Schuyler County Public Schools

The history of the public schools of Schuyler County is coincident with that of the State of Illinois, and it must ever be a source of local pride to know that, at the first meeting of the County Commissioners, held on July 7, 1825, plans were made for the organization of a school district, and by petition the same was regularly formed two weeks later.

The wisdom and foresight of the pioneers of Illinois was shown most clearly in their endeavor to establish a system of public schools at a time when the cause of popular education was by no means popular. The foundations for free schools, thus laid, commands our admiration and surprise, and the names of the early supporters of popular education should be unperishable in the records of the county, and it is our purpose to thus aid in honoring the pioneer supporters of the great free school system.

Schuyler County was formed and granted powers of local gevernment by the Illinois Legislature in 1825, and in January of that year there was passed the first State School Law, under which the district in this county was formed some six months later. The development of the most excellent school system of the State renders it somewhat superfluous to cite reasons for the enactment of this law, but in the preamble of the first school law of 1825, they are set forth most lucidly as follows:

"To enjoy our rights and liberties, we must understand them; their security and protection ought to be the first object of a free people; and it is a well established fact that no nation has continued long in the enjoyment of civil and political freedom, which was not both virtuous and enlightened; and believing that the advancement of literature always has been, and ever will be, the means of developing more fully the rights of man, that the mind of every citizen in a republic is the common property of society, and constitutes the basis of its strength and happiness; it is, therefore, considered the peculiar duty of a free government like ours to encourage and extend the improvement and cultivation of the intellectual energies of the whole; therefore, a common school, or schools, shall be established in each county of this State."

The growth and development of the schools of Schuyler County may be said to date back to the winter of 1823-24, for scarcely had half a dozen families located within a radius of three or four miles and secured indispensable shelter in their primitive log-cabins, before effort was made to provide a means of education for the children.

The first school taught in the county was at the home of Calvin Hobart in the winter of 1823-24, where William H. Taylor, then a young man who had come to the county with the first settlers, acted as teacher. His pupils probably did not exceed six in number, for there was but a small settlement made that year.

At the meeting of County Commissioners held on July 22, 1825, a petition was presented asking for the organization of a school district, and the petition was granted and the district formed as follows: "Beginning at the N. E. cor. of Sec. 4, 2 N., 1 W., thence west to N. W. cor. of Sec. 1, 2 N., 2 W., thence south of the S. W. corner of Sec. 36, thence east to the S. E. corner of Sec. 33, thence north to place of beginning." The district thus formed included the west half of Rushville Township within its boundary.

Jonathan D. Manlove, one of the early pioneer settlers and among the first school teachers of the county, tells of the attempt to establish free schools in Schuyler County in 1826. He says: "The first school house in the county was built near Benj. Chadsey's in 1826. A log house was put up and, perhaps, covered, but no school was ever taught in it. It was built under a very imperfect law, the first in the State that was called a free school law. But at that early period the same difficulty in regard to the ways and means and location of school houses existed that too often yet exist, and the school house was never finished because of ignorance and prejudice then extant."

In the summer of 1826, however, a school was taught on Section 16 by Miss Sophronia Chadsey and another by Mr. Manlove at his cabin. In a letter to the Schuyler Citizen, in 1881, Mr. Manlove thus describes his pioneer school: "My mind reverts back to the summer of 1826, when I taught a school in a log cabin, where Mr. Little's house now stands northeast of Rushville. The cabin was the largest one in the county, and had been occupied by a family not censurable for the Godly virtue of cleanliness, and was infested with a numerous progeny of bugs, whose odorous perfume was not pleasant to the olfactories of teacher or pupils. They had prior possession, and had fortified and were taking possession of the books and dinner baskets. We were compelled to declare a war of extermination. We procured a large iron kettle, and when ready with boiling water, all hands moved on the enemies' works, and after a long and bloody battle, succeeded in destroying all their army, except a very considerable number of stragglers that returned early to their well-known and impregnable hidings. Peace reigned in Warsaw, the six-inch benches were again occupied, and the daily supply of musk melons, which was furnished by the teacher, was eaten; and all were happy and contented."

The growth of the public school system, as now understood, was slow, and in a quarter of a century after the settlement of the county it had made but little progress in Schuyler. It is true there were schools taught, but they were the result of purely voluntary effort either of an individual or of a few associated persons, and the master was paid by the parents whose children attended the school, a one-room log cabin, whose only furniture was a teacher's desk and rude seats fashioned from the slabs of logs with pegs driven into holes near the end for legs. Text books were few and did full duty where there happened to be several children in one family. The children went to school wearing jeans and linsey, and it was not uncommon for the boys to be attired in buckskin pantaloons and coon-skin caps.

