Williamson County
Historical Commission

 

 
Cypress School (Old)
Historical Marker
Cedar Park, Texas


 
 



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Latitude: 30.465898, Latitude: -97.835753


 
 


CYPRESS SCHOOL - - Texas Historical Marker
Historical Narrative by Karen R. Thompson

One of the major concerns of the first colonial settlers in the Mexican state of Coahuila-Texas was education. Empresario Stephen F. Austin knew the importance of establishing schools for the growing Anglo communities.

As early as 1823 Isaac Pennington taught school in Austin's Colony and it may have been the first English-language school in Texas. (1)

Mirabeau B. Lamar, second President of the Republic of Texas is known as the Father of Texas Education. "Lamar's administration, he succeeded in establishing the public system of education in Texa0. He influenced the Congress of the Republic at its second session to enact a law setting apart fifty leagues of public land (approximately 13,000 acres) to each county for primary schools. It was said that on his own responsibility he had these lands surveyed against future revocation. In Lamar's first message to Congress he made assertion that is considered to be the most celebrated pronouncement of any Texas statesman:

Cultivated mind is the guardian angel of democracy, and while guided and controlled by virtue, is the noblest attribute of man. It is the only dictator that freemen acknowledge and the only security that freemen desire. The present is a propitious moment to lay the foundation of a great moral and intellectual edifice, which will in after ages be hailed as the chief ornament and blessing of Texas. *

Later the phrase "a cultivated mind is the guardian angel of democracy" was adopted by The University of Texas at Austin as a motto." On January 26, 1839 a law was passed to allocate lands for the purpose of establishing a general system of education, and each county would receive 3 leagues of land. (2)

The process of having government land available for schools worked fairly well in the established towns but did little to help rural areas. When Texas became a state in 1845 most schools were still being provided for by private citizens. This system continued through much of the 19th century in rural Texas and Travis County was no different.

Facilities were provided, including paying the teacher, by the settlers, and many smaller communities were named for the man who donated the land for [* This message is engraved on the San Jacinto Monument in Houston.] the first school and church. Early schools were supported by subscription of the area citizens. Later, in the common school districts the county received taxes of 20% of the property evaluation. "Records and statistics are scarce
for the early county (Travis) schools, but by the early 1900s local taxes for schools were the trend. It is noted that mast of the schools in Travis County outside of Austin, started after the Civil War." (3)

Sometime in the early to Mid 1860s a Small log schoolhouse was built above Cypress Creek on a hilltop in far northwest Travis County not far from the Original Anderson Mill.
(4) By 1877 the students had outgrown this first school and the following subscription of area residents was undertaken to raise funds and build a new school house.
A petition/collection notice went out to the community and it reads:

" Article of Agreement. We the undersigned subscribers desirous of co-operating in the advancement of the educational and religious interest of Cypress neighborhood and recognizing the urgent necessity for a larger and more comfortable building at or near the place known as Cypress School house which building shall be designed for and shall serve perpetually the double purpose of a School house and for the use as such by the adjoining community and place of assemblage for public worship of all protestant denominations do here by subscribe and bind ourselves to pay as on before the first day of October 1877 into the hands of such party an parties as may hereafter be appointed by a majority of us
in meeting assembled to be received by the said party or parties and applied by them to the purchase of material for said building the amount________ subscribed by us and standing opposite our names._________ the same shall be________ to be paid by us at the time above specified.

Provided that the place and time of such meeting as is herein before mentioned shall be made public and endorsed by at least three of the under¬signed subscribed and, Provided further that as eligible and otherwise suitable building site for said house shall have been donated or otherwise secured as a free and unencumbered gift to the community represented by and designated as the Cypress neighborhood and to be holden by said neighborhood in full right and title forever.

