Monday, February 16, 2015

History of Bates County: Walking to School

Information about schools in Bates County prior to and during the Civil War is not well documented. At the close of the war, only four school houses were still standing in Bates County- most all had been used as a place of refuge for bushwackers, and were often burned to the ground when they were abandoned. 
A turn of the century log cabin school
similar to those in Bates County

One of the first rural schools built after the war was an effort spearheaded by J. H. Laman in 1843. He described the structure in detail: "The first school house in the north part of the county was built in a grove about a mile northwest of the old town of Cresent Hill. The log house was built by a donation of work. There was not a dollar in money paid out on it; everything was manufactured in the timber near the building site. The floor was of split logs, the seats were made of logs split open, and the flat side dressed with an ax, and the holes bored in the end and the legs stuck in. The legs and the seats were all nicely turned, that is, they were turned the otherside up after the legs had been driven in the auger holes. Then they were ready for polishing; this was done by the scholars during school hours and it was a slow process. The scribe did his part of the polishing during the Summer season for a number of years but did not get all the splinters off. Our writing desks were made the same way, only the pins were put in the wall, just below the window- one log out of the side of the house- and a broad slab split out and laid on these pins. If we had to close the windows, all we had to do was turn the slab on edge and it formed a shutter".

While J.H. Laman was quite proud of his accomplishment, other schools, built similarly, went up around the county in short order. Organization continued with the first county superintendent appointed in 1866 and the first teachers institute established in 1869.

As of 1870, there were 78 school houses in Bates County that operated on an annual budget of about $14,000. Teacher pay was a modest $10 per month. Teachers often lived with a nearby patron of the district as they generally could not afford a place of their own.

By 1902, there was standardization of curriculum, as a 'systematic course of study' was adopted for rural and village schools. This change stressed the use of literature and made having a school library a necessity. Gone were the days of heavy recitation before classmates; now it was stressed that students must read more. In short order, nearly every county school had it's own library of necessary reading material.

By 1917 average teacher salaries had jumped to about $30 a month; some made closer to $70 a month depending on location. A school year was 160 days; average daily attendance was 4,613 students; there were 204 teachers in the county; and 103 students graduated high school that year.

While rural schools saw steady growth, so did those in our local towns. Most of the following information was taken from the book The History of Bates County, written by W.O. Atkeson, circa 1918:

Adrian- The first school house was erected in 1882 and consisted of four rooms, two upstairs and two downstairs. Four teachers oversaw 96 students during the first year. The location was on the west end of the property used by the school today.

Amoret- started with a small school house about a mile north of town. It was formerly known as the Spy Mound School in 1887. Kansas City Southern Railroad came through town, which caused more people to settle in Amoret and a new school was constructed with an $1,800 donation from the railroad. In 1916, $7,000 was spent to build a two story, 8 classroom brick building.

Butler- The first school in was built in 1856 and was used both as a school and a church for all denominations. The building was destroyed during the Civil War. Students and teachers alike had to make do until a new, two story brick building was erected in 1870 on west Ohio street. Cost was $8,000. That building was later torn down and replaced with another that remained in use until 1911. As the town grew, it became necessary to build two grade buildings, one in the east, and one in the north part of town.

Butler Academy- Organized in 1874 as "an institution to meet the wants of a higher education than afforded by our common schools". Originally located upstairs in a building on the southwest corner of the Butler square. A later building that housed the school was destroyed by fire in 1900.

Hume- Formerly known as the Greenridge School District. After the city was officially platted, Hume built it's first school in 1882. The old Greenridge school, then abandoned, was located about a mile south of town.

Merwin- In 1891, patrons of the Lone Elm School district voted to build a school building in Merwin. The two story building came at a cost of $1,200 and remained in use until 1915. That same year, the community voted a consolidated school district, which included the purchase of the college building and 5 acres for $3,000. The building was remodeled and had a capacity of 300 students.

Merwin Business College- Built in 1898 at a cost of $10,000 but closed shortly after due to a lack of patronage. The building was sold and reopened as a commercial school but again closed in 1914. Later, the building was sold to the Merwin Consolidated School District.

