EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was written in response to a reader-submitted question, through Open Source, a platform where readers can ask Richland Source’s newsroom to investigate a question.
MIFFLIN TOWNSHIP -- Its broken windows, crumbling walls and the boxes of Maximer-brand crop oil concentrate piled inside don’t tell an accurate story of the one-room “Buena Vista” schoolhouse.
This was the site where dozens of students once learned to read in a church-like pew and played wild games of “Cowboys and Indians.”
The schoolhouse, on the corner of Bowen and Crider Road in Mifflin Township (and others scattered across Richland County), shaped an entire generation of residents. But Buena Vista is now only a shell of its former existence, which left Mansfield native Susan Kidd wondering about the property’s “better days.”
She asked Richland Source to investigate the building's history after driving by it during a visit with her family.
“I’d always drive by that schoolhouse and thought it’s such a shame, I’d like to see it saved somehow,” she said.
Kidd was raised in Mansfield, and moved a few roads away from the schoolhouse after getting married in 1969. She and her husband stayed there through 1979, then relocated to Colorado.
“I was just interested in it because I used to live on Crider Road. It was walking distance, maybe a mile, from our house. We would pass it all the time,” Kidd said. “It was vacant at that time, maybe it was a storage building, but it wasn’t in nearly as bad shape.”
Still, she never knew much about the schoolhouse.
“I know my husband’s brother, Artie Kidd, he attended school there,” she said, but he has passed away.
A Good View
Even as children, James Boals and his sister Shirley (Boals) Jacobs recognized the beautiful view outside the schoolhouse. “Buena Vista” is Spanish for “good view.”
“Now you can see 30 to 71 down across there, but there was just farms down here before and wooded area, and that was, to me, always a nice view over there,” Boals said.
He and Jacobs didn’t know where the name originated, and they weren’t familiar with anyone of Spanish heritage nearby in the 1940s when they attended the school.
“Still, that was always, as long as I can remember, what it was called,” Jacobs said.
The school was built in 1888, according to “Adario to Wolff’s Ridge: An Album of Richland County’s One-Room Schools,” a book published in 1992 by Elinore S. Cunning and Lois M. McCollough.
The building’s condition in 1991, the book says, was for storage. Part-owner Jim Rogers confirmed the building had been used for this purpose.
But now,Rogers said the property needs “cleaned up” and the building “torn down,” as one of the side walls has collapsed.
Boals said he once heard rumors that the schoolhouse might be fixed up. But since then, he realizes it appears to be “too much” and “not worth fixing.”
The Final Years
Boals and Jacobs believe the schoolhouse must have closed shortly after 1947, when Boals was in first grade and his sister was in second with maybe the “meanest teacher” either of them can remember.
“The first day I went to school, mom walked in the door and she (the teacher) says, ‘What are you doing here?’ And she said, ‘Well, I'm bringing him to school. He's in first grade, first day of school,’” Boals said. “And she didn't think I needed anybody to bring me to school, I guess, the first day of school.”
Later, he found himself in trouble after following the lead of some older students who were throwing spitballs at the ceiling.
“Well, what's a first grader going to do?” Boals said. “When she caught me, she took me out and busted a ruler across the back of my hand.
“I was just following along with what the older kids are doing. And well, she was afraid to do anything to the older kids then because they were all bigger than her.”
As further punishment, he was forced to stay after school, and a neighbor walked him home in the dark.
“I was scared of teachers after that. I never was real comfortable with a teacher ‘til I got to the fifth grade,” Boals said.
But there certainly was payback for that teacher, the siblings recalled.
“They put snakes in her desk and they'd do all kinds of good stuff,” Jacobs said.
Another time, someone had “spiked” the schoolhouse door shut.
“Dad had brought us to school that morning, and he had to go get a crowbar,” Jacobs said.
Another former student, Ron Dudley, also estimates the school closed in the late 40s or early 50s.
“I was going to school at Buena Vista up through the sixth grade. Then, after that it was split up the two grades per school,” he said.
He went to another school, just as Boals and Jacobs recalled, but he believes two grades were likely kept at Buena Vista for a few years afterwards.
However, he recalls at least one “nice teacher” at Buena Vista school. She was an Ashland woman, who drove a 1941 Ford.
“In those days, there were one through eight grades, and maybe the fourth grade will have only one person. Eighth grade may have three. First grade may have six. That's the way it was,” Dudley said. “When you got up from your desk, you were walked up to the front and they had a long pew -- like a church pew.
"You set up there, and each would go up there for class.”
To his recollection, most everyone walked to school.
“Everybody lived around the school, all within walking distance. No buses,” he said.
So he had no problem walking back home at recess one day, but his mother did.
“Well, I walked in the house. I can still see her ... She said, ‘What are you doing home? And I said, ‘It ain't what I thought it was going to be. So I said, I'm out of here,’” Dudley said.
He didn’t get spanked, but he was “chewed out” and left with only two options for the next day: “Go back or die.”
The students at Buena Vista school had to make their own fun, according to Dudley.
“You created things to do because there were naturally no telephones,” he said.
He remembers adventurous games of Cowboys and Indians that at least once got him into some trouble. He admits he and the other boys were often late coming back from recess.
“But the one time we really got in trouble,” Dudley said. “The damn Indians went down Bowen Road ... We chased them down there, and I mean it was definitely out of bounds. There was no way we were allowed to cross Bowen Road.”
He and the fellow cowboys refused to surrender and followed in hot pursuit, ultimately catching them.
“We lost track of our time and had to stay after school,” Dudley said.
During another recess, he and his friends found two black snakes near the school. This was common, as he called under the school “snake heaven.” But on this particular occasion they were determined to capture the snakes.
One went up the tree, but the other they successfully caught under a tub just before the teacher called them inside.
“Somebody brought a big rock over and put it on top of that tub to hold that snake in there, and we went back into school. And hell, we couldn't wait to get back out there,” he said. “And what do you know? The snake's gone from underneath.”
Boals remembers sledding down Crider Road’s hill in the winter.
“It was a long walk back,” he said.
He and Jacobs also enjoyed the swings.
“I can remember going out and swinging on the swing. It was simple and fun. That was just the way it was,” Jacobs said.