Mason County News
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The Smith and Blue Mountain Schools
Wednesday, June 11, 2008 • Posted June 11, 2008

In the Southwest corner of Mason County lies the remotely located former school district # 14. In those days, the county school district system was used to divide the county. A law from the State in 1884 was written for these divisions to be made and it was common for school numbers to be altered as needs changed.

In 1914 a seven-grade school was opened just inside Kimble County on the Howard Smith Ranch. The red lumber building caused it to be called by the typical title "The Little Red School House" although; the official name was the Smith School. It was considered a Mason School and the first teacher was Mary Hennening, with Will Crouch and H.C. Smith serving as trustees.

The region was sparsely settled and most of the families lived and worked on the Smith and J.W. White ranches. Other ranches at the time were the Daniel Jordan, Ernest Jordan, and Emil Hoerster properties. Additional trustees through the years were Will Cavness, Miller G. Keith, C.C. Smith, Tom Carter, Marvin Hoerster and Ollie Martin. In 1925 Miss Donnie Herring taught and Goldia Brewer began teaching in 1929.

Twenty-one years after it was begun, the Smith School burned. This was also the first year for Miss Doris Johnson to teach in district # 14. A new site, several miles east of the old place, was chosen for the school and it was built on land owned by Walter and Lydia Lehmberg. Located a distance of twenty-four miles from the Mason Courthouse, the school was placed beside the Blue Mountain Road. The road was of dirt and ran into Kimble County. The trustees were C.C. Smith, Marvin Hoerster, and Ollie Martin. These men continued to serve in various years, with the addition of Dub White and Fritz Lehmberg other years.

Eldred Collier and Ollie Martin used their trucks to haul concrete blocks from Mason and both helped to erect the Blue Mountain School, as it was now to be called. It is thought that the materials for this school were purchased at the R. Grosse and Sons lumberyard in Mason. The building was assembled of concrete blocks, was rectangular shaped, had double doors on the east side, a single door on the west side, and featured four windows on the south, but had no windows on the north. Classes began in the new Blue Mountain School in the fall of 1936.

The school had a teacher's desk, two seated desks for the students and a free standing blackboard measuring six feet by five feet. A wood burning heater gave warmth, and fathers took turns bringing wood, stacking it by the back door. One of the fathers, took turns bringing wood, stacking it by the back door. One of the fathers, Ollie Martin, came early each day and built a fire to warm the building before the teacher and students arrived.

A windmill, several hundred yards north of the school, furnished the water, and the boys were assigned to carry buckets full back to the classroom. Frogs and tadpoles, in a trough beside the mill, gave the boys some added playtime before they returned with the water. Another responsibility for the students was dusting the blackboard erasers and helping the teacher with janitorial duties. Restroom facilities were an outhouse for the boys and another one for the girls.

At recess the children frequently played in Big Rocky Creek, a wet weather stream running from the southwest out of the Smith ranch and making a bend east of the school. During their play there, the children stacked creek rocks to make forts and then commenced playing games such as cowboys and Indians, shooting rocks with their slingshots.

Electricity came to Blue Mountain in 1947 with the main power line traveling north of school. Holes had to be blasted in the rocky earth and the children spent their recess and lunch periods watching the construction of the high-line-branch passing by the school. Work crews doing the blasting, repeatedly left the remnants from the blasting wire lying on the ground, which became a newfound treasure for the boys. They gathered these wires and took them home to make telegraph keys and other things.

Playground equipment was a swing set of four swings mounted on a pipe across three tall cedar posts. The boys dangerously sought to make the swings go as high as they could. One day, Milton Stephens made his swing, with him in it, go completely over the pipe, amazing all that he hadn't killed himself. Other times, the children played baseball or tag and hide-and-seek in the brush or in the creek. Inventing things to do, the children chose to dig in a caliche pit south of the school. When Henry Leifeste and Ross Kothmann, the road grader operators came by, they stopped to visit and complimented the children on the good job they were doing with the limestone.

Easter was a special time for the student body. Mothers prepared dyed eggs and hid them south of the school for a big egg hunt. Afterwards, everyone enjoyed Kool-Aid and cookies.

The school building gave a place for the community to gather on Saturday evenings for dominoes and forty-two. At the end of the school year, families always assembled for a picnic. A parent would go to Mason and buy wooden cases filled with twenty-four, six-ounce bottles of soda water, and blocks of ice to cool the drinks in washtubs. This was an extraordinary treat; it being the only time most of the children ever got to have a soda.

Not many students attended the Blue Mountain School at one time. Living on the J.W. White ranch were the Maddox twins, Ona and Oma, who began first grade in 1936. Their teacher was Doris Johnson, who stayed with the Martins. Other student then were Jerry Jarret and his sister and Wilma June Martin. Joyce Martin was too young to be a student, but spent time at the school to take part in the special activities for which Miss Johnson was famous. Also attending were Eddie Ray and Billy Joe Dockal and Susie and Ligett Craddock.

