History of Clayton School District
Conflict and Compromise
From a One-Room Schoolhouse to Nationally Acclaimed System:
The Conflict at the Root of the Clayton School District's Excellence
Source: Clayton High School Student, Alexa Boulton
January 25, 2008
Every community has a story, one that gives the modern day citizen a chance to understand the origin of their area and the pieces of history that make up their current situation. Often, if not always, beginnings involve conflict: two parties, or more, whose differing visions of the future of their society are so alien that there is no common solution. Conflict, while oftentimes unsettling, is not inherently bad, but simply a path to resolution that should be undertaken only when necessary. Also at the bedrock of societies is compromise. Compromise is seen as a more noble action but can be equally distressing for some. Compromise does achieve an agreement and allows both factions to gain a part of what they want. In the City of Clayton, Missouri there is a tale that tells of the conflict and compromise at the foundation of the School District of Clayton which affected the entire outcome of the community. The conflict and compromise between Mrs. Cyrene Hanley, a private citizen and well-respected landowner, and the relatively new School District of Clayton was the beginning of the development of the Clayton School System as a nationally acclaimed and academically excellent educational program.
In 1834, a young man by the name of Martin Franklin Hanley, originally from West Virginia, immigrated to Saint Louis County, Missouri in hopes of starting a new life. He bought about 112 acres located near the present intersection of Hanley Road and Olive Blvd. in University City, Missouri and established a successful blacksmith shop and farm. Additionally, Mr. Hanley owned a wood shop, a small grocery store, and a bar (Konzelman, 1).
On February 5, 1839, Martin Hanley married Cyrene Clemens Walton, a native of Saint Louis, whose family was well- respected and established in the area. Her father was Judge James Walton, born in Virginia, who came to St. Louis with his family in 1796 and married Isabella Musick, born in 1792 in Saint Louis County. Together, Cyrene and Martin Hanley had eleven children, of which ten survived infancy (Konzelman, 2-3). These ten children were all raised with a fairly standard education for the time.
On June 5, 1847, Martin purchased another parcel of land, 100.61 acres in factional section 10, township 45, range six east. This land is currently in the heart of the City of Clayton and University City and was known as the "Hanley Farm" (Konzelman, 5). In Martin's daybook, on October 27, 1852, he entered "Commenced on the road," presumably Hanley Road, which connected his two properties and is now a main thoroughfare in St. Louis County. He hired eighteen men to help and was finished by June 9, 1853. During this time, Martin became more interested in farming and less so in his other businesses. In 1854, Cyrene and Martin began to sell pieces of their original land, including their house and Martin's businesses so that they could focus on the Hanley Farm (Konzelman, 7).
In Martin's daybook, on May 16, 1855, it is written "Billy commenced digging cellar at 12 o'clock." This was the cellar of the Hanley House located on the Hanley Farm, which is still standing in Clayton today. By 1860 the house was finished, and the entire Hanley family moved in as well as four black slaves. From 1860 to 1877 all was well with the Hanleys; by buying and lending property, as well as mortgaging his own, Martin managed to turn his farm into a profitable business (Konzelman, 7). But outside of his family, Saint Louis City and County were embroiled in a bitter legal matter, The Great Divorce.
After years of conflict, a new Missouri constitution finally outlined a procedure for the separation of St. Louis City and County, in which there would be elected a board of thirteen freeholders to furnish a proposal for separation (Loughlin and Anderson, 22). By July 3, 1876, the Board of Freeholders had come up with two documents: The Scheme of Separation and the new City Charter. When the two resolutions were voted upon, on August 22, 1876, they were passed in the city and defeated in the county. This was soon followed, on October 13, by a petition to contest the results, and for a mandamus to recount the votes. The mandamus was issued, and the votes were reexamined (Thomas, 154). The Missouri Supreme Court ruled, on April 26, 1877, that both documents were ratified (Loughlin and Anderson, 23). The City and County of Saint Louis were no longer affiliated, thus the "Great Divorce." The major immediate impact this had on Saint Louis County, where the Hanleys lived, was the beginning of a intense dispute over the location of the county seat.
The location of the county seat was very important as it promised to bring prosperity to the chosen location. In 1876, the County of St. Louis was dotted with many small cities, the majority of which were unincorporated at the time of this Great Divorce. These cities were separated by large farms owned by families such as the Hanleys, the Claytons, the Patricks, the Kesslers, and others (Thomas, 163) all of whom offered to donate large tracts of land for the County's use. As of September 13, 1877, there were six propositions that were under consideration by the County Government for the location of the County Courthouse (Thomas, 163).
