SchuylerCounty Public Schools

The history of the publicschools 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 firstmeeting of the County Commissioners, held on July 7, 1825, plans were madefor the organization of a school district, and by petition the same wasregularly formed two weeks later.

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

Schuyler County was formedand 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 rendersit 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 forthmost lucidly as follows:

“To enjoy our rights andliberties, we must understand them; their security and protection oughtto be the first object of a free people; and it is a well established factthat no nation has continued long in the enjoyment of civil and politicalfreedom, which was not both virtuous and enlightened; and believing thatthe advancement of literature always has been, and ever will be, the meansof developing more fully the rights of man, that the mind of every citizenin a republic is the common property of society, and constitutes the basisof its strength and happiness; it is, therefore, considered the peculiarduty of a free government like ours to encourage and extend the improvementand cultivation of the intellectual energies of the whole; therefore, acommon school, or schools, shall be established in each county of thisState.”

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

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

At the meeting of CountyCommissioners held on July 22, 1825, a petition was presented asking forthe organization of a school district, and the petition was granted andthe 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 southof 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 includedthe west half of Rushville Township within its boundary.

Jonathan D. Manlove, oneof the early pioneer settlers and among the first school teachers of thecounty, tells of the attempt to establish free schools in Schuyler Countyin 1826. He says: “The first school house in the county was built nearBenj. 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 imperfectlaw, the first in the State that was called a free school law. But at thatearly period the same difficulty in regard to the ways and means and locationof school houses existed that too often yet exist, and the school housewas 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 anotherby 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 tothe summer of 1826, when I taught a school in a log cabin, where Mr. Little’shouse now stands northeast of Rushville. The cabin was the largest onein the county, and had been occupied by a family not censurable for theGodly virtue of cleanliness, and was infested with a numerous progeny ofbugs, whose odorous perfume was not pleasant to the olfactories of teacheror pupils. They had prior possession, and had fortified and were takingpossession of the books and dinner baskets. We were compelled to declarea war of extermination. We procured a large iron kettle, and when readywith boiling water, all hands moved on the enemies’ works, and after along and bloody battle, succeeded in destroying all their army, excepta very considerable number of stragglers that returned early to their well-knownand impregnable hidings. Peace reigned in Warsaw, the six-inch bencheswere again occupied, and the daily supply of musk melons, which was furnishedby the teacher, was eaten; and all were happy and contented.”

The growth of the publicschool system, as now understood, was slow, and in a quarter of a centuryafter 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 purelyvoluntary 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 rudeseats fashioned from the slabs of logs with pegs driven into holes nearthe end for legs. Text books were few and did full duty where there happenedto be several children in one family. The children went to school wearingjeans and linsey, and it was not uncommon for the boys to be attired inbuckskin pantaloons and coon-skin caps.

It was in such fashion theschools 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 thecounty as complete and thorough as that of any county in our great State.

In reviewing the historyof the schools of Schuyler county we will first consider those of the cityof Rushville, where the growth from the rude log-cabin to the finely gradedschools of the present day present a most interesting study. The evolutionof the educational system was not accomplished without strife and bitterwarfare, but this is accounted for as more a difference of personal opinionthan an effort to embarrass the cause of education. The early pioneerswere men of earnest purpose and strong determination and, when differencesof opinion arose as to public school management, there was bitter internecinewarfare that, in some cases, lasted for years to the detriment of the rapidlygrowing system of education.

The first building erectedfor school purposes in Rushville was a small one-story brick house thatstood 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 wasLevi Lusk. In the winter of 1837-38, Upton Smith organized a subscriptionschool and occupied the attic of the old Methodist Episcopal church withhis classes. The attic was divided into two rooms, and the boys’ departmentoccupied the north room, while the girls were taught by a lady teacherin the south room. A few years later I. S. Wright and daughter taught inthe 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 theearly ‘forties on the south side of East Washington about a half a blockfrom the square. Miss Sarah McMacken, of Jacksonville, taught in a logschool building that was located on West Lafayette Street, between whereMrs. Little’s and Dr. Ball’s houses now stand, and Mrs. Houghland taughtin a log cabin located a little farther west. Mrs. Joseph Haskell was anotherof the pioneer teachers who had a school where the court house now stands.

