Clio Logo

The Virginia Schoolhouse, now located alongside the modern Mize Elementary School, was constructed in 1878 and serves as a reminder of a time when one-room and other small schoolhouses served several eastern Kansas communities. Farmers routinely donated land to the school district to use for building schools, and similar to modern times, the buildings functioned as community centers. Henry Mize donated land to School District Number 33 in 1865, followed by C.J and Sarah Mize donating land in 1875 for the now-historic Virginia Schoolhouse half a mile east of the building's current location. When classes began in 1878, Shawnee was a rural community and the nearest town was three miles away from the school. Today, Shawnee is a suburb of Kansas City and the schoolhouse is used for historically-themed events.

Historic Virginia Schoolhouse, built in 1878.

Historic Virginia Schoolhouse, built in 1878.

1931-32 class of of the historic Virginia Schoolhouse, built in 1878.

1931-32 class of the historic Virginia Schoolhouse, built in 1878.

The Virginia School, a one-room schoolhouse built in 1877, served Johnson County School District Number 33 until 1962 when new buildings and school district unification led to its closing. The school represents one of many publicly-funded, one-room schoolhouses constructed roughly every three miles in each township, usually located on an acre of land donated by a farmer. Many of the schools remained in operation until the 1950s, and this school operated until in 1962.

School District Number 33 started in 1865, supervised by the Johnson County School Superintendent and an elected school board. The school was on land donated by Henry Mize, one-half mile east of the present Virginia School. In 1875, C.J and Sarah Mize deeded one acre of their land to the school district. Construction on the now-historic schoolhouse took place in 1877. The school district sold the 1865 schoolhouse once classes began in the new Virginia School in January 1878.

The historic schoolhouse arose in an area abound in farms and pastures; no town existed within three miles of the Virginia School. As such, students primarily lived on farms. So, most Johnson County school years lasted seven to nine months. The first term in the new Virginia School began January 1878 and closed the week of March 21, 1878, making the first school term a seven-month school year, giving the twenty-seven students ample time to help on farms during the growing season.

As many as three and four generations of the same families attended school as students, taught as teachers, and served on the various school boards. Attendance steadily rose through the 1920s, sometimes exceeding fifty-five students. But, the Great Depression and Dust Bowl era of the 1930s significantly affected enrollment, sometimes dropping to as few as ten students. Enrollment rebounded again after World War II, necessitating the construction of a second building in 1954; grades five through eight met in the old building while grades one through four met in the new building.

In addition to providing kids a school, the Virginia Schoolhouse served as the home for Sunday School, community gatherings, and adult classes (such as a writing school). Indeed, Virginia School ostensibly served as the center of school and community activities throughout the 1950s. For instance, a Mother's Club organized during the 1940s and met at the Virginia School, and children planned an annual Mother's Day Tea event at the school during the 1950s. 

But, by 1960, the schoolhouse no longer proved sufficient, and it closed in 1962. Per the original deed, the one-acre tract reverted to the current landowner after the school closure. The second, 1954-constructed school building was sold and removed from the property. The landowner purchased the Virginia School and leased it to a local church congregation, who used it until 1999. The historic school has since been relocated (2005). Suburban growth has replaced much of the rural landscapes that existed in 1878 as Shawnee's nearly 70,000 residents live as part of the broader Kansas City metro region, demonstrated by the historic school building's location on the same property as a modern Elementary School (Mize Elementary).

Ashby, Cynthia. "Registration Form: Virginia School District #33." National Register of Historic Places. 2004.

"Virginia Schoolhouse (relocated)." Monticello Community Historical Society. Accessed March 11, 2022.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Monticello Community Historical Society.