Names of subscribers, amount subd.
H. Johns paid $10 $20.00
George Cluck paid 2.00
A. W. Carpenter paid 2.50
Martin Luther paid 2.50 3.00
? B. Kelly paid 2.50
H. C. May paid 2.50
William P. Buttery paid 5.00
Jas. K. Lane paid $2.00
John Grosenbacher 10.00
James Kelly paid 5.00
Thomas Kelly paid 2.50
Jas. A. Raney paid 10.00
Mathew Long paid 5.00
Green Mclalure paid 5.00
H. B. Sheppard paid 10.00
Nays & Black in lumber 5.00
A. McDonald in lumber
J. P. ? paid 5.00
John M. King paid 20.00
D. M. McRae paid 10.00
W. R. King paid 10.00
M. B. McRae paid 25.00
James Adams paid .50
G. W. T paid 5.00
J. M Adams paid 4.50
William ? Harrell paid 5.00
Robert Hanna Sr. paid 5.00
F. A Robey paid 5.00
Thos. Anderson paid 5.00
T. A. Young paid 1.00
Charley Hanna paid 1.00
? plman paid 10.00
W. B. Smith paid 5.00
Pink Rutledge paid 2.50
Brown paid 2.00
Jeff Do son paid .50
Dennis Cowin paid 5.00
John Kirk paid 2.00
2.00 John 0. Johnson 5.00
C. W. G. Brown, 50 ?
A. J. Jennigan paid 1.00
L & Christian . 5.00
? M. ? 2.50
W. Connally .50 "      ------  (5)

The first teacher at the original, log Cypress School was J. C. Robey who came to Texas from Illinois. The second teacher was James Kelly from Tennessee who lived at Kelly Springs near the school. The school was also used as a church. 6) The 1877 building was one-story, wood frame structure with four windows on the south/east side and seven on the north/west side. The single front door was on one end and a wood-burning stove was in the middle. The roof was tin.

The Cypress School continued to operate throughout the 1800's and early part 'of the 1900's with one teacher, operating for a six month session, teaching about 20 students of all grades. A "Certificate of Award" issued in 1908 reads:

"Certificate of Award: This certifies that Miss Bessie May King of the Cypress County Line School District No. 4 of Travis County, Texas is awarded this certificate for Punctuality and Regularity of Attendance upon the said school during the six month's session just closed. Given at Austin, Texas this twenty-ninth day of May, 1908. Signed County Superintendent." (7) Miss King's family had helped build the original Cypress School as quoted from The Defender: " An old log building stood on the spot where the present [1930 building was put up in the late 1960's or early 1970's. Among those who helped build it were: William Harrell, and John M. King, father of Al King. "Uncle Billy" Harrell attended Cypress School, and subsequently married Isabel Stewart, a Cypress former student. Their 6 children all learned the2 R's at Cypress." (8)

All but one of the former teachers of Cypress School is deceased. Mrs. Florence Opal Richcreek Walker Mock, born March 12, 1898 in North Webster, Indiana is currently living near Kendalia, in Kendall County, Texas. (She is a long time member of the Kendall County Historical Commission). Miss Walker, as she is known, taught at Cypress School for 6 years, and was the last teacher at the school. I went to her home on Saturday, September 26, 1987 and interviewed her. The following information is from Miss Walker, who has a very acute memory.

"Mama cried all the way" said Florence about her family moving to Texas from their home in Indiana. Florence had graduated from high school and finished one year of college before coming to Texas. The family moved to the Rio Grande Valley and she taught her first year at Mercedes and the next year at Weslaco, where she married Monte Walker and soon moved to Austin, this was 1921-22. They had one child, a daughter, Elaine born in 1926. Monte Walker died in 1969 and is buried in Austin. Florence later married a Mr. Mock, who soon died, leaving her a widow again.

Miss Walker became the teacher at Cypress School in about 1931 when she and her husband bought a 800 acre ranch in the neighborhood. They sold the ranch to Mr. Dies and it is now the Bill Milburn Ranch on Cypress Road to Volente.

