The Wheelock School House opened in 1908 and has remained open since, though its purpose has shifted.
Now a community center, the building served as a school until the 1949-1950 school year, when the Wheelock school district and other surrounding communities were merged into Franklin schools.
“It is the one of the oldest continuously used buildings in Robertson County,” said Betty Madura, an officer on the nonprofit Friends of the Wheelock School House board. “It has the oldest stage in the county upstairs.”
On Thursday, people gathered for the 25th annual Wheelock Fourth of July Parade and Barbecue.
Guests were able to see the school house during the event, which has become the biggest fundraiser for Friends of the Wheelock School House as they continue work to preserve the historic structure.
Though the “bones of the building” are in good shape, Madura said, the windows need to be restored, it needs to be painted inside and out, the floors need to be redone and the plumbing and electrical work need to be updated.
“The building’s 111 years old. It shows its age,” said Kathy Hedrick, also an officer in the organization. “It needs a little love and attention, but we’re working really hard.”
Hedrick noted the school house qualified for a historical marker from the Texas Historic Landmark, which they expect should arrive within the next year.
Community members formed the Friends of the Wheelock School House organization in 2016 and have been working — along with Texas A&M College of Architecture’s Center for Heritage Conservation — since then to restore the building in a historically accurate way.
“They have been so instrumental in helping us assess the school and determine what needs to be done and help us prioritize what needs to be done and helping us get grants, and [Texas A&M architecture professor and Center for Heritage Conservation Associate Director] Priya Jain has just been wonderful,” Hedrick said about the center’s involvement, calling Jain a blessing to them.
In 2018, the nonprofit received a Texas Preservation Trust Fund matching grant and Robertson County Hotel Occupancy Tax funds to rework the foundation and replace the 32 windows on the first floor of the two-story building. Now, they are preparing to apply for a second grant to restore the 20 windows upstairs. With the work needed to measure each individual window and maintain the historical accuracy of the building, each window costs about $2,000, Madura said.
The organization must raise $48,000 for the second phase and, if they are awarded the matching grant, will be reimbursed $24,000 by the state.
As the nonprofit’s largest fundraiser, the goal of today’s event is to raise $5,000 or more. With an expected 300 to 400 people at the parade and barbecue lunch, Hedrick said, the organizers hope to raise the funds through the $10 lunch plates and the silent auction inside the school house.
Both Madura and Hedrick said their husbands’ families attended school there, giving it an added personal connection.
In doing research on the building and hearing stories from former students, Hedrick said, she has learned a lot about life at that time. Her husband’s aunt told her stories about students walking or riding their horses and ponies and how there was a horse shed at the school where the animals would be safe during the day.
“She said that when they rang the school bell, the kids would line up — boys in one line and girls in another line — and they would march in the school and up the staircase two by two and they would have a little assembly every morning,” Hedrick said. “… The boys sat on one side and the girls sat on the other side, and when they were through, then they would go into class.”
Even though they do not do official tours yet, Hedrick said, there are different events at the school throughout the year, including National Night Out and a Trunk or Treat event. Anyone who cannot attend today’s event but is interested in visiting the Wheelock School House outside of a scheduled event can contact Hedrick at email@example.com.
Roads in Wheelock will be closed along the parade route, which will begin at the school at 20691 Cavitt St., turn left onto Barziza Street and continue down Commerce Street. It will then turn right onto FM 391 and again onto FM 46. The parade will then turn down Barziza Street and onto Cavitt again to end back at the school house.
Instead of one grand marshal, today’s 25th annual parade will feature past grand marshals and current and past scholarship recipients.
“It’s a small-town, country Fourth of July parade,” Madura said.
“When it started in 1995, it was just kids on their bicycles and dads on their riding lawn mowers and a few tractors and a truck or two,” she said. “But it’s really grown over the past 25 years. It’s a pretty big deal now in Robertson County.”
People who cannot attend but want to send a tax-deductible donation can do so by sending a check to Friends of the Wheelock School House at P.O. Box 26, Wheelock, Texas, 77882.