1903 Meramec Highlands students in front of the school with their teacher, Marian Brossard of Kirkwood.
Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Transportation.
In the early 1890s the Meramec Highlands area
was believed by residents and Highlands Company promoters to be
on the verge of a population boom and in need of its own school rather than having area students make the long trip
daily into Kirkwood by horse drawn vehicles or by foot. At that time, most of the area was part of the Kirkwood
In 1893, a group of families banded together
to form a private school at the Highlands. The Barretts correspondent
to the St. Louis County Watchman first reported about the movement in September.
as the services of a competent teacher can be secured, a private school will
be opened at
Meramec Highlands. This will be a great convenience for the numerous families residing in
The school opened October 15th "with Professor Payne" as the teacher. Henry C. Payne was a young man who had previously taught two terms at the Glendale School. By November, the school was, "progressing well," with 18 students enrolled.
The location of the private Highlands School
is unknown, but it is an assumption that it operated in the Meramec
Highlands Frisco Depot until a school house could be built. In 1893, the Highlands Inn was not yet completed, so the
train station offered the largest local structure that was not a residence and was not busy during the school hours in the
fall and winter seasons. The store was another possible location since it was operated by John Berghoff, a major force behind the school movement.
The President of the Meramec Highlands Company, Marcus Bernheimer, supported the effort to establish a school. He realized that company workers would need a school for their children, and that it would be a drawing card for potential buyers in his real estate promotions at Meramec Highlands. At the end of the first school-year, he provided the Pagoda, a large open sided dancing pavilion, for the Meramec Highlands School year-end ceremony and school picnic. He attended as the guest of honor, presenting the silver medal to Julia Roeder, the highest achieving student.
A description of the picnic was shared in the Watchman with Highlands residents who were not in attendance:
"The Meramec Highlands
school closed on Wednesday May 9th with a delightful picnic.
The parents and
friends supplied the tables with tempting dainties while a good supply of fruits, candies and lemonade
delighted the little ones. After lunch they adjourned to the dance hall where Mr. Payne called
off an extensive and interesting programme....After the exercises the children spent some time in
racing and other sports. The boys indulged in sack races, climbing a pole, running blindfolded with a
wheelbarrow, etc., the first in the race being presented with a prize...."
At the ceremony, books were awarded as prizes
for deportment, advancement and best recitations. Most prizes
were won by the girls: Stella Dryer, Lillie and Edna Berghoff--the postmaster's daughters, Jennie Bull, Minnie
Bach, and Alma Strohm. H. Roeder was the only boy to win a prize, his for the best recitation.
In its first year, the school was quite successful,
serving about twenty students. The backers of the school
negotiated with the Kirkwood School Board and arranged an agreement to hold a special election regarding the formation
of the Meramec Highlands School District from the southwest part of the Kirkwood district.
In the special election on April 3, 1894, residents of the Meramec Highlands and Kirkwood voted at Kirkwood High School. The April 6th County Watchman reported that the issue carried unanimously. Highlands residents had already formulated plans to build their own school building.
site on Quinette Road has already been donated by the Meramec Highlands
Company who have
pledged themselves to erect a two story stone building upon it, which when completed will be the
finest school house in the county."
The Meramec Highlands Elementary School District
#51 became official upon the election of a school board. Two of
the first directors who were elected were Mr. William Groth, a farmer, and Mr. John Berghoff, the postmaster, storekeeper,
and station agent for the Meramec Highlands. The well known farmer, Leopold Marquitz was elected as President of the
Board. One of the first items of business handled by the board was to advertise for bids on the construction of the
"To contractors: Bids will be received for building a schoolhouse at Meramec Highlands up to Saturday July 9. Plans and specifications can be seen by application to the undersigned: John Berghoff Clerk of the School Board."
The Highlands School was built using Meramec Bluestone, better known as limestone, which was provided by the Meramec Highlands Quarry. The "Rock School" still stands, used as a private residence, at #39 Barberry Lane in Kirkwood, Missouri.
One of the former students of the school, Roy
Schymos, recalled that the school building was located on a road known
as Highland Avenue. The building was at the same grade as the road in the front, but from the front to the rear of the
building there was about a 30% downward grade. About 200 feet from the front of the building was a little ravine and
creek at the base of the hill behind the school. Roy, who attended first through sixth grade in the school, stated:
"It was a
one room school and had two separate cloak rooms, one for the girls, and
one for the
boys.... The toilet facilities were outside at the rear of the school, and of course that was
separated too, one for the boys and one for the girls."
George Seaver, a pivotal figure in Meramec Highlands School history, also discussed features of the school:
Highlands School was an old rock building with a belfry and a bell...and
would use the roadway for a playground. There was a small creek on the other side of the building.
They couldn't play down there too well because there was water running in there."
The school heating system was recalled by Marion
DeSuza: "The heat was furnished by a furnace in the middle of the
room. When it rained the kids had to dry their wet clothes by hanging them on chairs."
That heating stove was memorable for Elizabeth
Schillk who stated, "My father made a big round iron container to sit
on top of the stove in the school. It was filled with water. We would
bring our lunch in jars which we put in the water to
heat up our lunch."
Even though the Highlands School was much closer
than Kirkwood schools, many of the students still walked a long
distance each way. Roy Schymos remembered walking approximately a mile and a half each way. Lois Stites
walked up from Stites Beach on the Meramec River. After school, her father would meet her at the Frisco Depot and
walk with her the rest of the way home. Leo Merz and other students living north of the Missouri Pacific railroad tracks
remembered cautiously crossing a pasture where the dairy's bull grazed. Elizabeth Schillk was in a group of children who had to turn any red item of clothing inside out or cover it before an older child would let them cross the pasture. For some of the former students of the Highlands School, the walk to and from school was as memorable than the school itself!
Henry C. Payne had been well received in his
first term and was retained for the 1894-1895 school year as well as for
the 1895-1896 school year, when 31 pupils were enrolled. A highlight of the school year was the entertainment given on
the afternoon of December 24th. It consisted of speeches and dialogues. The January 3rd Watchman reported the presence of a special guest of honor:
"After the exercises were over, Santa Claus was introduced and presented all the children with a package containing candy, nuts, oranges and bananas. All enjoyed themselves and wished Christmas came at least once a month."
For more information see "Glimpses of Meramec Highlands."
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Meramec Highlands Elementary School District #51 was established in 1894. Its school was a one-room structure constructed of limestone from the Meramec Highlands Quarry. The one-story structure featured two separate cloakrooms, one for the girls and one for the boys, and a belfry complete with bell. The school was used by the district until Kirkwood took over education responsibilities for students in an annexed section of the Meramec Highlands District. Kirkwood utilized the school until the new Osage Hills School was completed in 1938. In 1945, the school and three lots were sold by the Kirkwood district to Henry and Edna Bergmann for $2,000. The Bergmanns removed the belfry, added a breezeway and a two-car garage and raised the roof, making the one-story building into a one-and-a-half story residence. The matched dormers in front were later additions. With the symmetry of the main structure, the multipane sash windows, the roof treatment and facade dormers, the structure today maintains a style with a flavor of the Colonial period.