By Pamela Price
Contributing writer, The Hill Country View
For some of us, it may be difficult to imagine folks developing a strong sense of community around such a humble thing as building a schoolhouse.
Yet in the 1880s, led by three ranchers named Max Aue, Arthur Blinker and H.W. Toepperwein, early Leon Springs residents did precisely that. Motivated by a desire to provide their children with a proper education, several families pulled together to raise funds for the new building, which opened in 1881. Over the next century, the original school would be replaced several times due to fires and changing needs. In the meantime, the school served as a catalyst for social interaction (weekend Bunco parties were popular at one point) and spurred the creation of other entities, including Leon Springs Presbyterian Church and Northside Independent School District.
One might argue that the history of the school and the community are one and the same. Now, thanks to the efforts of administrators, local historians and long-time residents, current Leon Springs Elementary (LSE) students have the opportunity to learn and celebrate their educational heritage.
The LSE History Project came about two years ago, when principal Kathy Dodge-Clay attended an NISD meeting regarding the district’s new museum, now situated on Bandera Road in Leon Valley.
“We were asked to select one or two individuals that we felt would be able to write our school’s history, as well as put together a collection of artifacts (for the district’s museum),” said Dodge-Clay. “I knew that Lou Ann Horne was a walking, talking encyclopedia regarding the history of the Leon Springs community.”
At the time, Horne, a recently retired educator, served as a volunteer tutor. She vividly recalls Dodge-Clay flagging her down in the LSE hallway and presenting her with the idea.
“NISD wanted to set up a museum that would hold a lot of memorabilia and be a top-notch field trip destination for the district, especially for fifth grade social studies classes,” said Horne, who leapt at the opportunity to become the Leon Springs school’s official, albeit voluntary, historian and curator. She soon initiated contact with alumni and other long-time residents who could provide first-hand accounts of the school’s history.
From mundane to charming, the stories Horne collected reveal a great deal about Leon Springs before HEB and Starbucks arrived, and they offer much more than a glimpse into school life. There are descriptions of myriad, everyday activities, including playing marbles, bathing in the area’s springs with Life Buoy soap, surviving hard times and interacting with soldiers at Camp Stanley.
“We have former students from as far back as the 1920s,” said Horne. “We collected stories and photographs and placed them in large scrapbooks that are housed in the school’s library. We also have a complete history on the web site that runs up until 1990.”
In addition to the on-campus archive and Web presence, there is a project CD, too. Anyone may access the Web site, and all of the materials are available for on-site classroom use.
“I think the relevance of this project is that it gives our students a great deal of pride to know the history of their school,” said Dodge-Clay. “It allows them to develop a sense of community pride and greater appreciation of the history of the school. We have a deep rooted history of family and education on this piece of land.”
Currently, Horne is drafting a history of the 1990s. The era is particularly rich with information not only because memories are fresh, but because of a particular crafting craze. “We have so much to work with, thanks to school secretaries and PTA members who kept scrapbooks during that time,” said Horne.
According to Dodge-Clay, a former school secretary named Marcia Merrit created the original, comprehensive archival scrapbooks to which Horne added what she collected. For now, the books will remain in the school’s library.
However, as the NISD school museum was the impetus for the expanded history project, it is plausible they may be moved off-site.
“The scrapbooks will remain in our library for the time being but may eventually be archived with the museum association (in Leon Valley), “ said Dodge-Clay. “This is only the second year of this project and therefore we are still in the process of writing policies and procedures.” Patricia Blattman, NISD school museum association president, concurred with Dodge-Clay, saying that it is premature to state definitively where archival materials will end up.
“We just got our building,” said Blattman, “and we have begun the process of sorting through material that we have already received, distributing copies of pictures and other materials back to specific campuses. It is my hope that all (archival) information will be equally found at the campus and museum levels. Because the museum is dedicated to the bigger picture of the entire district, I suspect individual schools will likely have their own historical displays.”
“It is our intention that all (LSE history project) materials be made available to interested parties,” said Dodge-Clay, who welcomes the opportunity to share information with the new Julia Newton Aue Elementary when it opens this fall.
“We will be happy to share our knowledge of the area as well as our historical keepsakes with (Aue). We certainly do share a common heritage in this area. I’m sure that Mrs. Horne will be happy to share her knowledge of the area with Aue staff, once they are in place.”
One suspects that Max Aue and his 1880s cohort, together with their generations of successors, would be eager to see that happen, too.