Saturday, September 12, 2015

Manley's historic schoolhouse reflects town's commitment to education

Manley schoolhouse in mid-2000s

Gladys Dart was a young mother with three children when she moved to Manley Hot Springs in 1956. She and her husband, Chuck, had just purchased the Karshner homestead on the north side of Hot Springs Slough and were in the process of starting a greenhouse operation. Gladys told me that even though she had taught school in Fairbanks, teaching again in a formal school setting was not in their plans.

Manley Hot Springs, now usually just called Manley, was past its zenith when the Darts moved there. John Karshner had staked his homestead around the hot springs in 1902, and a community coalesced there. According to U.S. Census reports, Manley’s 1910 population was 101. However, it had shrunk to 29 residents by 1920. The population swelled to 45 by 1930, but slipped back down to 29 by 1950.

Gladys wrote in a 1983 biography that 15 people lived in Manley during the winter of 1956-57, mostly “old timers and childless couples.” The Northern Commercial Company’s store manager had a teenage daughter, and there was only one other family with children.

The territorial government’s policy was that communities needed 10 students before a teacher was provided. It is doubtful that until the 1950s Manley had enough children to warrant a school, except perhaps during its earliest boom years.

Because of this, Manley parents with school-age children faced difficult choices. They could move their families to communities with schools, board their children away from home, or teach them through correspondence.

The Darts home-schooled their oldest child that year. The next year a family with school-age children moved back to Manley. The father was a local bush pilot, but his wife and children lived in Fairbanks. The family’s desire to be together brought them all back to Manley.

A few Manley residents, convinced that more families would move to town if there was a school, approached Gladys about starting one. In addition to the 10-student minimum, communities also needed to provide a school building, so the Darts offered the use of an old 16-foot by 20-foot log cabin on their property. The building had no electricity or plumbing, but it did have hot water piped from the springs for heat.

The Territory accepted the one-room schoolhouse. Gladys became the school’s sole teacher, and Chuck provided the maintenance. However, by the start of school in September 1958 the schoolhouse still didn’t have furniture or supplies. Manley was not yet connected to Fairbanks by road, and the supplies would be delivered by the last boat of the season, due about a month after school started.

Until the furniture arrived, they had to make do. Chuck shortened the legs of two large tables to serve as desks, and students used Blazo boxes (wooden crates that containers of fuel were shipped in) as seats.

Gladys survived that first school year, and predictions about the school attracting new residents proved true. By 1960 Manley had 72 residents, and the school had 19 students — a bit crowded for a one-room building.

Classes moved out of the log schoolhouse in fall 1961 and shared space temporarily in the Dart’s newly finished home. A new school building was completed in 1963. That building served until 1980 when an even larger facility (named after Gladys) was constructed.

Gladys, now retired, still lives in Manley. The log schoolhouse (which is on private property) was renovated for its 50th anniversary in 2008 and is still nestled against the base of the hill, just off the Elliott Highway. It is a testament to the tenacity of a lady and a community that valued education.


Chuck and Gladys Dart: Manley Hot Springs. Chuck and Gladys Dart. Yukon-Koyukuk School District. 1983

• Conversation with Gladys Dart

In deed, indeed: teaching and learning in a one-room school. Gladys Dart. Outskirts Press. 2010

• U.S. Census reports for 1910 through 1960

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