Permanent Improvements to Oak Hill Industrial Academy

The improvements undertaken and completed by means of the student help began with the removal of old rubbish, the accumulation of years, and the impenetrable briar thickets near the buildings.

During the latter part of the first spring term in 1905 the boys applied two good coats of lead and oil in cream and white to the Boys’ Hall. The work was well done although it was the first work of the kind any of them had ever attempted. The appearance of the building was greatly improved, and every boy was delighted to find how quickly the painter’s art could be learned.

The black picket and crooked worm fences around the buildings were then removed and replaced with good board and wire fences. The extent of good and substantial fences, erected during this period, aggregate about 100 rods of board and picket fences around the campus, garden and stock yards; 12 large farm gates, all hung between tall posts with overhead tie; and 780 rods of web and barb wire fence; all set with good Bodark or Locust posts, top down and reinforced with a strong oak stub in every panel, making a valuable permanent improvement.

In March 1906 a young orchard was planted consisting of 50 trees that include a number of the best varieties of apples and peaches suited for that section. These were supplemented with a similar lot in 1913.

The purchase of lands, begun in 1908, as soon as the restrictions were removed, was continued until 1912 when the aggregate included fifteen different purchases, making 270 acres and costing $2050.00.

Twenty-five acres were cleared of previously ringed and dead trees and thirty more were enclosed and cleared of underbrush and useless trees.

The surface drainage work begun in 1905 and completed in 1912, included outlets to all the little ponds near the buildings, the deepening of the artificial pond north of the buildings, a deep drain with branches, through the meadow and another one through a large slough at the northwest corner of the farm.


The first building erected was a log house 24×32 feet with a good cistern in 1906, and for the number of its conveniences it is an excellent model. A cut and description of it will be found in the latter part of this volume.

A new shed was also built that year, on the east side of the commons, for the convenient, daily care of the growing herd in the pastures.

In 1907 a belfry and farm bell were put on the comb of the roof of the first girls’ hall. An axle was obtained and a wooden wheel and frame were made for the large old bell, and it was then mounted in the tower of the chapel.

The new highway along the railroad to Valliant was cleared of trees and the materials converted into posts and fuel. Two substantial oak bridges, five and ten feet long respectively, were constructed over the streams on this road to make it passable for the loaded Oak Hill team during term time.

A string of hay sheds, 64×16 feet, was constructed on the south side of the feed lot and two portable racks for feeding hay and fodder economically and conveniently from the sheds.

In 1908 the enrollment having reached 115, the seating capacity of the academy was increased by lifting all the seats and adding an additional row of thirteen double seats to their number. The academy was then painted two coats inside and outside and the woodwork of the old desks was brightened and tinted to correspond with the new ones.
These improvements made it look more beautiful and attractive than ever before.

The porches on the south and west sides of the girls hall were repaired by the insertion of new joists where needed and the laying of new floors.

Temporary Boys’ Hall

In 1909, the Boys’ Hall having been lost a few days after the opening of the term, November 8, 1908, a temporary boys’ hall 55×24 feet was hastily constructed, its dedication taking place Feb. 28, 1909, after an address by Rev. Wiley Homer of Grant. This meeting was held on a beautiful Sabbath afternoon and the speakers and singers occupied the wide platform on the west end of the building. This building was erected entirely by the student boys. The materials in it cost $410 and it had apartments for an office, one teacher and twenty-five boys.

It was intended as a place for the workmen while erecting a new hall for the boys, the material in it then to be used in lining the new building.

The blistered condition of the front of the girls’ hall and academy from the intense heat of the fire were then relieved by a thorough scraping, sandpapering and repainting.
Owing to the limited accommodations for the boys in this building, and for the large number of pupils in the primary department in the academy, an extension of twelve feet, with an upper room for special students, was added that fall to the academy. While this improvement was under construction, other boys built a new wood shed, obtained in the timber and prepared the supplies of fuel, and built 170 rods of new fence. A considerable quantity of sand was also hauled for the foundation of the new hall for the boys.

Elliott Hall

In 1910, the erection of Elliott Hall became a necessity after the disastrous fire which occurred on March 13th. This building is 80×32 feet, with an extension 6×32 feet, in front, and a two story addition 18×16 feet, for kitchen store and bath rooms, at the northwest corner over a large brick-walled cistern.

This building absorbed the attention of all for more than a year, although it was opened for occupancy on November 14th. It was a great undertaking with the few workmen obtainable. The clearing away of the rubbish, the excavation for the cellar 28×75 feet and the construction of the foundation wall, and the same for the large cistern took a good deal more time than was expected, and all of it was heavy and hard work for every one that participated in it. It was the 15th of June when the cement wall around the main part of the foundation was completed by the superintendent, who placed the rock, cement and reinforcing materials in the walls with his own hands as a precaution against defects.

