In 1833 and 1834, beginning with the New England states, the first African American Garrison schools, named after white abolitionist leader, William Lloyd Garrison, opened. The first Garrison school in Missouri opened around 1850.
Chillicothe, Missouri, had several schools for African American students during the nineteenth century. In the 1870s the first structure to house a public grammar school for black children was a one-room store building located in the 200 block of Conn Street and was leased by the school district with one teacher of German descent, Mr. M. W. Miller of Ohio. A second school was located in another rented store building on Madison Street. In 1881, the public school moved to 209 Henry Street, which contained five classrooms; two rooms for high school-level classes were used for domestic science, mathematics, English, history, and Latin. The basement had restrooms and a room dedicated for shop and science lab classes. The first black teacher in Chillicothe was Henry C. Madison of Illinois, who aided Principal Miller. By 1883, Madison became principal and remained a teacher for the higher grades until 1890, when Professor and principal Joseph E. Herriford of Chillicothe, took over and named the school after William Lloyd Garrison. The first graduation ceremony was held at the Luella Theatre. The black Methodist Episcopal Church or Bethel A. M. E was built to serve part of the Garrison School and the African American community located across the street from the school on the corner of Violet and Henry Streets.
By the early 1900s, the school board began employing black women as teachers, who were recent graduates of the Garrison school. By 1909 about 75 students enrolled until 1913, when the enrollment reached 108 students. Due to limited space, scheduled school events and commencement ceremonies were located at the Central and the High School Auditorium beginning in the late 1910s. In 1929, a state law passed that declared that all districts that had African American children were required to be taught in the school district where they lived or the district had to pay their tuition and supply them transportation to another black school in a neighboring district. In 1935, a room partitioned to fit two classrooms for the eleventh and twelfth grades and a second new high school teacher were added to complete a four-year school rating. More interior and exterior repairs were made in 1937 and 1946, when the ceiling was lowered and the classroom partition was removed from the southeast corner of the building. The enrollment dropped to 36 students.
In June 1952, the Board of Education decided to tear down the old Garrison building and a new gymnasium-auditorium was constructed with a stage and basketball court. In July, construction on the new school began. The new Garrison school building was completed in 1953 with four classrooms, a principal’s office, boys’ and girls’ restrooms with showers, and three utility rooms. In 1954, four members of the Chillicothe Chapter of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People and the Board of Education considered the decision to integrate the public schools as the Supreme Court declared segregation was now illegal and allowed the school to operate for elementary students. On May 18, 1955, the last Garrison high school class of African American students graduated.
In March 1958, the Garrison building opened classes for the new Peter Pan School, a development center for physically impaired children supported by the state and the Livingston County chapter of the United Cerebral Palsy organization. The Extension Club, a women’s organization helped raise funds with charity events for the school. In July, the name of the building changed to Dabney School after Dr. Richard S. Dabney, the director of special education in the State Department of Education. Two rooms were dedicated to teaching regular first and second grades with 20 students in each, running separately from the special education classes. The Peter Pan School had moved to the Knights of Columbus building, which was supported by private contributions, while special education at Dabney stayed state-funded. By 1959, the special education program at Dabney had 19 students aged 12 to 17 in one group and 15 students of aged 9 to 11 in the other group. In May 1973, the Board of Education made the decision to combine special education classes into the Field and Central public schools and the Dabney school became the kindergarten school for Chillicothe in August.
In August 1987, the school name ‘Garrison’ was restored by the Garrison Alumni Committee, and the R-2 school board for the former Garrison graduates' and faculty reunion in September. The last day for students at the Garrison School was in May 2018. The preschool, kindergarten, and first-grade classes were transferred to the new elementary school in north Chillicothe. The school district planned to sell the school and land. Today, The Helping Hands program of the House of Prayer Rescue Mission now operates the building as a thrift store.
The Garrison/Dabney School provided educational opportunities for African American, physically impaired, and elementary students in Chillicothe throughout its lifetime.