Madison County Historical Society

 
 

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Township Schools Set By Districts

 
 

Before the days of public schools, financial support was attained through public subscription.  That meant individuals who were determined to educate their children paid the entire cost directly from their own pockets.  Typical of that system in Madison County was Lafayette Township.

Originally part of Richland Township, the area was first settled by Henry Ry, a native of North Carolina, in the spring of 1831.  The population began to grow, and by 1836, the inhabitants were seeking permission to separate from Richland Township and form their own township.  Permission was received.  On November 9, 1836, Lafayette Township was officially organized.

The township contains 36 square miles and is a perfect square, six miles wide and six miles long.  The unique shape allowed for the even placement of its first one-room schoolhouses. 

Initially, they were arranged in three orderly rows of three schools each generally two miles apart and numbered sequentially 1 through 9.  Five more were added later, bringing the grand total to fourteen sites.

The first schoolhouse was constructed in 1840 at the intersection of 100 West and 300 North and was later known as District 7, or the Meade school.  It was a log cabin with a large fireplace at one end.

The pupils sat on puncheon seats, which were half logs smoothed on one side for seating and supported by wooden legs.  John R. Penisten was the first teacher.  Three years later a hewn log building was erected in the same place replacing the first one.  Thomas G. Clark was the first teacher in this building.

On each of the two log walls at a height of about five feet, a portion of a log six or eight feet in length was omitted.  In this space would be attached oiled paper which admitted a dim, yellowish light.  Beneath the windows and secured to the walls were hewn slabs.  These served as desks for the pupils.

Public subscription ended in 1857 when the public school system was organized in Indiana.  The first free school was held in a frame building erected in District 7 near the site of its two predecessors.  It was a frame building.  By this time there were five schools in the township, the other four were made of hewn logs.  Five years later, there were nine free schools in the township and all of the buildings were frame.

Each school was located near the center of its geographical district and designated by a number which was the same as the district number.  Puncheon seats were still used.  The text books were readers, arithmetic and spelling books.  The buildings were heated by wood burning stoves.  Each teacher would chop his own wood with the help of the larger pupils. 

Now a Home 

The frame school buildings were in use until 1874 when the first brick schoolhouse was erected in District 7.  The building survives today and has been converted to a private residence still at the original location of its three predecessors.

During the next 10 years, all the frame schoolhouses were replaced by brick structures with the last being the District 4 building in 1884.  A brick yard was opened a half-mile north of Florida Station to supply the needed bricks.

The first nine brick school buildings built in Lafayette Township in Madison County are:

  • District No. 1 Wilson, built c. 1879
  • District No. 2 Prairie, built c. 1880
  • District No. 3 Salem, built c. 1875;  second one built c. 1900
  • District No. 4 Beech Grove, built 1884
  • District No. 5 Keller, built c. 1882
  • District No. 6 Free, built c. 1876
  • District No. 7 Meade, built c. 1874
  • District No. 8 Elm Grove, built c. 1881
  • District No. 9 Closser, built c. 1878
  •  

In 1890, it became necessary to establish District No. 10 in the township's Section 36, which encompassed a part of North Anderson, causing the first of two North Anderson schools in that district to be erected.  The first was a frame schoolhouse and was used for four or five years. 

Center of the County 

The population of North Anderson increased rapidly in the 1890s due in large part to the discovery of natural gas.  The increased enrollment was too much for the small building and it was decided to close it and build a larger one.

The frame building was abandoned and arrangements were made to send the children to the Mount Hope School in Anderson Township until a new brick building was opened in 1903 on School Street.  The new school was called the Jefferson School.  It eventually became part of the Anderson schools and was closed sometime after the erection of North Anderson Elementary School in 1939.

In 1892, School No. 11, a one-room school, was erected in Linwood on the south side of 600 North near the center of the community.  It served the children of Linwood until 1920. 

In 1894, No. 12, a two room school, was built at Florida Station serving that community until 1929.  School No. 13, a three room building, was built at Linwood in 1920 to replace the smaller No. 11.  With the closing of the 1956-57 school year, this building was shuttered and pupils were transferred to the Leach School.  The building is now the Madison County Civil Defense headquarters.

The Leach School, opened in 1929, was the last one built in Lafayette Township.  It had the distinction of sitting quite close to the geographical center of Madison County.  The school was a consolidation of Beech Grove, Elm Grove, Closser, Keller, Prairie and Florida Station.  Leach educated the children of Lafayette Township for the next 71 years before closing its doors in 2000.

The children of Lafayette Township are now part of the West Central and the Anderson Community Schools corporations.  Before closing, there is one more schoolhouse to mention.

It was a one-room log school located on the northwest corner of 200 North and 100 West.  This old Lafayette Township school does not appear in the school records of the township;  perhaps it was considered an Anderson Township school.

It was replaced by the first Mount Hope School, built in 1871, which was located a short distance away in Anderson Township.  No more was heard of the old school after 1871, except the occasional mention by area old timers.

Taking into account all the schoolhouses erected in Lafayette Township from the first one in 1840 to the last one in 1929 makes a total of 28.  Nine of them are still standing.  Eight are private residences while one houses a county organization.  The eight which are currently residences are:  Salem, Beech Grove, Keller, Meade, Elm Grove, Closser, Florida Station and Linwood.

They are beautiful to see and it makes an interesting drive to view these historic structures and to ponder their unique role in the development of Lafayette Township. 

 By Stephen T. Jackson, Madison County Historian  

 Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765) 683-0052|madisonchs@sbcglobal.net

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