Spencer County Schools


From The Rockport Journal, March 11, 1921


A History of the Early Schools From the

Settlement of the State to the

Civil War.


Some Interesting Experiences.


Written for the Southwestern Indiana Historical Society by David Morgan, an early teacher of Spencer county, now living in Pittsburg, Kan.


Probably the first school taught in Spencer county was taught by a woman by the name of Susan Tucker at or near Eureka in the year 1816.  She taught there also in 1817 and 1818.


In the year 1870 I made a diligent effort to learn something of the life history of this woman but failed.  I was then teaching in Luce township.  Louis Richardson told me that if anybody could inform me on this subject, it was Gen. James C. Veatch.  Richardson thought that Gen. Veatch went to school to her.  So I rushed off to Rockport to interview Gen. Veatch.  The General laughingly told me he did not remember much about the Tucker woman as she taught school in Eureka before he was born and six or eight years before his father moved to Luce township.  However, I spent a pleasant day and learned much about the teachers of Spencer county from 1833 to 1870.


Gen. Veatch had been a teacher himself and taught his first school in Luce township in 1839.  He knew all three of the Luces who were teachers and went to school to both David and Benjamin, also to Sylvester Jessup.  Benjamin Luce taught as early as 1820.  Jessup was a Yankee with moderate education.  He entered land about three miles west of Rockport and died there.  This land is now owned by Amos P. Wright of Rockport.  Other early teachers of Luce township were William Bowland, eldridge Hopkins and Joseph Arnold.  Arnold taught at Taylorsport in 1825.


It would be hardly fair not to mention Richland school in this article because Richland has the best school now in Luce township.  Before 1870 the people who lived in this little town attended the country schools around close.  In 1870 a two story frame building was erected in the town proper and was the beginning of the present splendid high school.  The first teachers were J. W. Wilson and Maria Pattee, two splendid teachers and from that day to this Richland has had nothing but the very best teachers and see the results.  The pupils of the school should have for a motto “Vida et Crede” and the patrons should point with pride to their accomplishment and say to the rest of Spencer county “Go thou and do likewise.”


Where and when the first schools were taught in Ohio township or Rockport are matters of dispute and I shall not attempt to settle the question, but shall give the dates and places which have the best evidence to offer.  I think the honor of being the first teacher in this township belongs to Asel W. Dorsey, he having settled about three miles west of Rockport in 1811 and as late as 1829 he was still teaching having taught in almost every township in the county.  It is known that he built the first house in Rockport and taught there in 1817.  This building was on the bluff, south side of Walnut street where Dr. F. M. Hackleman now lives.  George Moffett taught at the Knobs in 1819 also at a place near Sunset cemetery in 1822.  John Dougherty taught at the Knobs in 1820.  Both Moffett and Dougherty taught in Rockport in the early twenties but I do not know where.


William Price taught in Rockport in 1825 in J. B. Greathouse’s tannery.  This was the largest school taught in Rockport up to this time.  I have heard many amusing stories about this school.  Everybody had a different book and was in a class by himself.  First come, first served.  Price being an early bird was always there by sun up and had a roaring fire going.  Reading being the principal subject taught, the first pupils to arrive commenced reciting his reading lesson and then the next one and so on until all had read.  Now the people of the town had different ideas about what children should read.  Mrs. Morgan, being a strict Presbyterian of Scotch-Irish descent, furnished her children with bibles and I still have one of the bibles used in that school in my possession.  But none of her descendants that I know of ever became a preacher or had their religious traits abnormally developed.  Thomas P. Britton, who himself was quite a scholar, full of fun and loved a joke better than any man that ever lived in Spencer county, furnished one of his boys with a horse doctor book and yet none of his descendants ever became a veterinary surgeon so far as I know.  James Wakefield, who was then county clerk, furnished his children with copies of the proceedings of the first Indiana Legislature, yet none of his descendants became lawyers or politicians.  Dr. Stephen Cissna furnished his daughter Bunyons Pilgrim Progress.  At one time I had quite a list of books used in this school, but perhaps I have stated enough to give you an idea of the variety used.