It was in such fashion the schools were begun, and they have been steadily improved in material comforts, facilities and elegance, and in culture, training and efficiency of teachers, until we reasonably and justly boast a school equipment throughout the county as complete and thorough as that of any county in our great State.

In reviewing the history of the schools of Schuyler county we will first consider those of the city of Rushville, where the growth from the rude log-cabin to the finely graded schools of the present day present a most interesting study. The evolution of the educational system was not accomplished without strife and bitter warfare, but this is accounted for as more a difference of personal opinion than an effort to embarrass the cause of education. The early pioneers were men of earnest purpose and strong determination and, when differences of opinion arose as to public school management, there was bitter internecine warfare that, in some cases, lasted for years to the detriment of the rapidly growing system of education.

The first building erected for school purposes in Rushville was a small one-story brick house that stood where the Christian church now stands. It was erected in the early 'thirties, and one of the first, if not the first, of the teachers was Levi Lusk. In the winter of 1837-38, Upton Smith organized a subscription school and occupied the attic of the old Methodist Episcopal church with his classes. The attic was divided into two rooms, and the boys' department occupied the north room, while the girls were taught by a lady teacher in the south room. A few years later I. S. Wright and daughter taught in the same building. Another one of the early teachers was a Mr. Shetland, a man of brilliant mind and attainments whose career was cut short by dissipation, and he died soon afterwards. Miss Rebecca Davis taught a school in the early 'forties on the south side of East Washington about a half a block from the square. Miss Sarah McMacken, of Jacksonville, taught in a log school building that was located on West Lafayette Street, between where Mrs. Little's and Dr. Ball's houses now stand, and Mrs. Houghland taught in a log cabin located a little farther west. Mrs. Joseph Haskell was another of the pioneer teachers who had a school where the court house now stands.

Of the old pioneer teachers who taught subscription schools in Rushville in the 'forties Edward Bertholf lived to see the development of the present day. Mr. Bertholf taught in the old Methodist Church, and among his pupils was Francis Drake, who afterwards became Governor of Iowa.

Following the era of small subscription schools we find that Rushville had its Western Seminary, Cottage Seminary, Female Academy, Scripps' Academy, The Seminary, M. E. Church High School, and Parrott High School, all of which flourished and thrived for a time, but eventually gave way before the progress of the system of free schools which eventually resulted in the formation of the Rushville Union Schools.

On June 25, 1845, John Clarke, Lycurgus I. Kimball, George B. Rogers, Roland M. Worthington, James G. McCreery, Abraham Tolle, William E. Withrow, Joseph Montgomery and James L. Anderson purchased the lot where the Webster School building now stands and built The Seminary. The school was in charge of Alonzo J. Sawyer, afterwards prominent in educational work in Chicago, with Miss Amelia Dayton and Miss Matilda M. Williams as assistants. The rates of tuition ranged from $2.50 to $6, for a term of eleven weeks. Later teachers in this school were: R. H. Griffith, Miss Sophia Barber, Dr. Thomas C. Nichols, Dr. J. A. Speed, Mr. Lucas, G. W. Scripps, Mr. English, George I. Ramsey, Miss Lydia Ramsey, Henry Smither and others.

Rushville was not without its public schools during this period, but they were small and no effort was made to teach anything but the elementary branches, and the situation was further complicated by reason of the fact that the city was in two separate school districts. It was when an endeavor was made to unite districts 8 and 9, and form the present Union School District, that passion ran riot, and it had its culmination in a pitched battle, which took place at the Seminary on May 11, 1858, that was participated in by a number of Rushville's leading citizens.

It appears that District No. 9 had purchased the Seminary building in 1855 and that District No. 8 had come into possession of the Parrott School building. District No. 8 had one hundred more pupils than district 9, while the latter had $75,000 more taxable property, and they resisted the effort made to unite the two districts.

After the two districts were united by a vote of the people, some of the leading citizens of District No. 9 met and resolved to regain possession of their property, but the Directors of No. 8, getting news of their intention, entered the building at night, nailed down the windows and barred the doors. The Directors of No. 9 gained possession the day following, when the former occupants decided to take the building by storm and armed themselves with rails to batter down the doors. This led to a general melee, and the Sheriff of the county was called upon to establish peace. The matter was afterwards taken into court and was carried to the Illinois Supreme Court, where a decision was rendered that declared the union of the two districts legal and the costs were assessed against District No. 9. Eleven years later, by the union of District No. 3, in Buena Vista Township, and District No. 8, the Rushville Union School District was formed and was granted a special charter by the Illinois Legislature, the same being approved March 30, 1869.

