the Armstrong subscription school on Delaware Avenue.

Bartles Town/Northside Subscription School: 1889
Jacob Bartles' settlement north of the Caney River had a school taught by Allie Callahan-Benjamin for about six months, and then the students went to the Armstrong Subscription School in Southside.

Armstrong School, 1893Armstrong Subscription Schools: 1890
Arthur (Henry) Armstrong, the only registered Delaware Indian to settle in the early days in what is now Bartlesville, first built a log school and church building which was about 20 square feet at the north end of Seneca Avenue across the river from Bartles Town (Northside). The facility served 12 to 15 Indians, whites, and blacks. He built the slab-sided subscription school at right from native lumber around 1890 on north Delaware Avenue, also south of the Caney River. This building was later moved to Second and Osage and became known as the "band hall" for the coronet band that practiced there and because of I.N. Nash, a musician who had performed with John Philip Sousa's legendary band. Nash taught at that school until about 1896. The building was used by the new public school system in the early 1900s and eventually became an ice cream store.

Limestone Prairie & Highland Park Schools
The Limestone Prairie school district No. 10, which was later absorbed by Bartlesville, was formed in 1915 and operated schools whose sites were later occupied by other Bartlesville school facilities, including a one-room school for Delaware Indians at present-day Washington Boulevard and Nowata Road, which later became the Limestone facility, and a Prairie School from 1907 to 1939 at the present site of Ranch Heights elementary school. In 1923 District 10 was dissolved into Limestone school district No. 5 and Highland Park. In the 1960s the Limestone district absorbed the Fish Creek School described below.

Other Schools

  • Fish Creek SchoolFish Creek, named after an early Delaware settler named Fish, was east of Bartlesville. A Fish Creek school occupied four different locations over time, with its final location just south of Bartlesville along present highway 75. The frame building in the photograph was replaced in the 1930s by a stone WPA building. It was once known as school district #12, but eventually the school was absorbed into the Limestone Schools. After the school's closing, the building became a Moose Lodge for many years, but was destroyed by fire on January 7, 1996. Local historian Ruby Cranor published a history of the school in 1997, entitled Fish Creek School and Community History.
  • The Rice Creek School was established in the early 1890s on John Rice's allotment southwest of Limestone Intersection (Highway 75 and Nowata Road).
  • Circa 1903 there was a Jesse Creek school four miles southwest of Bartlesville.
  • Roughly 10 miles northeast of Bartlesville was the Blue Mound or Scudder one-room schoolhouse which was built in 1914 for $900. It was moved to another location after World War I.
  • The Jesuit Fathers of the Catholic Church became spiritual guides and agricultural mentors to the Osage Indians. Father Edward and a few white Catholics started a mission in Bartlesville in 1901, and by 1905 had built a red brick mission church on the corner of Eighth and Johnstone. The St. John Parish was established in 1906, and its first priest, Father John Van den Hende, established the St. John Grade School in 1912. The Ursuline Sisters of Paola, Kansas originally operated the school, which had its first graduating class of 15 students in 1920. This private school remains in operation to this day.

Bartlesville Public Schools Start in 1899
On May 29, 1899 the Bartlesville City Council passed Ordinance 36, levying taxes for public schools. On October 2, 1899 the school board recommended a 15 mill (1.5% tax), which was levied by the city council's Ordinance 39. Thus the first free school sessions began in October, 1899 with classes held at these five locations:

  • The old Armstrong Subscription School or Band Hall building at Second and Osage.
  • The old Methodist Church South near Fourth and Delaware, a building which was later remodeled and moved to 708 S. Johnstone Avenue.
  • The one-room Smelter Town school at the west end of Third Street (now Frank Phillips Boulevard). This school served the children of the many immigrants employed at the city's smelters. Miss Ila Berry taught at that school from 1907-1912, lured by the extra $10 per month that position paid over the other facilities in town.
  • The one-room McCaleb School, located in the same area as the Smelter Town School.
  • A two-room frame building built at Sixth and Cherokee from the donations of city fathers Johnstone, Keeler, Bartles, and Armstrong. Three more frame buildings would be added at that site before the Garfield School was built there in 1904.
From 1899 until 1905, the public school system had a succession of six different principals. In 1900, the school had 138 pupils from 6 to 17 years of age. There were eight teachers in 1903 and twelve by 1904.