A Glimpse At History

Lake School, dating to 1897, now sits in Lake School Park in Creve Coeur. Photo by Jennifer Russ

Have you ever wondered what it was like to learn how to read and write in a one-room schoolhouse? A tiny, frame structure in Creve Coeur has been preserved to help us experience just that. Lake School was built back in 1897 and designed for teaching all ages under one roof. It was erected in Chesterfield, formerly known as Lake, Mo. but long after it ceased being used as a school, the house was donated to Creve Coeur by Louis Gelber and moved there. The schoolhouse was restored by an historical committee appointed by Mayor Harold Dielmann, and the structure was rededicated in 1968.

Two cloak rooms greet visitors upon entering the schoolhouse, one for girls to store their coats and lunch boxes, and another for boys. Various double desks span the room, bigger ones for the older children. A 45-star American flag hangs at the front of the room, reflecting the 45 states in the union at the time. A large clock, typical of those used at that time in schools, hangs on the eastern wall. It would run for one full school week when properly wound!

With no running water available, a table that shouldered a water bucket and basin was in great demand. Former students, recorded in historical documents, recalled that the older boys would take turns filling the bucket from a cistern in back of the school. Each child had a tin cup of his or her own to fill from the dipper. Of course, there were no indoor bathrooms, just two outside toilets, one for boys and one for girls. Inside, a pot-bellied stove was the only source of heat, while kerosene lamps were used for light.

Mrs. Alvina Essen, nee Janssen, the second teacher of Lake School, donated many items to furnish the schoolhouse: old clothing in the girls’ coat room, photographs, a report card, a set of encyclopedias and many other books, which are stored in a bookcase. Along its side are five pictures showing the history of the school: how it appeared when first built; afterward when it was used as a feed and storage building; when it first moved to its location off Coeur de Ville Drive; and how it looked there before and after restoration efforts. Tours of the school are provided by the Creve Coeur-Chesterfield Historical Society.

Today, Lake School House is located on the grounds of Lake School Park, near its other amenities: three lighted tennis courts, a playground renovated in 2003, modern bathrooms and a multipurpose field.

Some information courtesy of the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at UMSL.