WaKEENEY — WaKeeney Travel and Tourism will dedicate the Wilcox School and celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway at 2 p.m. Oct. 21 at the schoolhouse.
The schoolhouse, located 15 miles south of WaKeeney on U.S. Highway 283, will be dedicated to Harm Schneider, whose family donated the school in his memory.
Displays will include memorabilia from the school and families that settled the surrounding area and a history of the HI-Plains Gravel Grinders Motorcycle Club, which used the school as a clubhouse after it closed in 1947.
Other displays will feature information about the native wildflowers and grasses that can be found along the scenic byway, which was designated in August 2003.
Years of abandonment took its toll on the Wilcox School, with roof leaks causing the rust and collapse of the interior pressed-metal ceiling and deterioration of the oak floor.
In 2006, the school was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The WaKeeney Travel and Tourism and the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway committees then sought grants through the Kansas Historical Society to preserve the building.
In 2011, they received the first grant to restore the stonework and the roof of the building, which was completed by Metzler Restoration of Ness City.
Exterior renovation of the school was recently completed with the repair of windows, fascia and a new door by Schamber Historic Preservation, Damar.
At this point in time, the committee will not pursue grants to restore the interior of the school, according to a press release, but is installing interpretive panels in the windows so visitors can learn more about the building and its history.
The school was built in 1886 from limestone quarried along the Smoky Hill River about a half-mile south of its location. It served as not only a school for the settlement of Wilcox, but also as a community center and church. Men registered for the draft there during World War I, and during World War II, it was also a mattress factory.
The byway runs from WaKeeney south on U.S. 283 to Ransom, east on Kansas Highway 4 to Brownell, and north on Kansas Highway 147 over the Cedar Bluff Reservoir Dam and to Ogallah.
Native wildflowers, grasses and plants were seeded along the byway, including coneflowers, Indian blanket, pitcher sage, yucca and little bluestem and grama. Limestone markers identify where the Smoky Hills Trail to Denver crosses the highway.