His manner of conducting spelling classes was also unique.  Just before noon he had all the older pupils stand up in a row and each pupil pronounce to him from one to three words selected from the various readers.  These words he would spell and require the class to spell in unison.  Again in the evening at closing time he had the class stand up and he pronounced the same words to the class, beginning at the head and spelling around, any one who missed was turned down.


He could also teach arithmetic to and including the “Double Rule of Three.”  Now, before you extend your smile into a broad laugh, hunt up a copy of Greenlief’s arithmetic as published in that day and if you can work all the examples given without applying algebraic solutions then the treat is on me.


From 1825 to 1835 there were many teachers in the town and township, most of them of the kind that believed that “Licking and learning” went together.  A few however, did good work and deserve mention.  Among these were Dr. Stevens, Dr. Moore, James Robb, William Thomas and Paddy Duncan.  Duncan was teaching in the first court house when it burned down in 1833.  He was said to be a witty Irishman, a fairly good teacher, handy with a beech switch and a judge of good whiskey.  This last qualification was not much discredit to him for nearly everybody drank whiskey in that day.


The Rockport schools had their real beginning in 1835 when the Seminary building was opened for school purposes.  Allen Kincheloe was the first teacher.  No article on the schools of Spencer county would be complete with a sketch of this prince of teachers.


Allen L. Kincheloe was born and raised in Breckenridge county Ky., and died in Rockport, Indiana in February, 1874.  Mr. Kincheloe educated and prepared himself for the teachers profession and followed it until his death.  I am sorry that I can not state the schools in which he received his training but from 1830 until his death he was considered one of the best, if not the very best educated man in the county.


When he came to Spencer county I am unable to determine.  His son Jesse W. Kincheloe in a biographical sketch of himself found on page 468 of a history of Warrick, Spencer and Perry counties, states that his father, Allen L. Kincheloe came to Spencer county about 1835.  This must be a mistake because in November 1835 we find Mr. Kincheloe teaching in the Seminary which was head and shoulders above every school in the county.  Besides there are other records where he taught school in the upper part of the county as early as 1827.  Mr. Kincheloe himself told me that he taught his first school in Spencer county at or near Santa Claus and that he taught near Gentryville and at other places in the northern part of the county before he came to Rockport.


Mr. Kincheloe was about 5 feet 10 inches in height, slender built, looked taller than he really was, had black hair and eyes and a dark complexion.  The manhood that we so much admired was in his head and heart and not in his muscles or his stomach.  His moral life was absolutely pure and clean.  He was a devout Christian and a consistant and faithful member of the Methodist church.  His language was pure and simple.  He was a master of English and avoided all obscure or strictly technical terms.  The common people were always able to understand him and the learned marveled at the simplicity and perfection of the language in which he expressed his thoughts.


The teachers who followed Mr. Kincheloe in the Seminary were some of them prominent men.  They were James C. Veatch, John H. Smith, Mr. Bedwell, J. B. Harris, Dr. C. W. Gabbert, T. B. Adams, W. C. Smith, Wm. Sherman and Ralph Smith.  There were two women who taught in the Seminary, Isabella Lamb and a Mrs. Morgan.  Ralph Smith was the last teacher the building sold in 1855.


The Seminary did not entirely take the place of the public schools for schools were taught in many buildings in various parts of the town by Allen Kincheloe, J. B. Harris, W. L. Partridge, Jonas Sanders, Thomas D. Boyer, John Bean, Fannie Markle, Lottie Ferguson, Sallie Wilmot, Fannie Bullock and Mrs. John Atkinson.  This brings us down to 1860 and here I am going to stop.


The principal places where schools were taught from 1850 to 1860 were the basement of the Methodist church which stood facing 5th St. between Elm and Elbow streets immediately north of the Alley.  The auditorium was on the second floor and was entered from a platform or porch which was erected in front o the church and reached by a flight of outside stairs.  The basement was under the entire building and divided into three rooms.  Another building was a two room frame building facing 5th St., between Elbow and Washington street.  These buildings were about a block apart but on opposite sides of the street.  The house in the third district was on 6th street between Walnut and Seminary streets.  This was a two story frame building originally built for a carpenter shop.


