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Sumner County High School 1897-1920

Cari Cook

Sunday, September 01, 2013

It’s back-to-school time here in Kansas.  Even though our daughter is grown and well beyond her back-to-school days, I still sense the feeling of excitement when I see the school supplies come out at the store.  What a great time of year to take a look at an old area school.  While its time here in Wellington was short compared to most schools, it seems to have made quite an impact on our county.

Sumner County High School was the first high school to serve the county as a whole.  The building itself was originally built in 1886 to serve as Wellington’s Fourth Ward school and was located between 12th and 13th streets and Poplar and Chestnut (now Olive) streets on the west side of Wellington.  It became the county high school in 1897.

 According to a 1930 newspaper article, the acquisition of the school by the county took place in mid-summer 1897, “when many young people of the county already decided to attend elsewhere.”  On the first day of school, September 20, 1897, there were 208 total students enrolled.  By the end of the first term, that number grew to 358, which included 145 from within Wellington’s city limits, 205 from the county and 7 from Oklahoma.

The First Annual Catalogue of the SCHS states “the legislature of 1886 passed a law which provides that each county having a population of six thousand inhabitants or over, as shown by the last state or federal census, may establish a county high school on the conditions and in the manner hereinafter prescribed, for the purpose of affording better educational facilities for pupils more advanced than those attending district schools, and for persons who desire to fit themselves for the vocation of teaching.’” and “For years, educators have insisted upon a high school in the city which prepared students to enter the higher institutions of learning in the state, but not until recent years was an effort made to provide the country boy with the same educational advantages that are offered in the city; but the rights of the country boy have at last been recognized, and the township graded school in some states, and the county school in other states, are the result.” 

I found the gender bias - “country boy” – in the language very interesting, but that’s another article all together.  The fact remains that the leaders of Sumner County felt strongly that all young people deserve the opportunity to receive a good education and preparation for higher learning at the university level.  The catalogue also stated of the 205 enrolled students from outside of the city of Wellington, 100 would not have attended school at all before the county high school was established.  It provided them a place to “enjoy the best educational advantages without wholly severing home ties.”

The outline of instruction for the new county high school included Mathematics, History, Natural Sciences, Drawing, Bookkeeping, English Language and Literature, General Reading, Latin, German, and Psychology.  The schools discipline policy is described as “…necessary to prevent the abusing of the generosity of ones parents, and of the county, unexceptional deportment is required.”  Laugh if you will, but I wasn’t sure what they meant by deportment.  It made me think of immigration.  Thank goodness for Merriam-Webster.  The meaning of deportment is “the manner in which one conducts oneself”, but you probably knew that already.


Like any typical mid-western town, Wellington has had a long history of loving high school football.  In the lobby of the museum, we have a photo of the 1898 SCHS Football team.  There are no names to go with the photo, but there is a grand total of fifteen players, each wearing what looks to be the uniform of the era; thick long-sleeved shirts that lace up at the neck and resemble today’s “hoodie”, pants that appear to be stuffed with some type of cotton batting, thick-ribbed knee-socks and what look like early combat boots.  Not much protection from an oncoming opponent.  These boys were tough!  This photo is one of my favorite things in the museum.  I stare at it and wonder who these boys were and what became of them after their pigskin days at SCHS.

The 1920 football season was the last for SCHS.  According to the 1920 Annual, the season was a tough one in part because “regulars were out on account of injuries”.  With losses only to Wichita, Pratt and Marion, I’d say this team of injured players did pretty well.  

A brief aside - did you know that in 1930, ten years after the cessation of Sumner County High School, Wellington High School was the “first high school in the west to play night football under lights of its own installation”?  The 1930 Wellington High School Megaphone says “Twenty lights of two-thousand watts each are installed on twelve poles fifty-two and one-half feet high.”  This had to be an exciting time to be a football fan in Wellington.


SCHS had a rather odd mascot.  “Lige” was an alligator captured by C.A. Richardson, a former Wellington resident, on the Mermentau River in Louisiana.  Why he chose to send this 3 foot alligator to the SCHS is a mystery to me, but the school welcomed him and kept him in a tank in the basement of the school.  For eighteen years he was the source of much stress to the “Freshie”, as they were told “Lige” ran at large in the basement and was particularly fond of freshman.  Unfortunately, “Lige” met his fate during the Christmas holiday in 1919.  During the holiday break, there was a cold snap in Wellington and the furnace at the school had been turned off.  As a result, the alligator’s tank froze solid and after it thawed, “Lige remained perfectly still”.  And, get this, a newspaper article from January 4, 1919 states “for the past ten days, he has shown no signs of life”.   The article ends with the statement; “At this time Lige’s obituary will not be printed, as he might be only fooling folks.”  I wonder how long it took for someone to finally get up the nerve to check old “Lige’s” vital signs. 

The alligator was so beloved by the school; he was stuffed and kept in the biology room for years following his death.  The Chisholm Trail Museum foyer is and has been the current home of “Lige” for as long as I can remember.  Stop in and see him sometime. We’re pretty sure he’s still deceased…he hasn’t moved in years!


The Sumner County High School was the first county high school in the state to become accredited by the North Central Association.  For over twenty years it played an important part in the education development of Sumner County and Wellington.

By 1920, the county high school had served its purpose.  There were now other high schools in the county and it was only right that the money from the county’s high school taxes be divided amongst all of those schools based on their enrollment rather than going all to the SCHS.   The building continued as Wellington High School for the next 9 years.  After the new high school was built on the corner of 9th and A street, “Old Sumner” as it was adoringly called by its alumni, was  torn down and the block broken up into residential lots.   The 1920 Annual was fittingly titled “The Last Rose of Sumner.”