Bloom High School Then and Now

It is such a trip to walk through a completely obliterated building and see floor tiles still affixed to the concrete. Most people in Ford County, Kansas are well aware that the entrance to the Bloom High School is all that is left standing. I remember when it was taken down but I never really knew much about the town…other than it hadn’t been incorporated in ages.

Photographer Unknown

Bloom was established in 1887. It was never going to be a thriving metropolis but its position on the Rock Island Line ensured at least some commercial activity, including a weekly newspaper.

The Weekly Telegram, July 25, 1889

In April of 1889, the Bloom School had about 20 pupils attending class. In 1915, the two-room schoolhouse held 39 students. They weren’t breaking any records. By comparison, the fancy new school in Ford had 128 students at this time. There was a severe drought that just about wiped Bloom off the map. The newspaper died. The post office closed in 1891 and it was actually hauled away in 1894. I’m not sure when the City of Bloom became an unincorporated place but I imagine it was about that time.

Bloom experienced a renaissance in the early aughts, however, and a new post office opened in 1908. Soon, residents were getting their news from a different source.

The Bloom Booster, September 28, 1916

Bloom finally got some attention and organized support for a new school in October of 1916. Initial estimates came in at around $9,000 but we know how that goes.

The Dodge City Globe October 19, 1916

Less than two months later, the cost had risen to $15,000 and voters approved the bond issue.

Dodge City Daily Journal, December 10, 1916

The Bloom Booster, February 15, 1917

Contracts were awarded to Peters & Cobb of Ford for the building and W. F. Polly of Hutchinson for plumbing and heating. The idea was for the new school to be ready for the 1917-18 school year but it never works out that way. Bloom ran into the same problems as other Ford County districts with construction materials being slow to deliver. In July of 1917, the district thought the building might be ready about two weeks into the school year. Seven months later, with an epic typo:

The Bloom Booster, February 14, 1918

The new school had six classrooms, an auditorium with seating for 250, and a gymnasium “large enough for basket ball.” With enrollment at about 30 students, Bloom had high hopes for the future. Unfortunately, the school wasn’t yet accredited because it only offered three years rather than the four required by the state. Parents were unsure whether sending their kids to Bloom would cause their work to go uncredited so the district was under extreme pressure to get that fourth year offered. Then they had an outbreak of influenza in December of 1918.

Bloom peaked in the early 1930s, as many Kansas communities did during the Dust Bowl.

The Spearville News, February 27, 1930

Bloom didn’t have a football team (at least in 1932) so their athletes focused on “base ball” and “basket ball.” The Ford basketball team was actually taking Bloom seriously, which is hilarious…except Bloom marched onto Ford’s home court and beat them 17-12.

The Ford Progress, January 6, 1933

I feel like “wholesale slaughter” might have been a touch hyperbolic but sports reporters are sports reporters.

The Ford Progress, January 13, 1933

Speaking of the Dust Bowl:

The Catholic Advance, September 18, 1937

If you ever want something to be outraged about, peruse employment ads prior to the Civil Rights Act. It’s an HR Manager’s worst nightmare. These ads are fine but holy crap the others are awful.

The Wichita Eagle, February 10, 1956
The Evening Eagle, September 10, 1956

Somewhere along the way, Bloom formed an eight-man football team. That may have been a mistake.

Garden City Telegram, September 16, 1960

The Bloom High School Class of ’64 consisted of eight graduates so I think it was clear the lights would soon be out forever.

The Hays Daily News, May 12, 1964

Bloom’s school district merged with Minneola in 1964 and that was the end of the Bloom Badgers.

Garden City Telegram, January 12, 1965

I really want to know more about these reunions. Are they still a thing? Where are they held? The Bloom Alumni Association was still active in 1996 but that was the last mention I was able to find.

The Wichita Eagle-Beacon, April 29, 1984
The Wichita Eagle-Beacon, October 21, 1984

The Bloom Post Office closed for the last time in March of 1992. I think the Co-op may be the only business left in the community, unless someone has a home-based business. The Rock Island depot is still standing and is a private residence. The Lighthouse Baptist Church still has a presence but I’m unsure if they’re still using the building they put up inside the footprint of the old gymnasium. Seriously. The 2020 Federal Census listed 110 people in all of Bloom Township.