The school taught under the church was always taught by Kincheloe as principal.  The school under the hill as generally taught by Boyer or Partridge, but Jack Bean, Sallie Wilmot, Fannie Bullock and Sanders also taught there.  In the old carpenter shop, Harris, Sanders and Atkinson generally taught.


Now before closing this article on Ohio township schools, I want to mention Mr. and Mrs. John Atkinson for two reasons.  Mrs. Atkinson was my first teacher in 1857 and because when I was teaching in Spencer county, all her sons were successful teachers at the same time.  Mrs. Atkinson was my staunch friend until her death and her boys, those that are living, are still my friends.


John Atkinson was born in Ireland in 1812.  He graduated in law and literature from one of the best colleges in Dublin.  He came to America in 1837 and to Spencer county in 1849.  In 1838 he married in Albany, N. Y., Maria Antoinette De Hule (This don’t sound much like an Irish name.)  Atkinson was a large man physically, as well as intellectually and among his accomplishments he was a fine violinist and a fair singer.  For a number of years he played the violin in the Presbyterian church and led the choir in the singing.  In that day instrumental music was not popular in the churches and many religious people abhorred a violin.  Many of our Methodist and Baptist friends thought that Atkinson carried the Devil to church with him every Sunday morning.  Many years after this I was talking with Royal S. Hicks about music in the church, and the conversation drifted to the Presbyterian church in Rockport.  Hicks said he did not know whether the Devil was in Atkinson’s fiddle or not, but that he was a devil of a good fiddler and he liked devilish well to hear him play.


Mrs. Atkinson was smaller than the average woman, trim, neat and a good dresser.  Her hair was curly and she always wore long curls.  I never saw her face when it did not bear a smile.  She was kind, gentle, affectionate, persuasive.  Living in a day when the discipline in the school room was fierce, if not terrible, she believed in and practiced kindness and moral suasion and her smile seemed to produce as good order as Sander’s cane or Boyer’s switch.  She had a room fitted up in her own home and always taught there.  When I attended her school she lived on what is now the public square.  The house faced Walnut street about midway between Second and Third streets.  Our play ground was under a large weeping willow tree that stood by the street side in front of the house.


The first school taught in Hammond township, was taught in an abandoned log hut on the present site of Grandview by Thomas Miller in 1821.  Miller was a man of very limited education and only taught reading, writing and spelling.  It was a very difficult matter to get accurate data about the early schools of this township or on any of the early teachers.  It was known that there were schools taught in Newtonville and other points very early in the history of the township but reliable data could not be found.  It seemed to be the general opinion that most of the early teachers were wandering nomads traveling about from “post to pillar” teaching school because they were too lazy to do anything else, but it is my opinion that Hammond township did not suffer from these “Wandering Willies” any more than the rest of Southern Indiana.  Among the early teachers well spoken of by the old settlers were the names of William Bevons, Josiah Crawford, John Shrode, Owen Davis, John Howard, Bazaleel Newton, George Walters, Milton Cotton and Mrs. Mosby.  Very reliable and accurate data can be found and much praise be given to the schools of Hammond township since 1860 to the present time but with that period I am not dealing.  I want to say that the schools of Grandview and Newtonville are hard to beat.


The first school taught in Carter township was taught by Joab Hungate in a rude log hut near the present site of Dale in the year 1920.  (1820? - Ed.)  Hungate organized a very fair school here and the children for miles around attended his school.  He was one of the very best of early teachers and received the magnificent sum of eight dollars per month and took half his pay in grain.  He probably got his board extra and “boarded around”.  Another school was taught about three miles south of Dale in 1822 by a man named Harding.  The other teachers who are known to have taught here are Asel W. Dorsey, James Bryant and William Price.  It is said that Abraham Lincoln attended school in this cabin and received what little education he got from these three men.  In 1840 the first substantial log house was built at the cross roads that afterwards became Dale.  The first school taught there was taught by Samuel Watson afterward Hardin, Kirkpatrick, Allen Kincheloe, Jonas Sanders and Mrs. Mosby.  These were first class teachers and left their imprint on the community.  In fact Carter township from the beginning was blessed by having good teachers.


