A while back I spent a nice late winter afternoon with my two boys at Benton Park in Neosho.
Benton Park, of course, is the site of the original Benton School at 411 Park Street. The foundation of the second school building built there still exists and is primarily used as a basketball court today.
I took my sons there to play because I knew it would be quiet, and also because of the local historical significance of the place.
Seeing that old foundation and abandoned side steps and walkways leading to it is sad in a way, and I wish more of the recent arrivals to town knew what it once was. I’m afraid most probably don’t.
Back when I was actively involved in the Newton County Historical Society we had talked about placing historical signage at various locations around the county, and the old Benton School site was one of the places I personally had in mind at the time (the site of the Newton County Poor Farm being another).
Benton School – and by extension today’s Benton Elementary, not very far away on Carl Sweeney Parkway – was named for U.S. Congressman and Neosho resident Maecenus E. Benton, father of world famous artist and Neosho native Thomas Hart Benton.
I presume some people today may think Benton School was named for the son and not the father, but when the original school was built the younger Benton was only a child.
Benton School was constructed in 1898. That brick structure was later razed and a second Benton School was built on the same site in 1937. The current Benton Elementary on Carl Sweeney Parkway was constructed in 1990. The abandoned 1937 school on Park Street was demolished at some point between 1995 and 2005, though I haven’t yet pinpointed the exact year. I’m sure someone out there remembers.
I know a few people who taught at the old school, and their building being razed would stick in their memories, I have no doubt.
The lot is now in the possession of the City of Neosho and is a park, as mentioned, though it could use some additional playground equipment, if I may throw in my two cents as a father of two rambunctious young boys.
I’d still like to see a historical marker at the old Benton School site one day. Park Street is now a dead-end street, following the closure of the railroad crossing that bisected it, and doesn’t get a lot of traffic.
However, I think the residents, as well as any visitors, in that neighborhood might appreciate knowing the history of the site now marked by a lonely concrete foundation.
By Wes Franklin
(Wes can be reached at (417) 658-8443.)