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The Walker School Building

The Walker School Building

In its many years of use, different rooms have been used for many different functions. This space above the auditorium is now in bloom as the school’s art room. Photo Credit: Melissa Payne

Standing in front of the Walker School Building in Walker, Missouri (now home to Northeast Vernon County High School or NEVC), the marks of time and use are clearly written on its face and the surrounding town.  However, these marks of wear are pushed into the background by a constant flow of youthful energy–with sidewalks, floors, stairs, and walls covered in its colorful expression.  This rural school building is old, at least by area standards, and is quickly approaching 100-years of service as a place of learning.  Just through the building’s entryway–flanked by poster-board presentations about local crop rotation methods and colorful art projects–there is a bronze plaque, which bears the names of the people who helped bring this school building to life.  Adjoining the names that include the local school board, architect, and builder is the year of its construction: 1929.

The community the Walker School Building serves is, has been, and will likely always be very small in number.  The community is located in the northeastern corner of Missouri’s Vernon County, which outlines the state’s border with neighboring Kansas.  Like many towns in the area, Walker was formed when the railroad was extended to that point, and a post office was established in the town in 1871.  The railroad bolstered the town’s economy, and by the 1890s Walker boasted a population of nearly 600.  A rising population meant the construction of public school buildings.  Walker’s first high school building was built in the late 1880s.  As the years progressed, many things changed in Walker; the town’s population declined around the turn of the century before becoming relatively stable up to the present day.  However, for more than four decades, one thing didn’t change–their high school building.

In the Spring of 1926 the original Walker high school building was entering its four decade of existence, and leaders in the community were starting to discuss the need for a new building to educate the town’s high school students.  In April of that year, the first of what would become many bond votes took place.  The result was a resounding “no” on a bond for $40,000 that would finance a new high school building.  Over the course of the next two years, no less than five special elections were held to decide whether funds should be allocated for a new high school building, with each failing to muster a sufficient two-thirds of the vote.

Frustrustrated with the continued loss of elections and deteriorating state of the high school building, school officials turned to an Architect and Builder from Springfield, Missouri named J.L. Heckenlively.  Under the direction of the school district’s board of directors, Heckenlively conducted a review of the building and compiled a report.  In this report, Heckenlively found the building to be in a “very dangerous condition” and even went so far as to call for the building to be condemned.  Heckenlively’s report was summarized in the local newspaper, and published a few days later.  Following the recommendations listed in the report, the school district closed the school in the first week of May 1928.

What would become the final special election was held in the final week of May 1928, and the funding for the new school building was secured.  However, despite seemingly securing funding for the new school, the election was contested and the matter was drug out in court until the following Spring. During this whole year, the students of Walker were without a high school. Construction on Walker’s new high school building finally began in May of 1929, and crews were able to finish the new brick building in time for classes to start in the Fall.  A town without a high school for more than a year, Walker now boasted one of the finest high schools in Vernon county, per local newspaper reports.

Nearly a century later, the fruit of these labors is still in use, although the Walker School District itself has long since ceased to exist.  The brick building looks a little out of place with its size relative to its neighbors, and it once represented the pride of a small rural community.  In the decades that have passed, the building has come to serve several communities and expanded the scope of grades.  As Northeast Vernon County High School, the building houses students from several surrounding communities.  And, although the marks of age and use are not out of place on the building’s interior and exterior, they are pushed to the background by the decorations of student life-–art projects, club posters, school banners.  While the people responsible for putting up those walls nearly a century ago were rightfully focused only on improving their community, their efforts have laid the foundation for generations of students to learn, create, and grow.