History may be written down in black-and-white facts by scholarly types, but when remembered by the neighbor kids and great-grandchildren, it’s a lot more colorful and a lot more fun. The history of Kidder and the Kidder Institute has now been filtered through 150 years of retellings. At first, the story was told person to person, then over landline phones, and lastly through social media.
Like all small towns, there are great moments and interesting people in Kidder’s history. One of those monuments is Thayer College and one of the people is George Washington Shaw.
Kidder school integral to countless lives
Carrie Gall-Warren spent a couple of nights in the huge stone-work mammoth of the old Kidder school, which has been variously known as Thayer College, Kidder Institute, Kidder School District, and Shaw Memorial.
Some rooms in the school — the cafeteria/shop — had been converted to apartments. “It was fun, a little creepy, but fun,” Carrie says. “I took a lot of pics while I was there.”
Carrie grew up a couple miles north of Kidder in the house her father had built. Several in her family attended Kidder High School. She still has family/friends in that greater area. Due to a hotspot of COVID during the time she was visiting, she ended up not staying with the family member she had planned to stay with.
“I researched Airbnb in the area and found that one and just HAD to check it out,” she says.
What does Carrie mean by creepy? She explains.
“I went to junior high there; it was a creepy old building then. But now that it is in the condition it is in, and when you’re alone in a dark room at night in a building that has all sorts of ‘ghost stories’ and various rumors of happenings there through the years, any little sound – the wind or an animal or whatever – can kinda creep a person out.”
Carrie had 86 comments on her post in the Kidder, Missouri — Remember When social media site. She was not surprised by the amount of interest.
“I figured there would be great response because that place has been an integral part of so many lives through so many generations,” she says.
One of those lives and generations belongs to Judy Jordan. Judy didn’t live in Kidder. But her mother was born and raised there. Judy often visited and spent some of her summers with her grandparents.
Her mother was Evelyn Shaw Wager, and her father was Lawrence Wager. Her grandparents were Sterling and Freda Shaw. Her great-grandparents were Lillian and George Washington Shaw.
Judy’s grandparents met at the high school and lived in the stone house west of the school.
“When I was a child, I would go up town with my grandma to the post office where she would visit with Ida Look,” Judy says. “Ida’s husband, Red, had the gas station near the tracks and a meat locker. I loved the general store, the wood sidewalks along Main Street, the dirt streets. It was like going back in time to all the westerns on TV at the time. Mom said movies (no doubt silent) were projected outside on summer nights and someone would play piano as background.”
In the ’50s and ’60s, Kidder had three gas stations in town, a butcher shop, a post office, a couple of banks, a drug store, and a general store. “The general store was small, but it had a big gumball machine, balloons, as well as groceries,” Judy says. “I remember going up town at night and hearing a band playing in the bandstand by the tracks.”
And of course, there was the Kidder Institute. “My family was raised in the shadow of that school,” says Judy.
Judy’s great-grandfather, George Washington Shaw, ran the Kidder school for over four decades. It’s fair to say he pretty much was the only one to ever run the school with any success. “I was raised in stories about my great-grandfather,” Judy says.
Thayer College …a great idea that never worked
To understand George’s vital role in the Kidder Institute, we have to go back to the quick rise and quicker fall of the first Kidder college.
According to the first commencement address by the first president of Thayer College, Samuel D. Cochran, on June 26, 1872, “the project of planting an institution of highest general Christian education,” started with an unnamed trustee 13 years before as he was riding on the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad through this part of the state.
He and some of the owners of the railroad and others organized the New England Land Company and secured from the railroad thousands of acres of land in the vicinity.
The trustee applied for a donation of lands for the purpose of founding an institution. They agreed to give 630 acres on the condition that a corporation of trustees would be appointed who would raise $35,000 and would erect a building for its uses with a certain portion of the land.
In 1869, eight spadefuls of earth were dug from the site, thus initiating the work. Now, from this point on, the “story unravels of the struggle of Kidder.”
College gets built, then left to wild things
The establishment of the Christian College was under the auspices of the Congregational Denomination of Churches. President Cochran spent much time in the east during the next months, seeking donations among congregational circles.
He scraped together the donations and the building was completed three years later in 1873. There wasn’t a lot of money around at that time. Remember, these events all occurred during the period of great financial pressure immediately following the Civil War.
President Cochran resigned a short two years later in 1874. He got 240 acres of land belonging to the college as part payment of salary due him and a mortgage on the college property for the remainder.
