For a brief time on Sunday, the McCormick School Museum was filled with people again.
Its wood floors creaked with footsteps and its halls echoed with voices.
“I liked the exhibits,” said Wichitan Jo Cahill, who popped into the building on Sunday out of curiosity. “I’d always wanted to see one of these old schools.”
McCormick is Wichita’s oldest school building, having been designed by famed architects Proudfoot and Bird and built in 1890. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978 because of its architectural and historical significance to Wichita. Beginning in 1885, Proudfoot and Bird designed 29 projects in the city. Only nine remain. Their buildings in Wichita were typically massive structures, featuring round arches, turrets, curved porches and stone-faced masonry.
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The McCormick School, with its 18-foot ceilings and creaky wood floors, is no exception. The old limestone building, which almost resembles an ancient castle, is located at 855 S. Martinson Ave, southwest of downtown Wichita..
“The biggest concern we have is that it doesn’t get the attention it deserves,” said Donovan Moore, a volunteer with the Wichita Association of Retired School Personnel, the group which helps maintain the museum.
The building was closed as a school in 1993 but it is still owned by the Wichita school district.
The museum is officially open to the public the second Sunday of each month and volunteers also are at the museum each Wednesday from 9 to 11:30 a.m. The museum helps tell the history of the Wichita school system, Moore said.
The building features an 1890s classroom complete with chalkboards and inkwells on the desks. A floor above it features a 1920s-1930s era science lab and cabinets.
One room, which Moore calls the Cowboy Room, features pictures and stories of cowboys, their equipment and tools along with items from everyday turn-of-the 20th-century life such as a Hoosier cabinet. The cabinet, which appeared in nearly every family’s kitchen, featured a pull-out shelf where cooks could mix the ingredients for bread and biscuits, shelves for cooking canisters, a flour bin, a series of drawers to store silverware and utensils and multiple shelves to store canned items.
One room features displays on how schools have changed over the years. For instance, in 1909, chemical fire extinguishers were first placed in school buildings. That year, Kansas legislators also ordered schools to place iron or steel steps outside the buildings to allow for fire escapes. At that time, Wichita didn’t have any fire escapes.
The historic McCormick school building was saved largely through the efforts of former superintendent Alvin Morris, Moore said. Morris retired from the district in 1984.
“He was a historian and if any school had an old piece of furniture, it went to the school service center where it was refinished and kept,” Moore said.
Admission to the museum is free but donations are accepted.
“I think it gives other people — younger people — a chance to see how schools looked in those days,” Cahill said.