Of the old pioneer teacherswho taught subscription schools in Rushville in the ‘forties Edward Bertholflived to see the development of the present day. Mr. Bertholf taught inthe old Methodist Church, and among his pupils was Francis Drake, who afterwardsbecame Governor of Iowa.

Following the era of smallsubscription schools we find that Rushville had its Western Seminary, CottageSeminary, Female Academy, Scripps’ Academy, The Seminary, M. E. ChurchHigh School, and Parrott High School, all of which flourished and thrivedfor a time, but eventually gave way before the progress of the system offree schools which eventually resulted in the formation of the RushvilleUnion 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 JamesL. Anderson purchased the lot where the Webster School building now standsand built The Seminary. The school was in charge of Alonzo J. Sawyer, afterwardsprominent in educational work in Chicago, with Miss Amelia Dayton and MissMatilda M. Williams as assistants. The rates of tuition ranged from $2.50to $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 withoutits public schools during this period, but they were small and no effortwas made to teach anything but the elementary branches, and the situationwas further complicated by reason of the fact that the city was in twoseparate school districts. It was when an endeavor was made to unite districts8 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 theSeminary on May 11, 1858, that was participated in by a number of Rushville’sleading citizens.

It appears that DistrictNo. 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 $75,000more taxable property, and they resisted the effort made to unite the twodistricts.

After the two districts wereunited by a vote of the people, some of the leading citizens of DistrictNo. 9 met and resolved to regain possession of their property, but theDirectors of No. 8, getting news of their intention, entered the buildingat night, nailed down the windows and barred the doors. The Directors ofNo. 9 gained possession the day following, when the former occupants decidedto take the building by storm and armed themselves with rails to batterdown the doors. This led to a general melee, and the Sheriff of the countywas called upon to establish peace. The matter was afterwards taken intocourt and was carried to the Illinois Supreme Court, where a decision wasrendered that declared the union of the two districts legal and the costswere assessed against District No. 9. Eleven years later, by the unionof District No. 3, in Buena Vista Township, and District No. 8, the RushvilleUnion School District was formed and was granted a special charter by theIllinois Legislature, the same being approved March 30, 1869.

Thus was the formation laidfor 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 sincecontinued and has resulted in the building up of the splendid school systemof the present day.

The first Board of Educationin 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, duringthe year 1870, a three-story brick building was erected on the site ofThe Seminary at a cost of $45,000. This building served for school purposesuntil destroyed by fire in September, 1893. On the site of the old buildingthe 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 necessaryto provide additional room, and the old Baptist church, in the same block,was purchased and used for primary grades. Again in 1893 there was needfor still greater expansion, and a two-story brick building was erectedin the east part of the city at a cost of $8,000, which is used for primarygrade pupils.

The Rushville Union Schoolswere graded by John F. Gowdy, in 1869, and, in 1871, when the new buildingwas first occupied, they were brought to a high standard of excellenceby 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 graduatedfrom the Rushville High School. Mr. Smith established the school on a solideducational basis and continued as Superintendent until 1887, when he wassucceeded by Nathan T. Veatch and, for fourteen years, the schools mademost excellent progress under his direction. Henry H. Edmunds, was Superintendentfrom 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, whois now in charge.

The following history ofthe 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 OaklandTownship was taught by a Mr. Preston in a log cabin built by FrederickNoble, on the southeast quarter of Section 24, in the summer of 1835. Scholarsin 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 schoolland in June, 1837.

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

The first school in BrooklynTownship was taught by Richard Kellough in a log cabin in the village in1837. The first school house was built in 1842. The school section wassold March 25, 1841.

The first school in BirminghamTownship was taught in a log cabin in the village by William Neill in thewinter of 1837. The following named persons were appointed by the SchuylerCounty 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 SixteenthSection was sold April 7, 1847.

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

Huntsville has had many excellentteachers. Miss Mary Hart of Connecticut taught the school south of Huntsvilleduring the summer of 1836. H. E. Bryant, afterwards banker at Bement, MissEunice Kimbal, an eastern lady, and Alvin Bacon, each taught several termsat Huntsville. Miss Letitia Biscoe taught in a log cabin near Shilo. Thewindows of this cabin consisted of an opening between the logs, which wasprotected by a board fastened up with a strap. The first frame school housein Huntsville was built about 1840. The township school land was sold April8, 1839.

