The Early Schools of Union County
The first school-houses were generally built of logs, contained a single room and were located in the woods near a spring. Sometimes they were old dwellings. In the earliest days a log was taken out of the wall and over the opening was greased paper. Such were the windows. Below these slabs of wood were fastened obliquely to the wall. Here all the children wrote as it was lighter and as their long “backless benches” had no desks. In one end of the room was a huge fireplace around which the slats were arranged and in which big logs were burned.
Among the teachers of that early time was Elisha Wright who taught at Goodwin’s Corner about 1815. A year or so later Mr. Wilson, a Revolutionary War veteran, taught a little north of College Corner and Mr. Howe who had participated in the Boston Tea Party taught in College Corner where Bake and Hanna’s store now stands. About 1830 Thomas Garick taught in a frame school-house in the south-eastern part of Harmony Township. About the same time Mrs. Abraham Beck taught on Richland Creek in one room of her dwelling. She lived in the other and it is said that the girls of the school did her work and that the pupils burned smart-weed to keep off the gnats. One time she refused to treat and the girls were just ready to give her a ducking when she yielded. She treated with a quart of whisky which made most of the little ones drunk. Five years later Edgill Burnside, the father of General Burnside, taught in a school-house located on what is now Mr. A. F. Burt’s garden. Still later William Houghton, an Irish Quaker and a fine penman, taught at Beach Grove. Here he had the beginning of a scientific laboratory and made simple experiments. He held monthly examinations and in the evening the pupils often gave exhibitions. Sometimes instead of these he would show magic lantern views. The Quakers used to hold meetings on Thursdays about eleven o’clock and he and those of the pupils who wished to do so attended leaving the others at school in charge of one the older scholars. He at one time was the principle teacher of the Union County Seminary, a school held in the building which is now Mr. C. C. Hughes’s residence. Many of our older citizens received their education under Mr. Houghton and he will always have an honorable place in the early history of Union County. Dr. Hurty, the father of the present State Health Officer also taught in the county in the early days. One man refusing to treat was locked out and thinking to frighten the boys who inside procured some gunpowder and climbing down into the loft dropped the powder into the fire and then jumped to the floor. But the boys were not frightened for they caught and held him until he promised to accede to t heir demands. So according to custom he provided the apples and cider.
Teachers were paid by subscription getting about one dollar and seventy-five cents for three months in the winter. Sometimes they had a summer session for the little ones. The schools were ungraded and the pupils generally stopped attending when about fourteen years old. Neither did the teachers give reports. But they did not omit the whippings. Indeed some boys expected at least one a day.
The three R’s and spelling were about all that was taught. They first learned their A B C’s well. Then they had the Introduction to the English Reader followed by the English Reader itself which was principally English History. For the best readers they had a Bible class and for those not quite so good a class in the New Testament. These classes recited the first thing every day.
The writing was done with quill pens and sometimes with homemade ink on large sheets of course unruled white paper. The teacher made the pens, a new one each morning, and ruled the paper as it was needed. He also set the copies. One of these old-times copies ran thus:
God made man, man made money;
God made bees, bees made honey.
They used Webster’s Elementary Speller which was illustrated and which was at the same time a Grammar and a Reader. Later they had to spell and define one or two lines of words in a small Dictionary every day.. But the main thing was the spelling matches. These were a feature of the time and combined pleasure and profit.
Although a pupil was considered quite a mathematician if he had gone as far as the Single Rule of Three or Simple Proportion, he generally knew the multiplication tables well. In an old arithmetic of that time are found these names: Position, Practice and allegation which our modern school-boy would not recognize.
These schools and school-teachers of long ago served well their day and aged and to them all honor is due.
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