Madison County- Monroe Township
As of 2021, I count five remaining schoolhouses in Monroe Township.
It’s likely that the first schoolhouse in Monroe Township was in Alexandria, where the first teacher was John Brunt, who opened a school with twelve students in 1837. The second teacher at Alexandria was Richard Edwards, who taught for just a year (Forkner, 1914).
Like other townships, Monroe’s early schools were simply built, 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).
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 around Monroe Township began converting the existing log schools into frame ones in 1854 (Kingman), simultaneously improving courses of study, hiring teachers that were more qualified, and erecting new buildings when money was available.
By 1914, Monroe Township -outside of the incorporated communities of Orestes and Alexandria- was home to thirteen schoolhouses. These were District 1: Carolina, 2: Spiceland, 3: Tennessee, 4: Hall’s Corner, 5: Manring, 6: Mt. Pisgah, 7: Starr, 9: Ferguson, 10: Fairview/Summers, 11: Olive Branch, 13: Osceola, and 15: Vermillion, along with two schoolhouses in the southwestern Alexandria suburb of Innisdale and one in the eastern neighborhood of Scott’s Addition (Dead, 1967).
In comparison to its peers, consolidation came quickly to Monroe Township. Unfortunately, this was due to unfortunate circumstances: the school at Orestes -built in 1896 but operated under township control since the following year (Orestes, 2012)- was destroyed in a tornado during the summer of 1922 (Trustee, 1922), as was the schoolhouse at Mt. Pisgah (Mt. Pisgah, 1923). Township Trustee William Cunningham purchased three acres of land from farmer David Ebsted the following August in order to erect a replacement for the school at Orestes, which was intended to be a consolidated institution serving the western side of Monroe Township (Buy, 1922). The new school’s opening in 1923 led directly to the closure of the Fairview/Summer and Olive Branch schools, while petitions to close the Osceola schoolhouse a mile and a half north (Osceola, 1922) and the Innisdale schools a mile to the east both failed (No Intention, 1922).
In 1925, the Osceola schoolhouse -along with most of nearby Duck Creek Township’s schools- was condemned. The same year, the closed Olive Branch schoolhouse was demolished, and Osceola students began to attend Orestes for good in 1926 (Osceola, 1925).
The Hall’s Corner school closed around 1930 after a period of declining enrollment, but it was pressed back into service in 1933 after the Tennessee schoolhouse burned in a catastrophic fire two and a half months prior to the end of the school year (Advisory, 1933).
Though it began in 1923 when the school at Orestes opened, the first wave of Monroe Township school consolidation ended in 1938, when a new elementary school named after William Cunningham opened on the site of the former District 5: Manring school. Ultimately, students from eleven one-room schoolhouses -Starr, Scott’s Addition, Caroline, Hall’s Corner, Little Killbuck, Spiceland, Bush, Vermillion and Manring schools along with several that had already been shuttered (Holtsclaw, 2006)- wound up attending classes at the new building.
Though it held out for twenty-five years after its closure was initially discussed, the school at Innisdale finally closed in 1947 after it was condemned by the state fire marshal. Rather than attending Alexandria as residents hoped, students there were sent to Orestes, which added two new classrooms to accommodate them (Treesh, 1947).
In 1954, the a gymnasium, two more classrooms, and locker rooms were added to the west side of the Orestes Elementary School (New, 1954), just as the abandoned District 9: Ferguson School burned to the ground (Old, 1954). The following year was one of continued growth, though, as the Cunningham school also received an addition; a one-story wing that consisted of a cafeteria and four classrooms (Holtzclaw).
The growth continued around the township. In Alexandria, the first new school in fifty years -a sixteen-room elementary replacing the town’s old Tomlinson and Clark schools- was completed on West Tyler Street (New, 1955). The building was later named after Marie Thurston, its principal (Mother, 1956).
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. Monroe Township was proactive, however, and began plotting a new consolidated high school three years prior to the measure passing (Major, 1956). As a result, a new high school which officially merged the disparate students of Alexandria and the rest of the area was erected in 1960, southeast of town near Innisdale at West 11th Street.
After fourteen years, however, the high school was becoming crowded. In 1974, Art Henning Associates presented the school board with thirty pages of drawings for a new, 135,000-square foot high school with a two-story wing (Ellis, 1974). The findings proved satisfactory, and ground was broken the following year.
Since then, the Alexandria Community School Corporation has consolidated yet again. The 1923 Orestes Elementary School closed after the 2002-03 school year (Orestes), and the Cunningham Elementary School closed in 2006. For many years, the district operated Alexandria Elementary School out of the 1955 Marie Thurston building, a middle school in the 1960 high school, and a high school in the 1977 building. This changed in 2021, when the district added an elementary wing to the 1960 structure and took the old elementary school over as an administrative center. Today, Alexandria Community Schools operates two buildings for students: The K-5 Alexandria-Monroe Elementary School and the the Alexandria-Monroe Junior/Senior High School which educates students from grades 6-12 (Bibbs, 2021).
Today, the District 7: Starr, 10: Fairview/Summers, District 13: Osceola, and District 15: Vermillion schools still stand as private residences. The ruins of the District 3 school, Tennessee, are still visible as well.
Forkner, J. (1914). History of Madison County Indiana. A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress, Its People and Its Principal Interests, Volume 1. book, The Lewis 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.
Dead Dog, Frog Pond? They’re School Names (1967, September 9). The Anderson Daily Bulletin. p. 4.
Orestes School reunion (2012, August 22). The Alexandria Times-Tribune. p. 7.
Trustee Cunningham Settles With Insurance Co. For Orestes School (1922, June 13). The Alexandria Times-Tribune. p. 1.
Mt. Pisgah School Patrons Want School to Resume Activity (1923, May 5). The Alexandria Times-Tribune. p. 1.
Osceola School District Refuses to Consolidate With Orestes Schools (1922, May 31). The Alexandria Times-Tribune. p. 1.
Buy Three Acres Of Land For New Orestes School (1922, August 19). The Alexandria Times-Tribune. p. 1.
No Intention of Joining Innisdale With Orestes (1922, May 6). The Alexandria Times-Tribune. p. 1.
Osceola School House Condemned By Board (1925, July 13). The Alexandria Times-Tribune. p. 4.
Advisory Board Meets to Make School Plans (1933, February 10). The Alexandria Times-Tribune. p. 1.Buy Three Acres Of Land For New Orestes School.
Holtsclaw, S. (2006, May 17). After 68 years, Cunningham Elementary School says goodbye to Alexandria.” The Alexandria Times-Tribune. p. 1.
Treesh New Cunningham Principal (1947, August 27). The Alexandria Times-Tribune. p. 1.
New Orestes Gym Scene of Pitch-in Supper, Dedication (1954, May 17). The Alexandria Times-Tribune. p. 1.
Old Ferguson School Is Burned To Ground Today (1954, December 1). The Alexandria Times-Tribune. p. 1.
New Alexandria School Near Completion (1955, March 10). The Anderson Daily Bulletin. p. 33.
Mother of Grade School Principal Dies (1956, April 2). The Alexandria Times-Tribune. p. 1.
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
Major Points in Contract for New Alexandria-Township High School (1956, December 6). The Alexandria Times-Tribune. p. 1.
Ellis, C. (1974, July 20). New Alexandria high school building studied. The Elwood Call-Leader. p. 1.
Bibbs, R. (2021, November 15). Madison County districts retool school spaces for central office use. Retrieved December 12, 2021, from https://www.heraldbulletin.com/news/local_news/madison-county-districts-retool-school-spaces-for-central-office-use/article_060717c0-41be-11ec-ab13-6765c681edde.html.