Riverside Elementary School, founded in 1889, holds an illustrious place in Wichita’s educational history. Situated “between the rivers,” it began as a humble one-room frame building erected at a cost of $495. Though in 1892, the Board briefly considered discontinuing the school for a year, it was resumed on a trial basis in 1893 and has been in session every year since.
According to “A History of Wichita Public School Buildings,” in 1893, the school was moved to the corner of 13th and Water, where the building was repaired and remodeled, opening in December of that year. The journey continued in 1908 when a small frame building was erected in what is now the 900 block on Litchfield. However, Riverside School’s final home was established in 1910 at Porter and Harrison, where a four-room brick building with a basement and boiler room was constructed at a cost of $14,000.
As the years passed, Riverside Elementary School flourished. Enrollment increased in the late teens, leading to the addition of five rooms and a library in 1920. Further expansion occurred in 1927, resulting in four more classrooms, an office, and a basement auditorium, which also served as a community room.
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. In the mid-20th century, there was a genuine fear that low enrollment might lead to the school’s closure. In response, parents petitioned the Board of Education to transform Riverside into a Cultural Arts Magnet School, capitalizing on its proximity to the museums along the river. This transformative theme was adopted in 1991, marking a pivotal moment in the school’s history. Several years later the school shifted its focus to leadership and changed the school’s name once again, to reflect the update.
The commitment to enhancing Riverside Elementary didn’t stop there. The Board of Education approved the purchase of property at 1027 N. Porter, ensuring sufficient space for a new addition. This addition included a multipurpose room and kitchen, along with renovations for classrooms and student support areas. The exterior of the school was also lovingly restored, preserving its historical charm.
One charming aspect of Riverside Elementary School’s history is its bell.
An April 1st, 1961, article in the Wichita Eagle talked about the end of school bells but mentioned the Riverside one. “Only one mounted school bell remains active in Wichita. It is mounted in a white wood housing atop Riverside Elementary…. Were it chimes twice a day during the school year, ringing as it has rung since 1910.” The article discussed the switch from bells to buzzers and master clocks.
Apparently in 1889, “the Wichita Board of Education voted to discontinue the use of bells on new schools, then rescinded the action in the face of public indignation. Not have bells? Fauch!”
During this period there was no standardized time system. According to the Eagle the board “arbitrarily set the clock 17 mins later than Jefferson City Railroad Time. The school changed its time when Standard Time zones were established.
Riverside’s bell, which rang twice a day inspired a beloved tradition for all sixth graders to pull the bell’s rope and ring it during the last week of classes. The Riverside bell is, as the Eagle article said, “a living relic, the “last survivor of its species in Wichita,” preserving a piece of the past.”
Photo Courtesy: The Wichita Eagle 8/25/1985
The school’s picture popped up in The Wichita Beacon on December 5, 1962, the school was celebrating, “a shining new set of World Book Encyclopedia won by submitting questions to the Uncle Ray Column of the Evening Eagle and Beacon.
In a delightful anecdote from June 24, 1966, the school’s nearby Cottonwood tree turned the school’s fence into a “fuzzy screen,” adding a touch of whimsy to the school’s surroundings.
Over the years, Riverside Elementary School faced threats of closure, but parents and neighbors rallied to preserve this historic institution. Today, it continues to stand as a testament to Wichita’s commitment to education and its rich heritage.
Riverside Elementary School is not just a school; it’s a living piece of Wichita’s history, a place where generations of students have learned and grown, and a symbol of the community’s enduring dedication to education.