A few notes about school houses as written in a Fitch family history by Bill Cassell. The booklet is called “Jennie’s Family”. Jennie was “Jennie” Jane Fitch, (Mary Jane) third daughter of Nathaniel Fitch and Sarah DeLong. Jennie was born in the 1844 in Perry Township.
“There was an original log school house on Nathaniel’s land, which Perry and the older Fitch children attended. A smooth topped table, flanked by a pair of long benches made of slabs with the flat side up ran the length of the building. Another table and benches were against the wall. The children would recite between the tables. It was a small building and smelled of frying and cooking.”
School news, Fitch School
One summer Will Ferrin taught at the district school. He boarded in Huntertown and walked down. Will played with the children. Ellen Thornton caught him (long legs, hard to catch) and tore his coat tail. Ellen was scared, but Will just laughed. He was not a native boy. Will would read “Thanatopsis” so well that the children would cry.
The children had a 3-acre field to play in. They would run from school, across the road, to play king of the hill where two great oaks stood. It was a steep hill, with a creek below. Trudy Hatch once grabbed an oak limb to swing over a gully and fell, breaking her nose. (Not a strong girl.)”.
The following then is about Perry Center Seminary which was an institution of higher learning. Probably what was later called “high school”.
“Perry Center Seminary was founded in 1856 by Nathaniel Fitch, Jacob Kell, George B. Gloyd, and Mr. Hillegas to provide education for the community’s children. There was no toilet or well. Nathaniel Fitch boarded the masons who built the foundation for free. The seminary was a frame building of which the German Mr. Kell said in broken English, “I wish you would break up. Then I’d do better.”
“There were two large rooms for classes on the first floor and six or seven rooms on the second floor. The teacher lived at the seminary, and some boys stayed there during the week in the upstairs rooms. Others came by wagon or sled, gathering others along the way. Moll and Jane Fair, Mary Fleming, Ann Ross, and two Vandolah girls would spin and do other work for Sarah Fitch in return for board.
There was an oral entrance exam, where the teacher asked the questions, and parents sat up front to watch when their own children were quizzed. The teacher, Mr. Fleming, had “Eastern” ideas as to what should be taught and had the children studying Greek and Latin, among other subjects. Nathaniel’s third child, Mary Jane, known as Jennie, took to this study like a duck to water and she prepared for college. During her time at the Academy she and the other girls made a Union Flag, which has been displayed at Fitch reunions ever since.” (That flag is now missing!)
According to the 1860 map of Perry Township the Seminary was at the Northwest corner of Coldwater and Gump Roads. In 1860 that land belonged to Jacob Kell.
OLD SEMINARY NOW STURDY BARN
WAR TOOK ALL ITS STUDENTS
By Marshall Lincoln
Although Walter Kell’s livestock probably haven’t appreciated it, his barn used to be a school house. Kell, a farmer northwest of Huntertown and a former Indiana county agent, explained that his grandfather, JACOB KELL, was one of the three men who incorporated the PERRY CENTER SEMINARY. Others who sponsored the school in 1856 were NATHANIEL FITCH and GEORGE GLOYD.
Originally the school was south of Kell’s farm. It was similar to what we now call a high school and among the subjects taught were higher mathematics, philosophy and astronomy.
Prof. T. W. TILDEN was the teacher and by 1860 the school had grown in enrollment enough to hire two assistants. Pupils came from Noble, DeKalb, Allen, LaGrange and other neighboring counties.
The civil war proved the downfall of the seminary, for most of its pupils dropped out in 1862-3 to enter the Army. Tilden resigned as a teacher and the building fell into disuse until about 1876 when it was torn down, moved to its present site and reconstructed to serve as a barn.
The two-story structure was made in the days when things were built to last. The heavy studding is closely spaced and the roof had an elaborate beam-truss arrangement that helped make the barn solid as a rock. So solid, in fact, that according to Kell it has withstood two cyclones.
Although built nearly a hundred years ago, it has lumber with as fine tongue-and-groove workmanship as is turned out by today’s fancy machines. The roof has been replaced but most of the rest of the building has its original materials, including inch-thick walnut boards which form the partitions in the grain bins. These boards used to be behind the blackboards, Kell explained. (Article probably written in the early 1950’s)
INTERVIEW WITH MISS ANNA FOOTE ………… SCHOOL
In 1941, Miss ANNA FOOTE, fresh out of Central Normal Teacher’s College in Danville, Indiana, took a position of teaching 5th and 6th grades at Huntertown Elementary School. After 40 years of service to Huntertown, Miss Foote is retiring as a 1st grade teacher. The experience she acquired over the years has given her an interesting perspective on teaching.
Miss Foote feels that teachers today have less enthusiasm than when she first started out. In the earlier years, educators were required to attend all the workshops and meetings that were held. Now attendance to those types of functions is optional, so very few teachers are ever present.
If teacher attitudes have changed, then so have the children’s. Elementary students in the early 40’s were often shy and afraid during their first few years at school. It was not uncommon to have several children cry out loud in class, calling for their mommies and wanting to go home. When it came time to read out of their first “primers”, teachers often had to show the kids how to hold the book, so that the print was right side up. Going hand in hand with backwardness of the children came the fact that discipline was very easy. Sometimes all you had to do to an unruly child was “stare hard”, and he would behave. However, if a student was in need of tougher punishment, a paddling was administered. Even though paddling is permitted today, there are a few restrictions on it, including the presence of 3 witnesses, which have made that sort of discipline unfavorable.
Today children come to class with much more knowledge than before. There is hardly any subject you can teach that at least one student doesn’t know about.
This gain in knowledge could have come from the increasing pervasiveness of television into the community since the 50’s. Miss Foote also believes that the fact that the children spend more time together outside the school could make a difference. Along with more knowledgeable children come more forward children. A type of forwardness, in fact, that makes a class of 20 students tough to handle, compared to 40 students in earlier times. Discipline, therefore, has become harder, and new punishments have had to be created, such as suspensions from school.
One thing that hasn’t changed over the years with the children is their enthusiasm. They come to class with their “eyes wide open”, and ready to learn. In fact, their “eyes are an inspiration” to Miss Foote, who believes that after 40 years of teaching, she will certainly miss the children.
School itself has definitely changed over the years. Besides the regular reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic, Miss Foote remembers teaching more art work. Now, more emphasis is placed on each of the subjects. While reading material has of course changed with the times, it has also increased in amount, becoming the most enjoyed subject in Miss Foote’s classes. There is more language and science taught to the children, and math contests are commonplace.
Learning the material was tougher in the older times, since students were required to furnish their own paper, even though, they had no money to buy it. The school did not have funds to buy toys or other learning devices, so what few things a classroom had, came out of the teacher’s pocket.
A grade school and high school graduate of Huntertown, herself, Miss Foote is often asked what it takes to become a successful teacher. Her reply is in the form of three sentences of advice:
1. Be sure you love children.
2. You must have the patience of Job.
3. Make sure you don’t mind being underpaid.
Miss Foote certainly has the above qualities, since she has been teaching for 40 years. To her list of credits could be added her former students. A few of them went on to be college professors, and one is a rather successful author. Still others grew up and had children whom Miss Foote has also taught. If that isn’t enough, then you should also know that one of the teachers at Huntertown also had Miss Foote for an elementary teacher.
Miss Foote says that she knows only one student of hers that has grown up and gone bad.
I think that is a super record.
Taken from a project of the Northwest Allen County Schools
By Gene Wert and George McKinney
Linking students and Community, Community and World
Interviews done by students