As of 2021, I count 53 schoolhouses remaining in Delaware County, Indiana.
Perry Township was home to Delaware County’s first schoolhouse. In 1827, a school was built on Aaron Richardson’s land east of the community of New Burlington (Kemper, 1911). A large stone marks its place today despite being far from the original structure, which was located “in a trackless [sic] forest one half mile west” of the marker (Daughters, 1927). The following year, the first schoolhouse in Salem Township was established on the farm of David Van Matre near the present-day corner of South County Road 700-W and the Henry County line, southwest of the Cross Roads community (Helm, 1881).
William Abrams taught the first school in Monroe Township in a log cabin on Robert Gibson’s farm near the modern intersection of Macedonia Pike and East County Road 550-S during the winter of 1830-31, and the following summer, the first school in Mt. Pleasant Township was established during the summer of 1831 by David Kilgore, who held classes in an abandoned cabin on Jonathan Bentley’s farm (Helm).
The start of formal education in Liberty Township was thanks to John Moore, who in 1831 sent his son William to go receive an education at a school in Wayne County where an uncle lived (Kemper). According to Helm, the school was closed when William arrived, so he was “compelled to trudge home through the mud, no wiser than he went (1881).” The experience led the elder Moore to establish a schoolhouse in an abandoned cabin he purchased from Washington Downing.
In Washington Township, classes were first held in the home of Olive Heal at the western terminus of West County Road 1270-N- around 1833, lasting for two years before she retired (Helm). Just south, the first school in Harrison Township was held in a purpose-built cabin on the land of Job Garner during the winter of 1934-35 (1881). That year, another schoolhouse was established in a cabin on Archibald Parker’s farm that had previously been the home of his son-in-law near the modern-day routing of Lee Pit Road (Kingman, 1874).
The first school in Delaware Township was taught by Joseph Godlove, who lived north of the village of Sharon, around 1835. Godlove used his kitchen as his classroom (Ellis, 1898). Union Township’s first was established the following year, when Susan Hanley taught students in a cabin on Junius McMillen’s farm (Helm) in the area of Walnut Street and Eaton-Wheeling Pike.
The first school in Niles Township was conducted in 1837 inside a cabin built by John Sutton three or four years prior (Helm), and Joseph Custer taught the first school in Hamilton Township during the winter of 1838-39 in a deserted cabin on the land of Thomas Reeves (Helm) near where Irving Materials is located today (Delaware, 2021).
Schools such as these were simple designs, 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).
Early schools were so simple largely due to a lack of money. 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).
This all changed 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, officials in Delaware County converted their extant subscription schools into free ones, simultaneously districting the township, improving courses of study and hiring teachers that were more qualified. Importantly, they also began to replace the old log schoolhouses with newer, more substantial frame and brick structures. Two of the early frame schoolhouses still exist as of 2021 in Union Township’s District 2 and Perry Township’s District 5, while two of the earliest brick schools are still standing in Liberty Township’s District 8 and Perry Township’s District 3. Over time, centers of population began erecting larger schoolhouses such as the two-story, four-room Liberty Township District 5 schoolhouse in Selma that was constructed in 1868.
Everything changed in 1897, though, when 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).” Just as Perry Township was the site of the first schoolhouse in the county, it also led the way in terms of consolidating its schools when the seven pupils of the District 7 school sent its students to District 8 with no expansion of teaching staff or facilities (Helm). By 1907 all of Liberty Township’s pupils were attending school at a modern, consolidated schoolhouse at Selma.
As this was going on, more centralized districts began erecting large schoolhouses. One of the earliest was at Yorktown, where four-room, brick school with a sixty-foot-tall belfry was completed in 1898. Others followed, such as the 1900 Riverside School in Center Township, a six-room Congerville school in Center Township that opened in 1902, a $17,5000, two-story schoolhouse at Royerton completed in 1903, a similarly-appointed school in Perry Township that was finished in 1906, and school at Desoto completed the following year nearly identical to the one in Perry Township.Elsewhere, existing buildings were expanded or replaced to accommodate the influx of students from more rural areas.
After Liberty, Niles Township was the next to close its schoolhouses, doing so after the 1916-17 school year when the state board of health condemned them all for being unsanitary. Rather than erect a consolidated school, the township -without a significant center of population or commerce- elected to send its pupils to schools in Eaton, Albany, and Dunkirk (Niles, 1917). The following year, the last two district schoolhouses in Union Township shuttered, sending their students to the consolidated school at Eaton.
The consolidation process continued through the 1920s and even 1930s as larger schools that had been established in separate towns held on and remained open.
In Delaware Township, the last school outside of Albany’s town school system and the consolidated schoolhouse at Desoto closed in 1918. The Cross Roads schoolhouse in Salem Township closed in 1920, enabling all of the area’s pupils to go to school at Daleville.
In 1921, the last holdout of Perry Township -the district schoolhouse at Mt. Pleasant- closed for good. Its pupils were sent to the Center school several miles northeast.
Though Hamilton Township consolidated most of its schools early, the process wasn’t completed until the graded schoolhouse at Shideler closed in 1923.
Harrison Township’s last one-room schoolhouse closed in 1925 when a new, consolidated school was opened at the center of the district. In Monroe Township, the Oakville school finally closed that year, allowing all of the township’s students to attend classes at the consolidated schoolhouse in Cowan. The same year, the District 2: Wheeling school was Washington Township’s last schoolhouse to shutter, sending its students to Gaston.
The last township school to close in Delaware County was Mt. Pleasant Township’s two-room District 2 schoolhouse at Cammack, which shut down in 1936 in order to send its pupils to Yorktown.
The 1950s saw many rural districts build new structures, often elementary schools, to ease the burden on their aging facilities. In 1954, Salem Township completed a new Daleville Junior and Senior High School to be used for the upper six grades. A consolidated school at Yorktown for all of Mt. Pleasant Township’s pupils was completed the following year, as was a twelve-room elementary school at Selma. 1958 saw the construction of new elementary schools at Albany, Desoto, Gaston, and the east side of Center Township.
Also 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. The only districts in the county that met both minimum requirements were Muncie Community Schools and Yorktown (Delaware, 1959).
As a result, one final wave of consolidation amongst the schools of Delaware County occurred: In 1959, Center Township -which only operated two schools anyway- merged with Muncie’s city schools, creating the Muncie Community School District. The school districts of Liberty and Perry townships merged in 1964, and two years later Gaston High School combined with the Harrison Township High School to form the Harrison-Washington Community School District. In 1967, the schools at Desoto, Royerton, and Eaton merged to form the Delaware Metropolitan School District. Albany’s city schools were added to the arrangement during the following year.
This final wave of school consolidation led to the destruction of every old consolidated schoolhouse in Delaware County. The last holdout was the 1938 Royerton High School, demolished in 1987 after the 1984 of a new Delta Middle School. Today, six school districts operate in Delaware County. The oldest school still in use for its original purpose is Daleville Jr./Sr. High School- the original portions of the structure are sixty-seven years old.
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.
Daughters of the American Revolution, Paul Revere Chapter (1927). The First School House in Delaware County. Muncie, Indiana.
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.
Kingman Brothers. (1874). Map of Delaware County, Indiana. Chicago, IL.
Ellis, J. S. (1898, August 17). Our County. Its History and Early Settlement by Townships. The Muncie Morning News. p. 6.
Delaware County Office of Information & GIS Services. (2021). Parcel ID: 0725100004000. Delaware County, Indiana Assessor. map, Muncie, IN.
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.
Niles Township Schools May Not Open This Term. (1917, September 7). The Muncie Morning Star. p. 17.
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
Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.