A MEMOIR OF PERRY TOWNSHIP SCHOOLS
By Morton T. McComb (1861-1942)
The people of Perry Township have always considered the matter of educating its young people as one of its duties to mankind and to the welfare of the state.
Around 1860, the farmers of Perry Township, eager to provide a school of higher learning, established the Perry Township Seminary. The farmers organized a stock company to establish this school, for the purpose of providing their youth with the advantages of a higher education. The Seminary was located about 2 miles east of the present school building. The first teacher to teach this school was MR. TILDEN, a graduate of Oberlin College. The Seminary flourished for several years. It was not a public school in the present sense of the word. Tuition was paid by the parents of the boys and girls who attended. The amount of tuition paid by one family was $25 for 3 pupils. A student was admitted to the Seminary after he or she had completed the common or district school.
After several years of success (about 20 years), the Seminary failed because of the interest of the community in establishing the district school system. The building that housed the Seminary was torn down, and the timbers were moved to form a part of the barn on the KELL Sister’s farm, west of Huntertown.
The first public school of Perry Township was built near the site of the old Seminary. This building was made of logs. The farmers of the community gathered and erected this building to house the first public school of Perry Township. They donated their time and labor. The school became known as the Center School of Perry Township. The building was unfinished inside. Benches were made of hewed logs with smaller logs forming the legs. In all, this building and equipment was of the most primitive type, but illustrated the desire of the township to provide an education for its people. This building was abandoned in 1867; the author attended it for one week of his first year in school.
After Center School had been built, other communities of the township began building until there were 9 schools in the township. The township was divided into districts of four sections each and each district had a school centrally located. The number of the district and the name of the schools were as follows:
School District Number 1, the DUTCH RIDGE SCHOOL
School District Number 2, the FITCH SCHOOL
School District Number 3, the NORTH HUNTERTOWN SCHOOL
School District Number 4, the HUNTERTOWN SCHOOL
School District Number 5, the PERRY CENTER SCHOOL
School District Number 6, the HURSH SCHOOL
School District Number 7, the DULEY SCHOOL
School District Number 8, the BOWSER SCHOOL
School District Number 9, the FLEMNING SCHOOL
The schools received their name from prominent families living in its vicinity. By 1900, there were 9 schools and 10 teachers in the township. The Huntertown School employed 2 teachers. The present “old building” at Huntertown previous to 1900 held 2 separate schools, the pupils being divided by the part of the district they came from—North or South. After 1900, the building housed one complete school with the pupils being divided by grades. The schools were conducted in this manner, the district system, until the centralized school was built in 1922. Some of the district schools were abandoned around 1900, under a state law which compelled the trustee to close a school if the attendance was 12 pupils or less at the close of school in the spring. This happened to the Center and Flemning School. The pupils were hauled to the Huntertown School by the parents. One parent received $12 per month from the township for hauling his and his neighbors’ children from the Flemning district to Huntertown.
To show the progress our schools have made, a few comparisons will be made:
Teacher training in the first schools of the township was unknown. To be a teacher one needed to pass an examination given by the state under the supervision of the county superintendent. To secure a six-months teacher’s license, the teacher needed to pass the examination with a general average of 72%. In order to get a two-year license, the teacher needed to make a general average of 96. The examination consisted of 10 questions on each subject.
Today, a teacher in order to secure a license, must attend a state-accredited college for 4 years. In these 4 years the teacher must take such courses as outlined and prescribed by the State Board of Education. The license is good for 5 years, and upon presenting evidence of 5 years of successful teaching may be converted into a life license. These facts pertain to both the grade school teacher and the high school teacher.
In the matter of curricula, the first schools had no course of study. The schools taught reading, writing, and arithmetic, and as the old saying goes, “to the tune of a hickory stick.” The pupil pursued a subject until he mastered it, and had successfully passed an examination in it. Around 1885, the state inaugurated a course of study, which had to be sold to the people of the state. The prescribed course of study consisted of 8 branches or subjects, namely: reading, writing, arithmetic, spelling, history, physiology, grammar and geography.
Today, the elementary course of study is about the same with science, home economics, manual training, and physical education added to the list. In the high school, the state sets up certain subjects as requirements and the student fills out his subject load with electives.
In the matter of recreation or play, the two schools show a real and greater contrast. In the first schools, one of the play activities was in seeing who could make the highest pair of stilts, and walk on them successfully. One boy constructed a pair of stilts so high that he had to mount them off the roof of the school building.
Today, the child’s play activities at school are involved with a ball of some description, softball, baseball, and the game Indiana has become noted for – basketball.
Another matter of contrast was the attitude of the people toward the school and activities. In those days an old-fashioned pot-luck dinner at the school was an activity of outstanding importance, and became an event of the school year. The spelling bee, the box social, the Christmas program, the graduating exercises were all looked forward to by the entire community. The people asked for schools and willingly chipped in to erect one, or to grade the school grounds, to plant trees, etc. The school was a center – educational, social, and to some people a spiritual one.
Today the school has become a matter of business, to be conducted by the trustee for the people of the township. If the grounds need to be graded, a man is hired to do it. If an addition is needed, a contractor is hired. The people feel that a school is a necessity. On the whole, the attitude of people towards their school has become too impersonal. They have lost tract of the school program, and have consequently failed to appreciate it as it should be appreciated. Many parents of today’s school children have never attended school while it has been in session, and have rarely attended any function of the school, except an exta-curricular one – such as a ball game.
It is interesting to note that Perry Township had a high school previous to 1922. The first high school was conducted by ED METCALF in the Huntertown School. This took place during the school years of 1903 and 1904. He taught high school subjects to 10 or 12 students, besides conducting the classes for the grade students.
Previous to 1900, Perry Township had never graduated any of its students from the 8th grade. In that year, HUBERT McCOMB and CHARLES RUNDELS successfully passed the examination and graduated from the 8th grade. Many students had completed the common school course, but none had attempted to graduate by taking the final examination.
In 1901, Perry Township conducted its first commencement exercises for its 8th grade graduates. The graduation exercises were held in the Methodist Church in Huntertown. The graduating class had 16 members. The speaker for the occasion was the Honorable Judge OWEN HEATON, judge of the Allen County Circuit Court.
The following year, 1902, all the townships of the county held a County Eighth Grade Commencement Exercise in Fort Wayne.
Perry Township has provided many of its own teachers in the past as they are doing today. School District number 6 has the distinction of providing more teachers than all other districts combined. The teachers from each of the districts are as follows:
District Number 6:
MARY ANN VANDOLAR
MORTON T. McCOMB
WILLIAM S. McCOMB
EDWARD T. McCOMB
DAVID O. McCOMB
LA VON CHAPMAN
GEORGE HURSH, SR.
GEORGE HURSH, JR.
District Number 5:
AMELIA (KELL) HATCH, who also attended the Seminary
District Number 4:
District Number 3:
GEORGE V. KELL, later was sent to the state legislature.
Perry Township has provided the county with two of its superintendents. The first superintendent of the county was JERRY HILLEGAS, a graduate of Ann Arbor University. He was born and reared in Perry Township. The second superintendent Perry Township provided was DAVID O. McCOMB, who held the office for 24 years.