The county government was supposed to have individually evaluated all six proposals before coming to a decision, but according to a history written in 1911 by William L. Thomas, "A careful investigation of the publications of the time fails to disclose reports of any meeting of the commissioners… Judging, however, by an unofficial statement on September 26  it is evident that the much hunted county seat had sequestered itself in… the northwest corner of Ralph Clayton's 700- acre farm" (Thomas, 165). Of this land Mr. Clayton donated 100 acres and Martin and Cyrene contributed about four acres of their adjoining property, which was situated very close to the Hanley House. All of this donated property was to become the land which for the next 130 years housed a county courthouse, a thriving business district and a school district which has attained national acclaim. However, the beginnings of the School District of Clayton were less than extraordinary.
In a meeting at the new courthouse on March 5, 1880, in the new unincorporated city of Clayton, the gathered citizens began a movement to construct a schoolhouse, which until now had been sorely lacking. They sent a letter to all taxpayers of Clayton inviting them to a meeting on April 22 in which they voted to form the Clayton School District, build a schoolhouse, and elect three directors (Friends of the Clayton School District, 1). On June 5, 1880 the County sold the school district a tract of land on which they built a one-room schoolhouse with indoor plumbing costing $700 (Friends of the Clayton School District, 1). This school had three African- Americans and forty- five white students, with only two full-time teachers. For twelve years this was the city's only school, until 1891, when the school board directors decided that the already expanded schoolhouse was simply too small for the rapidly increasing student population (Terry, 75). Since education was important to the citizens of Clayton, they decided that a new school was needed.
According to The St. Louis County Watchman, at the annual school meeting on April 7, 1891, "the question of changing the school house site and building of a new school house provoked considerable discussion… The vote stood 31 in favor of the proposition and 4 against it" ("Clayton School Election"). The new site chosen for the schoolhouse was a small part of the four acres donated to the county by the Hanleys almost fourteen years earlier. About one acre was bought from the county, and the School District began entertaining plans for a new building. However, there was one citizen of Clayton who was none too pleased with the placement of the new schoolhouse.
Cyrene, a widow since Martin's death in 1879, took offense at the decision to build a two story building on the property she had donated and refused to vacate the land. While her reasons for refusing to hand over the property to the School Board are unclear, it is known that Cyrene felt that too much time had lapsed from the donation of the property. (J.Hanley). Cyrene also may have been concerned about her privacy (F.Hanley, 9 May 1892; Friends of the Clayton School District, 2). When Cyrene asked her son John for advice, he responded, in a letter dated May 4 with a plea for Cyrene to deliver possession of the property to the School Board, "…one is never a loser by carrying out in good faith to the letter as well as in the spirit the provisions of a trade, and I would not now hesitate in fulfilling your part of this contract - as planned by yourself, Pa & Mr. Clayton …", but he ultimately agreed to support her, whatever her decision (J.Hanley). Despite her son's protests and her lack of legal grounds, Cyrene refused to relinquish the land.
Cyrene's refusal to vacate forced the School District of Clayton to file an ejectment suit against her in May 1891 ("Circuit Court"). The case between Cyrene and the School District caused so much uproar in area that there was concern that a fair trial could not be had in Saint Louis County. Cyrene's attorney, George W. Royce, requested a change of venue on October 3, 1891, and the trial was moved to Union, the county seat of Franklin County, just to the west ("Circuit Court Equity Docket"). On November 20th 1891, in a "… a hotly contested case…" attended by many important figures from Clayton, the School District won and Cyrene was ordered to yield possession of the contested property (St. Louis County Watchman 4 Dec 1891).
Cyrene, still unwilling to relinquish the land, appealed the court's decision to the Missouri Supreme Court (St. Louis County Watchman 25 Mar. 1892; F.Hanley 24 May 1892). However, before any arguments were made, Frank Hanley, another of Cyrene's sons, offered to purchase the remaining portion of the four acres owned by the County that had not been sold to the school district as part of a compromise to end the controversy (St. Louis County Watchman 25 Mar. 1892). Frank wrote to Cyrene on May 9th, 1892, that "I hardly know what to do about the Land. It will 'pinch' me to keep it. But I do not want to sell to anyone objectionable to you or at less than you say it is worth" (F.Hanley 9 May 1892). On April 1, 1892 the St. Louis County Watchman reported that "The difficulty between Mrs. Cyrene Hanley and the School Directors of the Clayton District for the possession of a tract of land in the Hanley Addition, east of Clayton, on which a new school is to be erected, has been compromised and all further legal proceedings are at an end" (St. Louis County Watchman 1 April 1892). On April 8, 1892 at the annual school meeting, it was voted to move the school and to borrow $10,000 to erect the new building ("School Election"). But this is only part of the story. What resulted from this issue is what makes this account worth telling.
