Madison County- Union Township
As of 2021, I count two remaining schoolhouses in Union Township.
District 1: Betterton/Cup and Saucer/Pleasant Corner
District 6: Valley Grove
There’s not a whole lot of information available regarding the origins of Union Township’s schoolhouses. According to Kingman, the first was built “not far from Chesterfield” in 1829, and it was taught that winter by Jason Hudson (Kingman, 1880). Other schools, the histories of which weren’t recorded, likely followed.
The earliest pioneer 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).In 1848, a frame, two-story building was erected in Chesterfield that housed a newer school in its first floor and a Masonic Hall on its second (Harden, 1874).
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, Union Township officials 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 1874, the two-story school and lodge at Chesterfield was considered dilapidated and unsafe (Harden, 1874). Six years later, Union Township was home to six schoolhouses (Kingman). Over time, they became known by colloquial, common names: District 1 was Betterton, District 2 was John’s, District 3 was Chesterfield, District 4 was known as Keesling, District 5 was Clem, and District 6 was Valley Grove (Bock, 1970). Over time, the District 1 school came to be called Cup and Saucer due to a unique brick pattern on its northern wall, or as Pleasant Corner (Jackson, 2021).
In 1912, Union Township was home to six brick schoolhouses, valued at $5,000 (Forkner, 1914). In 1920, a new three-room schoolhouse south of the District 6 schoolhouse was erected, apparently absorbing District 4 and 5 (Plat, n.d.), while District 1 had closed and its students were sent to District 2 or 3. A consolidated school at Chesterfield’ District 3 was erected in 1930 that took in students from District 2, which was damaged from a lightning strike and abandoned during the previous year (Items, 1929). In 1936, a gymnasium/auditorium called Memory Hall was added to the rear of the Chesterfield building (Chesterfield, 1936).
A new high school, Highland, was built in 1955 in order to absorb grades 7 and 8 from Richland Township’s College Corner School and grades 7 and 8 from Chesterfield, which was using a stage, corridor, and nearby house to house pupils. Additionally, eighth grade students from Anderson Township’s Franklin Elementary School were sent to Highland as well after classes were forced to be held in the principal’s office and own the gym floor. Also all freshman and some 10th, 11, and 12 grades from Lindberg school area, and part of the high school clases in Forest Hills were also sent to Highland, which cost $765,000 as built and contained 28 classrooms along with a gymnasium that sat 2,800 people (New, 1955).
As Union Township’s only remaining grade schools, both Valley Grove and Chesterfield schools received additions in 1958 when Valley Grove received eight classrooms to its northeastern corner (Anderson, 1957) and Chesterfield received four (Plan, 1958). Four years later, Chesterfield added a 128×68 foot addition that included a second gymnasium and increased its classroom count to twelve (Chesterfield, 1961) in response to overcrowding that sent its students from the Madison County Children’s Home to Valley Grove (Group, 1960).
In 1971, the schools of Union Township merged into the Anderson Community School Corporation. The 1920 portion of the Valley Grove was demolished during a 1978 renovation that added two kindergarten classrooms (Staley, 1977), though the original lintel of the school was incorporated into a new addition. After many discussions over the course of decades, the Chesterfield grade school was closed in 1990. The following year, it was sold to the town for one dollar (McBride, 2008). Today, it serves jointly as the Chesterfield Government Center and the Millcreek Civic Center.
Today, Anderson Community Schools continues to operate the Valley Grove Elementary School just south of its predecessor, the District 6 schoolhouse. Highland High School -the consolidation of Union and Richland townships first built in 1955- closed after the 2009-10 school year and now operates as Highland Middle School.
Union Township’s District 1 schoolhouse still stands north of Chesterfield as a dwelling.
Kingman Brothers. (1880). History of Madison County, Indiana with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches. 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.
Harden, S. (1874). History of Madison County, Indiana, from 1820 to 1874. book. Markleville, 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.
Bock, G. (1970, October 29). Adams Township Had Ten School Districts. Anderson Daily Bulletin. p. 4.
Jackson, S. T. (2021, August 13). Madison County schoolhouses. email.
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.
Plat Book of Madison County Indiana (n.d.) W. W. Hixson & Co. Rockford, IL. map. Map Collection, Indiana Division, Indiana State Library.
Items of News Told in Lines (1929, August 21). The Elwood Call-Leader. p. 2.
Chesterfield school contract is awarded (1936, October 17). The Muncie Star. p. 10.Exercises At Schools Scheduled (1955, May 25). The Anderson Daily Bulletin. p.p. 1, 5.
New Highland School Open House To Be Held Today (1955, August 28). The Anderson Herald. p. 20.
Anderson Firm Given Contract At Valley Grove (1957, October 31). The Anderson Daily Bulletin. p. 1.
Plan Open House At Chesterfield School Addition (1958, May 4). The Anderson Herald. p. 20.
Chesterfield School Addition (1961, August 18). The Anderson Daily Bulletin. p. 1.
Group Checks Union Schools (1960, March 15). The Anderson Herald. p. 1.
Staley, C. (1977, February 3). Elementary schools to be updated. The Anderson Daily Bulletin. p. 5.
McBride, M. (2008, September 4). Remodeled school full of life in Chesterfield. The Muncie Star Press. p. 11.