The construction of the frame work was entrusted to Samuel A. Folsom, who, acting as foreman of the carpenters, succeeded in getting the building ready for occupancy at the end of five months, or November 14th. So great, however, was the amount of unfinished work in the halls and rooms upstairs and of cement lining needed for the excavation walls in the cellar that a considerable number of students were employed principally at this work during that and the following term.

Every part of the work on this building was very faithfully performed. It is a creditable monument to the memory of every one that wrought upon it. It is symmetrical and, though plain, is handsome in appearance and very convenient in its uses; as an administration building, girls dormitory and boarding house. The lumber was furnished and delivered by J. R. Bowles of Swink; David Folsom made the window and door frames; Solomon Buchanan served as foreman of the painters, and he and George Stewart built the walls of the cistern and the first story of the chimneys. Edward Hollingsworth, in addition to important work on other parts of the building, served as foreman of the construction of the stairways, belfry and porches. It represents an expenditure of $6,500 in cash and student labor. This does not include the services of the superintendent, who had previously prepared the plans for the building and personally superintended its construction.

Later Improvements

During 1911 and 1912 while some were putting the finishing touches on Elliott Hall, the last being the insertion of the fixtures in the two bath rooms and the construction of a closed room in the cellar for canned fruit and vegetables, the other boys removed the old oak stumps from the north field, drained a slough covering four acres of land, cleaned twenty acres of land for cultivation and built 160 rods of good fence around it. They also built a pretty and very convenient semi-monitor hen house, with open front and two out-yards.

Pulling Stumps

During the month of March, when the ground was moist and favorable, a squad of the larger boys would sometimes be equipped and employed in pulling stumps. This was a new employment for all of them, but they soon learned to make a cheering success of it.

The working outfit consisted of two levers, a very large and a smaller one, a log chain, sixty feet of inch rope, and for each of the workmen a shovel and an axe. The method of procedure was to assign them in teams of two each, to remove the earth from around a lot of stumps to the width and depth of about eighteen inches. The larger lever, having the middle fold of rope attached to its smaller end, was placed in a vertical position at the lower side of the stump and firmly fastened to its crown with a log chain, the latter passing over its top from the opposite side. The small lever was placed in position at the side opposite the larger one, for the use of the foreman. When all the boys, in two lines facing each other, had hold of the ends of the rope and the signal was given, “Ready for a pull,” something was sure to happen; usually the uprooting of the stump, but sometimes the breaking of the log chain, which was sure to result in making a good natured pile of the boys. The team did the pulling the first half day, but the boys did it afterwards, because they were more available and enjoyed it.

Wall Of Elliott Hall

The concrete wall under Elliott Hall, built by the superintendent and student boys in the spring of 1910, was the first work of that kind in this section of the country. The sand was found and obtained without cost along a stream in the neighboring timber. The filler consisted of rock and broken brick from the chimneys of the three buildings that had been previously consumed by fire, and they were incorporated in the wall by hand. The iron used for reinforcing the concrete was all obtained from the scrap pile of the burned buildings. The processes, or methods of procedure, were new to all the workmen. As the work advanced it called forth expressions of distrust, rather than confidence and commendation. The mixing of materials had to be strictly forbidden save in the presence of the superintendent, whose hands afterwards placed them in position on the wall.
After the lapse of four years this wall is solid as a rock in every respect. It has now the reputation of being not only the first, but also to this date one of the most perfect and substantial concrete walls in that section.

Working According To Rule

An expert carpenter has observed, “It takes the average apprentice about one year to discover, that he does not know how to drive a nail with the skill of an expert;” one who drives it through hard woods without bending and brittle, without splitting. This skill is however always more quickly acquired, when a rule like the following is given the apprentice at the beginning of his training. “Gripping the hammer near the end of the handle and setting the nail slightly slanting from the edges toward the solid center, strike the top of it fairly with the center of the hammer, starting and finishing it with gentle taps.”

Whenever a new tool or implement was put in the hand of a student, the rules governing its use were fully explained, and a constant effort was made to have the student do all work by rule; whether it was on the farm, in the kitchen, laundry or shop, as well as in the class room. The essential parts of the text books, that were reviewed most frequently, were the definitions and rules. A good position is the first essential in reading, writing, speaking, sawing, planing or plowing; and the second is to grasp and use aright the tool or implement, whether it be the pen, pencil, brush, axe, hammer or saw. The good effect of patiently taking the time to make every one familiar with the rules governing the tools and work, became noticeable very soon on the part of the older students, both in the better quality of the work and the larger amount of it performed. Progress in studies and success in the shop or field depends largely on the ability to follow the rule, and the decision never to violate it.

Indian Territory,

Flickinger, Robert Elliott. Choctaw Freedmen and Oak Hill Industrial Academy, Valliant, Oklahoma. Presbyterian Board of Missions for Freedmen. Pittsburgh. 1914

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