Recalls
School Days
at Topsy


Lincoln Sentinel-Republican, 4 September 1986

Ninety-four-year-old Carrie Hendrickson is pleased to live “neighbors” once again to Topsy School.
Born Carrie McFarland in 1891 in the Colbert community 13 miles south and east of Lincoln, she well remembers that, as a child, she walked a half-mile north to learn th’ Three Rs at Topsy. After completing the eighth grade, her life – with the exception of three years in Idaho – has been spent somewhat nearer to Lincoln. For many years her address has been South Fourth Street.
It is Topsy that has a new address.
Lincoln County Historical Society last week moved the old one-room country school building to The Kyne House grounds of West Lincoln Avenue. Once again, Topsy School lies about a half mile north of Carrie’s home.
Moving the 20- by 34-foot frame building to town and refurbishing it much as it was in the 1800s has been the dream of Society members for several years, Penny Andreson relates. With a lot of hard work on behalf of the Society, the old school may be ready for public viewing as early as next spring, he said.
The daughter of Joseph Henry and Loretta Ann McFarland, Carrie Hendrickson began school at Topsy at the age of five years in 1896 – 90 years ago. Her memories of school days at Topsy and of the neighborhood girls and boys were refreshed this week when Topsy came to town.
Her recollections last Wednesday included Topsy School teachers – Hannah Johnson Rosebrook, Nora Hinkley, Lydia Bloyd, Nora Skinner, who boarded with the McFarland family, and Carrie Jackobs [sic], for whom Carrie was named.
A.J. Stanley, one-time Lincoln County superintendent of schools who went on to become a well-known Kansas City attorney, was a Topsy alumnus, Mrs. Hendrickson said. His younger brother, Ward, was a schoolmate of hers. The late Willie Webb, from whose farmland Topsy was removed last week, also attended the one-room country school.
“Morning opening exercises at Topsy each day were Bible reading and then singing,” Mrs. Hendrickson recalled this week. “We had no piano or organ; we just sang.”
As many as 22 students and all eight grades were taught at Topsy in any given year. Many of the older boys were taller than the teacher, she reminisced.
“Students who got to school first of a winter morning would start the fire in a big, black, pot-bellied stove, and all of us pupils would stand ‘round it until the building got warm.”
Double-desks placed in one short and two long rows seated pupils. The teacher’s desk faced students from the front of the room.
“We had one large slate blackboard. We would have cyphering matches with other pupils in the area visiting, then we’d go and visit their schools in turn.” Spelling bees were also an integral part of students’ days at Topsy, she remembers.
Books – an early day circulating library – were periodically exchanged between schools to give the rural students a change of reading material, said Mrs. Hendrickson, whose large-print Readers Digest was delivered to her door that afternoon.
“I do like to read, and I notice that my eyesight is not what it was a few years ago.” Removing the Digest from its wrapper, she commented, “These large-print books are just wonderful.” The subscription was a gift from one of her children.
The Topsy School setting afforded countless social occasions for families in the area, the long-time Lincoln resident stated. Box suppers brought community residents together for fun and to profit the school.
“When I got older, I’d tell my ‘fellow’ what color my box was and that helped make more money for the school,” she chuckled.
Some of her fondest memories of the school concern last day of school gatherings, when all school patrons would congregate and share a bountiful basket dinner and visiting. She remembers that her own mother always took plenty of good food on those occasions.
The school also was the site of board meetings, and Carrie’s father was a board member.
Carrie talked a bit about girls’ fashions in her day.
“We didn’t wear jeans!” she laughed.
“A fellow would come around the country, and he’d have material, calico, for sale. Other mothers would buy it from him to make our school dresses.” Her eyes twinkled, “Of course, they all bought the same material, so the only difference would be the pattern. We all wore the same thing.”
She continued in a more serious vein. “I think that I’m about the only one left who went to school at Topsy back then. There’s another woman about my age who went to West Freedom School, but I believe I’m about the last one from the early days of Topsy.”
Colbert, Carrie related, had a store and creamery and was located just west of the school. She said that she often carried eggs in a tin box from the McFarland farm to the store to trade for groceries or supplies needed by the family, her parents, three brothers, two sisters and herself.
One of those older brothers of Carrie’s now and then brought a sleigh to school to pick her and her siblings up when the snow lay deep and winter weather threatened.
Among Carrie’s reminiscing was the account of a terrifying prairie fire that swept across the country endangering Topsy School and the McFarlands’ farm when she was a small girl. It was a thankful family that watched the fire burn itself out just before reaching their farmstead. Topsy School was spared too.
Penny Andreson said this week that old, slate blackboards and a number of desks and benches that will be used to equip Topsy School’s interior. Also, the Society has been a made the offer of an old stove, and Mrs. Elmer Liss has donated a number of turn-of-the-century school books.
Andreson said the building will be getting a new roof, glass will be replaced in several windows as needed, and the masonite exterior siding will be replaced with lapped siding to restore the schoolhouse to its original appearance. Interior walls will also be redone.
The Historical Society will be pleased to receive an offer of a teacher’s desk and any other items suitable for the furnishing of the vintage schoolhouse.


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