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If you’ve ever wondered why the small white building on Kit Carson Drive on the south part of campus is there, wonder no more. 

The building, Granny Richardson Springs one-room schoolhouse, has a fascinating story, including how it came to be on EKU’s campus. And you have an opportunity to learn all about it Sept. 9 from 4 – 6 p.m. during its open house. 

Martha Elkin “Granny” Richardson was born in 1791 in Clark County, Kentucky and later moved to an area near Brushy Mountain in Estill County where she taught in the one-room school house for many years. The Granny Richardson Springs School was named in her honor. The school opened in 1900, six years before Eastern Kentucky State Normal School was established. It was donated to EKU by the heirs of the late Eli Sparks.

“EKU exists because of the many one-room schoolhouse teachers who would toil in obscurity for months before returning to EKU for their academic preparation. In those days, much like today, schools were only as good as the quality of their teachers. And EKU raised the level of education in eastern Kentucky for decades,” said Dr. Richard Day, curator of the Granny Richardson Springs museum and EKU professor. 

Already a prosperous school,  in 1915 oil was discovered on school property. When the oil dried up an acid treatment was used in an attempt to float more oil, but instead it contaminated the school spring. By 1950, the school was down to 13 students, and by 1963 they had 6 pupils across eight grades and the school closed at the end of the 1963-64 school year. For a period of time it was used as a residence and later a barn.

By 1975, the number of one-room schools in Kentucky had dwindled from a high of nearly 8,500 until there were very few left. At the urging of Ellis Hartford, University of Kentucky education historian and author of “The Little White Schoolhouse,” Dr. Robert R. Martin, president of Eastern Kentucky University and former Kentucky Superintendent of Public Instruction, obtained the school and had it moved to campus. The original location was sufficiently remote that they had to take down the schoolhouse to get it out. There was only a narrow road with a big cliff on one side and they had to cut down trees on both sides for the truck to get through. So, they dismantled it, removed all of the bad timber, and reassembled it on the EKU campus. They got the furnishings from a school in Lee County and the potbelly stove from a Beattyville school.

In 2003, EKU’s College of Education launched an effort to raise funds to renovate the schoolhouse. A $35,000 grant from the EKU Foundation augmented approximately $12,000 in money raised through a benefit event. In 2008, the school was rededicated by EKU President Doug Whitlock.

Over the decade since the rededication the school received only intermittent attention, but donors remained interested in preserving the school. Vice President for Development Betina Gardner informed Dean Sherry Powers of the existence of an $11,000 budget dedicated to the school, and Powers asked Day to take on the project. He recruited Dr. Ricky Mullins to assist and a website was developed to support the project.

Since 2019, EKU has made repairs to the flooring, chimney, and windows, patched holes in the foundation, replaced the siding,  and painted the interior and roof. Day received a $1,000 grant from the Country School Association of America to have the roof repainted. An antique school bell will soon stand outside of the schoolhouse.

“And I hope the undergrads will ring it from time to time,” said Day, “to remind folks that the little school is here and ready for visitors.”

In converting the school into a museum, Day, who serves as curator, added a number of vintage school items and other items of interest to children in the 1940s and & 1950s.

Items include: 

48-star US flag

Viewmaster stereoscope

Tinker Toy Wonder Builder set

Vintage Crayons, chalk, yardstick, chalkboard compass, flash cards, and various instructional charts

Gilbert Erector set

1952 Kentucky road map (before interstate highways)

1860 Lincoln portrait (reproduction)

1930s baseball bat and glove

1933 wooden Africa jig saw puzzle

1955 rat skeleton

1951 Dick & Jane Big Book

Kentucky Cardinal thermometer

Milk bottle

1940s US coins and stamps

Vintage textbooks (and EKU yearbooks from 1948 & 49)

Photos of students and the schoolhouse in Estill Co.

 “I noticed that a lot of people focus their museums on the earliest days of a school’s existence. But those artifacts are very difficult to find and are often very expensive if you do. Due in part to our modest budget, we decided to focus on the end of the school’s run and gather artifacts prior to 1963-64 when the school closed. That has allowed us to collect more items of interest and create a space where visitors can spend a little more time recalling life from that earlier time,” Day said.

 The school is situated on the EKU campus, directly across the street from the EKU’s Hummel Planetarium, which is a major destination for school field trips in central Kentucky hosting 17,000 visitors per year. It is also adjacent to a trail which runs through an American Chestnut orchard, past the Hancock Taylor gravesite, to the Taylor Fork Ecological Area, attracting 15,000 visitors a year. Teachers have repeatedly requested to visit the schoolhouse on their visits. In order to better facilitate that request, a project is being undertaken to acquire additional artifacts/exhibits and set up the school for self-guided (or teacher-guided) tours via digital technology.

Granny Richardson Springs one-room schoolhouse

Open House

Sept 9,  4 – 6 p.m.