Randolph County- White River Township
As of 2022, I count seven remaining schoolhouses in White River Township.
The early history of the White River Township’s educational structure outside of Winchester is muddled since most sources focus on the development of schools within the city’s expanding limits. The first schoolhouse in the township may have been at Winchester, where a log structure was erected at what’s now the corner of East Washington and South East streets in 1830. It burned down in 1836 (Tucker, 1882).
Twelve years later, the Randolph County Seminary opened in Winchester on West Franklin Street (Public, 2018). A District 2 school, known as Holdeman’s, was built around 1847 near the northeast corner of the township, while another log structure was built at Lick Skillet, northwest of Winchester, around the same time (Hinshaw, 2008), and other primitive schools likely followed.
These earliest schools were basic structures, simply built and 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). Generally, these revenues were insufficient to finance a township’s schools for more than two or three months at a time. Sometimes, classes were taught months in advance leaving teachers waiting for their wages.
The era of subscription schoolhouses ended in theory 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 finally available, officials began converting the existing log schools into frame ones, simultaneously improving courses of study, hiring teachers that were more qualified, and erecting new buildings when possible.
In 1859, Nathaniel Heaston deeded land for a District 4 schoolhouse, and a school was built four years later. Two years later, a building for District 9 was completed just northwest of Winchester, as was a District 19 school at District 19 which was known as Pleasant Dale or Hull (Hinshaw).
By 1865, the township was home to nineteen school districts and schoolhouses outside of Winchester (Warner, 1865); seventeen were built under the direction of T.W. Kizer, who was the White River Township Trustee from 1860 to 1869 (Hinshaw). Over time, the schoolhouses often acquired colloquial names in addition to their district numbers- District 1 was called Lost or Mader, District 2 was known as Holderman’s and Huffman’s, and District 3 was called Abbott. The schoolhouse at District 4 became known as Pleasant Grove and Fidler, and 5 and 6 were called Lickskillet and Maxville, respectively, after the communities they served.
The District 7 school was called Moorman, while District 8 was known by three common names over the course of its tenure- Dull, Williams, and Heaston. The original District 9 school was known only by number, but after it was absorbed into Winchester’s city control in 1873, a new District 9 school at Unionport was erected and took the name of that community. The schoolhouse at District 10 was called White River or Hiatt, while District 11 was called Round Top.
The schoolhouses of Districts 12 and 13 were known only by their number, while a later District 14 was known as Orphan’s Home, Hiatt, and Funk’s Station. District 15 was called Green, though, and District 16 was called Kabel. Locals gave the District 17 schoolhouse the names of Reynard’s or Sparrow Creek, and 18 was called Sugar Creek. District 19 was called Pleasant Dale or Hull, while District 20 was known as Mount Zion.
District 21 acquired the name of Meier, and the first District 22 school was called Willis before it closed and a schoolhouse taught at the James Moorman Orphans’ Home took over the district (Hinshaw).
Changes occurred early on: District 13 merged with District 9, south of Winchester, in 1870. A new building for District 16 was constructed in 1879, and schoolhouses were replaced or remodeled at District 6 in 1887, District 21 in 1891, District 1 in 1894, and District 3 during the following year. The District 19 school closed in 1902, and the District 16 schoolhouse closed a year later, though it briefly reopened before shuttering again, for good, in 1907 (Hinshaw).
In 1909, a new consolidated school called Lincoln was erected four and a half miles west of Winchester as the county’s only high school outside of a village or town. A two-story building of brick and stone (New, 1910), the school cost $14,000 and housed 147 students across nine grades, including a first year of high school (Has, 1909). The schoolhouses of districts 6, 7, 14, 15 immediately closed in order to send their students to the new building, as did the school operated at the James Moorman Orphan’s Home known as District 22. The District 7 school was converted into a residence for Lincoln’s janitor (Hinshaw).
McKinley school -a consolidated effort serving students of the east side of White River Township- opened in 1911 two miles east of Winchester, leading to the immediate closure of the Districts 10, 11, and 12 schoolhouses, followed by Districts 2, 8, and 17 the following year.
The District 3 schoolhouse closed in 1914, the same year that a new building at District 4 was erected. District 18 shuttered in 1915, and the twenty-eight-year-old District 21 schoolhouse closed in 1918. A year later, the schools of District 1 and 5 closed, followed by Districts 4 and 20 in 1920. The consolidation of White River Township’s one-room schoolhouses was complete.