The first school in Grass township was probably taught by William Thomas near the town of Bloomfield in the year 1821.  He taught here two or three terms and was followed by Thomas Jones.  Jones was probably the most savage of the early wielders of the hickory withe (A twig of willow. -Ed).  It was said he was familiar with only one passage of scripture and that was “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”  He was cross eyed and could whip three or four boys at a time for no one could tell by the way he looked where he was going to strike.  There is a tradition in that neighborhood that Jones could see up and down, front and back and round and round all at the same time.  He was regarded as a very good teacher.


Joab Hale taught the first school near Midway in 1830.  Little is known of him.  Owen Davis taught in the township in 1832.  He also taught in Hammond township and elsewhere in the county.  He used the Turkish method of the so-called loud school.  Under this method the pupils not only recited out loud, but each one studied out loud all the time.  It is said that when not engaged in hearing recitations Davis amused himself by playing the violin.  Perhaps a brass band playing all the time would have added to the interest and morale of his school.  Some of the old timers told me that he kept a threshing machine running in his school most of the time.


Among the teachers who taught early in the township and did much to improve the schools and deserve especial mention were John D. and Milton M. Cotton, James Bryant and Allen Kincheloe.  These men and a few others whose names I failed to get, kept the school interest alive around and about Bloomfield and Centerville from 1822 to 1835.  Bloomfield had one of the very best of the early schools.  Chrisney was built up around a country cross road school and is now a lively town with good schools.  Centerville was also built up around a country school house and more than one time had aspirations to be the county seat.


The first schools in Clay township was taught in the Old Pigeon church by James Bryant.  He taught several schools here and in many other places in the county.  His services were always in demand.  He probably taught more schools in the upper part of the county than any other teacher in the early days.  Many of the old settlers remember him and all spoke of him in the highest terms.  Asel W. Dorsey taught near Buffalo in 1822.  John H. Brown taught near Lincoln City in 1822.  Wm. Crawford taught near Buffalo in the year 1823.  The first school was taught at Santa Claus in 1823 by Shadrack Hall.  He was followed in this school by Jonathan Greathouse.  Hall became sheriff in 1837 and moved to Rockport and died there.  Greathouse was Hall’s father-in-law and a brother to John B. Greathouse, an early settler of Rockport.  It was claimed by some of his descendants that he taught school earlier than the date given, but this could not be verified.  John Prosser and John W. Crooks taught at Santa Claus as well as elsewhere in the upper part of the county.  Schools were taught in Clay City as early as 1825.  Watson, Bryant and Crooks, all taught there.  In 1830 there were five or six good schools taught in Clay township.


I know very little about the schools of Huff and Harrison townships.  What information I had on these schools I got from William Huff and John B. Huffman both early settlers of these townships.  Mr. Huff told me that many of the early settlers attended school at Troy, in Perry county, which has one of the best of the early schools taught by such men as Solomon Lamb, David Luce and other well educated men.  I have lost the notes I had on the schools of these townships and will not trust my memory to name any of the early teachers.


I have given you the names of the best teachers that I knew or heard of and have done the best I can.  I may have missed some of the best early teachers but I did not intentionally.  Many of the early teachers did the best they knew how and some got by the best they could.  The services of all were worth as much or more than the compensation they received.  Let us charitably say that both the pioneer teacher and parents did the best they could under the circumstances and let us thank them as well as God for the present splendid school system that we now enjoy.


Much has been said about the early school houses and some may think that little or nothing could be added to what has already been said.  At the risk of being considered tiresome I am going to say something about these early houses, their furniture, their equipment, their sanitary condition and the physical and spiritual life under these conditions.  I shall endeavor to state nothing but actual facts, or at least actual facts as related to me by reliable people who lived under the conditions.  It has been said that “As is the teacher, so is the school”.  I do not believe this to be true.  I would not say anything against the value of the influence of the teacher but I believe that the school is as the community is.  The good teacher is generally found in the good community.