I remember reading about the upcoming demolition of Bloom High School and thinking at the time I should go down there and take some photos. For whatever reason, it didn’t happen. Not only can I not remember when it happened, I can’t remember where I read it. Was it in the Globe? The Banner? Where was I sitting when I read it? No clue! All I know is the article mentioned a decision to leave the entry standing, which was 100% the right call. I really, really love that it’s still there.

The school was definitely demolished prior to June of 2008 because those are the earliest Google Street View images available online and it was already gone.

Searching Globe online archives is borderline impossible bit I did find this story about the gymnasium roof blowing off in November of 2006. Clicking on the story won’t get you anywhere but the photo clearly shows the school buildings were already down. Speaking of the gym, the Lighthouse Baptist Church tried their best to keep the structure intact. They replaced half the roof and most of the flooring back in 2002. It must have been a major gut punch to then have all that work destroyed within four years.

Here’s how the school looks now:

Did the record skip when you compared the old newspaper photo to those I just took? Yeah, same here. That’s definitely not the same entrance from 1918. Everything about it looks much more modern. So what the heck? Sam at the Kansas Heritage Center sent me this photo showing the gymnasium that was added on the north side of the school during the Great Depression. It’s clear that the original school building faced west and the entrance left standing that faces Highway 54 was from a later addition.

Photo courtesy of Kansas Heritage Center

This satellite view from Google Maps clearly shows the church that was constructed inside the old gymnasium. I’m amazed the county issued a building permit for this but I verified that they sure did.

I’m glad I grabbed a few pics of the gymnasium and the debris pile from the original school building. If I had known at the time what all I was looking at, I would have taken more. Because it’s all just piled there where it fell, it’s very difficult to see which areas are safe to step. There are a lot of weeds potentially covering holes and brittle flooring materials…not to mention snakes.

I’ve reached out to the Minneola Public Library and the Minneola High School Library to see if they have any interesting materials but haven’t had any luck. I’ll update this post if I receive any additional information.

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Ford High School Then and Now

8th Street and Prairie Street, Ford, Kansas

The Pioneer 1971
January 2022

Astounding transformation, yes?!

Ford is now a shadow of what it once was. I lived there for about five years and was shocked to learn my street (Prairie Street, natch) had once been paved. Keeping up with maintenance became too costly as the population dwindled, so the City dumped dirt on top of the asphalt and just rolled with it. When the dirt gets worn and washed away, you can still see the asphalt below. Along with paved roads, Ford once had an elementary school and a high school, as well as passenger train service to Dodge City. By the time I bought a house there, even Ford’s liquor store had closed.

But in 1912 (two years after my former house was built), things were happening in Ford!

The Topeka Daily State Journal, May 4, 1912

Unlike their neighbors in Dodge, the people of Ford didn’t mess around with kids in overcrowded classrooms and they had the new building ready for occupancy the same year. The news snippet above referred to the new building as a high school but as you can see below, it was a school for all grades.

The Ford Promoter, November 14, 1912

The structure completed in 1912 (prior to the addition of the auditorium at the south end) wasn’t very big but there were only five students in the first graduating class of 1916.

The Ford Promoter, May 25, 1916

Ford took their sports ball contests quite seriously and enjoyed considerable success for such a small school.

Hutchinson Daily Gazette, October 29, 1916

But what the heck? They then beat Garden City the following month, after having eggs thrown at them while waiting for their train in Dodge. Such drama. They couldn’t have been playing Dodge and Garden varsity teams…right?!

By 1917, the lower grades were bursting at the seams with as many as three grades stuck in one classroom. A local home was rented for additional space and newspaper editorials called for a second school. This time, the residents weren’t so quick to jump on another bond issue. Instead, they built a detached Vocational Agriculture building at the north end of the school.

The Ford Progress, October 20, 1922
The old shop is now used by the City of Ford Maintenance Department.

Since one of the rooms was being used as an auditorium, it made sense to build a real gymnasium/auditorium and free up more classroom space.

The Hutchinson News, May 24, 1927
The Pioneer 1956

The Ford Progress, February 28, 1930

That was long but you need to understand that I didn’t even include all of it. You’re welcome.

