Built in an era before computers, television, and even air conditioning, the Carden Bottoms school house was no doubt the center of the entire community that used to exist all around it and the pride of all who attended there. Constructed in the 1920’s and with an exterior made entirely of carefully fitted, well mortared, and locally obtained stones, the school building was built with love and it was built to last. Indeed, it was built so well that now, nearly 100 years later, and after almost all of the rest of the community around it has crumbled to dust and disappeared, the school itself still remains… a silent sentinel of days gone by, childhoods spent, and a town that used to be.
Located down a long and all but abandoned dusty dirt road, the school now stands all alone. Don’t look for it from the road, though – you won’t see it. The school has sat abandoned and forgotten for so long that, over time, it has been completely overgrown by the surrounding vegetation, engulfed to the point that it’s become totally hidden and utterly indistinguishable from the surrounding countryside. Lost and concealed behind a thick curtain of dense trees, thick foliage, and clinging vines, the remains of the school continue to live on surprisingly intact, however. A dark almost cave-like opening in the thick green wall of nature that surrounds it leads to the school’s front doors… now permanently open and reaching outward, forever waiting for the return of children who have long grown up, moved away, and passed on into the faded pages of history themselves.
It’s hard to believe how large the school is given how completely it’s been hidden. Six large classrooms, three on either side of a long central hallway, now stand largely and almost eerily empty – their ceilings very high and their outer walls completely covered by extensive banks of windows as was the architectural model of the time period (the higher ceilings allowed for cooler rooms and the expansive windows provided more light to the students and teachers within them). A draft system has been set up down the central hallway, connected to the classrooms via indoor windows located high on the walls facing the hallway. The breeze was generated by two large fans mounted high over the school’s back doors. The fans would blow air down the halls, the indoor classroom windows would allow the air into the classrooms from the hall while the outward facing windows would provide an exit for the air, thereby creating a cool draft that might then filter through the classroom. Not the most effective form of air conditioning but, given the time period, during those hotter months it was no doubt better than none at all. A large furnace located near the front of the school building provided what warmth it could during the colder months. But, given the lack of insulation present in the walls, students still no doubt came to school dressed as warmly as possible in the winter.
Surprisingly, there are two pianos that still remain in the school. And while neither piano remains operative, it is still an unusual number to find in so small a school. Music was no doubt important to the school and thus a prominent attribute of the community that existed all around it.
The school’s strong wooden flooring’s are gradually rotting away. The walls stretching up to the ceilings high overhead are peeling and crumbling as the dilapidated ceilings themselves gradually give way to leaks and holes. All of the desks and school-related furnishings are gone, though here and there you can still find blackboards mounted to the walls. One of the larger classrooms has a small, slightly raised stage at one end…one of the two pianos was in this room, too – perhaps this was a lunch room and/or music room of some sort? And the floors of the school rest high off the ground, supported by its fitted foundation stones. We were told that, at one time, the nearby Arkansas River rose high enough to almost reach the school’s highest outer front step…but that the river never made it inside.
Next to the school building proper is what remains of the separate gymnasium building that was constructed right beside the school. Connected by a still-intact and majestically arching high-ceilinged fitted stone walkway, the interior of the gymnasium building has completely collapsed. It’s flat roof having proven to be no match for the elements, time, and neglect that it has suffered, all that remains are the outer walls. Inside the ceiling as collapsed onto the floor and the foliage has overgrown the wreckage, making it all but impassable. A stone set high above the outer doors on the front walls bear the year “1936.” To the rear of the gymnasium two separate restrooms remain, clearly built at some point after the original building’s construction. And the school yard, boxed in by the school and the gym on two sides and the connecting arched walkway on a third, is also now completely overgrown…and a quiet still voice whispers out that this used to be their playground.
Some abandoned structures simply reach out and touch you as they fire your imagination and clutch at your soul…and this is one of those. How many children came and went through these doors and hallways? Who were the generations of teachers that spent all of their working years lovingly educating the youth of the community within its walls? What games were played in the collapsed gymnasium building? What songs were played over the now defunct pianos? Whenever one of those pianos was played the sounds of its sweet music were no doubt heard by all of the students throughout the building… And what year was the last class that graduated from these empty and deserted now empty corridors? All that you have to do is close your eyes in the central hallway and you can feel the ghostly memories of students past as they walk to and fro around you. Listen carefully and you can almost hear the long lost echo of the sounds of generations past playing and having fun during decades of long forgotten recesses in the small school yard, now completely choked by encroaching vegetation. But the children are gone…as are the buildings…and as is the community.
All that remains is the school.