Thus was the formation laid for carrying forward the work of free schools in the city of Rushville, and, out of the turmoil and strife that had existed for a score of years, there developed a united support of the public schools which has ever since continued and has resulted in the building up of the splendid school system of the present day.

The first Board of Education in the Rushville Union School District was composed of the following gentlemen: William H. Ray, Thomas Wilson, W. W. Wells, R. H. Griffith and W. S. Irvin. They went to work at once to provide a suitable school building and, during the year 1870, a three-story brick building was erected on the site of The Seminary at a cost of $45,000. This building served for school purposes until destroyed by fire in September, 1893. On the site of the old building the handsome and modern Webster School building was erected at a cost of $25,000. In the latter 'eighties the growth of the city made it necessary to provide additional room, and the old Baptist church, in the same block, was purchased and used for primary grades. Again in 1893 there was need for still greater expansion, and a two-story brick building was erected in the east part of the city at a cost of $8,000, which is used for primary grade pupils.

The Rushville Union Schools were graded by John F. Gowdy, in 1869, and, in 1871, when the new building was first occupied, they were brought to a high standard of excellence by J. M. Coyner. He was succeeded as superintendent by John Hobbs. In 1875, H. A. Smith was put in charge and the following year the first class graduated from the Rushville High School. Mr. Smith established the school on a solid educational basis and continued as Superintendent until 1887, when he was succeeded by Nathan T. Veatch and, for fourteen years, the schools made most excellent progress under his direction. Henry H. Edmunds, was Superintendent from 1901 to 1907, when he resigned to go to Clinton, Ill. L. T. Shaw, was Superintendent in 1907-08, and he was succeeded by C. E. Knapp, who is now in charge.

The following history of the country schools of Schuyler County was compiled by Prof. H. A. Smith, who was Superintendent of the Rushville High School from 1875 to 1887:

The first school in Oakland Township was taught by a Mr. Preston in a log cabin built by Frederick Noble, on the southeast quarter of Section 24, in the summer of 1835. Scholars in attendance were Abner and William, children of Richard Ashcraft; Harriet, daughter of William Burress; Rebecca and Nancy, children of Josiah Downer; Benjamin, Martha Ann, Sarah Jane and Joseph S., children of Joseph Logan; and the three children of the teacher. The school term was three months, and subscription rate was $1.50 per month. Oakland Township sold her school land in June, 1837.

Thomas Bronaugh taught the first school in Littleton in a deserted cabin in the summer of 1835. The pupils were: Julia, Margaret, John and Ephraim L., children of David Snyder; Martha, Nancy, Evaline and Ludwell, children of Elijah M. Wilson; Eliza and Benjamin, children of R. P. Applegate; Andrew Wycoff, a nephew, and John, Thomas, Jacob, Daniel and Asher, children of Garrett Wycoff; Jane, Eliza, Ann and Tolbert, children of William H. Crawford. The first school house was built on the southwest quarter of Section 19, in 1838, and Samuel Horney was teacher. Littleton sold her school land in 1840.

The first school in Brooklyn Township was taught by Richard Kellough in a log cabin in the village in 1837. The first school house was built in 1842. The school section was sold March 25, 1841.

The first school in Birmingham Township was taught in a log cabin in the village by William Neill in the winter of 1837. The following named persons were appointed by the Schuyler County Commissioner's Court trustees for the school land of 3 N., 4 W.; William Dron, James G. King and J. G. Graham. On petition the Sixteenth Section was sold April 7, 1847.

Mr. Kimball, an old man from Kentucky, taught a school in a small cabin south of Huntsville in 1835-36. There were three windows covered by leather, which was fastened up during the day to permit the light to pass in between the logs, and were closed at night. The teacher permitted all to study aloud. Jeremiah Brisco taught the first school in Huntsville in 1836, in a log cabin built for the purpose that season. He taught the same school for several terms.

Huntsville has had many excellent teachers. Miss Mary Hart of Connecticut taught the school south of Huntsville during the summer of 1836. H. E. Bryant, afterwards banker at Bement, Miss Eunice Kimbal, an eastern lady, and Alvin Bacon, each taught several terms at Huntsville. Miss Letitia Biscoe taught in a log cabin near Shilo. The windows of this cabin consisted of an opening between the logs, which was protected by a board fastened up with a strap. The first frame school house in Huntsville was built about 1840. The township school land was sold April 8, 1839.

