Blackford County- Licking Township
As of 2021, I count five remaining schoolhouses in Licking Township.
Licking Township’s first teachers included Eli Rigdon, who was also an early county commissioner; Aaron McVicker; Elizabeth Hart; Christopher Clapper; and William W. Cline (Shinn, 1900). The history of education in Licking Township ties closely together with that Hartford City’s schools, but the two institutions were operated by separate entities until 1962 (Hartford, 1962).
Rigdon, McVicker, and the rest of the pioneer pedagogues 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, Licking Township 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 frame 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.
Several of Licking Township’s earliest schools still exist today, albeit in brick structures rather than the original frame buildings erected in the 1850s. Sometime prior to 1865, John Carney deeded the land for the District 4 school, which first sat on the western side of Gadbury Road a half mile south of its intersection with Angling Pike (Hillman, 1991). Likewise, a District 6 schoolhouse existed as early as 1862, when Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Clark were married in the middle of what’s now South County Road 200-West in front of it (Fifty-third, 1915). Other schools undoubtedly accompanied these two primitive institutions.
In 1900, Licking Township’s schools operated on a 137-day schedule (Shinn). Four years later, a new District 4 schoolhouse was erected at the corner of Angling Pike and South Gadbury Road (Hillman, 1991). By 1905, Licking Township was home to thirteen rural schoolhouses outside of Hartford City (Hixson, 1905). Though these structures were officially referred to by their district number, all of them were given colloquial names by their patrons that mostly referenced the family who first deeded their land to the township. District 1 was Bailey, District 2 was Gadbury, District 4 was named after John Carney, District 6 was called Jennings, District 7 was known as Hughes, District 8 was Slater, and District 9 was called Ervin. District 10 was Beath, District 11 was Guseman, District 12 was known as Butler, and District 13 was named after the Woolard family.
Two of Licking Township’s rural schoolhouses were given other names by their patrons. District 5, which sat near what’s now the Shamrock Lakes community was known as the Pleasant Grove school due to its idyllic location where, in 1899, the cornerstone was laid for the Pleasant Grove Methodist Church, still standing across the road from the schoolhouse site (Pleasant, 1949). The District 3 school went by the bizarre name of Corn Cob, which appears to have been a common nickname for an extremely rural or backwards area, similar to whimsical locations like “Possom Trot” or the “Polecat Church” (News, 1916).
1907 saw the first contraction of Licking Township’s schools when District 3 closed in order to send its students to District 5. The change was made after a state law passed that compelled township trustees to close any school where the average attendance had fallen below twelve pupils (Law, 1907). Two years later, the decrepit District 9: Ervin and District 11: Guseman schoolhouses were replaced with larger, brick buildings (Advisory, 1908). The same year, the Beath schoolhouse was discontinued in order to send its eleven students to the $4,000 Guseman school (School, 1909).
It appears as though the next schoolhouse to close was District 7: Hughes, in around 1910 as in 1912, N.W. Atkinson and his wife filed suit to quiet title against Licking Township as the District 7 building and grounds had not been used for educational purposes for some time after its average attendance had dropped below twelve students (Suit, 1912). Its students were likely sent to the Ervin schoolhouse, which was expanded in 1913 ( Hillman, 1992).
Low enrollment forced the Woolard school near the northeastern corner of the township to close in 1917, but it was briefly brought back into service the following year (Teachers, 1918). After its second closure, the students of Licking Township were served by Pleasant Grove, Carney, Gadbury, Bailey, Slater, Ervin, and Guseman- the Jennings and Butler schools closed at some point during the intervening years.
Given that Licking Township was home to the Blackford County Seat of Hartford City, it’s unsurprising that the township trustee was met with repeated, insistent requests asking for the rural schoolhouses to be consolidated with the city’s larger schools. One circulated in 1927, ostensibly due to the schoolhouses’ poor condition (Schools, 1927), a state confirmed by a state inspection in 1929 though the rating was later overturned (Hartford, 1929).
Consolidation towards Licking Township’s larger buildings moved forward despite the desire of its patrons to be absorbed into Hartford City. In 1936, the Pleasant Grove school was gutted by fire and its students -and teacher, Sarah Lightner- were sent to Carney (School, 1936).
Only two years later, the District 1: Bailey school was destroyed in a fire that caused $8,000 in damages (Fire, 1938). Initially, its forty-seven students were reassigned to Carney and Guseman (Bus, 1939), along District 1 teachers Pauline Huffman and Virginia Wilson. Partitions were erected in the two buildings to convert them into two-room structures (Pupils, 1938). The following year, officials announced that six students from the Bailey school would be sent to the Washington School in Washington Township, while the remainder of its pupils would continue to attend classes at Carney and Guseman. The announcement came as another petition filed by twenty-seven residents of District 1 in support of sending its students to the Hartford City schools was rejected (School, 1939).
