For decades, passersby drove or walked by the small, nondescript white-frame building in Edmond without realizing its history and importance. It was clearly old, but it also had an interesting story begging to be heard.
Lucille Warrick, a local historian and member of the Edmond Historic Preservation Trust, was convinced the building at 124 E. Second St. was the 1889 Territorial Schoolhouse, which would make it the last remaining 1889 structure in Edmond.
In 1997, the trust got permission from the Edmond City Council to “investigate, acquire and preserve” the building, which at one time had been a private home and later Sanders Camera Shop.
Warrick and others involved with the project removed the inside walls of the vacant camera store to reveal the original painted blackboards once used by teachers and students more than 100 years earlier.
The schoolhouse was the brainchild of a group of 15 determined women who formed the Ladies School Aid Society in 1889 to provide a suitable school for local children. That summer, Jennie Forster boldly walked into Brown’s Lumber Co. and ordered — on credit — enough lumber to build a school in the newly founded town.
The women asked businesses for donations and organized fundraising dinners and socials, including an ice cream party that netted $25. Located on one of the six future schoolhouse lots, the school was completed by August and the lumber bill was paid by the end of the first school year.
Enough money also was raised to pay Ollie McCormick’s teaching salary for the first year, which allowed students to attend without paying tuition. It was the first public schoolhouse in Oklahoma Territory, and it’s currently the oldest schoolhouse in Oklahoma County. Nineteen students attended the first day of school on Sept. 16, 1889, and that number quickly rose to 37.
The school’s use often stretched beyond desks and blackboards, though. Four Protestant churches were established at the schoolhouse, and the first recorded wedding in Oklahoma County took place there.
Classes were held in it for 10 years, but Edmond was growing, and the one-room schoolhouse was small. It was sold and remodeled into a private residence in 1900, and in 1950, Sanders Camera Shop moved in and stayed through the mid-1970s.
The boarded-up building then sat empty for years with little interest in its past or future until the research and efforts of Warrick and determined others helped reveal the historical remnant sitting on one of the city’s busiest streets.
The Edmond Historic Preservation Trust purchased the building in 2001 and started an aggressive fundraising campaign and restoration project with a formal dedication in 2007. The schoolhouse, now furnished like it might have been originally, was restored as an Oklahoma Centennial Project.
In 2010, the schoolhouse was honored with a place on the National Schoolhouse Registry by the Country School Association of America, whose members work to preserve and protect one-room schoolhouses. At that time, only 22 schoolhouses in the United States had received the registry honor. Some 50 members of the association toured the school while in Oklahoma for a conference. Richard Lewis, then chairman of the registry, said the school was “the prettiest and the best we’ve seen,” according to The Oklahoman in 2010.
The 1889 Territorial School is open on Saturday afternoons for visitors. It also hosts field trips and summer camps where children are transported back in time as they write in pen and ink, practice their math on slates and dress in period clothing. Today, more than 130 years after the first students in Oklahoma attended it, the schoolhouse continues to be a place to learn — and not just for the young.