The one-room legacy


“When September comes each year and the first school bells ring there always awakens within us to get our books out and follow their summons.” Mabel Swain Estes

Mabel Swain Estes and her brother, Tom Swain, were educated in the one-room rural schools of Edgar County during the last quarter of the 19th century.

She writes of the time when she was six years old in 1887 and starting school. She dressed in her second best dress, grabbed her Sheldon’s primer, a double slate protected with felt, her new dinner bucket and headed out the door. She then went through a cornfield so the Whitmer girls could accompany her, then through Dick Ogle’s woods and pasture. The girls crossed Sugar Creek on an old bridge and up the hill to Sugar Creek Point School.

This was a one-room, one-story brick building constructed for a meetinghouse and school. Church was held there occasionally, and it had a board fence on two sides of the schoolyard. There were hand painted signs on the fence advertising some of the businesses in Paris like Scholem’s Dry Goods, Easton School Supplies, Owen and Miller Boots and Shoes, O. B. Gordon Groceries, Nussbaum Men’s Hats and Clothes and many others. That schoolhouse still stands and has been made into a home on 1200th Road, just a quarter of a mile west of the bridge on the south side.

Estes’ first teacher was John Burchitt, a gentle and just teacher, who walked out from Paris every morning to teach. He chose one afternoon each week for an elocution day where students presented information and their thoughts.

Mr. Savage taught next using a new style of teaching called manual and guide, which was at first confusing to the students. He also adapted information from the state reading associations that had books for reading and became known as English Class.

After the men teachers, she had two young women teachers who were taught by Savage. They were Lelia Pear and Ella Whitmer, who later married a Swain. Pear went on to teach in Paris Schools. Ella Dillon from Scottland appeared next and stayed in the home of Charles Graham, just west of the school about a half-mile. This teacher was known for leading her students in song with organ accompaniment by Anna Morris or one of the Parson girls. Some of the families in the Sugar Creek area then were: Brown, Means, Hoover, Hamilton, Bussart, Shipley, Claybaugh, Devers, Givens and Baker.

In the winter of 1891, the Swain family moved to Buck Township and Mabel and Tom Swain started attending Pilot Grove School. Their teacher was a young man by the name of Orah O’Hair, who had just graduated from the college at Greencastle, Ind. The first students she met at Pilot Grove were Herbert and Grace Lycan, Cleveland Preston, Charles and Frank Englum, Myrtle and Stella Wright and Stella Querry.

The end of February brought bad weather as the semester ended and the students did not attend for about another month. Blanch Schendeker began as their teacher. She lived in Paris, but drove her horse named Dick to school each day. During that time several new students began attending as more people were moving to Buck Township. They were: Will Sims, Manor Mayfield, John Cash, William Lilly and Thomas Kelly. The students all admired this teacher’s little gold watch with a bird embossed on the back of it.

Pilot Grove School was located on 800th Street north of 1200th Road, about one mile on the east side. There is nothing there now, but it was named for a nearby farmstead with a large house surrounded by woods. It was considered to be a stopping place for early settlers arriving in Buck Township and sat on a hill overlooking the prairie.

The next fall a young lady by the name of Grace Green, who had just finished Paris High School, came to teach. Estes remembered that she was the daughter of John Green and had three sisters who were Jennie, Jessie and Rae.

It just so happens that Rae Green Stanley was my grandmother and John Green was my great-grandfather. She did leave out another sister named Elizabeth Dorcas, who married Frank Black. Grace Green boarded on the Lee Cryder farm and was remembered for wearing very pretty clothes.

Back in those days teachers changed often as the ladies got married and the men found new jobs. Along came Ora Morris, whom Estes had gone to school with at Sugar Creek Point. Estes stated this young teacher fresh from Paris High School quickly adapted to a pretty mature teacher, only occasionally acting with girlishness behavior.

She lived about seven miles east of the school on the T.H.O. Morris farm. In good whether she drove a horse and stayed with neighbors when it got bad. She later married Will Henn and was known for her music ability. Estes remembered the students lustily singing “Summer Time” and “Lightly Rowed Our Little Boat.”

The final teacher she wrote about was Mattie Stewart, who lived near Maple Grove School, which was three miles east of Pilot Grove. She later became the first wife of Herbert Lycan.

Walter Kimble collected this information in the 1970s, and it is in the archives of the Edgar County Historical Society.