Residents keep Proctor School’s history alive
Students and teachers pose in front of Tyner’s Valley School in 1907. Tyner’s Valley was located near Tyner Creek in present-day Proctor, Oklahoma. It eventually became known as Proctor School after being relocated. COURTESY
This photo shows Proctor School in 1950. Community members say the school began its first school term in 1927 and operated until June 1968 when it consolidated with Westville Schools. COURTESY
The Proctor Community Center stands in place of the Proctor School. The building was designed to match the school’s size and has the school’s original sandstone covering the front side. KENLEA HENSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
PROCTOR, Okla. – Proctor School closed its doors in 1968 after years of providing children, mostly Cherokees, with education from primary school to eighth grade. Nearly 50 years later, local residents keep the school’s history alive in the form of a community building.
“A lot of people didn’t even know where Proctor was until we got the community center. So I know a lot of people probably don’t know there was a school here or that the school system dates farther back before statehood,” Cherokee Nation citizen Maxine Hamilton, of Proctor, said.
According to the book “History of Adair County,” the area known today as Proctor was a settling point for Cherokee Old Setters and Cherokees who arrived on the Trail of Tears. Once the CN government reformed, it divided its territory into districts with the area that would be known as Proctor being part of the Goingsnake District.
In 1841, the CN established public schools within the districts, and on March 1, 1867, the area received its first school, Tyner’s Valley. It was located on Tyner’s Creek in present-day Proctor.
It was one of eight CN schools established in the district. However, as statehood approached in 1907, and white settlers continued to move in, the tribe no longer controlled schools as they were placed under the secretary of Interior.
Tyner’s Valley caught fire twice during its occupancy. After it burned a second time, the school relocated and was named Proctor School.
Hamilton said her father sold the acreage for the school, which was built for $250.
“Tyner’s Valley didn’t have any glass windows. It just had shutters, and it was heated by a wood heater, and that is what caused both of the schools to burn down,” Hamilton said. “They didn’t want to build it back in same place a third time, so they looked for different place to put it. This land was my dad’s family’s allotted land, and he sold it for the school to be put here.”
It’s unclear exactly when Proctor School was built, but locals say the first term began in 1927.
The school started as a two-room schoolhouse, but as the town expanded and the Frisco Railroad moved in, the population grew and an additional room was needed. At one time the school educated nearly 100 students.
“In the middle room it was third through fifth grade, so the teacher had to teach third grade English, forth grade English then fifth grade English and it was the same with arithmetic. But on Friday afternoons we would have penmanship or spelling, and that’s when everybody would be learning the same,” Hamilton said.
When the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, small towns like Proctor began to die. However, the school continued until 1968 when it consolidated with the Westville School District.
CN citizen Ricky Kindle, of Proctor, was in the school’s last class to graduate the eighth grade. He said there were only four students in his graduating class, including him.
“I think it closed because there just wasn’t very many kids. That last year, there was only 26 kids in the school,” Kindle said. “Even though it was small I think being raised up with my classmates, playing ball and just growing up in a little community made us closer.”
To keep from losing the schoolhouse, residents used the lunchroom as a voting precinct and community events. They also sold meals on Saturdays, had pie auctions and quilt auctions to raise money to keep its electric.
“As long as we were using it for the community, Westville wouldn’t take it. See when the school closed, all the property went to Westville School, but as long as we used it, it was ours,” CN citizen Jake Scott, of Proctor, said.
By 2000, the school had been broken into, vandalized and began caving in. Residents once again banded together to find a solution.
“We decided we needed to tear down the old school house. So we raised money and got a grant to build a new one. We built the new building in the original size as the old schoolhouse, and we used the original sandstone rock that was on the school, not all the way around it, but we put them in front to incorporate something from the original structure,” Scott said.
Today, where the school once stood stands the Proctor Community Center. With original pieces of the school on the structure and pictures of the past covering the walls, the center not only serves as the community’s heart but as a historical reminder.
“There’s a lot of communities that were at one time a pretty good size community, but they don’t exist anymore because they don’t come together or have a place to come together,” Hamilton said. “I think if we didn’t have the community center for us to come together, our community wouldn’t exist, and if we didn’t exist, our history would never be remembered, so it’s important to have a place that can be both.”