In 2007, Clayton High School was ranked in the top 25% of a comprehensive list of 1,300 top schools across the United States ("Top of the Class"). It sends 92% of its students to college and the average SAT and ACT scores are 1300 and 25 respectively (Annual Report 2006). Among other achievements, Clayton High School students produce The Globe, a multi- award winning monthly newspaper, and in 2007 won the National Level of the TEAMS science competition and secured a coveted spot to present an original play at the Edinburgh Art Festival.. The school built on the disputed property in 1892 was a precursor to this high-achieving school. According to the St. Louis County Watchman "The interior is beautifully furnished, practically arranged and reflecting great credit on the citizens of our capitol… the peer of any in the city or county. The turrets are visible from the city and for miles around" (Terry, 76). According to an interview in 1976 with a former student of the school, Mrs. Adele Starbird, retired Dean of Women at Washington University, said the school was a wonderful place of learning and academia (Terry, 76-7). This school continued to expand in volume and reputation until it outgrew its size limitations and a new school was built in 1917. The new school on Maryland Avenue was also noted for its physical beauty and educational excellence (Terry, 78). This pattern of educational superiority, outgrowth of space, building of a new, modern school, and praise continued until 1952, when the current high school building was finished at 1 Mark Twain Circle. This school followed in its predecessors' example and was hailed as not only progressive in design but also in its educational methods. According to Dickson Terry in Clayton: a History, "The Clayton School System has for many years had a reputation as a progressive system of high scholastic rating… The people of Clayton have always had pride and an active interest in the school system and there is a history of strong cooperation between the school district and the city administration" (Terry, 85). This history of quality started with the fight for the prime property donated by Cyrene Hanley.
During the late 1800s there was a surplus of undeveloped land. Finding another empty plot in Clayton would not have been an issue for the School Board. So the question must be asked: Why was this plot, this parcel of land donated by Cyrene Hanley fourteen years earlier, important enough for which to file a lawsuit? The answer is simple: the property was the best. It was the most central, the flattest, and the closest to the railroad ("Clayton School Meeting"). The School District was willing to go to trial for this land because they believed it was the optimal place for their new school. This demand for excellence has been the driving force of the school system ever since.
"Circuit Court." St. Louis County Watchman
22 May 1891:7.
This source provided me with the announcement of the filing of the ejectment suit against Cyrene Hanley. This helped create a timeline for the trial. This was hard to find, as there were thousands of newspapers to look through, but helped me immeasurably.
"Circuit Court Equity Docket." St. Louis County Watchman
9 Oct. 1891:1.
This newspaper article announced the change of venue for the trial to Franklin County, again helping outline a time table for the trial. This was also hard to find, for the same reason stated above, but was also very important to my paper.
"The Clayton School." St. Louis County Watchman
25 Mar. 1892:1.
The source was very important as it gave the specifics of the compromise proposed between Frank Hanley and the School District of Clayton. This illuminated the element of compromise in this story. This article was hard to find, as stated above, but was helpful in understand my topic.
"The Clayton School Election." St. Louis County Watchman
10 Apr. 1891:8.
This announced the vote in favor of building a new school at a new site, which set the conflict in motion. It is interesting because Mrs. Hanley probably also read this and it may have been what made her upset.
"The Clayton School Meeting." St. Louis County Watchman
3 Apr. 1891:4.
This article was an editorial which discussed the need for a new centrally located school in Clayton, giving me the foundation for my thesis. This was hard to find, but incredibly important to my argument.
Hanley, Franklin. Letter to Cyrene Hanley. 9 May 1892. The Martin Franklin Hanley House. Clayton, Missouri.
This letter from Frank to Cyrene Hanley is interesting because it discusses not only Frank's buying the property as part of his compromise with the School District, but also it discusses the behavior of Mrs. Hanley's lawyer, George Royce, who apparently was not always sober. This added an interesting twist of realism to the story. This document also provided good evidence for my case.
Hanley, Franklin. Letter to Cyrene Hanley. 24 May 1892. The Martin Franklin Hanley House. Clayton, Missouri.
This second letter from Frank Hanley is interesting as he writes about payment of witness, including ones I found listed in other sources, especially in newspaper articles. This source, along with the two other letters, were easy to find, as they were discovered by the local historian working on the Hanley House, Sarah Umlaff. This letter also discusses at more length the drunkenness of Mr. Royce, and Frank's refusal to pay him.
Hanley, John. Letter to Cyrene Hanley. 4 May. The Martin Franklin Hanley House. Clayton, Missouri.
