Blackford County- Washington Township
As of 2021, I count three remaining schoolhouses in Washington Township.
District 4: Independence/Frog Alley/Swamp College
District 8: Lillibridge/Washington
District 9: Watson
Some of Washington Township’s earliest teachers were Edward Hughes, William McKee, Edmund Lockett, William A. Bonham, and Thomas Lillibridge (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, Washington 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 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).
By the turn of the century, Washington Township operated a 125-day school term out of nine schoolhouses, most of them brick (Shinn). Though the buildings were officially referred to by their district number, over time their patrons began calling them by common names. In Washington Township, most were christened after their original landowners, such as District 1: Ratliff, District 6: Bugh, District 7: Wadle, District 8: Lillibridge, and District 9: Watson. Other schools were colloquially referred to by names based on their location, like District 2: Dundee and District 5: Center. Still others were given names that were more interesting, like District 3: College Corner -a name seen in other counties, namely Madison and Jay- and District 4: Frog Alley, which was named after its swampy surrounds.
The Dundee school was renamed Roll after settler Matthias Roll deeded land for a second log school there (McBride, 1996).
The consolidation of Washington Township’s schools occurred largely due to the erection of two new, large, schools. In 1917, a new, fifteen-room high school at Roll was erected at a cost of $28,000. Featuring a manual training room and chemistry laboratory in the basement (How, 1917), the school’s completion on the site of its predecessor directly led to the abandonment of District 3 in 1929 (Escapes, 1929).
A second new school at the site of District 8 was planned began five years after the school at Roll was completed, but the project was significantly impacted by a railroad strike that limited the supply of bricks (Strike, 1922), as well as a damaging wind storm (Hartford, 1922). Nevertheless, the six-room schoolhouse was completed in 1923 at a cost of $30,000 (School, 1922). That year, the Frog Alley, Center, Wadle, Ratliff (Schools, 1925), and old Lillibridge schools (Montpelier, 1924) consolidated into the new building, known as the Washington School. The Bugh school also closed in 1923, abandoned at the urging of the Blackford County Health Commissioner, who asserted that its cracked walls were dangerous and likely to collapse (Asserts, 1923).
Two years later, the Frog Alley, Center, Wadle, Ratliff and old Lillibridge schools were sold to private parties. The Frog Alley was purchased by the adjacent Independence Church of Christ and is still owned by the church today.
All of the consolidation led the District 9: Watson school -taught by Olivia Bugh- to become Washington Township’s last operating one-room schoolhouse (Output, 1923), staying open at least as late as 1927, when its students achieved the highest attendance rate, 99.71%, of any school in the county (Hartford, 1927).
In 1938, the Washington School took on several students from the Licking Township District 1: Bailey school, which burned down the previous winter (School, 1939). A gymnasium was added to the Roll school the same year, and a block building to the school’s west was added in 1950 for the purposes of manual and agricultural training (McBride). Fifteen years later, all of Washington Township’s students began attending classes there when the Washington School closed. The building was sold in 1955 and later became a warehouse for Criss, Incorporated (Blackford, 1955).
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) 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.
The school at Roll was closed for good in 1969 upon the completion of the $5.3 million, 56-classroom (New, 1967) Blackford County High School in Washington Township less than a mile southeast of the 1923 Washington School.
The Roll school was torn down in 1977 after a period of disuse, though its gymnasium and manual training building were preserved to be used as community centers (McBride). Two former Roll students, James Dickey and John Glancy, purchased the former gymnasium for $100 in 1993 (Neddenriep, 2010) before selling it to another private party in 2019 (Blackford, 2021).
Today, students from grades K-6 attend Montpelier Elementary, operated by Blackford County Schools, while grades 7-12 attend Blackford Junior-Senior High School.
Shinn, B. (1900) Biographical Memoirs of Blackford County, Ind. book. The Bowen Publishing Company. Chicago, IL.
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.
McBride, M. (1996, October 14). Roll – it rhymes with doll. The Muncie Star Press. p. 19.
How New Roll School Will Look When Built (1917, April 22). The Muncie Star Press. p. 20.
Escapes Injury In Smash-Up (1929, December 18). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 3.
Strike Holds Up Building (1922, August 17). The Muncie Star Press. p. 4.
School Petition Is Turned Down (1939, July 26). The Muncie Star. p. 4.
Hartford City Notes (1922, August 30). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 7.
School Head At Hartford City Plans To Leave (1922, May 5). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 2.
Schools Are Sold (1925, June 15). The Muncie Star Press. p. 2.
Montpelier (1924, July 17). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 7.
Asserts School May Collapse (1923, January 9). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 10.
Output Declines In Window Glass (1923, August 13). The Muncie Star Press. p. 5.
Hartford City (1927, November 12). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 11.
Blackford County Trustee to Sell School Building (1955, October 30). The Muncie Star Press. p. 36.
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.
Hartford City Students to Go to School Sept. 4.
Vote Two-Unit School Plan in Blackford (1961, April 9). The Muncie star. p. 3.
Four Roll School Grades to Study at Montpelier (1962, July 15). The Muncie Star. p. 2.
New Blackford County High School (1967, October 18). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 21.
Neddenriep, K. (2010). Historic Hoosier gyms: discovering bygone basketball landmarks. book. The History Press. Charleston, SC.
Blackford County Office of Information & GIS Services. (2021). Parcel ID: 004-40008-05.