The Ford Progress, August 15, 1930
The Ford Progress, October 23, 1931

They were trying to put Ford on the map!

The Ford Progress, August 26, 1932
The Hutchinson, Kansas, News-Herald, February 27, 1936
The Hutchinson, Kansas, News-Herald, November 11, 1944
The Pioneer 1956

I can’t remember when the elementary school was built but it screams 1950s to me. The 1956 yearbook includes some photos taken from the baseball diamond with the elementary school in the background. I mention this because high school events often took place in the grade school, presumably because it was newer and (I think) larger.

The Wichita Beacon, July 24, 1970
The Pioneer 1971
Garden City Telegram, April 28, 1971

The Class of 1972 was the last to graduate from Ford High School. It was all quite messy. For the Fall of 1971, the Ford High School football team was only able to schedule six games because of apparent interference from the Dodge City USD 443, which governed the Ford schools at that time. I’m guessing the interference was caused by the budget/tax revenue whoopsie. By early September, Ford’s fate had not yet been determined.

I’m not 100 percent clear about how the State handled the fallout but ultimately, Ford and Bucklin consolidated and they all became Red Aces. How weird would it be to suddenly walk the hallways of your competitors…after your town seceded from that district? Totes awk.

One of my neighbors said he and his friends still played basketball in the gym after work for many years after the school closed. The building was used for community events until it became a safety hazard.

A former Ford City Clerk told me the City Council had gotten bids to demo the building but it was ridiculously expensive, especially since there was asbestos that needed to be removed. Some locals thought they could pull the walls down with a tractor because there’s apparently nothing a John Deere can’t do. They were wrong. Pulling on the walls just caused the roof to cave in. So they made it worse and there it sat.

Some lady bought the property and refused to do anything with it. People would try to buy it from her and she would refuse. This went on for years until finally a guy thought he had it bought in about 2011. If I remember correctly, he intended to turn it into condos but there was a ton of cleanup to do. Most of the lot was completely overgrown, to the point where trees had to be removed in order to even get to the building and haul out debris. I remember seeing him behind the auditorium trying to clear a path. Honestly, even back then it was clear the building was too far gone. But then I think something happened to prevent the sale from going through. Probably a lot of things!

I went into the school in about 2007 and it wasn’t yet a total wreck. I remember walking in the main floor hallway, which was concrete and thinking it could be much worse. Then I nearly stepped off into the void. It hadn’t occurred to me that the classroom floors had been wood…at one point. They were GONE. I looked down all the way into the basement locker room and was glad I didn’t take that route to check it out.

The gym/auditorium was a shit show but it was intact enough that I could tell it was a really cool addition. The wood floor was a warped mess (due to the giant hole in the roof) but the bead board around the stage area was still there and I just thought it was a shame to see it ruined. The Google Street View images are from June of 2008 but they’re total garbage so you can’t see much. Please note that the addresses are all jacked on Prairie Street so you can’t even pay attention to them. The satellite image below is also out of date.

I’ve looked all over for the photos I took that day but they must have been stored on an old PC that died ages ago. It would have been really interesting to compare the photos from that day to these that I took in January of this year. The goats seemed to be enjoying themselves!

Note: I did not trespass to get these pics. All were taken from outside the fenced area.

Here’s a bonus gallery of the old grade school, which now houses the City of Ford offices, City Council meetings, etc. The City’s Facebook Page has a few interior photos as well. Residents were also able to reserve the cafeteria and gymnasium/auditorium for family reunions and other events but I’m not sure if that is still the case. When I lived there, the City Library was still open but it closed at least four years ago.

I’m not sure what it is about the Ford school buildings that I find so compelling. The grade school interior isn’t even attractive! But I don’t want either building to be destroyed. They represent a time when the community still looked forward to growth and prosperity. When I look at what we have in front of us now as a country…and western civilization in general, all I see is doom and decay. On that happy note, the digital nomad life continues!

If you like what you see, be sure to subscribe (way at the bottom of the post on mobile devices) to receive an email each time a new post is published and share on social media. You can also buy me a cup of coffee using the donation form. Thanks for reading!

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