Some of the early schools were taught in homes, some in abandoned log huts, others in rude log houses carelessly slung together at as little expense as possible.  Imagine what a lovely time a teacher would have in teaching in a home of one room 14 by 14 feet or 16 by 16 feet square with a family of from six to twelve children eating, sleeping and being cared for in the same room.  Oh! it must have been glorious.  No wonder that they handed down to us the saying the “school was just like the teacher.”  Even the people of this day knew that it was better to segregate the school from the home so they as soon as possible began to have separate places for schools and began to build school houses.  According to descriptions of many early settlers these houses were much alike—some were bad and others worse.  I got James P. Bennett, William Stateler, James Barnett and Absolum Brady, all early settlers, to describe these buildings for me.  Their stories were so near alike one would have thought they were describing the same building.


As well as I can remember, here is what Mr. Bennett told me of a school house that stood near the Sunset Hill cemetery.  It was a round log building 22 feet by 18 feet with a clapboard roof fastened on with poles and a first class dirt floor with nothing between the floor and the roof.  There was a fireplace in each end and a door in one side near the middle.  One end of the school was for girls, the other for boys.  The seats were made by splitting a log in two, hewing the split side and boring four holes for legs in the round side.  These legs were set at such an angle that they would not turn over very easily.  The desks were made the same way only the legs were longer.  These desks set around the room against the wall and the seats in front of them.  When using the desk the pupils faced the wall, when not using it they faced outward.  The door was made of clapboards and hung on wooden hinges.  The window was made by cutting out one of the logs for nearly the whole length of the house.  This space was left open and not only admitted light but air, rain, snow, bats, owls, wild cats and other things that went with frontier life.


Joseph C. Richardson told me that this open window was used almost entirely until 1834 when some one in the upper part of the county used greased paper to cover the opening.  Then greased paper became common and was used in many homes as well as schools.  It is said that the first school house to have glass windows was the Seminary building, built in 1835.  Gen. Veatch told me that these windows had two sashes each containing six lights, 8 x 10 inches square.  The lower sash was made so that it would slip up and down to admit air.


But I must get back to my Sunset school house.  The teacher’s desk set in the center of the room was a rude home made affair.  It was not a specimen of art or a thing of beauty but it answered the purpose.  Here the teacher spent much of his time making goosequill pens and writing copy across the “head line” of fools-cap paper.  (According to one dictionary, foolscap paper is a sheet of writing or printing paper measuring approximately 13 by 16 inches.  It may have had a fools cap as a watermark. – Ed.)  The teacher was equipped with a good pen knife and a bundle of goose quills, and had to manufacture pens for all of his pupils who were practicing writing.  He also had for his own use a bottle of store ink.  Most of the pupils used home made ink, generally made from polk berry juice which made a very fair quality of red ink.  At least the ink was about as good as the pupils writing.


Then there was the water bucket that usually stood on a block of wood near the floor and the gourd which hung on the wall near by it.  The water was brought from a nearby branch and had to be carried quite a distance, so that to save labor in carrying water the pupil who dipped up more water than he could drink always poured the rest back into the bucket.  Oh the horrors of the old cedar bucket, the brass bound bucket and the gourd that hung nigh it by the side of the old school house door.  As bad as this water supply was it was little if any worse than that in use at the beginning of the present century when the schools were supplied with galvanized iron buckets and tin dippers.  The dipper after being used for drinking purposes was “chucked” back into the bucket and remained there until the next thirsty victim came along and repeated the process.


All the school houses of an early day were not exactly like the one described above but after interviewing many of the old settlers I think it is at least as good as the average one if not better.  I shall not attempt to follow the evolution of school building from this crude beginning to the splendid structures of today but can not help wondering if the next one hundred and twenty years will see as much improvement as the last one hundred and twenty.  Let us hope that they will do better.  The first improvement in the old log pen was to floor it, taking the children off the ground.  From 1840 to 1850 we had hewed log houses.  In the fifties we got the frame school house.  Most of their floor plans were an oblong.  The windows were on either side and the door in the end, a huge box stove in the center of the building.  The desks still followed the old plan entirely around the house but they were made of lumber instead of split logs.


