Blackford County (beta)

As of 2021, I count 14 schoolhouses (or what’s left of them) remaining in Blackford County, Indiana.

This may change as I continue to learn more about the county school systems.

Historical Overview

The earliest information about Blackford County’s schools is hard to come by since there are only scattershot historical records that detail it. We do know that some of Harrison Township’s earliest teachers were Franklin G. Bladwin -one of Blackford County’s first justice of the peace- along with Gideon W. Shannon, O.B. Boon, and H.C. Baldwin. The earliest teachers amongst Jackson Township’s ranks were William G. Sutton, Edward M. Crumley, and Robert H. Lanning, along with Cornelius Beal and Thomas Dean. Outside of Hartford City, some of Licking Township’s first teachers were Eli Rigdon- also an early county commissioner, Aaron McVicker, Elizabeth Hart, Christopher Clapper, and William W. Cline. In Washington Township, Edward Hughes, William McKee, Edmund Lockett, William A. Bonham, and Thomas Lillibridge were some of the early pioneers to teach the first schools (Shinn, 1900). 

These pioneers taught in basic schoolhouses, simply built and generally measuring no larger than twenty by twenty feet. Walls of notched logs slathered with mud or clay rose above simple, puncheon floors to an eight foot, peaked roof covered in shake shingles. A wide fireplace that terminated in a chimney made of mud held together by a simple framework of sticks was frequently located across the wall opposite the school’s entryway, while narrow “windows” made by cutting out a length of log five or six feet up each flanking wall provided natural illumination to the interior of the structure (Kemper, 1908).

Early schools were so simple largely due to a lack of money. As first established, each schoolhouse was funded predominantly by subscription, a sort of tuition paid to the school’s proprietor that also covered a salary for the teacher (Helm, 1881). Generally, these revenues were insufficient to finance a township’s schools for more than two or three months at a time. Sometimes, classes were taught months in advance leaving teachers waiting for their wages (Shinn).

The era of subscription schoolhouses ended in 1851, when the state of Indiana ratified a new constitution that provided for the basics of a township-based, common educational system (Natali, 2007). The School Law of 1852 expanded upon the new constitution, authorizing a schoolhouse fund and an official statewide Superintendent of Public Instruction, as well as a “general and uniform system of common schools, wherein tuition shall be with out charge, and equally open to all (Indiana, 1851).” Once funds were disbursed, Blackford County officials began converting the existing log schools into frame ones (Shinn), simultaneously improving courses of study, hiring teachers that were more qualified, and erecting new buildings when money was available.

Another consequence of The School Law of 1852 was that Blackford County’s townships were divided into school districts, generally two miles apart when practical. Even after districts were first established, schools to serve those districts were not always quick to be established: land for Washington Township’s district four school, for example, was not deeded until 1877 (A History, 1986). Since it took some time for the funds allocated in 1851 to be disbursed and trickle down to their recipients, some townships even canceled school for a year: Harrison Township, for example, did not hold any school sessions for the 1857-58 school year (Shinn) due to a lack of funds. 

Over time, early round-log buildings gave way to hewed-log structures, which were replaced by frame and finally brick schoolhouses. By 1905, Blackford County was home to forty-seven schoolhouses outside of its incorporated, including impressive, two-story structures such as the District 11 schoolhouse at Millgrove, which replaced an 1886 building that was lost to fire in 1902 (A history) but was soon replaced. 

Unlike neighboring Delaware County, which began consolidating schoolhouses as early as 1897 at the direction of a progressive superintendent of schools (Kemper), Blackford County’s school consolidation efforts were much slower, in general, beginning in 1907 as a law that compelled the closure of any school with fewer than twelve students (Kemper) was put into effect. That year, Licking Township’s District 3 schoolhouse, commonly known as Corn Cob, closed for good (Law, 1907).

Sixteen years later, five of Washington Township’s remaining schools consolidated into a new, six-room building at the site of the old Lillibridge school which had been erected for $30,000 (School, 1922). Over time, several of Licking Township’s nearby schools added to Washington’s attendance after they burned down. 

Though Harrison Township’s schools began to consolidate in 1910 with the closure of the Hoover and Schwartzkopf schoolhouses, the process wasn’t complete until 1921. It took three more years in order to construct a township-wide high school at Montpelier (Mayer, 1931). 

1953 saw the closure of the six-room Washington schoolhouse in favor of the $28,000, fifteen-room high school at Roll which had been first been built in 1917 (How, 1917) but featured a 1938 gymnasium along with a manual and agricultural training building added in 1950 (McBride, 1996).  

