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An 'Ebenezer' for the generations: Winningkoff school, community memorialized in marker dedication
Collin County Historical Commission Chairman Paula Ross, right, invites former Lucas City Councilman John Hoetzel to read the marker's inscription Saturday following its unveiling. 'I'm still impressed with the wisdom of the farmers out here,' Hoetzel said. 'Boy, you couldn't fool a farmer. I mean, they had good common sense. I think that's what made our country.' - Monique Oaks/Staff photo
Just a few miles east of Allen now stands a marker that tells the story of several families, a school, a chapel, two doctors, two stores and a blacksmith shop - all part of a once-thriving farming community that now lies mostly submerged under Lake Lavon.
During a dedication ceremony Saturday at the original site of the Winningkoff School and Blythe Chapel, a small gathering of people celebrated the unveiling of the Winningkoff Historical Marker. Some of those present at the ceremony shared surnames inscribed in the marker's text, as well as the legacy of settlers who put a high priority on education even as they worked the land.
"Among the family names at Winningkoff were: Gant, Moore, Hindsley, Knight, McMillen, Enloe, Heifner, Petway, Norman, Christian, Rolfe, Smith, Campbell, Morrow and Snider," the marker's inscription reads, in part. It further explains that A.J. Winningkoff gave two acres of his own land to the county for use as a school, and Dr. Ellsworth S. Blythe gave an acre near the school for the church - thus making the Winningkoff-Blythe Chapel connection.
"Schooling was important enough that even though these struggling farm families were barely getting by, they provided land, materials, labor, and scraped together the tuition that it cost - because schools were not free, public schools as we see today," said Debbie Fisher, Lucas city councilmember.
The school closed in 1949. Doris Smith Gant Moore - who taught grades 1-6 in 1945 at the two-room Winningkoff School - was in attendance Saturday. She decided after a few months that teaching "wasn't my thing," however, and she went on to pursue various jobs in retail. "I really loved selling," she said.
Janell Heifner King grew up a mile away from where the marker now stands.
"My mother is 95 now, and she still lives down there at the end of the road," King said. King's grandparents owned the grocery store just south of the school; they later sold it to B.A. "Curley" and Bessie Taylor, who owned the store while King was growing up.
"A little bit prior to my time, probably in the '30s and '40s, it really was a thriving community. You had all the farms, and all the people just doing, pitching in and helping each other out and doing all the farm stuff - the Little House on the Prairie-type stuff," King said. "It's great to see all the great houses and the people that have moved back in here.
"It's kind of hard to see all the farmland being covered with, you know, concrete and bricks and things," King said, "but we're glad to see that there is an interest in remembering what used to be here."
"In 1953, the dam forming Lake Lavon was completed," Fisher said. "While the purpose of the dam was to control flooding and prevent further erosion of farmland, ultimately, much of the former farming community of Winningkoff/Blythe Chapel now lies under Lake Lavon. But it's part of our Lucas history. And the placement of this marker helps ensure it will not be forgotten."
Collin County Historical Commission members Billie Rolf - King's cousin - and Linda Hess - who submitted the application - unveiled the marker. John Hoetzel, former city of Lucas councilman, later read the marker's inscription.
"Many of you will recall God told the Israelites, in instructing their children - they were interested in education - to set up stones, primarily out of the Jordan and other places, as memorial stones," Hoetzel said. "Some of you have sung the song, 'Here I raise my "Ebenezer."'
"Well, that's a memorial stone," he said. "So, that's what we're talking about. So, next time you sing that, you'll know what you're singing about."
"I see it [Winningkoff] all the time on maps and plats and things that we have to do in city council business," Fisher said, "but now that name means something."
Full text on the Winningkoff Historical Marker:
Winningkoff originated on a high rise of ground between Wilson and White Rock Creeks which flowed into the East Fork of the Trinity River. In 1884, A. J. Winningkoff, who owned 204 acres of the Calvin Boles' League gave two acres to the county for the Winningkoff School Community. A. J. Winningkoff was a barber in McKinney at the time of the 1880 census. His wife was Elizabeth Rolfe. She and her family had set sail on the steamship San Jacinto at Liverpool, England on March 24, 1873 along with Maria and Mary Howe. Also on another voyage leaving Norfolk, England May 16, 1873 was John Ashby and George Rolfe. John Ashby and Maria Howe married January 8, 1874, and George Rolfe Jr. and Mary Howe married February 4, 1874. A. J. Winningkoff and Elizabeth Rolfe married in 1875. After living in McKinney a few years, the Winningkoffs, Ashbys and Rolfes moved to farms about seven miles east of Allen. Among the family names at Winningkoff were: Gant, Moore, Hindsley, Knight, McMillen, Enloe, Heifner, Petway, Norman, Christian, Rolfe, Smith, Campbell, Morrow and Snider.
A large number of children were educated in the Winningkoff two-room schoolhouse which had grades one through six. The classrooms were heated by large, round coal stoves. Among those who taught at Winningkoff School were Ruth Campbell, Ernest Massey, Otis Morrow, Cora Campbell Spurgin, George E. Robinson, Gladys Campbell Ferguson, Velma Snider Cooley, Delilah McMillen and Doris Smith Gant. The school closed in 1949.
A Methodist Society led by the Reverend J. A. Stafford, presiding elder, and the Reverend Nathaniel Charles Little began meeting in the school house. In 1895, the trustees, Rufus. E. Morrow, John Ashby and J. H. Shell, were instructed to secure a lot and raise money for a church house. Dr. Ellsworth S. Blythe, the community physician, gave an acre northwest of the school lot to the church. A building 30 by 50 feet was built. The church built a larger, square building in 1920. A. J. Winningkoff and his family were charter members of Blythe Chapel Methodist Church. The Blythe Chapel Methodist church building was moved to Lucas in 1967, and the church was renamed the First United Methodist Church of Lucas.
Dr. Blythe moved to Allen about 1910; Dr. Rufus E. Morrow of Lucas moved to Winningkoff but made house calls in both communities. He delivered many babies for the large families in the two communities, traveling by horseback in muddy weather.
There were at least two stores in the community. Ed. Knight had a grocery-pharmacy. Other storekeepers were Johnny Snider, Otis Morrow, Earl Nickerson, and Martin and Nona Heifner. B. A. "Curley" and Bessie Taylor, who purchased a store from Jim Heifner, were the last to have a store in Winningkoff. Aaron Norman's blacksmith shop was one of the last in this part of the county. Winningkoff was a thriving little community but now has disappeared, and the road dead ends into Lake Lavon.
Marker Property of the Collin County Historical Commission