Miss Walker walked about one mile to the one roam Cypress School from her home. She carried her lunch, and also one from her daughter Elaine who attended the school. Lunch usually consisted of a bacon or peanut butter sandwich and come cake. A nearby spring furnished water. Former student Leslie (Red) Moore remembers he was always one who got to go get water in pails for the students, and he fondly recalls how it "took me 1/2 a day to get the water when the weather was nice". The spring water came from the Clifford Tuttle place just next to the school property. Usually about 30 students attended, most were Anglo, but usually she had one or two Mexican students.

In the middle of the building was a wood burning stove. In the winter all the students gathered around the stove to keep warm. Boys helped gather wood from the nearby pastures. The students spent a lot of time doing "Board Work". A large black board covered the entire back wall. Since Miss Walker taught all grades, some students were always doing board work. Older children helped a lot and Miss Walker especially was grateful to Maggie Hickman for her help. Miss Walker made $90.00 a month salary and the school trustee's bought all the supplies and the Travis County School Superintendent helped a lot also. The county furnished
a lot of books, including library books. During recess the students played a lot of baseball, and they even traveled to other schools to play baseball. Miss Walker's husband, Monte, used his truck to transport the students.

The year before Miss Walker came to teach at Cypress, a teacher by the name of "Miss Athel" was the teacher but the "children tormented her and ran her off".

At recess the little girls built playhouses. Both boys and girls played "dare" game, which was a base-type game and a chasing game called "stick base". Tasker Hudson, who owns Hudson's Nursery, was timid she said and she had to encourage him to participate.

In 1936 several boys killed a 5 foot rattle snake on the way to school and brought it to school. She has a photograph of this large snake. Boys were sometimes rough and she remembers a Rawlings boy falling out of a tree, but he was OK. She of course was teacher, nurse, everything. She liked to have discipline and did "paddle" the boys with a stick. Parents did not often come to school and she tried to start a PTA but it did not succeed. She had a large program once a year for all the parents and family to come. Sometimes they had a day-long program with lunch and activities, usually at the end of school, lasting from 9 a.m. to dark.

The school had two outhouses, one for the boys and one for the girls, complete with catalogs. All students were expected to come to school every day, even in bad weather. Texas history was always taught, and they had flags in the school room. They had long desk that had two students at each desk. Little students sat with an older student. The wooden floor had no rugs, no window covers, and the teacher's desk was on a small platform.

When ask if any of the Cypress students would be considered "gifted" by to-days standards, she said Jesse Harrell was REAL smart and could learn anything! She only had one student that would be considered "slow" or "retarded" and even thought I did not ask his name, she said "I won't tell you his name".

Boys most always went barefoot and the girls wore shoes. Lots of families went to Austin shopping or to the doctor.

The School was used for church, revival Meetings and voting.

In summing up her thoughts about her career of the one-room school teacher, Miss Walker said: "I think our one room schools were as good as the present days where teachers only see a student for one class, whereas I knew each student real well and spent all day with him - bigger is not better".

Even though fifty odd years have passed since Miss Walker taught these students at Cypress School, she still remembers each student and said she can see each one in her "mind's eye" just like they were standing right in front of her.

My Cypress School collection includes the Texas Teachers Daily Register for 1934-35, 1935-36, and 1936-37. Attached is a portion of the 1936-37 book. You can see that the daily schedule was very rigid, and Miss Walker said she keep exactly to schedule so they would get everything in. (9)

The old school building was torn down many years ago. Nothing remains of the old Cypress School, but the stories and the memories of the last teacher, Miss Walker.

During July of 1987 I saw where the Leander Independent School District was building a new elementary school just yards from the site of the former Cypress School. At about that same time, the president of the Leander School Trustees, Irma Howard, called me and asked me to tell the school board about the history of the old school and present the name Cypress School as the name for the new school. I did just that and the school board voted to name the new school Cypress Elementary School. I mentioned I thought it would be nice to have a Texas Historical Marker at the new school, documenting the old school. I said I would do the history if they would pay for it. See attached letter dated September 29, 1987.

When this marker is dedicated, we will have a big ceremony at the school, including Open House. Miss Walker will be invited as the special honored guest and all former Cypress students will be invited. Miss Walker will be 90 years old in March 1988.

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