The first patent desks put into any country school were put into the old Forest Grove school in 1867 by George B. Bullock, trustee.  They were made by Arnold and Hosea Merithew of Rockport.  D. H. Morgan was teaching there at the time.  Forest Grove was one of the early schools and I think had the first frame building of any of the country schools.  This school was located on the old Troy and Darlington road about five miles west of Rockport.  The Darlington road was the first one surveyed and marked out in Spencer county, and there is still a strip of it in use beginning just west of Forest Grove school house and ending in Luce township.


About the year 1840 slates and pencils began to appear and this noisy unsanitary nuisance rapidly gained in favor until nearly every pupil in school was supplied with one of the horrible pieces of equipment.  When black boards made their first appearance, I do not know but they were not very common before the Civil War.  Joseph Scamahorn told me of his experience in putting a black board into Barnett’s school, now Rose Hill.  Some of the patrons were opposed to it but he readily got the consent of the majority.  He made the board himself and placed it in the school house.  Imagine his surprise on entering the school a few mornings later to find his board had been painted a bright red with polk berry juice.


Of all the foolish things introduced into the schools by the early teacher, the dunce block and cap surely was the worst.  For sarcastic ridicule they certainly deserve first place.  As some of the present day people never had an opportunity to see this kind of punishment in operation I shall describe it to you.  It consisted of a wooden block about one foot high and a conicle shaped cap about two feet long with the word dunce around the brow.  It generally had a feather protruding from the apex of the cone.  The culprit stood on the block, the cap adorned his head and there he stood to be laughed at by the rest of the school.  Ingersol could not have obtained the material for his Plummed Knight speech from this horrible picture.  There were other forms of punishment, such as standing on the floor, standing with your face in the corner of the room, standing on one foot, staying in at recess and after school; but the trump card was corporal punishment and many a luckless pupil got unmerciful trouncing, and that did not end it for he was sure of another one when he got home.


The games on the play ground were perspiration producing affairs.  They were town ball, (the father of baseball,) tip cat, hand ball, bull pen shinny, and andy-over.  There were races, jumping contests, base and prison base, wrestling and often a bare knuckle fist fight.  Fights were always finished affairs and were let go until one of the other of the combatants said he had enough.  Then they were separated.  The teacher managed never to see these fights and the pupils never told him.


From 1850 to 1860, a great tidal wave of educational enthusiasm swept over the entire state and many improvements were made in the school, of all kinds.  In 1852 the state adopted a new constitution and the school system was wonderfully improved under it in the next 30 years.  Indiana built what was considered the best school system in the United States.  But the Methodist church during this period was a great factor in pushing forward educational interest.  The Indiana conference conceived the idea of building a great educational system of their own to revolve around Asbury (now DePauw) University with academies and colleges distributed over the entire state.  The most noted of these schools was Moores Hill college in Dearborn county, which has recently been moved to Evansville.


One of these schools was located at Rockport and was to be a female college.  It was called the Rockport Collegiate Institute.  It was never a great success but for a few years was regarded a first class school.  It finally failed for the want of patronage and was sold to the City of Rockport and became the main part of the Rockport schools.  The building which is a good substantial brick one 40 x 70 feet, three stories high is still in use.  It was commenced in the year 1858.  The corner stone was laid in July of that year.  It was an impressive ceremony and I remember it well, but the building was not completed until 1863 and the first Methodist school commenced in September of that year.  This however, was not the first school taught in the building for Allen Kincheloe taught in this building before it was completed in the falls and winters of both 61 and 62.  I attended school there in both these years.


I did not intend to write anything about denominational or parochial schools or anything about the schools since 1860 as the above school is so intimately connected with the Rockport schools I thought best to speak of it here and I shall stop.



117 W. Madison, St.

Pittsburg, Kan.