One-room schoolhouse holds lots of memories

by marlys good

Clair and Arlene Cheatham held a “grade school reunion” at their home on Shell Creek July 6, inviting everyone who had attended the one-room Stone School six miles east of Greybull to share memories of bygone days.

He noted, “One doesn’t hear of too many grade school reunions, but one room, eight-grade schools are different. Some of us spent eight to 10 years together in one room, with one teacher who cared about us.”

Although officially named the Odessa School, to early pioneers of Shell Valley and the surrounding communities it is known simply as the Stone School.

The original 24- by 46-foot school was built from sandstone quarried from nearby hills on land donated to the Odessa school district that was named for the nearby Odessa Post Office that operated from 1891-1895.

Cheatham recalls, “My grandfather, Jesse Joel Smith, was among the pioneers who helped cut the stone to construct the school. His three children all attended, with my mother (Inez, the youngest) starting first grade in 1908.”

When doors to the school opened in 1906, it is reported that 40 children were in attendance, which indicated just how important education was to the early pioneer settlers.

Former Stone School students attending in addition to the host were Dwain Cheatham of Powell, Robert Akin (who attended for just one year), Harry Barnett, Mary Bond Dempster of Lovell, Alice Forbes Chapple of Hardin, Mont., Francis “Frankie” Good, Leora “Lee” Good, Harry Grisham, James Grisham of Lovell, Johnny Herren, Roy Herren of Billings, Sharon Peterson Silcocks of Whitehall, Mont. and Kathy Stevens of Emblem.

Dwain Cheatham was the earliest attendee having started first grade in 1938 and “graduating” from the eighth grade in 1946. He read a poem about the school that he had composed that was funny, sad, interesting and very true, all at the same time.

Silcocks was an honored guest. The daughter of Stone School teacher Lucille Peterson Stone read a letter her mother had written describing her experiences.  (Peterson Stone was the last to teach at the school before it closed in the mid 1950s.)

Thelma Smith shared memories of the school in a letter to Cheatham. “Life in those days revolved around the school. Here we saw our neighbors, had parties, sang, danced and ate with them, as well as attended the many programs sponsored by the school. We loved entertaining our families with special programs for Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. (Our teacher) Mrs. Nelson obviously cared for each of us and we loved her in return. But I did dread Mondays and oral reports. While the darns in my long brown stockings seemed a work of art to me, I was not happy to show them off to the boys…”

Smith recalled building play houses out of the rocks and using flat rocks, sticks and bottles for furniture. Another favorite playground activity was playing Annie, Annie Over.

“We would throw the ball over the schoolhouse and the other side would catch it, run around the building and attempt to touch one of our players before we made a dash for the other side. If the ball was thrown crooked it would roll into the bell tower. One day one of the more daring boys climbed up the bell rope, pushed himself through the trap door into the tower and let down a virtual windfall of balls … In the winter we played ‘fox and geese’ in the snow.”

John McGough, who purchased the school in 1980, arranged for the attendees to visit the Stone School and loaned them a notebook thick with invaluable records and photos dating back to 1903.

Cheatham, who “graduated” from the school in 1952 and from Greybull High School in 1956, said, “We all owe a debt of gratitude to John, who rescued the school building from deterioration and/or demolition. We need symbols like the Stone School to remind us of the work and sacrifice of our pioneer forefathers. Education was important to them and we are still reaping the rewards of their dedication.”

The afternoon passed quickly as the “alumni” shared their memories of the Stone School. “Our memories of the Stone School, if not perfectly sharp, are very poignant. We are already planning the next ‘grade school reunion’ hoping that with better planning and more advance notice, everyone who attended the Stone School will come relive the great experience they had there,” Cheatham concluded.