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History of schools full of interesting facts

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By The Staff

My last column dealt with some of the 150-plus Fayette County one-room schools,  through whose doors generations of Fayette County citizens passed. 

In that column, I mentioned that County Superintendent C.F. Easterday had visited more than 20 country schools, and he shared his report in an issue of The Vandalia Union newspaper.

His report, published under the heading of “School Notes,” appeared in the Nov. 16, 1905, newspaper, and was especially enlightening because the superintendent went into some detail while describing the interior of several of the schoolhouses. 

The photograph accompanying this column was taken about the same time. Sent to me by the late Lenora Davis Regan, she wrote that her father, Cordia Davis, was one of the students in this class photo,  although she did not know which one. 

Cordia attended Central School, and this photo is fairly rare in that we are shown the interior of a typical classroom. Interesting to think they were making paper chains back in 1904. Built for use as a high school in 1888,  this building is now an apartment building.

In the “School Notes” report, it was the Bunker Hill School in Sefton that had the superintendent’s attention. He noted that it was the only "Little Red School House" in the county, with the coal shed and privy houses also painted red.

Miss Mayme Workman was the teacher, and of the 24 pupils at the school, 23 were present when the superintendent and school directors visited. It was noted that the teacher kept a record of attendance for the entire school on the wall, making each day’s record in the evening by indicating perfect or imperfect, absent, tardy or whispering by the initial letter in the blank opposite the name on a large sheet of paper.

The school directors were Louis Yates, T.J. Workman and Peter Steinhauer. In 1905,  the school had not only slate boards and curtains, but also an international dictionary and charts.  

At the time, many of the country schools   were holding box socials to supply their school with a bookcase and books. Bluff City held a box social, with the purpose of buying an organ for the school. The pupils were taking a great interest in music, and several of them were able to play the organ. 

W. A. Conrad and Flossie Barbee were the teachers in this two-room school. It was reported that the box social netted $26.45,  and this money was applied as a partial payment on the organ, with the school to come up with ideas of how to raise the rest of the money.

The history of Clover College School in Bear Grove Township is fascinating in several aspects. That the Honorable John J. Brown of Vandalia “wielded the rod for two terms at this school in his younger days and left his progressive spirit thoroughly implanted in the minds of the people” is a very interesting fact.

First called Washburn School, the name was changed in 1882 when the old schoolhouse burned. At that time, the school board consisted of Cornelius Elam, William T. Causey and T.J. Smith who were in favor of having a new school built closer to the center of the district.

The legal battle that ensued when their decision was challenged is also of interest,  because it turned out to be a famous case of the day. At the end of it all, the decision of the school board was upheld.

A new school, measuring 24 feet by 30 feet, was built. Not long after it was constructed,  it was found to be too small, and a 12-foot addition was made to the end, making it 24 feet by 42 feet. Five windows were added on each side.

That, too, was interesting, but the Arbor Day celebration of 1895 is what made the headlines for me. The patrons, assisted by the teacher, Miss Nannie Kile, planted trees and shrubs in the school yard. The season was dry, and only three of the trees of that planting lived.

One tree planted at that time by some of the boys was named William Rawcliffe, in honor of a popular teacher of previous years. This tree, by 1905, had grown to be of good size. Another tree that lived was one set out by Adison Elam, then a small boy. He named it Thomas Jefferson.

In 1905, there were 65 living trees on the property, including the three planted 10 years earlier. The superintendent noted that the schoolhouse was nicely painted, with the coal house and outbuildings painted the same as the school.

The interior of the schoolhouse was nicely papered and painted, and was equipped with maps, charts, slate blackboards and a rostrum that could be raised or lowered for exhibition occasions. The school had a good organ, book case, library, three fine hanging lamps and walls tastefully decorated with pictures – one of which is of Frances Willard – presented by the W.C.T.U. of Hagarstown.

It was noted that 17 graduates of Washburn and Clover College had  received teacher’s certificates, with 15 of the graduates filling teaching positions.

The history of our schools could fill a book – including the “Little Red School House” in Sefton Township, the books and maps used by the students, and the trees planted in the schoolhouse yard in 1895 and named.

All are puzzle pieces of the history that surrounds the schoolhouses of Fayette County.