History still stands at Ridgeway Schoolhouse

RIDGEWAY — Few people remain to tell the stories about the early days of the Ridgeway Schoolhouse on Old Highway 65 north of Harrison. Even fewer have played on the basketball team and can recall the days there on the hardwood.

As the messengers of history fade away, so often do the tales of times past.

Dating back to the controversial school consolidation movement of the 1920’s and 1930’s, Ridgeway School was established in November of 1929 for grades 1-12 and land was purchased from G.W. Stover on April 10, 1930 to build the schoolhouse.

The school was completed at a cost of $11,000 and opened in September of 1930 as District #3. Attendance numbers of the school ranged from 220 to 308 from 1930 to 1949. At the peak of enrollment, there were five school buses operating.

Due to a fire in 1941, the building was destroyed and work began quickly to rebuild the school. L.D. Gass and Tangle Kostolecky were able to use what appears to be the original foundation while cleaning and reusing many of the bricks from the initial building. Strong backs from the older students were instrumental in the rebuild. The standing structure that exists today is a testament to the heavy solid oak beams, planks and hardwood used to complete the school and get it functioning again. In 1943, the building was reopened.

Upon entering the front door, the 40’ by 70’ basketball court occupies the main room with a stage on the west end.

The court served many purposes during the school days. There were several classes that were taught on the basketball court during the day along with three pot-belly stoves that served as heat sources for the large room. On days where basketball games were played, the principal had a timed schedule to let the wood burn out in the stove. Then the stoves, which were on wheels, would be rolled into the kitchen and the flues would be taken down to open up the court.

Once games were in place, there was very little room for fans to watch the game. The out of bounds area is around 16 inches deep and provided just enough room for the spectators to form a line around the court.

History notes that when the ball was on one end of the court, the fans from the opposite end would move out onto the floor to watch from the far side. Then when the other team began to move the ball back to their goal, the fans would disperse back to the sidelines and the other fans would move out onto the court.

Little information is known of the accomplishments from the basketball team and the teams that they played on the court.

The court has been used by many groups and churches for the purpose of gamesmanship and competition over the years and is still useful today.

The stage on the west end of the court has hosted many concerts. In the 1940’s, “Mother” Maybelle and the Carter Sisters performed on the stage along with Chet Atkins while he was a part of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn.

Many other concerts have been performed on the Ridgeway stage including the Lighthouse Messengers who began in 1983 and continued until 1999.

World War II was an influence during the 1943 rebuild of the school and many trees were planted in front of the schoolhouse in honor of former students that lost their lives in military action during war-time. Very few of the trees remain today.

Local resident Dixie Martin recalls beginning school in Ridgeway in 1943 and “thinking it was the biggest building that I had ever seen. They would cook beans in the kitchen of the morning and it could be smelled throughout the whole school during the mornings.”

Stories about the school range from boys and girls having outhouses on opposite sides of the field behind the building; games in the trees and on the rock wall in front of the school during recess before and after lunch; along with playing jacks on the front steps.

The first graduating class from Ridgeway was in 1934 and consisted of 14 students. In 1949, there were four students who encompassed the final graduating class.

During the 1949-1950 school year, most of the Ridgeway School District consolidated with Harrison School District #1. Ridgeway continued classes up to sixth grade until 1959. The building has been used for many things since those days.

From 1972 to 2008, the building was used as a fireworks stand with profits going to the maintaining of the building. It is still used as a meeting hall for many types of events such as garage sales, banquets, reunions and birthday parties.

For information on renting the building or donating to the Rural Community Improvement Board toward maintenance and restoration of the schoolhouse, contact Arvin Adams at (870) 743-5954.

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