Jackson County

1976 Schools

The Origin and Growth of Schools in Jackson County, Illinois: A Historical Case Study by William Edward Eaton was published in 1976 (45 pages).

B. Subscription Schools [pages 8 - 12]

The failure of the 1825 school law meant that less satisfactory arrangements for teaching children had to continue. The subscription school continued to be the most common form of schooling.

The central problem with the subscriptin school was the lack of continuity. The farmer who decided to teach this winter might have decided against teaching the following, leaving the children with no instruction. Housing the school was another problem. They met anywhere they could and this too often meant in an abandoned pole cabin. The best of the subscription schools would have been found where the enterprise was more than simply an effort on the part of someone to pick up some spare cash, the best were found where there had been a community effort to organize a school for their children. When such an interest existed, insturction was of a better quality and school buildings might even have been constructed. in describing such school houses Smith offers the following:

Their school houses and their construciton have frequently been described by the early pioneers. They were invariably of logs, usually about 16 or 18 feet by twenty-four feet. The logs were seldom hewn. The men of the neighborhood would go into the timber and cut the logs, haul them to the school house site, and on a designated day would meet and carry up the walls. It was covered with clapboards which were rived out of the oak trees by some patron of the school who had learned the art of making boards. The boards were seldom nailed on, but were held in position by straight poles resting on the lower ends of each layer. These weights were secured by pins at each end of the pole set into the ribs of the roof, or by flat rocks resting on the roof just below the wweight poles. The doors were frequently of sawn boards but now and then were constructed of clapboards. The hinges were wood and were home made. Windows were openings in the side of the room made by removing a log or two. Glass was not altogether unknown in these windows, but often the opening was fitted with oiled paper or left entirely open. The furniture was of the crudest sort. Seats were of split logs with pins in the rounding side for legs. The split surface was made smooth with broad ax and plane. Desks were arranged around the side of the room of sawn boards or hewn slabs and were used for writing purposes only. The pupil usually stood while writing. Paper was scarce adn costly and pupils often learned to write by using slates. The pens were made of goose quills, and the ink was home made. The firs place occupied one end of the building and was often lined with flat rock set up edgwise and held in place by mortar made of clay or lime and sand. Often the wooden fire place was prtected against fire by a liberal coating of clay plastered upon the inner side of the fire place. The fuel was wood from the timber nearby. It was furnished by the patrons of the school and was brought in the form of log poles and logs. The task of preparing it fell to the teacher and the larger boys. And this was the form of fuel long after stoves became common to the school houses. The wood lay exposed to the rains and snows of the winter and often great difficulty was experienced in keeping the fires going with such fuel. Black boards were very few and very crude. One or two wide planks planed and painted served the purpose. The carpenter's chalk served as crayon. It may be presumed, however, that the board was not considered a necessary adjunct of the school-room. Books were indeed scarce. Those in use were Webster's Speller and McGuffey's readers. The advanced pupils used other books. In not a few schools the Bible was the test in reading. It was no uncommon thing to find about the home a board in the bgeneral form of a paddle with narrow handle and broad shovel-like end. The board was smoothed on both sides and upon these somooth sides was written the multiplication table. A leather thong passing through a hole in the handle secured the device to the wrist or to the plow handle, and thus was always handy for the use of the learner The writer has seen these paddles with the tables recorded with keep or lampblack.

It was no uncommon thing in an early day to find a school conducted in a barn, residence, courthouse, or abandoned cabin.

The first school kept in Jackson County is said to have been held in the home of Captain William Boone near Sand Ridge in 1814 or 15. With the creation of Brownsville in 181_, the county seat became the centyer of the limited educational activity. Benningsen Boone, son of William and first white child born in Jackson County, recalled at least three gentlemen: Misters Neff, Chamberlain, and Howe who worked as school teachers before 1819. As individual homes became too small for instructing the children the school was allowed to meet in the frame county court house. THere is the way a contemporary described the court house:

The court house was a frame two-story building, erected in the center of the square, comprising about two acres. The court room embraced the whole first story. The second story was partitioned off by poplar boards into an office room in the northeast corner and two jury rooms on the south side, the stair landing being in the northwest corner which was used only as a hall or open space, from which entrance into the office and jury rooms was had ....

There was no school house in Brownsville at the time, and about the last of this year, 1842, a man named Grover, who was a resident of the northern part of the state, stopped in Brownsville and offered to teach a school. His services being desired by persons who had children, application was made to the County Commissioners for the use of one of the jury rooms in teh court house as a school room. Leave was granted and the school was commenced in the southeast jury room, which was warmed by a wood stove. The 10th day of January, 1843 was a real winter day, snowy and cold. I had no occasion to be at the courthouse that day. About midnight I was aroused from sleep by a knocking at my door, with an exclamation that "the court house is on fire."

The county commissioners, considering the matter of rebuilding the courthouse, decided the location could be improved and a new county seat was laid out at Murphysboro.

Although Brownsville was the center of educational activity it certainly had no monopoly on subscription schooling. Records on other schools in the county are non-existent, but when the first systematic history of the county was written in 1878, there were the memories of the older citizens to call upon. Here are a few of their recollections about subscription schools.

1826 Kinkaid Township - an outbuilding of a farm in Section 33 John Crane
1829 Ora Township Peter Carroll
1832 Carbondale Township - Southwest part Amer Hanson
1833 Carbondale Township - in a tobacco barn on Drury Creek John Murden
1835 Vergennes Township - Tuthill's Prairie D. B. Tuthill
1838 Levan Township - near house of Hugh McMullen Mr. Graham
1839 Degognia Township - Hopewell School near farm of Mr. J. C. Isom Mr. Gatewood
1852 Grand Tower Edmund Newsome

Opportunities for more advanced learning in this early period were limited. There were no academies in the county but there was one just across the county line in Randolph County at Shiloh Hill called Shiloh College. The "college" was originally created in 1836 and after a pledge of $123 it opened as a subscription school. The hopes of making it into a real college or even a full-fledged academy never materialized, but some instruction was given in the higher branches. THe school could later claim General John A. Logan of Jackson County as its most illustrious alum.

Contributed 21 Aug 2016 by Norma Hass

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