A Walk to Remember with Walnut Hill
Walnut Hill’s history takes us way back to a time over a century ago. It starts around 1914 with a school election in Farmers Branch that did away with the one-room school, which served the area, on Royal Lane between Rosser and Midway. To vote in the election, one had to be a property owner of land or a wagon and team. As a result of this election, a new school district was organized the next year and three one-room schools, Royal Lane School, Smith Hall School, and the school located at the intersection of roads now known as Valley View and Marsh Lane, combined to become one Walnut Hill.
Mr. Joe Cox was one of the original trustees who bought two acres of land from Mr. Albert Latham, while he, in turn, donated a third. Mr. Latham had planted a double row of walnut trees from Merrell Road to Six Mile Lane. After construction had completed and it was time to choose a name for the school, Mr. Cox suggested “Walnut Hill” which was agreed upon as the name of the school. As time passed, Six Mile Lane became what we know today as Walnut Hill Lane after the school.
The first building had four rooms upstairs and the auditorium downstairs. The rocks excavated when the well was dug were used for the driveway. There was only one teacher, Mrs. Weeks. The 20-25 students from fam families in the area walked to school or rode horseback each day.
Four pupils who completed the Eighth grade in 1916 became the first graduating class at Walnut Hill. The only boy was Jack Lively who lives on Guernsey Lane, just where he lived when he went to school at Walnut Hill. He is now the owner of Bluff View Dairy, and his two children attended Walnut Hill as well. One of the three girls from the graduating class, Mrs. Opal Sampley, also lives in Dallas. Her brother, Mr. McDowall, also attended Walnut Hill and, before an accident at Christmas, he was our school patrolman who helped the children cross Midway Road.
A 1919 plane crash near the school caused some commotion for some of our students at Walnut Hill. At the time of the accident, the boys were at recess and natural curiosity led them to investigate what happened. They got caught up in what they saw that by the time they returned to the school grounds, class was over for the day. They took their whippings at a later date with a walnut switch from one of the trees planted by Mr. Latham. As the year went on, the student body grew. By the end of the year, the student body was large enough to need two teachers.
Many of the streets familiar to us today were named after the farm families who made up the school population. Some of which include Merrell Road, Lively Lane, Strait Lane, Coppedge, Cox Lane, Marsh Lane, Dooley Road, and Welch Road.
In 1926, the school district expanded to include a second school at Love Field. Miss Shirley Caillet, one of the teachers at Love Field, had grown up in the area and taught one year at Walnut Hill. She returned to Walnut Hill as Mrs. Welch to teach and later became principal in 1938. She held this position until 1957. The Calliet School was named for her father.
When Walnut Hill was first in operation, the graduates went south to the Maple Lawn School for high school. Later, when Hillcrest was built, they moved over there. In 1955, when Thomas Jefferson was built, even the seventh grade went there because Walnut Hill had become crowded. Elementary schools now in the area once served by Walnut Hill alone include Sadie Williams, Pershing, Tom Gooch, Withers, Caillet, Stephen Foster, and DeGolyer.
The PTA, as we now know it, was organized in 1928 by Mrs. Arch Wylie. An earlier mothers’ club was headed by Mrs. Joe Cox. Mr. Roy Miller was principal in 1928 alongside two other teachers.
One of the early projects of the PTA was the lunchroom. The mothers took turns cooking and serving the food at noon for the students and teachers. Money was raised by putting on plays and by serving community dinners. The playground equipment was purchased and the grounds were landscaped with these funds. The group also did some welfare work in the area. Hot lunches were served to needy children. One summer project was to have tonsils of thirteen children in the community removed.
The school district operated under its own Board of Trustees for many years. The members were farmers and later business men who lived in the district. They employed the teachers and made the major purchases.
In 1937, a new building was completed and dedicated. As we understand it, the auditorium portion of the old building was included in the new one-story structure. Miss Fannie Mae Brigham was principal at this time, with two teachers under her, Mrs. Shirley Welch and Mrs. Mary Jacobie. The students body consisted of students in eight grades.
Two wings have been added since that time. The 1952 addition included the visual aide room, lunchroom, and upper grade classrooms. The 1955 addition included the gymnasium and more classrooms. During World War II, savings stamps were sold at the school, a clean plate campaign was held in the lunchroom, and the teachers issued ration books to the citizens of the community. The mothers skipped a November PTA program to save enough gas to get to school for the Christmas program. Mrs. Welch and the eighth grade students helped farmers pick cotton.
In May of 1946, Walnut Hill became part of the Dallas Independent School District.
Popular features of the 30’s and 40’s at Walnut Hill were the pet shows, field days, carnivals, frontier days, and the annual nativity pageant. The 50’s saw Walnut Hill reach its peak enrollment with approximately 1200 students, and portable classes were placed at the South end of the parking lot to accommodate the number of students in attendance each day. Atomic bomb drills were added to the schedule and classes brought television sets so that everyone could see the first space flights.
By the time the 90’s arrived, Walnut Hill saw an enrollment of 700 students across seven grades. During this decade we received the National Blue Ribbon Award. This took the schools prestige not only across Dallas ISD, but also the nation.
Throughout the recent years, Walnut Hill has become known as one of the best schools in the district and across all of Texas. Countless awards including but not limited to The National Excellence in Urban Education Award, Distinguished School Of Character Award, A+ Rating from Children At Risk Award, and SMART Technology Showcase School Award have been received showing the excellence that we achieve each year. Today, with an enrollment of about 400 elementary age students and a faculty and staff of about 60, we stop to remember the “olden days,” and the thousands of students who have come through the halls of this historic building to become the citizens of today.