The free public education that students in Liberty receive today was not a reality in our city’s early days. Prior to 1871 private schools were available, but only for those who could afford the subscription, which went to pay teacher salaries. The first of these was a log structure at 210 N. Water St. constructed in 1822 by Judge Sebron G. Sneed, Liberty’s first teacher.
At the close of the Civil War, sixteen-year-old Laura Armstrong persuaded her father to let her open Liberty’s first school for African American children. The family home at 212 W. Mill St. was modest with a small upstairs room where Miss Laura offered Liberty’s Black community their first opportunity for formal education. The subscription was one dollar per month. Despite the hardships of the times, attendance was robust and the little school soon outgrew its space. It is believed that Miss Laura secured the use of a small African American church to continue operating the school until 1870 when she married and moved away from Liberty.
About that same time, a local movement established the first school board of three trustees, attorneys Sid Sandusky and H.S. Simrall along with physician Enoch H. Miller. Their task was to bring public education to Liberty. Land on the southwest corner of Mill and Gallatin streets “between the Old Depot and the fairgrounds” was acquired, and taxes were approved to build a “fine, two-story schoolhouse” and hire five teachers. The building (pictured here, top), on the present-day site of Franklin Elementary, was red brick trimmed with Warrensburg limestone, boasting towering chimneys and arched windows. An imposing structure, it lacked a basement, central heating and indoor plumbing. The school served students at all levels, adding two classrooms for high school students in 1889, with the first commencement held in 1891.
Enrollment continued to increase and the trustees determined that a separate high school building was needed. They allotted $3,600 to construct it next to the existing school in 1893. The first Liberty High School had a chemistry lab, an 800-volume library and a “fine piano”. A burgeoning student population necessitated a 1905 expansion.
By 1910 the grammar school next door had become overcrowded and outdated, and the S.G. Sandusky School (pictured here, bottom) was erected to replace it. The new building, of modern styling for its day, was brick with cut-stone trim. The first floor held six classrooms, and the second floor held four classrooms and an auditorium, which served as the city’s only gathering place for plays, public meetings and other events.
By the early 1920’s, Liberty High School had become overcrowded, leading to calls for a bigger, more modern facility. Those calls were answered in 1923 with the construction of the Enoch H. Miller High School, later renamed Liberty High School, at the present-day site of Heritage Middle School.
The original high school building at Mill and Gallatin Streets became Liberty Junior High. It was razed in 1938 to make way for the new Franklin Elementary School. Two years later the Sandusky Grammar School was declared unsafe due to faulty construction, and it too was torn down.
Many folks wonder why a replica of the Statue of Liberty stands in front of Franklin Elementary. It is one of more than two hundred placed across the United States by the Boy Scouts of America in 1949 to celebrate their fortieth anniversary and to pledge their everlasting loyalty. While many of the donated statues have been lost or destroyed over the years, Liberty’s replica, rededicated in 1992, still stands proudly in the town of Liberty.
Content for this feature was contributed by volunteers from the Clay County Archives & Historical Library and the Clay County Museum & Historical Society
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