OLD SCHOOL OF THE DAY
Walnut Hill School House
State Highway 97
On an idyllic stretch of State Highway 97 outside of Pensacola, FL, stands a hearty log structure behind the Walnut Hill Community Center. Tucked into the northwest corner of Escambia County, the building was once a supposedly antebellum one-room school house, the first of its kind in Walnut Hill. According to information posted inside the one room schoolhouse, the exact construction date of the building is unknown because school district records prior to 1880 could not be located. Financial records for the Escambia County School District indicate that William “Uncle Bud” Williams received $40 in April 1880 for “building a new school” and the school received a new heater at the cost of $10 in 1881. One source says that in 1886, the first school (a one-room log building) was built in Walnut Hill. The first school was only a three -month long session and had eleven students attending. Mrs. Annie McMillan was one of the first teachers, and her salary was only fifteen dollars per month. The 1886 date for the building of the log school and church is not likely correct. This is the year that Mrs. McMillan taught her first term of school. The buildings were erected earlier, likely right after the Civil War.
The school was originally located right down the road near the corner of the present day intersection of Arthur Brown Road 99A and Highway 97. The Ruritan Club actually met in the school building when it was down there. The building was deeded to the club by the Escambia County School District. It was moved to its current location on Highway 97 after the construction of the Walnut Hill Community Center, also known as the Walnut Hill Ruritan Building, in the late 1990’s, where it now shares space with the community center, a park, a youth baseball field, and a county sheriff’s outpost. The log school, now believed to have been built sometime around or just before 1880, was flattened by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation honored the restoration project of the old Walnut Hill School House. During the Trust’s 2008 Preservation Awards ceremony, the Walnut Hill School House project was awarded Outstanding Achievement in the Restoration/Rehabilitation Awards category. The award was accepted by Escambia County and the Walnut Hill Ruritan Club. It was restored under the leadership of Quina Grundhoefer Architects in Pensacola with funding from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The restoration used mostly the original logs, reassembling them like a giant jigsaw puzzle. When the building was restored, a wheelchair ramp was added in accordance with law. A glassed in area just inside the door will allow visiting school children to view the interior of the building. The Ruritan Club has placed a period wood burning heater in the building and a single student desk. The club plans to fully restore the interior of the building as a history museum, complete with a teacher’s desk and students desks. There is currently one student desk in the building.