Each July in the early 1980s, the community calendar section of Penny Power announced that a potluck dinner for the “Northwest Gang” would take place at Tom Watkins Park. I have lived in northwest Springfield since the mid-1930s, and never heard of this “gang.” One summer, curiosity got the best of me, so, armed with a casserole, I went to investigate.
A congenial group of various ages welcomed me. I knew several of them, and was informed that the gang consisted of alumni of New Home School and its successor, Ed. V. Williams Elementary School, plus others from the Tom Watkins neighborhood.
Mrs. Mary Hiser, mother of three of my former students at Hillcrest High School, took me under her wing for the day. She explained that the school had been at the corner of High Street and Hoffman Avenue, just across from Tom Watkins Park, which had been just a large cow pasture during the New Home era. The school was torn down in 1930 when the more modern Ed. V. Williams school was built just a couple of blocks north at the northwest corner of Kearney Street and Park Avenue.
Mrs. Hiser was especially proud of the fact that her grandfather, Frederick Hoffman, had donated the land for New Home. It was impressive that the alumni had such a strong bond and a feeling of loyalty to the school more than 50 years after its demise. It seemed that few people except the alumni knew about New Home, so from time to time, Mrs. Hiser and I talked of collaborating on the history of the school, but it never came to fruition.
When I became a volunteer instructor of a senior citizens’ writing class at Northview Center in the fall of 2006, compiling the history of the New Home School came up as an idea for a class project. The class – comprised of Patricia Waite, Ophelia Wesley, Beverly Pierce, Alyce Crosby, Richard Holmen, Betty Turner and Jessie Veach –had done only creative writing in the past; this seemed to be a good way to introduce them to research and factual writing. When I sought to contact Mrs. Hiser for her permission and input on the project, I was shocked to find that she had died just a month before. With her family’s permission, the class elected to forge ahead with the project in her memory.
June marked the 10th anniversary of the completion of the project, which culminated with the publication of the booklet “Gone But Not Forgotten: Memories of The New Home School, Springfield, Missouri, 1910-1930.”
Kansas Avenue was the western city limit in 1910; so New Home began as Greene County District School No. 124. It was built on land donated by Frederick Hoffman and was built by John Dake, a resident of the neighborhood.
The tight-knit neighborhood included many families of German heritage who had been brought in by the Frisco Railway to work in the repair shop to the south and in the creosote plant to the west of the area. The school was the focal point for the neighborhood.
The Northview class was able to garner information, documents, anecdotes and photos from a few surviving alumni and from descendants of Mr. Hoffman and of 1913-14 teacher Albert Rauch, and from the Greene County Archives.
Complimentary copies were given to all participants and to the History Museum, Springfield-Greene County Library District, Missouri State University Archives, Historical Society of Missouri, The Bridges for Youth on High and Park, the Doling Park Museum and to Ed. V. Williams Elementary School, which supplanted New Home in 1930. The library copies are on reference basis, but the Doling Park Museum has copies available for check-out for those interested.
To our knowledge, no New Home School alumni are still living. Only four members of the Northview Center writing class survive.
Alyce Crosby, Betty Lou Turner, Ophelia Wesley and I, along with Peggy Mahan, curator of the Doling museum, recently enjoyed a reunion luncheon.
Virginia Thomas has lived in the home she built by hand with her parents on West Atlantic since Thanksgiving 1960. She is currently working on compiling the history of the Tom Watkins neighborhood.