Heritage, Volume 04, Number 02, Fall 1986

COMMON SCHOOLS OF
CENTRAL TEXAS:
Past and Present (One and Two Room Schools of the Hill Country)
by Alice Fisher and James D. Fisher

In the minds of many Texans, the
locally controlled common school is one
Df the most potent images of a predominately
agrarian society. With Texas
in its Sesquicentennial year as an urbanized
state, former pupils and teachers
of the central region remember their days
in the rural common schools. Numerous
Dne and two room structures, although
empty, stand intact, and represent a more
simple education system and way of life.
Others of these little buildings have continued
with various uses in the midst of
the high-tech 1980s. Indeed, in some of
the few remaining functioning public
common schools, and in a few newly created
private one room schools, there is a
blend of the past and present.
The common schools of Texas, those
schools controlled by their own elected
Board of Trustees, were established by the
school act of 1854. Until that time, education
in Texas had been private, church
related, or nonexistent. The 1854 law
was a major commitment to establishing
secular education in Texas, but for the
most part, private schools continued as
few places were ready or able to organize a
public education system. In Central
Texas, however, counties with predominantly
German populations were successful
in starting common schools. The
Germans who emigrated to Central Texas
in the 1840s had come with the enlightened
and progressive ideals of 19th
century Europe and were adamant in
their desire for free public schools.
Gillespie County, with impetus from the
1854 school law, converted its rudimentary
semi-private school, and starting
with six common districts, established a
public education system. One of these
common districts, Luckenbach, still has a
building on the 1854 site,

With the rise and control of the Northern
Radicals in Texas government, a new
law was enacted in 1870 that encouraged
a highly centralized state system offering
free public education for Blacks and Caucasions.
This new law divided the state
into thirty-five districts having a central
superintendent who directed the local
schools. Also introduced were a despised
state-wide school tax and a strong statewide
compulsory attendance law. There
was tremendous opposition to this centralized
system and most counties rigorously
resisted state interference into regional
educational matters. However, the
1870 school act did not directly disrupt
the already established schools in Central
Texas and quite possibly gave needed momentum
and legal credence to some
Black schools such as the one in the
newly founded post-Civil War "preempted"
Black community of Payton's
Colony in Blanco County.
Southern Democrats returned to power
in the state legislature in the mid 1870s
and introduced a new school law which

Willow Creek School, Gillespie County. In
1905 the people of Willow City decided to build a
new school. Of sandstone with lintels of Marble
Falls granite, it houses but two classrooms on the
ground level. The upper floor is a meeting hall
equipped with a stage. German was taught in
Willow City as a foreign language. And only by
parental request!

dismantled the strife-ridden system. By
1884 Texans had sufficiently recovered
from their bitterness to again attempt to
establish a sound public school system.
The most important feature of the new
act was to create community schools with
a tax based on local, not state, authorization.
Furthermore, the supervision of
rural common schools would once again
return to local control and to a local
county superintendent.
Renewed public interest in the mid
1880s caused a flurry of activity which resulted
in the construction of one room
schools throughout the Hill Country.
A later school building boom precipitated
by the 1905 and 1909 common school
building bond laws lasted well into the
1920s. continued on page 37
23

Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 04, Number 02, Fall 1986. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45442/. Accessed September 2, 2014.