The first school in CamdenTownship was taught by John Thornhill in 1836 in a neglected cabin builtby a squatter in 1835 on Section 18. The second school was taught in thewinter of 1838-39 by George L. Gray. On Christmas Day Mr. Gray was fastenedout by the big boys until he would promise to treat to a toddy. He finallyyielded and furnished the money, when a boy by the name of Brown went towhatis now Brooklyn for the whiskey. The toddy was made in buckets and theteacher and pupils enjoyed it together and harmony was restored. The ratefor tuition was $1.50 per quarter. John Anderson taught in the northernpart of what is now the village of Camden in 1839. A brief descriptionof this school house, may, with very few changes, apply equally well toany of our early “temples of learning” in which the youth were wont towoo the Goddess of Wisdom.

It was built of logs, aswere all the houses at that time. The fireplace occupied nearly the wholeof one side of the room and a recess in the wall. After reaching a heightof about six feet, the logs were placed straight across that side of theroom, and the chimney of sticks was continued up on the outside of thehouse. It had a pincheon floor and seats, and greased paper placed betweenthe 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 inSchuyler was built in Buena Vista Township in 1828 on the northwest quarterof 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 ofSection 22. In 1843-44 he taught at the cross-roads. The subscription rateswere paid in various kinds of produce; one patron agreeing to pay a certainnumber 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, andthe teacher employed Jacob Snyder to collect for him. Another teacher ofthe same school was Mr. Wheadon. Instead of the usual mottoes around theroom, each pupil could read the penalty for certain offenses–so many lashesfor talking aloud; so many lashes for fighting; so many lashes for quarrellinggoing to or from school, and other rules with the penalty.

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

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

The first session of schoolin Hickory Township was taught by a Mr. Sheldon in 1838, in a cabin builton the bluffs. There were but two small fractions of Section 16 in thistownship.

The first school in Frederickwas held in a private cabin built by Horatio Benton. The first school housewas built in 1846, a small one-story frame building, afterwards used asa town hall.

The first school in Bainbridgewas in a log cabin built for the purpose on Section 22, about the year1830. The first teachers were John Keeton, a Mr. Sexton, John Parker, JosephBell and James M. Stevens. John Greene taught school in the winter of 1835-36in a log cabin built on the northeast quarter of Section 1. Samuel Haines,James Lawler and Nathan Winshall were appointed trustees at the June termof court, 1836. The school land was sold December 5, 1836.

The first school in WoodstockTownship was taught by John Taylor in 1827. The first school in the northernpart of the township was taught by Charles Hatfield, in 1833, in a housebuilt that fall of elm poles in an elm grove near Joshua Griffith’s. Thepupils and teacher mixed the mud on the floor of the school house, afterschool began, with which they daubed the house at recesses and noon. Pupilsin attendance were William T. and Isaac Black, children of Richard Black;Sarah and Rebecca, children of Jacob Fowler; Houston and Elihu, childrenof Allen Alexander; James and Thomas, children of Isaac Sanders; Anderson,Isaac S. and Pressly, children of Mrs. Amelia S. Riley. The day beforeChristmas Anderson and Pressly Riley took the teacher out and wallowedhim in snow and left him tied, because he would not treat to whiskey. Theteacher treated to two gallons of whiskey on New Year’s.

In the same school housetaught Thomas Binkly, Mr. Johnson, Enoch Boughton, Faunton Muse, and RobertGlenn.

While the strife for theChristmas treat was going on, when Mr. Muse was teacher, he attempted todescend the spacious chimney, when one of the boys threw water on the coalsin the fireplace which nearly caused him to fall, but he managed to crawlout and promised the usual treat.

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

Excerpted from HistoricalEncyclopedia of Illinois and History of Schuyler County, 1908, editedby Howard F. Dyson.
Transcribed by Robin Petersenfor Schuyler County ILGenWeb

Copyright 1999-2001 RobinL. W. Petersen; all rights reserved. For personal use only. Commercialuse of the information contained in these pages is strictly prohibitedwithout prior permission. If copied, this copyright must appear with theinformation.


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