Licking Township was the penultimate district of Blackford County’s to consolidate, which it did in 1957, when a modern, six-room elementary school was built at a cost of $150,000. This led to the closure of the Guseman, Slater, Carney, and Ervin schools (School, 1956).

In 1958, Indiana’s State Commission for the Reorganization of School Corporations passed new guidelines for school districts specifying that, at a minimum, each must have a resident school population of at least 1,000 students in terms of average daily attendance, as well as an adjusted assessed valuation of at least $5,000 per pupil in average daily attendance (Delaware, 1959). In response, Washington Township combined with Harrison and Jackson Townships to form Montpelier Community Schools (Hartford, 1962), while Licking Township and Hartford City combined to form their own district per a unanimous vote (Vote, 1961). As a result, students in the upper four grades of Roll School were transferred to Montpelier (Four, 1962) six miles east. 

In 1963, a modern, 16,000-square foot Jackson Elementary near the site of its former District 7 schoolhouse opened as an elementary of the Montpelier Community School District. Its construction led to the closure of the old common schools at Trenton and Millgrove and ended Blackford County’s era of rural schoolhouses (New, 1964). 

In 1969, Blackford County’s two school districts combined as a $5.3 million, 56-classroom (New, 1967) Blackford County High School in Washington Township was completed less than a mile southeast of the 1923 Washington School. 

That year, the school at Roll was closed. Montpelier continued to house elementary classes in its 1938 building, while the old high school became a middle school. The 1938 Montpelier Elementary school was closed and demolished at the end of the 1998-99 school year, and the former high school was enlarged to become a middle school (McBride, 1998). In 2010, the old high school and then-elementary school was converted to an elementary school after the Blackford County School Board reconfigured the district by consolidating its seventh- and eight-grade students into a single building in Hartford City.

Due to an ailing budget, the Jackson Elementary School and Licking Elementary School, both part of the consolidated Blackford County Schools- closed in 1993 (Brown, 1993). In 1995, the former Jackson Elementary School became the new Blackford County Jail in a $3.4 million project that nearly doubled its size (Brown, 1994). The Licking Township Elementary School is now home to Blackford County Schools’ administrative offices.

Today, Blackford County Schools operates Northside Elementary, Blackford Intermediate, and Blackford Junior-Senior High School in Hartford City; along with Montpelier Elementary School. There are fourteen old schoolhouses that remain in the county. 

References

Shinn, B. (1900) Biographical Memoirs of Blackford County, Ind. book. The Bowen Publishing Company. Chicago, IL. 

Hartford City Students to Go to School Sept. 4 (1962, August 27). The Muncie Star Press. p. 10.

Kemper, G. W. H. (1908). Education in Delaware County. In A Twentieth Century History of Delaware County, Indiana, Volume 1 (Vol. 1, p. 252). book, Lewis Publishing Company.

Helm, T. B. (1881). Mount Pleasant Township. In History of Delaware County, Indiana: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers (pp. 268–269). book, Kingman Brothers.

Natali, B. L. (2007). The Impact of Caleb Mills on the Hoosier Education Debate: An Edition of Two Unpublished Addresses (thesis). University Graduate School, Indianapolis.

Indiana Constitution. (1851), art. 8, sec. 1.

A History of Blackford County, Indiana : with historical accounts of the county, 1838-1986 [and] histories of families who have lived in the county (1986). book. The Blackford County Historical Society. Hartford City, IN.

Law Will Close School (1907, April 13). The Muncie Star. p. 10.

School Head At Hartford City Plans To Leave (1922, May 5). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 2.

Mayer Block Is Sold (1931, July 11). The Muncie Star. p. 9.

How New Roll School Will Look When Built (1917, April 22). The Muncie Star Press. p. 20.

McBride, M. (1996, October 14). Roll – it rhymes with doll. The Muncie Star Press. p. 19.

School Construction Halted (1956, April 13). The Muncie Star. p. 21.

Hartford City Students to Go to School Sept. 4.

Vote Two-Unit School Plan in Blackford (1961, April 9). The Muncie star. p. 3.

New Jackson School to Open on Monday (1964, February 23). The Muncie Star Press. p. 7.

New Blackford County High School (1967, October 18). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 21.

McBride, M. (1998, August 18). Blackford schools won’t be delayed by construction. The Muncie star Press. p. 1.

Brown, D. (1993, May 13). Parents want to limit the shuffle of students. The Muncie Star Press. p. 1.

Brown, D. (1994, March 8). It’s a ‘go’ for Blackford County jail. The Muncie Star Press. p. 10.























References





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