Delaware County- Niles Township
As of 2021, I count five remaining schoolhouses in Niles Township.
Niles Township is remote- so much so, that there’s never been an incorporated community within its bounds, a fact that makes the evolution of its schools atypical to the rest of the county’s townships. According to Thomas Helm, the first school in Niles Township was conducted in 1837 inside a cabin built by John Sutton three or four years prior. During the winter of 1838, school was taught on the land of Daniel Dean north of Albany. The following year, the first two purpose-built schoolhouses were constructed on the farms of Warner Mann and Robert Kimble (Helm, 1881). A school at Granville -the only real community in the township- had been completed around 1836.
In 1839, Niles Township was divided into official school districts, and new schools were taught at the farm of John Lewis near Eaton-Albany Pike and on the land of Philip Stoner, northeast of Granville (Kingman, 1874). In 1840, John Battreall donated a portion of his land to build a new schoolhouse in District 1 (Helm). These earliest schools were of simple construction, 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).
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).
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, officials in Niles Township converted their extant subscription schools into free ones, simultaneously improving courses of study and hiring teachers that were more qualified. By 1852, there were ten schoolhouses in the area, and salaries paid to the teachers of Districts 4, 5, and 10 for three months of service totaled $127.54 (Helm). Frame schoolhouses replaced their log predecessors one by one through 1865.
The frame District 1 school on Green Street -an early pioneer road- blew over in 1871 during a freak windstorm on the fourth of July, and a brick replacement was erected that year. Eight years later, Samuel Selvey granted the township land for a new District 5 schoolhouse (Delaware, 1879). In 1881, Helm listed nine schoolhouses in the township: District 1: Green Street, District 2: Bethel, District 3: Wingate, District 4: Center, District 5: Huffman, District 6: Edginton, District 7: Graham, District 8: Granville, and District 9: Smith.
A new schoolhouse at Granville was constructed in 1885 (Delaware, 2021), and two years later, the township erected a new District 9 schoolhouse on the land of George and Sophia Lowe (Delaware, 1887).
Beyond the abolishment of the subscription school in 1852, there was no event more significant to the livelihood of Delaware County’s common schoolhouses than Charles Van Matre’s trip to the town of Webster in Wayne County. In 1897 Van Matre -the county’s superintendent of schools- 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)”. In Delaware County, Perry Township was the first to consolidate in 1898. According to a county school directory, the District 4 Center schoolhouse was closed sometime prior to 1904, but Niles Township was far behind Perry in consolidating its schools, first dipping its toe into the surge in 1907, when the District 7 Graham school was combined with District 9 Smith (Kemper). The township lagged due to its remote nature and lack of established communities: after the gas boom dried up, the railroad bypassed it, and the post office closed, Granville withered into the collection of houses it is today (Spurgeon, 1994) .
The District 2 Bethel school closed after the 1911-12 school year (Delaware, 1912), followed but the District 5 Huffman schoolhouse in 1915 (Delaware, 1915). The remainder of the Niles Township schools closed after the 1916-17 school term when the State Board of Health condemned them all as unsanitary in the face of other townships erecting modern consolidated schools. Students were sent to school in Eaton, Albany, and Dunkirk- in Jay County but nearby (Niles, 1917).
In 1959, 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, Desoto High School in Delaware Township, Royerton High School in Hamilton Township, and Eaton combined to form the Delaware Metropolitan School District in 1967. The following year, the school-city of Albany joined the district. Niles Township’s students were included in this arrangement.
Today, students there attend elementary school at Albany before moving on to Delta Middle and High schools. There is no operational school within Niles 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.
Kingman Brothers. (1874). Map of Delaware County, Indiana. 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.
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.
Delaware County, Indiana. (1879 May 30). Deed Book 44. p. 403.
Delaware County Office of Information & GIS Services. (2021). Parcel ID: 0431231001000. Delaware County, Indiana Assessor. map, Muncie, IN.
Delaware County, Indiana. (1887 June 25). Deed Book 58. p. 466.Spurgeon, B. (1994, December 12). Our Neighborhood. The Muncie Star. p. 4.
Delaware County Public Schools. (1912). School directory, Delaware County public schools, Delaware County, Indiana 1912-1913. Muncie, IN.
Delaware County Public Schools. (1915). School directory, Delaware County public schools, Delaware County, Indiana 1915-1916. Muncie, IN.
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