This indebtedness against the property would remain for many years. It was finally paid off by the members with the understanding that “never again would it be possible to borrow money on this property.”
Next up is Reverend Brown who offered in 1874 to take charge of the school at his own expense. The record shows that in spite of valiant efforts, which caused him to break physically, he was unable to operate the school successfully.
For some nine years the school was closed. The windows were soon out, the bats and birds took over, and there was not a tree on the 40-acre tract.
Kidder Institute is one of first high schools
In 1884, the population of Kidder had grown some. The community decided upon the plan of opening the school as a secondary institution to be known as Kidder Institute, under the direction of Professor Ramsey.
Money was scarce and there were no such things as high schools during this era. People had to be sold on the idea of education. After five years, Professor Ramsey gave it up and asked to be relieved.
Now we get to George.
George Washington Shaw was a principal at an academy in Fostoria, Ohio. He accepted the job at Kidder Institute for $900 per year. He was to be the principal. His wife was referred to as Lady Dean and Matron.
“He and his wife spoke German from their Pennsylvania Dutch clan,” says Judy. “They were second cousins, so our family tree takes a bend there. His mother looked much like his wife, which is a little strange.”
The Institute grows
Lillian watered the trees and he drove over dusty roads with team and buggy, carrying the gospel of education to the parents of prospective students.
Despite the driest summer on record in 1889 and scarce funding, Kidder Institute expanded rapidly. Having outgrown old Thayer Hall, a new building was constructed to help with overflow in Thayer Hall in 1891. This building was called the Ladies Hall and later became known as the Men’s Dormitory. Again in 1910, the administration building was erected. Two years later Old Thayer Hall was renovated as the Woman’s Dormitory, ready in the fall of 1912.
Kidder Institute continued to grow. In 1921, because of over advancing standards of the North Central Association, it was necessary to increase the permanent endowment from $10 to $100 thousand. This seemingly impossible task was accomplished during the next two years by George.
How did he do it? A combination of charm and shrewdness.
“George said nothing excited him more than a new class of students,” says Judy. “His enthusiasm must have been electric. He must have had charisma. I saw it in his children and my mother. They had this magnetism. He was tight with money. He could manage it and yet, the detail that went into that building is extraordinary. His students did much of the work.”
George was a bit of a character.
“He was a bit absent minded, but the guy had a lot on his mind trying to keep the school going,” says Judy. “There was the story of his leaving his bedroom without his pants on for a photo shoot. His wife said, ‘Papa, I hope this will be a bust shot.'”
They cleared the streets of Kidder when he drove to town. He could never adapt to driving a car. If he drove to town, people would yell, “Clear the streets. Professor Shaw is driving.”
Great Depression puts damper on it all
The Junior College was established in 1922. The first class of seven members was graduated in 1924. In 1927, the chapel with accompanying gymnasium became a reality.
In 1930, the tremendous strain took its toll on George. He had a complete nervous breakdown. The effect of the Great Depression was closing in on the school. By 1931, George was finding it necessary to carry even more of the financial burden of the school personally. In 1932, he passed away at the beginning of the spring semester.
In 1932, Guy Barnes took charge. Extensive repairs were made. It was of no avail.
In 1933, the largest class in the history of the school was graduated and the last commencement held.
Finally, a memorial
So, the Kidder college lasted 48 years, with 44 of them under the administration of one man, George Shaw.
In 1936, the Kidder School District decided to move their elementary and high school system to the Institute buildings. In 1943, the foreclosure of the mortgage against the Kidder Institute property by the Congregational Church Building Society gave the local district the opportunity to acquire title to the property.
In 1955, the school was named in honor of Dr. and Mrs. George W. Shaw “The Shaw Memorial School.”
The community did all it could to preserve the school through fundraisers. Was it worth it?
“It must have been,” says Judy. “People in their eighties and nineties were still going to Kidder Institute reunions. They had their last reunion in the 1980s with a little ceremony by George Washington Shaw’s headstone at the Kidder Cemetery.”
“Thus ends the story of the history of Thayer College, Kidder Institute, and Junior College. Those of us in whose memory and hearts she will always remain, are willing to let her stand on her record, but the influence she has will never die so long as generations continue to be born to those who received their education here.” ~ Sterling Shaw
— written by T.L. Huffman for the Gallatin North Missourian, 3/2/21:
This story was contributed to by Carrie Gall-Warren and information from the “History of Thayer College, Kidder Institute and Kidder Junior College” by Sterling Shaw, 1959; provided by Judy Jordan.