Luke Tully and the beginnings of public school in McCook

Friday, September 7, 2018

I’ve been wandering around in old newspapers again using a free website provided by the Library of Congress, and I was looking at early schools in McCook finding a reference to the Tully building on Main (Norris) Street being used for grade school classes.

All the following news items were taken from the annals of the McCook Tribune found on the above-mentioned web site. The dates of publication follow each item.

“A gentleman from Lincoln, Tully by name, is having a business house, 24 x 40 in dimensions, erected on Main Avenue, north of the Commercial House. The sidewalk on the east side of Main Avenue has been completed from the Commercial House north to the Tully Building.” (August 30, 1885)

“Tuesday morning, school was opened in the Tully Building on Main Avenue with an enrollment of 64 and an attendance of 54. This department embraces the first grade of our public school and its establishment was necessitated by the over-crowded condition of the primary department. It is in charge of Miss Ella Rhatigan of Dubuque, Iowa.” (October 29, 1885)

Apparently, the population of children grew rapidly in McCook because the following year this was noted: “The primary department of our city schools is already so crowded, especially the Tully building, that the probabilities are that the little ones will have to be separated into two divisions, one division attending school in the morning, the other in the afternoon.” (September 9, 1886}

The following demographics were provided for McCook’s fall 1886 term: High School (consisting of 9th and 10th grades), 10 pupils; Grammar Department (consisting of 5th-8th grades), 72 students; Primary Department (1st through 4th grades), 98 students, of which 54 were attending school in the Tully building. Of the 212 students attending school, 135 lived in McCook proper, 40 in South McCook, 10 in West McCook, and 27 were from outside of the city limits. Their native origins included 46 from Nebraska, 47 from Iowa, and 35 from Illinois with the balance being equally split between several other states plus Ireland, England and Germany. Nineteen of the children did not know where they were born. (September 9, 1886)

By the end of September 1886, enrollment had ballooned to 250 students with the Tully building holding 72 students. (September 30, 1886)

1886 was a busy year for McCook Schools when the first West Ward building came into existence. “On Monday, October 25th, the new school building in the West Ward was opened, to which Mrs. Z. L. Smith was assigned as teacher. Main street was made the territorial line, pupils living east of Main street were assigned to the Tully building and those west to the new building. As nearly all the preliminary grade scholars live in West McCook and in South McCook, west of the street referred to, they are attending school in the West Ward. Upon the same day, twenty-nine pupils were transferred from the main building to the two other buildings.” (November 4, 1886)

In 1888, the Tully building was still in use by the school system and here are the instructions for parents as to buildings their children would be attending school in: “First grade pupils living on the east side, at the Old Land Office building; First grade pupils living on the West side, at the school building in West McCook; all second grade pupils at the Tully building; and pupils of the higher grades at the main building.” (August 24, 1888)

By 1905 the Tully building was no longer a school house and C.F. Lehn purchased the property in July of that year but quickly traded it to Henry Winans for a farm in August. “The building will be temporarily prepared for use as a dancing hall during the carnival.” (August 25, 1905)

In September of 1905 came the following notice which foretold of the businessman whose name we might recognize: “The Tully building, now the property of Henry Winans, is being papered and painted and the store room will in time be occupied by M. L. Rishel with a stock of notions.” (September 22, 1905)

It does not appear that Luke Tully ever lived in McCook but rather built a structure that became the building in which one of our successful residents got his start in. Martin Luther Rishel did not stay in the Tully building, in his 1913 wedding to a Rithouse from the Stratton area, he is said to have returned from his honeymoon to living quarters above his shop. His name is prominently displayed on that building, across the street from his beginnings, now known as Longnecker Jewelry.

SWNGS monthly meeting is open to the public, as is our library located at 110 West C, Suite M-3. Our meeting for September is this Saturday at 1 PM. Our library is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1-4PM.

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