In 1926, the Lincoln school briefly sent its students to McKinley- an effort that was canceled when a new trustee was elected (Hinshaw). In 1950, however, Lincoln’s high school students began attending McKinley, and a new, $251,913 high school known as White River was built on fifty acres just west of McKinley in 1956-1957 (Seek, 1955). That year, the rest of Lincoln’s students were sent to McKinley, and a $250,000 White River Elementary School was built west of the new high school in 1958. McKinley was torn down two years later.
Over the years, several attempts to combine White River Township’s schools with those of Winchester, including in 1946, 1950, 1954, and 1958, while White River and Wayne townships unsuccessfully petitioned to consolidate in 1955 and 1956.
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 (Delaware, 1959). As a result, White River Township and Winchester finally consolidated the following year, forming the Metropolitan School District of Winchester-White River Township (Petition, 1959). The White River Township High School became known as Lee L. Driver Junior High School, in recognition of the county school superintendent who advocated for Randolph County’s first and second waves of consolidation.
Winchester-White River merged with the school townships of Franklin and Ward in 1962 to create a new Randolph Central School Corporation (School, 1962). A $412,000 addition to Driver Junior High School was completed in order to accommodate the influx of new students, while Winchester’s 1898 high school continued to serve the district’s upper grades (School, 2022) until a $3 million building called Winchester Community High School was completed in 1969 after two years of construction (Open, 1969).
In its latter years, the 1909 Lincoln consolidated school was used as a migrant camp for tomato pickers. Eighty people lived in the school and on site in 1968, when an 18-year-old mother of two, one of the workers, was beaten to death in a top floor room (Iliff, 1968). The school building was razed four years later (Thomas, 1972).
By the turn of the century, the condition of the aging Driver Middle School -which it had been renamed in 1984 when the attached White River Elementary School was discontinued (School, 2022)- had become untenable. In 2010, Randolph County taxpayers dismissed a referendum that posited a $19.8 million construction plan that included abandoning the building and adding on to the 1969 high school (Werner, 2011). A second referendum, asking voters for $18.9 million to build a new middle school attached to the high school was voted down the following year (Kinsey, 2013). A new Lee L. Driver Middle School connected to the high school was finally opened in 2015.
Today, Randolph Central School Corporation operates four schools in White River Township, along with Deerfield Elementary in neighboring Ward Township: Baker Elementary School, Willard Elementary School, Lee L. Driver Middle School, and Winchester Community High School.
In 2019, the former White River High School/Driver Middle School building was purchased to become the new manufacturing facility for Apex Ag Solutions (Apex, 2020).
Today, seven of the township’s twenty-three schoolhouses are still standing.
Tucker, E. (1882). History of Randolph County, Indiana. book. Chicago, IL; A.L. Kingman.
Public Education in Randolph County, Indiana. 2018. Sharing history for 68 years in Randolph County, Indiana. Randolph County Historical Society and Museum. Retrieved February 13, 2022, from https://rchsmuseum.org/schools.
Hinshaw, G. (2008). A History of Education in Randolph County, Indiana. Retrieved February 13, 2022.
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.
Warner, C.S (1865). 1865 Wall-Map of Randolph County. C.A.O. McClellan & C.S. Warner. Waterloo, Indiana. map.
New Lincoln School Building, West of Winchester, Is One of the Finest County Edifices in State of Indiana (1910, January 7). The Muncie Morning Star. p. 10.
Has Large Attendance (1909, September 14). The Muncie Morning Star. p. 6.
Seek School Site in Suit at Winchester (1955, June 14). The Muncie Star. p. 11.
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.
Petition Filed for School at Winchester (1959, April 16). The Muncie Star. p. 28.
School Board Voting Scheduled June 28 (1962, May 12). The Muncie Star. p. 22.
School History (2022). Randolph Central School Corporation. Retrieved March 17, 2022 from https://www.rc.k12.in.us/page/school-history.
Open House Set For Sunday At Winchester High School (1969, April 11). The Richmond Palladium-Item and Sun-Telegram. p. 19.
Iliff, D. (1968, August 26). Migrant Mother Murdered. The Muncie Star. pp. 1-2.
Thomas, L. (1972, January 30). 1st Consolidated School Being Razed, a Victim of the Plan It Inaugurated. The Muncie Star. p. 21.
Wener, N. (2011, January 15). Randolph Central to take input on school project. The Muncie Star Press. pp. 1-2.
Kinsey, M. (2013, February 28). New middle school proposed. The Muncie Star Press. p. 1.
Apex Ag Solutions Grand Opening and open house (2020, August 6). The Winchester News Gazette. Web. Retrieved March 17, 2022 from https://www.winchesternewsgazette.com/coronavirus/apex-ag-solutions-grand-opening-and-open-house/article_d8b63564-d7db-11ea-a1bd-c322c5abcc6d.html.