Kage School Over the Years

Kage School grand opening 05-10-2015
Kage School grand opening 05-10-2015

Southeast Missouri State University, which claims to have a historic preservation program but tears down local landmarks, should take a lesson from guys like Chad Hartle and Rick Hetzel.

Chad turned the old Central High School on Pacific Street into attractive housing for senior citizens.

Rick rescued the historic Kage School from collapse and has made it into a guest cottage for daily, weekly or monthly rental. You can get more information on the property’s website.

The May 10 grand opening attracted hundreds, including some students who attended the school three-quarters of a century earlier. Savanna Maue covered the opening for The Missourian.

I first photographed Kage School in 1966, the year it closed. After the turn of the century (it’s always cool when I can say that), I was drawn back to the building time and time again. To be honest, I was afraid that every visit would be the last one before the brick building collapsed from neglect.

Here’s what it looked like during the grand opening and through the years. Click on any image to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move through the galleries.

1966 before school closed

The school had a fascinating history. It was unusual because of its racial and economic diversity. Enrollment included white children from well-established families, the district’s African-American students from as far back as 1889 or earlier and children from the County Poor Farm. The original school was built in 1880 for $1,200 (changes and additions bumped that up to $1,600).

You can read more of the Kage School history here.

Initials scratched in the walls

I never noticed the initials and names scratched in the walls until Brother Mark pointed them out to me. Here are some examples, plus some photos showing the condition of the school. I pointed out when these were taken in 2010 that “the bricks in the chimney are beginning to crumble and there are cracks above a window on the southeast side. If anyone is going to step up to preserve this historic building, they’d better do it soon.”

2013 before renovations

When I checked out the school in the fall of 2013, the back door was standing open. Since the property wasn’t posted, I took that to mean that I was invited inside to look around. Time, termites and gravity had not been kind, but parts of it were in good shape.

What I found particularly interesting was what was left behind. You’ll see some of the objects – like the green dishes, pencil sharpener, light fixtures and some of the books in the renovated school.

A work in progress

By the spring of 2014, Rick Hetzel had purchased the property from Keith Deimund, who had attended the school about 75 years ago. He launched an army of workmen to repair almost every part of the building, while leaving as much of it intact as possible.

The pine floors were refinished and reinstalled. The original windows were replaced with energy-efficient glass, and foundation stones under the floor were used to create a flower bed out front. Even a baby squirrel discovered by workers Justin Wissmann and Wes Langston was relocated.

 Headed for the finish line

When I went back in the fall of 2014, most of the exterior work had finished and walls were starting to go up. Hetzel had the exterior walls sprayed with an insulation that had a high R-value and provided a good moisture barrier

Workers found a wooden block capping one of the interior columns that had the initials of the contractors who built the original school, including the date 1880. I wonder if they ever expected anyone to find it?

Kage School Rehabilitation

Rick Hetzel Kage School restoration 04-02-2014_2199

Every once in awhile we win one. The last time I photographed Kage School, I figured it was only a matter of time before the cracked walls would come tumbling down, taking with it a progressive school that educated area children for 112 years. Then, I saw a small notice in the paper that Rick Hetzel had bought the property and was going to rehab it.

Fred Lynch shot a photo gallery of the early stages on March 24, 2014. (He’s a real photographer who has to answer to an editor, so he went to the trouble of lighting the interior. I just wing it with available light.)

Will be used as rental apartment

Kage School Restoration 05-02-2014When I got into town, one of my first stops was at the school, where I was lucky enough to run into Rick, who said he was turning it into a rental apartment. I was glad to hear that it was going to be used for an actual purpose instead of becoming a gift shop or mini-museum. Rick is going to keep as many of the original fixtures and furnishings as possible, he said.

He reminded me a bit of Chad Hartle, who took the old Schultz School and turned it into Schultz Senior Apartments, a textbook case of turning a white elephant into something the community can be proud of.

Kage School photo gallery

Here are photographs I shot on April 2 and May 2 of the work in progress and the men doing it. Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move through the images.

Kage School Then and Now

Kage School interior, circa 1966I photographed Kage School just before it closed in 1966, after 112 years of service. Here is what it looked like then. Follow this link to read the amazing history of this progressive school.

47 years later

Kage School 10-19-2013_8712One of my readers mentioned that they had been inside the school and had been disappointed at its condition. I made a quick stop and found that it was rough, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected. This shot was taken from just about the same spot at the 1966 photo. It’s funny how much bigger the room felt with kids in it.

Is it haunted?

Kage School 10-19-2013_8690

There are two questions I get asked a lot: “Is it haunted?” “Is there a tunnel leading down to the river as part of the Underground Railroad?”

I can pretty much always answer the latter as “No.” The jury is out on the first question. I don’t know about “haunts,” but I can feel some kind of spirits or vibes in some buildings. It’s probably my overactive imagination, but something triggers a reaction that I hope is reflected in some of my photos.

More often than not, I wonder about the people who passed through the buildings. Who, for example, was the last child to write addition tables on this board before the door was closed for the last time?

Every once in awhile, not often, a building will hit me stronger than I like.

Why this and not that?

Kage School 10-19-2013_8705Why would someone leave behind a roll of toilet paper or some tiny bowls?

Flash cards, books and bingo cards

Kage School 10-19-2013_8666The kids who used these items have grandkids and maybe great-grandkids today. I wonder if they are some of the ones who carved their names in the bricks in the back of the school?

Earlier Kage School stories

Kage School WS initials on wall 03-18-2020

 Kage School photo gallery

Here are photos of the interior of the school. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the sides to move through the gallery.

Hanover Lutheran School

Here’s a piece of good news: the old Hanover Lutheran School, built in 1924 and close to being demolished, has been given new life. Less than two months ago, the congregation considered razing the one-room schoolhouse rather than spending money to bring it up to city codes.

The church voted 31-12 to use $10,000 in donations to make repairs and keep it open as a heritage museum, meeting place and workshop for students who want to see what school was like in the old days.

Here’s a link to a July 10, 2012, Missourian story about the renovation.

I wish someone would step up to save the old Kage School. It was looking in pretty sad shape when I shot it in the spring of 2010.

Photo gallery of Hanover Lutheran School

I’ll run photos of Hanover Church later. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side to move through the gallery.

Copyright © Ken Steinhoff. All rights reserved.