The once thriving town of Wilmington, Kansas, established by H. D. Shepard in 1856, was located near the Wilimington School. The School was opened in 1870, as stated by a stone plaque mounted on the front of the school. This school house is now owned by the Flint Hills Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail and someday they hope to be able to restore it to its original condition. The photo's below show the progress made by Mark Smith & the Flint Hills Chapter who are in the process of doing the work to restore the old structure. In 2003, in Marks spare time, he has started to work on the west side of the school. A DAR marker also is at this location.
"Wilmington School 2003"
Osage County Chronicle
June 26, 2003
The school house at Wilmington is getting a face lift. In the very real sense of the word.
The stone wall on the west side of the school collapsed in 1995 and has lay in the warm brown soil of Wabaunsee county since then. Now the wall is literally being dug out of the mud and is slowly taking shape as a straight weather proof wall again.
The Wilmington School was built in 1870, and is one of the few remaining landmarks in the small community on the Santa Fe Trail.
As we understand, the school is only one of two schools which are still standing directly on the Santa Fe Trail said Lois DeWitt, long time Wilmington resident.
The Flint Hills chapter of the Santa Fe Trail recently and reluctantly made the decision to demolish the school because of its dangerous condition.
Mark Smith of Eskridge, Kansas heard about the plight of the school and submitted a bid to rebuild the wall, repair the roof and guttering and a bulge in the south wall.
His bid was double the amount we had to spend, and we were in despair, said Lois DeWitt.
Mark, knowing that the school meant a lot more than money to Wilmington residents, said, I'll do the repairs for what money you have.
My family's roots go deep into Wilmington soil. My grandfather went to school here in 1911. His name was Gelnn "Deke" Marrifield and he is buried in the Wilmington cemetery along with a lot of my family. I'm a fourth generation Merrifield descendent to have a connection with this school.
I just couldn't let the school disintegrate further. I'm working on it as I have time, and the project will be finished and the school sealed off from the elements.
The Chapter estimates that the repairs I'm making will last another 50 years, but who knows.
The original school was laid up, stone on stone with no cement used. The first row of stones were laid, and a layer of river sand was spread to the top of the stone and another row of stones were laid. That original buillding lasted well over 100 years.
The old timers stop by all the time to check on the progress and too tell stories about the area and their days in school. It's always interesting, said Mark.
The area east of the school was planted in neat rows with Chinese Elm Trees and it was hoped that one day it would be a beautiful park for the Wilmington Area. Of course, as everyone knows today, Chinese Elms are some of the most fragil of trees, but when the light is right and if you squint your eyes in a certain way, you can imagine what a beautiful park it would have been.
We try to maintain the grounds the best we can, and people come here to have picnics and reminisce, said Lois. Sometimes children from the Mission Valley school district come here, just to see what school was like in the old days.
There are so many people and businesses who have helped us stretch our meager budget. Harold Hinck is donating more stone for the walls and Hamm's Quarry donated a load of sand for the cement. So many people have helped, we can never begin to thank them all, said Lois.
As always seems to be the case, the Flint Hills Chapter is dangerously short of money to maintain their treasures, including the Wilmington School. Carol Retzer of Lyndon, President of the chapter said, We will have to start passing the hat very soon, to come up with much needed funds to finish the rest of the restorations at the school.
The Wilmington School seems to be one of the lucky relics still standing on the Santa Fe Trail as it traveled through Kansas, many other structures just aren't as fortunate, they are slowly crumbling into dust along the Trail, and remain nothing more than a fragile memory in the minds of the old timers.
Thanks to the DeWitt family and other caring people, the Wilmington School has had a second chance to be living history, and perhaps your donations could help another monument find a second life.
Santa Fe Trail Research Site
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Larry & Carolyn
St. John, Ks.