Center Museum Showcases over 120 Years of the School District’s History
By Diane Euston
Did you know that Center School District has had a museum since 1994?
On June 23rd from 10:30 a.m. to noon, visitors are encouraged to check out a secret treasure trove in the south Kansas City area. For the first time in three years, the Center Museum, located at Center High School, 8715 Holmes Rd., will be open to visitors. Inside, one can learn of the early history of the area and browse photos dating back to the late 19th Century.
A One Room Country School
A one room country school at the corner near current day Sweeney Blvd. and Maiden Ln. in what is now Santa Fe Hills subdivision was built in 1868 on land purchased for $250. The school was situated next to Daniel Morgan Boone II’s land, grandson of frontiersman Daniel Boone. It was later occupied by his son, Nathan and then sold in the early 1900s to William Rockhill Nelson as a summer retreat. The home still stands today.
Because so many Boones lived in the area when development had not yet touched the land, locals referred to this area as “Boonetown.” Naturally, the school became known as the Boone School. In 1897, a second parcel of land located at 89th and Wornall was purchased to expand the school.
In the earliest history of the area, the Boone School was a centerpiece of the countryside. By the 1900s the school district included Ruhl (built in 1926) and Hartman schools (built in 1925). In October 1927, a fire damaged the original Boone School. A group of volunteers quickly built a temporary structure at 89th and Wornall so that students didn’t have to walk long distances to attend classes set up at Ruhl and Hartman.
Tensions ran high and boiled into a civil war within the Ruhl-Hartman district when residents near the old Boone School insisted that a newer school be built. By 1928, the courts were left to make a decision on the fate of the district. The decision went all the way to the Supreme Court where the decision was upheld: Boone School, then called District No. 56, would be allowed to split from Ruhl-Hartman, District No. 57.
A four-room modern brick schoolhouse was finished in 1929 and still stands as part of a larger structure at Boone Elementary today.
The district has been considered many times for annexation with Kansas City Public Schools but was always defeated. In 1954, Center School District No. 58 was created when three school districts, Boone, Center and South City View merged. The Ruhl-Hartman District joined Kansas City schools in 1947.
(l) Ernest Kellerstrass pictured on the cover of his 1910 self-published book. (r) Kellerstrass delivering eggs. His poultry farm located around 87th and Holmes was purchased by the school district in 1959.
From a Poultry Farm to a New High School Campus
As suburban development exploded, the district outgrew the high school at 84th and Euclid. In 1959, 32 acres were purchased from the Kellerstrass family to create an innovative, modern high school campus.
Ernest Kellerstrass (1865-1946) first made his fortune when he moved to Kansas City and opened up Kellerstrass Distilling Company, a mail-order liquor house. He was unique in his marketing; for every gallon of whiskey ordered, he would give a certificate. Thirty certificates could buy you a revolver and 80 certificates gave you a double barrel shotgun – all “ordered” by mail.
In 1904, Kellerstrass sold out of the whiskey business and turned his interest to chickens. He bought a sprawling 100-acre farm bounded by 85thSt. to the north, 89thSt. to the south, Oak St. to the west and Troost Ave. to the east. The Kellerstrass farm would become known far and wide for their fresh eggs and poultry. In 1910, Kellerstrass self-published a book called “The Kellerstrass Way of Raising Poultry” Ernest Kellerstrass also developed the first ever “air strip” when he turned over 80 acres of land for use as a public landing field in 1919; it was the first public airport in the Kansas City metropolitan area. He then sold his large farmhouse and part of his land to the Ivanhoe Masonic Lodge to be used as their clubhouse. They later developed part of this land, including the Kellerstrass Aviation Field, into a golf course, originally called Ivanhoe Country Club and renamed Santa Fe Hills in 1945.
In 1927, Ernest built a craftsman-style home at 8701 Holmes Rd. and lived there with his wife and two daughters until his death. The house stayed in the Kellerstrass family until November 1963 when his widow died in the home.
Shortly thereafter, Kellerstrass’ craftsman home was purchased by Center School District and is now used as their administrative offices.
The Museum Open House
In 1994, two retired district staff members, Maggie Caron and Janet Ludwigs worked to secure a space to house the history of the Boone, South City View and Center School districts. The first museum was located at Boone Elementary and then moved to Center Alternative School in 2003.
Lack of space forced the museum to pack up and move temporarily into storage boxes. It found a permanent space in Center High School’s former photography dark room in 2011.
Displays include artifacts of the two closed schools of the district, Center Annex and South City View, photographs of students and buildings beginning in 1897, articles written about the district, various letter jackets, trophies and even yearbooks dating back to the 1930s.
“If you want to see what your neighbor looked like in high school, we’ve got the yearbooks available for you to look through,” Rick Chambers, Executive Director of Center Education Foundation said with a smile. The museum is maintained by Center Education Foundation
For now, there aren’t enough volunteers for the museum to be open on a continuous basis, but the open house June 23rd gives the community a chance to see some of Center’s artifacts and browse its records.
The Open House will include light refreshments. Volunteers will meet guests at the main doors on the south side of Center High School and guide visitors to the museum.
For more information on tours outside of the open house, contact Rick Chambers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com