Rich Hill- Prior to 1881, there were just 15 pupils who attended a 14 x 16 foot schoolhouse on the east edge of town. The coal boom boosted the number to just over 1,000 students within city limits over the next few years. While a new building was in the works, school was held in churches which filled them to near capacity each day.

Rockville- The first school was made of logs and later replaced in 1871 by a two story building of native stone 24 x 48 feet at a cost of $4,047. The building was quickly deemed too small for the number of students; two rooms were added to accommodate 200 students. In 1898, the building was replaced by a two story brick, with six rooms and modern heating plant at a cost of $10,000.

Sprague College- Around 1884 a man named Bryant erected a college building and "conducted a good school for a number of years. However, dissensions arose among the members of the faculty and spread to the community which resulted in discontinuing the school".

Over time, many smaller schools were consolidated into larger schools.  In earlier days, a number would be assigned to the newly formed district such as C-5, meaning 5 schools came together to form one. Today we are more familiar with reorganization, such as Ballard R-2, which means regardless the amount of schools, the district as a whole, has been modified (reorganized) two times in its history.

Today, the landscape has dotted remnants of Bates County's rural schools. Some have been preserved, such as the Mt. Vernon school, originally located 5 miles west of Passaic which has a new home at Frontier Village in Adrian. The building is in good repair and features the original school bell still intact.

Some still standing have been used as voting places or meeting places for local 4-H groups and others. While most are completely gone, there are telltale signs such as the building footings of the Hot Water school house buried deep in the trees at 52 and J highways near Amoret. Or the old Merwin College stone buildings barely visible from the highway. In the southern parts of Bates County, you'll find remnants of dark red glazed brick structures such as the Sprague College and others. A good list with some locations is available by clicking here.

A comprehensive list of known schools in Bates County:

Amoret; Amsterdam; Ballard; Belmont; Bethel; Bever; Black; Brackney; Brush College; Bryan; Buckhorn; Burdette; Butler; Butler Academy; Cherry Grove; Clay Hill; Coleville; Concord; Cornland; Crawford; Crescent Hill; Cumpton; Dillon; Dixie; Double Branch; Douglas; Edgewood; Edwards; El Dorado; Hot Water; Elkfork; Elswick; Enterprise; Erhart; Fair Play; Fair View; Fairmont; Fairview; Fan; Forbes; Foster; Franklin; Freeze Out; Fry; Goodin (later Possom Trot); Grandview; Green Castle; Green Ridge; Green; Green Valley; Green View; Griggs; Hackler; Haines; Happy Hill; Harmony Mission; Harmony ; Hayes; Hazel Dell; Herrell; Hess; Hillside; Hog Skin; Hot Water; Hudson; Hume; Independence; Johnson; Johnstown; Keith; Klondike; Liberty; Little Deer Creek; Lone Star; Lost Corner; Maple Grove; Marshall School; McDavitt; McKinley; McNeil; Merwin; Miami Center; Miller School; Mingo; Mission Branch; Montgomery; Montrose; Mound Valley; Mount Leonard; Mount Rose (Montrose); Mount Zion; Mount Zion 1895; Mt. Pleasant; Mt. Zion 1928; Mt.Vernon; Mulberry; New Home; North Muddy; Nyhart; Oak Grove; Oak Grove; Old Walnut; Olive Branch; Olive; Orchard Grove; Osage; Ovid; Papinville; Passaic; Patty; Peru; Plainview; Pleasant Gap School; Pleasant Ridge; Pleasant Valley; Possom Trot; Prairie City; Prairie Rose; Prairie; Reavley; Red Top; Red White & Blue; Redmon; Reynard; Rich Hill; Rich Valley; Rockville; Rocky Point; Rose-Leonard; Scifers School; Seelinger; Shady Dell; Sheepskin; Shelton; Silverdale; Smoky Row; Sprague College; Sprague; Standish; Star; Summit; Tripp; Tygard; Valley; Victory; Virginia; Virginia; Washington; Webster; Wemott; West Point; Wilcox; Willow Branch; Willow Tree; Woodland; Worland School.

Wow! Can you imagine reading that list for winter school closures? Wait- those kids walked to school regardless of weather. And it was uphill both ways...
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