The first school in Camden Township was taught by John Thornhill in 1836 in a neglected cabin built by a squatter in 1835 on Section 18. The second school was taught in the winter of 1838-39 by George L. Gray. On Christmas Day Mr. Gray was fastened out by the big boys until he would promise to treat to a toddy. He finally yielded and furnished the money, when a boy by the name of Brown went to what is now Brooklyn for the whiskey. The toddy was made in buckets and the teacher and pupils enjoyed it together and harmony was restored. The rate for tuition was $1.50 per quarter. John Anderson taught in the northern part of what is now the village of Camden in 1839. A brief description of this school house, may, with very few changes, apply equally well to any of our early "temples of learning" in which the youth were wont to woo the Goddess of Wisdom.

It was built of logs, as were all the houses at that time. The fireplace occupied nearly the whole of one side of the room and a recess in the wall. After reaching a height of about six feet, the logs were placed straight across that side of the room, and the chimney of sticks was continued up on the outside of the house. It had a pincheon floor and seats, and greased paper placed between the logs for windows. The large boys cut and carried the wood for the fire. Camden Township sold her school land in October, 1837.

The first school house in Schuyler was built in Buena Vista Township in 1828 on the northwest quarter of Section 1, and Robert Sexton taught a two-months' term. On May 10, 1830, Samuel L. Dark commenced a six-months' term on the northeast quarter of Section 22. In 1843-44 he taught at the cross-roads. The subscription rates were paid in various kinds of produce; one patron agreeing to pay a certain number of bushels of wheat, another a certain number of bushels of oats, etc. It was not always the easiest matter to collect in those days, and the teacher employed Jacob Snyder to collect for him. Another teacher of the same school was Mr. Wheadon. Instead of the usual mottoes around the room, each pupil could read the penalty for certain offenses--so many lashes for talking aloud; so many lashes for fighting; so many lashes for quarrelling going to or from school, and other rules with the penalty.

Buena Vista has the largest school fund of any township in the county, owning to the foreclosing of its mortgage and reselling of a portion of its school section after it had advanced in price. The section was first sold in April, 1838.

The first school in Browning Township was taught by a man from Tennessee in 1835 in a small log cabin built by Nathan Glover. This was the second township to sell its school section, which was done October 29, 1833, by Alfred Wallace and John M. Campbell, Trustees.

The first session of school in Hickory Township was taught by a Mr. Sheldon in 1838, in a cabin built on the bluffs. There were but two small fractions of Section 16 in this township.

The first school in Frederick was held in a private cabin built by Horatio Benton. The first school house was built in 1846, a small one-story frame building, afterwards used as a town hall.

The first school in Bainbridge was in a log cabin built for the purpose on Section 22, about the year 1830. The first teachers were John Keeton, a Mr. Sexton, John Parker, Joseph Bell and James M. Stevens. John Greene taught school in the winter of 1835-36 in a log cabin built on the northeast quarter of Section 1. Samuel Haines, James Lawler and Nathan Winshall were appointed trustees at the June term of court, 1836. The school land was sold December 5, 1836.

The first school in Woodstock Township was taught by John Taylor in 1827. The first school in the northern part of the township was taught by Charles Hatfield, in 1833, in a house built that fall of elm poles in an elm grove near Joshua Griffith's. The pupils and teacher mixed the mud on the floor of the school house, after school began, with which they daubed the house at recesses and noon. Pupils in attendance were William T. and Isaac Black, children of Richard Black; Sarah and Rebecca, children of Jacob Fowler; Houston and Elihu, children of Allen Alexander; James and Thomas, children of Isaac Sanders; Anderson, Isaac S. and Pressly, children of Mrs. Amelia S. Riley. The day before Christmas Anderson and Pressly Riley took the teacher out and wallowed him in snow and left him tied, because he would not treat to whiskey. The teacher treated to two gallons of whiskey on New Year's.

In the same school house taught Thomas Binkly, Mr. Johnson, Enoch Boughton, Faunton Muse, and Robert Glenn.

While the strife for the Christmas treat was going on, when Mr. Muse was teacher, he attempted to descend the spacious chimney, when one of the boys threw water on the coals in the fireplace which nearly caused him to fall, but he managed to crawl out and promised the usual treat.

Robert Glenn spent much of his time in reading law, while the pupils amused themselves. One day, desiring to obtain some young squirrels in the top of a dry tree, about one hundred yards from the school house, the pupils built a fire around the tree in the morning and agreed to run when they heard it fall. On hearing the tree fall, all ran without asking permission except two small boys. When they returned, the teacher looked up and asked them if they had got back.

Excerpted from Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Schuyler County, 1908, edited by Howard F. Dyson.
Transcribed by Robin Petersen for Schuyler County ILGenWeb

Copyright 1999-2001 Robin L. W. Petersen; all rights reserved. For personal use only. Commercial use of the information contained in these pages is strictly prohibited without prior permission. If copied, this copyright must appear with the information.

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