In 1942 the Maddox family returned, after having moved away. They boarded the teacher, Miss Lena Cochran, who drove the Maddox's car to school taking the twins and their brother P.B. along. Other students attending then were Dorothy and Charles Morris and Chester Ellebracht.

During the noon hour everyone ate his or her sack lunch. At times, Miss Cochran brought government commodities from Mason, usually canned beans and meat, and heated them on the wood heater. This she shared with the students who in turn shared their homemade bread.

Miss Evelyn Splittgerber began teaching the next two years and roomed at her sister Billie and husband Fritz Lehmberg's home. First and second grade students were Dennis Hoerster, James Ellebracht and Dalton Stephens. The Bakers, Carl, Bob and Clara Jo also attended. The Baker boys, especially Carl, often misbehaved. One day Bob misbehaved and Miss Splittgerber readied to paddle him. Carl, taking up for his brother, held the teacher while Bob paddled her. Word spread quickly through out the community. The next morning, the Bakers arrived by car with their father at the wheel. Other parents were also at school. Mr. Baker asked Miss Splittgerber where she kept the paddle, and she gladly handed it to him. When Mr. Baker finished paddling Bob and Carl, they knew what he meant. The Bakers lived on the eastern point of the J.W. White ranch and had eight miles to travel to school. Being expert horsemen, Carl and Bob broke wild horses and rode them to school, with Clara Jo following in a buggy. During the day, they kept their horses in Ollie Martin's pens. At times, the Stephens boys caught a ride in the Baker buggy, but most of the time they rode horses or bicycles some five miles.

The summer of 1945 the Blue Mountain school building was divided into two rooms. The room on the West became the home of the next teacher, Mrs. Anita Thurman, her husband and two children. They lived there two years with no electricity or running water. The other room remained the classroom where Mrs. Thurman taught first grader, Harold Hoerster, the Dick and Jane reader. Other students beside the Bakers and Stephens were The Hoersters, Harold and Dennis, the Ellebrachts, James and Ruth, the Thurmans, Carrie Jo and Boyd, Kelly Davenport and Mical Landon. Harold, Dennis, James and Kelly all rode their bicycles from separate directions. It being too rough to ride their bicycles across Rocky Creek, Harold, Dennis and James walked the remaining quarter of a mile to school.

The last teacher at Blue Mountain was Miss Dicky Barsch, who drove an impressive Ford, convertible car. One afternoon, she and her boyfriend took some the children in the Ford, to Yates Crossing on the Llano River. They showed the children how to roast weiners and marshmallows on a stick and how to put the roof up on the convertible when the temperature got cold on their way home.

Blue Mountain was one of the last schools to completely consolidate with the Mason Independent School District in 1948. The previous year the eastern ninety square miles of district fourteen went to Mason, with fifty square miles of district fourteen went to Mason, with fifty square miles remaining at Blue Mountain. Consolidation was not taken lightly in the Blue Mountain. Consolidation was not taken lightly in the Blue Mountain Community, for some were in favor and some were against the move.

It took a number of years for feelings to sooth, because it was difficult to give up their rural school.

Once the children began coming to Mason, they were furnished a school bus. The vehicle being a surplus, World War II Dodge 4 X 4 Power Wagon that had been an ambulance during the war. Its only likeness to a school bus was the words, SCHOOL BUS, on the sides of the yellow painted conveyance. The seats were side seats and the roof was very low, so that the passengers struck their heads against it every time a bump was hit on the long rough road. The four-wheeled-drive was put into use frequently on the deep rutted, muddy road during the rainy season of 1948/1949.

The bus driver, Ervin Splittgerber, lived in Mason. He drove to the Blue Mountain School on Sunday evenings to spend the night. On Monday morning he gathered the children for the trip to the Mason school. Monday afternoon, Mr. Ervin, as the children called him, returned the children home and stayed to spend the night again. This he did Sunday through Thursday nights every week. After fourteen, months of school, the converted ambulance was replaced with a new twelve-passenger bus. Although the building was not being used for school purposes, it gave nurture to the bus driver until the close of the 1956 school year, when Ervin Splittgerber retired.

Stuart and Gloria Vortenbaum, who purchased it in 2000 from the Lehmburg descendants, now own the

Blue Mountain School.

Note: Harold Hoerster, a former student at Blue Mountain, gathered the information and wrote his memories which appear in this article. Dolores Keller compiled his many pages of information into this piece. Judy Schoenfeld drew the Blue Mountain School's picture from descriptions given her by Dalton Stephens and Harold Hoerster's photographs showing parts of the building. This is one in a series of the Mason County, country school histories and pictures being done by Judy and Dolores and community writers, to consolidated into a publication. This project was begun in the summer of 2007.

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