In 1943, the District 2: Gadbury school was destroyed in a third fire, one that was particularly devastating due to the schoolhouse’s lack of a water well. Its students were sent to the Washington School in Washington Township (Gadbury, 1943).
By the 1946-47 school year, Licking Township only operated four schoolhouses, Carney, Guseman, Ervin, and Slater. All were repaired and reconditioned before classes were held, but unlike the previous year, only Guseman employed two teachers, though Carney and Ervin had also done so the previous year (Two, 1946). Later that year, the Carney school was significantly damaged by both a flash flood and an electrical storm (Plan, 1947). Two years later, the school was inspected after residents circulated a petition that alleged that its facilities were less than adequate. The inspector’s findings did not corroborate the opinions of its patrons, however, and the school was approved for continued use by its typical twenty-two pupils in grades 1-4 (Blackford, 1949).
The clamorous patrons of Licking Township’s rural finally got their wish for better school facilities in 1957, when a modern, six-room Licking Township Elementary School was built at a cost of $150,000 (School, 1956) and opened for the 1957-58 school year (Blackford, 1957).
The following year, 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, a plan to combine the Licking Township school with those of Hartford City was finally approved in 1961 and took effect in 1962 (Vote, 1961). Seven years later, high school students in Licking Township attending class at the new, $5.3 million, 56-classroom Blackford County High School just north of Hartford City as part of a county-wide consolidation of school districts (New, 1967).
After spending several years as a residence, the two-story Guseman schoolhouse burned down in the late 1970s or early 1980s (Yoder, 2013). In 1991, the old Ervin School -Licking Township’s other large, landmark schoolhouse- was demolished after a long period of disuse (Spurgeon), a fate that also befell the one-room Slater school, just two miles north on Indiana State Highway 3.
Today, the Carney schoolhouse is a home, while the Hughes and Jennings schools appear to be abandoned. The Corn Cob and Bailey schools are only visible as ruins.
Due to an ailing budget, the Licking Elementary School -along with the former Jackson Township Elementary School- closed in 1993 (Brown, 1993). Today, the building is used as the administrative offices for Blackford County Schools.
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.
Hillman, R. (1991, September 23). Seen and Heard in Our Neighborhood. The Muncie Star. p. 6.
Fifty-Third Wedding Anniversary Observed (1915, May 20). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 8.
Hixson, W.W. (1905). Blackford County, Ind. map. Map Collection, Indiana Division, Indiana State Library.
Pleasant Grove Church to Mark Anniversary (1949, September 22). The Muncie Star Press. p. 5.
News From a New Locality (1916, March 17). The Monroe Journal. Page 2.
Law Will Close School (1907, April 13). The Muncie Star. p. 10.
Advisory Board Meets (1908, January 27). The Muncie Star. p. 8.
School Question Raised (1909, September 4). The Muncie Star Press.
Suit to Quiet Title (1912, January 22). The Muncie Star. p. 7.
Hillman, R. (1992, January 17). Seen and Heard in Our Neighborhood. The Muncie Star. p. 4.
Schools May Merge (1927, February 6). The Muncie Star. p. 10.
Hartford Happenings (1929, March 8). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 10.
Fire Destroys Bailey School (1938, October 22). The Muncie Star. p. 6.
Bus Contracts Are Deferred (1939, July 20). The Muncie Star Press. p. 2.
Pupils Are Transferred (1938, October 23). The Muncie Star. p. 7.
School Petition Is Turned Down (1939, July 26). The Muncie Star. p. 4.
Gadbury School in Blackford Co. Burns (1943, January 15). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 1.
Two Teachers To Be Employed (1946, July 25). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 10.
Plan July 4th Program at Hartford City (1947, July 1). The Muncie Star. p. 5.
Blackford Grade School Is Approved (1949, September 8). The Muncie Star. p. 20.
School Construction Halted (1956, April 13). The Muncie Star. p. 21.
Blackford School Term Opens Sept. 3 (1957, August 20). The Muncie Star. p. 16.
Delaware County Committee for the Reorganization of School Corporations. (1959). A Comprehensive plan for the reorganization of school corporations of Delaware County Indiana. Muncie, IN; Delaware County Committee for the Reorganization of School Corporations.
Vote Two-Unit School Plan in Blackford (1961, April 9). The Muncie star. p. 3.
New Blackford County High School (1967, October 18). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 21.
Wyatt, D. Remember In Hartford City. (2013, March 27). I wanted to mention the bell tower and the bell were still intact. The location was south and east of [Comment]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/groups/258546340823168/posts/588022814542184?comment_id=588133461197786.
Brown, D. (1993, May 13). Parents want to limit the shuffle of students. The Muncie Star Press. p. 1.