This letter from one of Cyrene's other sons, John Hanley, is interesting because although it seems that Frank was more involved in the case, John, and possibly other of Cyrene's children, gave advice about what to do. John was more reserved than Frank, wishing to give the land to the School District without fuss. This gave an interesting view of the interfamily relationship of the Hanleys.
Saint Louis County Recorder of Deeds. Book 3, page 51-52.
In order to better understand the agreement referred to in the letter from John to Cyrene, I went to the recorder of deeds office in the county courthouse and found two deeds. The first was Ralph Clayton deeding his 100 acres to the county, and the other was Cyrene and Martin deeding their four acres, with Mr. Clayton as a co-signer. This was proof of the donation. It was exceedingly hard to find, as much of the print is written in elaborate cursive and is now only on Microfilm.
"The School Election." St. Louis County Watchman
8 Apr. 1892:1.
This article was printed after the trial and compromise between Cyrene Hanley and the School District. It is evidence that the compromise did work out, and the School District decided to go through with building on the plot. It was hard to find, as going through many microfilms of newspaper is tiring.
St. Louis County Watchman
1 Apr. 1892:9
This article was incredibly important, as it relayed the complete details of the compromise between the School District and Cyrene Hanley. It also announced the preliminary plans for the new schoolhouse.
St. Louis County Watchman
4 Dec. 1891: 8.
This is actually two separate articles, one an excerpt from the local Union newspaper, The Tribune- Republican detailing the trial in Franklin County. This provided me with a more clear vision of the trial. The second was an announcement of a request for a completely new trial by Cyrene Hanley. Both of these were hard to find but valuable.
Friends of the Clayton School District. The Clayton School District: A History of Excellence
. Clayton: School District of Clayton, 2000.
This short pamphlet-like book was published on behalf of the Clayton School District and contains many first person accounts of Clayton in its early years, although not as early as the 1890s. It was valuable because it gave a basic overview of the very beginnings of the School District.
Hamilton, Esley. Personal Interview. 15 Jan. 2008.
Esley Hamilton is the local county historian who helped me to read the deed I found and gave good basic history of the city of Clayton as well as loaning me two of the early 20th Century books I used.
Konzelman, Ethel S. "The Hanley House." Unpublished history. The Martin Franklin Hanley House. Clayton, Missouri.
This was a report written specifically for the Hanley House to give a basic background about the Hanleys. It was useful, and easy to find, as it came in a binder of materials the Hanley House Restoration team has put together about the restoration of the Hanley House.
Loughlin, Caroline, and Catherine Anderson. Forest Park
. St. Louis: The Junior League of St. Louis, 1986.
This book is mainly about Forest Park, but contains an overview of the Great Divorce, which was concise but still had plenty of detail. It was easy to find, as I already owned a copy.
"...Patriarch, Philanthropist, and Pileas Fogg?" Saint Louis Magazine
July 1965: 19.
This is an article which contains a map showing the situation of the Hanley farm and the city of Clayton circa 1893. It was very helpful to see a visual image of the problem.
Scharf, J. Thomas. History of Saint Louis City and County
. 2 vols. Philadelphia: Everts, 1883.
This history was actually written before the property dispute, but was good for an interesting perspective of the times and on history of the Great Divorce.
School District of Clayton. Annual Report
, 2006. Clayton, Missouri.
The annual report of the School District of Clayton supplied me with good information on the statistics of Clayton Schools. I used this to reinforce the argument that Clayton High School is an excellent and high- achieving school.
Terry, Dickson. Clayton: a history
. Clayton: Von Hoffman, 1976.
This book written in the 1970s was useful at first, although I did find a few errors upon further investigation, and it contained no bibliography. But it did follow the story of the School District very concisely and gave me the information for my argument.
Thomas, William L. History of St. Louis County
, Missouri. 2 vols. Saint Louis: Clark, 1911.
This book was very helpful, as it was written not twenty years after the building of the new school. It gave me a lot of information about Cyrene's family, the School District, the Great Divorce, and especially the choosing of the county seat.
"The Top of the Class." Newsweek.com
. 2008. 24 January 2008
This website was a small piece of my argument for the excellence of Clayton Schools. It was easy to find and easy to use.
Umlaff, Sarah. Personal interview. 1 Dec. 2007.
Sarah Umlaff is the part-time historian working on investing the Hanleys as part of the Hanley House Restoration team. She was very helpful in providing information about the Hanleys, their house, and the city at the time, as well as first hand documents, such as letters and photos. She was recommended by Alderwoman Judy Goodman and was very easy to find.