Delaware County- Center Township
As of 2021, I count three remaining schoolhouses in Center Township. A fourth burned in 2019.
Early history of the Center Township’s educational structure outside of Muncie is muddled since most sources focus on the development of schools within the city’s expanding limits. By 1874, twelve districts had been laid out across the township1, though actual classes were not necessarily conducted in all of them.
As with other townships, Center’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 structure2.
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 model3.
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 system4. 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 all5.” Once funds were disbursed, township officials typically 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.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of early information it’s probably easiest to garner an understanding of the schoolhouses of Center Township by starting with an 1887 plat map that lists ten extant schoolhouses there6. Starting from the northeast side of the township and following a serpentine motion, those were as follows: District 1- Priest. District 2- Conn. District 3- McClellan/Phillips; later known as Andersonville. District 4- Shaffer/Hazel College. District 5- Moore/Water Works. District 6- Madden/Macedonia Pike; later known as Industry. District 7- Reese. District 8- Bishop/Clay College. District 9- Mound/Fair Grounds. District 10- Hurst/Middletown Pike/Eugene Field.
During the next twenty years, a handful of suburbs sprung up outside of Muncie’s boundaries and Center Township built several new schools to accommodate the residents there. One was at Boyceton, District 11, located in an industrial neighborhood established by James Boyce near the intersection of East Jackson and South Leland Avenue7. South of Boyceton, a schoolhouse was erected in the suburb of Whitely in 18938. Two years later, a frame schoolhouse was erected in the neighborhood of Congerville at the northeast corner of South Elm and 19th Streets9. In 1898, a new, two-story, frame District 8 schoolhouse known as Forest Park and located west of Port Avenue on Eighth Street was completed10.
The year 1900 saw the opening of a new District 7 school in the community of Riverside11, and around the same time further west of that a two-story, frame District 15 school called West Side was erected in Normal City at the northeast corner of West Jackson and East Calvert Streets12. A new, brick Congerville school designed by Fort Wayne architects Wing & Mahurin was finished in 1902, the same year that a new District 5 Water Works school was built and the District 10 school was expanded13. Though several smaller schoolhouses at already been replaced, actual consolidation of the one-room schools began in earnest during 1901 as well, as the District 11 Boyceton school was abandoned in favor of the Whitely schoolhouse, and a portion of the students from the Mound and Andersonville schools were sent to Riverside.
By 1903, all the students from District 3 and District 9 were sent to Riverside, and the schoolhouses of Center Township reached an all-time high number of regular enrollments, with Whitely school reporting 392 pupils followed by Congerville at 345, Riverside with 351, West Side/Normal City’s 294, Water Works with 190, Forest Park at 174, Hurst/Field’s 153, Hazel College with 106, Conn at 101, Priest with 42, and Orphans’ Home at 27 14.
The Orphans’ Home schoolhouse closed at the end of 1903-04 term15, during a time when most new Center Township school named after poets while Muncie’s new city schools were named in honor of politicians. In 1905, a substantial, brick structure called the Longfellow school was erected at the corner of North Broadway and East Highland streets16 as a replacement for the twelve-year-old Whitely building. Three years later, a brick Normal City schoolhouse later named in honor of poet John Greenleaf Whittier was completed at the present site of the College Avenue Methodist Church after the community was provided with a new sanitary sewer system17. It absorbed the students of the former West Side and Hazel College schoolhouses.
North of the city, the $28,000 James Whitcomb Riley School opened on Center Pike in 1914, displacing the District 2 Conn schoolhouse nearby18. The following year, a $15,000, brick, four-room Forest Park schoolhouse with manual training and domestic science departments was completed two blocks west of the old frame structure, which was discarded19. For a brief time, the school was known as Wilson Elementary school20, and it was added to Muncie’s city schools following the 1917-18 school year.
The $50,000, eight-room Robert Louis Stevenson school opened in 1918 at the northeast corner of S. Mock Avenue and East 18th Street, taking pupils from the District 6 and District 7 schools21, which were closed. This ended the era of the old-fashioned schoolhouse in Center Township.
The Riverside school -by then known as Emerson- was annexed by the city of Muncie after the 1918-19 school term, as were the Roosevelt, Longfellow, Whittier schools22.
The 1920s saw more changes. In 1921, Center Township finished the construction of a new centralized school building known as Wilson High School. Though it never actually functioned as a full high school, initially the school was intended to eventually serve higher grades of students residing on the city’s south side. In 1922, the building was designated by assistant state school inspector LeRoy Scoles as a Junior High School since it educated students from grades 8-923.
In 1926, a new District 10 Eugene Field school was completed that replaced the District 10 schoolhouse. That year also saw Stevenson become a city schoolafter Muncie annexed its territory. Wilson and Riley schools were annexed by Muncie following the 1928-29 school year while Whittier closed after its district was absorbed by the new Burris Laboratory School, leaving Eugene Field as the final Center Township school24, a role it would play until 1958 when Center Township’s new Claypool Elementary opened near the Mayfield community. On January 1st, 1959, Claypool and Eugene Field were added to Muncie Community Schools.
Today, the former District 5, District 12, and District 14 schoolhouses remain standing, while the District 7 school was destroyed by fire in 2019.
Several of the Center Township’s latter-day schools -Claypool, Wilson, Forest Park, and Eugene Field- also still stand, as does the 1955 addition to the Riley school erected during its time under the Muncie Community Schools roster.
- Helm, T. B. (1881). History of Delaware County, Indiana: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers. book, Kingman Brothers.
- 2. Kemper, G. W. H. (1908). A Twentieth Century History of Delaware County, Indiana, Volume 1 (Vol. 1, p. 252). book, Lewis Publishing Company.
- (See footnote 1).
- 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.
- Griffing, B. N. (1887). An atlas of Delaware County, Indiana. map, Philadelphia, PA; Griffing, Gordon, & Company.
- Boyceton (1888, May 5). The Muncie Morning News. p. 4.
- Whitely, Indiana. Our Churches Are Our Community (2016). Jacket Copy Creative. https://whitelycc.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/whitelyhistory_churches.pdf.
- Spurgeon, W. (1995, March 2). Our Neighborhood. The Muncie Star. p. 4.
- The Township Schools (1898, August 25). The Muncie Daily Herald. p. 8.
- Return to books; Schools to Open (1900, September 3). The Muncie Morning Star. p. 4.
- Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Muncie, Delaware County, Indiana. Sanborn Map Company, 1902. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/sanborn02433_006/.
- Temporary School House (1901, November 23). The Muncie Times. p. 2.
- Center Township school census outside Muncie. (1903, May 15). The Muncie Morning Star. p. 2.
- Taylor, H.B. (1988). Delaware County Children’s Home Schoolhouse 1883-1901. Prepared for Lanny D. Carmichael.
- School is opened. (1905, October 9). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 6.
- Sewer Contract Let (1908, May 13). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 5.
- Handsome New Building To Be Used Monday (1914, February 21). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 7.
- New Forest Park School Modern Structure (1915, March 8). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 8.
- 20.Dedication Exercises For Community Room And Gym At Forest Park School Are Tonight (1939, June 2). The Muncie Morning Star. p. 12.
- Stevenson School, Finished at Cost of Nearly $50,000, To Be Placed in Use Monday (1918, December 28). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 3.
- Delaware County Public Schools. (1918). School directory, Delaware County public schools, Delaware County, Indiana 1918-1919. Muncie, IN.
- State Inspector Praises Schools (1922, October 29). The Muncie Star. p. 21.