Delaware County- Washington Township
As of 2021, I count six remaining schoolhouses in Washington Township.
District 2: Wheeling
District 5: Zion
District 7: Carmen
District 8: Thompson/Shady Grove
District 9: Hard-Scrabble/Hinton
District 10: New Corner/Gaston
Though Washington Township’s schools are centered around Gaston these days, the earliest schoolhouses were established miles away. The first -in the home of Olive Heal at the western terminus of West County Road 1270-N- was started around 1833 and lasted for two years before she retired (Helm, 1881). The township went without a schoolhouse for three years afterwards before William Wharton taught school at the Olive Branch Methodist Episcopal Church, originally a log building named after Olive Heal. The school sat just across the Grant County line from the extant Olive Branch Cemetery (Greene, 1974).
The first purpose-built schoolhouse was constructed in 1839 and had Ezra Maynard as teacher. A schoolhouse at Wheeling followed the next year, and other primitive schoolhouses were soon built around Washington Township (Helm). As with other townships, Washington’s earliest schoolhouses were primitive constructs often 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 available funds. Prior to 1840, 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. That year, proceeds from real estate transactions began to partially fund the subscription, but once the money dried up for the year each schoolhouse reverted back to the subscription model (Helm).
Officially, 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).” Practically, though, the era of free schools in Washington Township began in 1858 once funds trickled down to the trustees, who began converting their extant log or frame subscription schools into free ones, simultaneously improving courses of study, hiring teachers that were more qualified, and erecting new buildings when money was available. A new schoolhouse at Wheeling was built in 1871 to replace the original structure after the Odd Fellows’ lodge added a second story to accommodate their meetings (Helm).
By 1874, Washington Township had been divided into twelve school districts. District 1, the Heal schoolhouse, was a later version of the one that Olive Heal taught thirty-six years prior though it was about a fifth of a mile north of the original location on the land of J.H. Heal, a descendent (Kingman, 1874). Another was the District 12 school at Culbertson Corners, three miles west of Gaston. In 1875, a brick, two-story Odd Fellows’ lodge was constructed that later became the Gaston, then known as New Corner, schoolhouse (White, 1949). A new, brick, school for District 8 followed in 1878.
In 1881, Helm listed the school districts and common names as follows: District 1: Heal. District 2: Wheeling. District 3: Beuoy. District 4: Washington. District 5: Zion. District 6: Prairie. District 7: Carman. District 8: Thompson. District 9: Hard-Scrabble. District 10: New Corner. District 11: Maynard. District 12: Baltimore. At the time, three of the buildings were brick while the rest were frame, but some of the older relics were soon replaced: 1885 saw the construction of a brick District 9 schoolhouse called Hinton (Delaware, 1885). Three years later, a brick structure replaced the old Carmen schoolhouse (Delaware, 1888). The District 1: Heal school was closed sometime prior to 1887 (Griffing, 1887).
In 1897, Delaware County Superintendent of Schools Charles Van Matre ventured thirty-five miles south to see Webster’s newly-consolidated school, which combined three buildings into one and “answered every purpose of the three (Kemper)”. Washington Township was a latecomer to the local movement, consolidating its first schoolhouses in 1906, seven years after the first -Hamilton- combined several schools. That year, the township trustee abandoned districts 8, 9, and 11 (Kemper) in order to send their pupils to a large, four-room Gaston schoolhouse that was built in 1899. Despite a state law passed the following year that compelled a trustee to shutter schools with an average population of fewer than twelve students, the remainder of Washington Township’s schoolhouses were kept open for at least another six years until District 3 closed in 1912. Another six years passed before District 12 was closed, followed by District 7 in 1919 (Delaware, 1918).
By this time, the school at Gaston was stuffed beyond capacity and condemned (Gaston, 1921). Nevertheless, the District 6 school was shuttered in 1922 and districts 4 and 5 were closed in 1924, the year that Gaston’s old building was dramatically expanded with an addition typical of the timeframe and featuring a gymnasium, assembly room, several new classrooms, and a cosmetic refit that removed its open belfry and peaked roof (Teachers, 1924). In 1925, the District 2: Wheeling schoolhouse was the last to consolidate into Gaston, bringing all of Washington Township’s students under the same roof for the first time (Delaware, 1926).
In 1958, Washington Township, in conjunction with the Washington School Building Corporation, completed a $308,000, twelve-classroom elementary school northeast of the 1899/1924 structure (School, 1958). There were bigger changes in store, though: 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. The only districts in the county that met both minimum requirements were Muncie Community Schools and Yorktown (Delaware, 1959). As a result, Gaston High School combined with the Harrison Township High School to form the Harrison-Washington Community School District in 1966. A new high school located at Yorktown-Gaston Pike and Indiana State Route 28 was completed in 1966 with a gymnasium seating 2,400 students and an auditorium for 467. The total cost of the building, including renovations to the former Harrison Township High School to serve as an elementary building, were greater than $2 million (Smikel, 1966). Soon after, the 1899 portion of the high school at Gaston was demolished. In 1969, a civic group purchased the former gymnasium wing, which still stands today, albeit closed to the public (Civic, 1969).
Today, the school district, now known as Wes-Del Community Schools, operates Wes-Del Jr./ Senior High School in Harrison Township and Wes-Del Elementary -the former Gaston Elementary School- in Washington Township.
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.
Greene, D. (1947, August 17). Seen and Heard in Our Neighborhood. The Muncie Star. p.
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.
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.
Kingman Brothers. (1874). Map of Delaware County, Indiana. Chicago, IL.
White, C. (1949, July 2). Prosperous and Friendly, Gaston Beats Big City, Residents Say. The Muncie Evening Press. p. 16.
Delaware County, Indiana. (1885 July 22). Deed Book 55. p. 381.
Delaware County, Indiana. (1888 June 20). Deed Book 62. p. 17.
Griffing, B. N. (1887). Mt. Pleasant Township. An atlas of Delaware County, Indiana . map, Philadelphia, PA; Griffing, Gordon, & Company.
Delaware County Public Schools. (1918). School directory, Delaware County public schools, Delaware County, Indiana 1918-1919. Muncie, IN.
Gaston school fight is settled. (1921, September 10). The Muncie Morning Star. p. 7.
Teachers will view new Gaston school. (1924, November 6. The Muncie Morning Star. p. 5.
Delaware County Public Schools. (1926). School directory, Delaware County public schools, Delaware County, Indiana 1926-1927. Muncie, IN.
School Corporation Stockholders to Meet. (1958, December 29). The Muncie Evening Press. 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
Smikel, F. (1966, August 25). Wes-Del Is Ready to Greet 540. The Muncie Evening Press. p. 6.
Civic Group Agrees to Buy Gaston School. (November 7, 1969). The Muncie Star. p. 26.