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A History of Livingston County, Missouri

Published by The Livingston County Centennial Committee

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Often the early evangelists in the county served as teachers for the children of the pioneers. Although their qualifications were limited, certainly the county owes these preachers a debt of gratitude for conducting, what we might term, our first schools. The Boucher School, typical of the very old schools of the county, was held first in a cabin deserted by a squatter or hunter. The tiny structure was of logs, with a dirt floor, backless puncheon seats arranged around the walls, "windows" on one side where a log was left out, a puncheon door propped up against an opening left for it, and a puncheon roof. Here a preacher taught children the a b c's, after which he gave them a copy of Aesop's Fables, or the Bible to read. Because most of the early preachers knew how to add and figure a little, they taught that, too. The lack of desks was not negligence. It was believed desks induced laziness, for pupils might lean on them. As late as the 60s a school might have; one desk large enough to accommodate two writers at one time.

These early preachers were followed by subscription schools, where parents paid according to the number of children attending. Teachers' salaries were distressingly small, usually $1.00 a month per pupil, and the teacher had to "board around." If a family had one child in school, the teacher boarded one week, if two children, two weeks, and so on. Even after the Civil War, when the community began to show marked interest in the schools, the terms were short, perhaps three months in the early spring, and sometimes two months in the early fall. From the 70's to the twentieth century, nearly all the enrollments were large, fifty to one hundred pupils, ranging in age from six to twenty-five years. They had great times, especially on the days the teacher was supposed to treat with a bucket of hard candy or big red apples. Woe unto the poor instructor who failed to live up to the custom, for he was locked out if he were late to school, or smoked out if he were early. This latter process was accomplished simply by placing a board over the chimney. Most of the rural schools were surrounded by hazel brush or large groves of trees. One old settler states that it was not unusual during school hours at the Cor Campbell School (started in 1861), to hear the hounds chasing deer, running from the mounds to the woods along the river; but George Campbell, who is an old settler, too, says he never saw but one deer in the community, and then he was a boy about eight years old.

Mrs. Lily Toppas, a first term student (1860) at the Leaton School, tells us that during recess, pupils hunted wild flowers and berries now extinct. She remembers, too, the Indian raids on smoke houses. Mrs. S. A. Stone recalls that once a tall, young Indian stationed himself outside the window, a vantage point for watching the pupils within. Annoyed, the teacher asked a boy to say to him, "Puck-a-chee," meaning "go away," to which he replied, "Puck-a-chee yourself."

These first school houses served as churches and as gathering places for all community activities. No drives were more frequented than those leading to the school house hitchracks, for often at night there was a debate, a singing school, a spelling bee, a political speech, or a box supper.

No school history would be complete without the biography of Mrs. Annie Stewart Williams.

Mrs. Annie Stewart Williams (Mrs. Ira T. Williams) was born in Jackson Township September 11, 1856. Her parents were Robert Mackley Stewart and Martha Porterfield Stewart. Mrs. Williams received her early education in the subscription schools of Jackson Township, as there were no public schools then, She, herself, began her teaching career in such schools at the age of fifteen. Mrs. Williams attended Valparaiso Normal school in later years, She taught in every public school in Sampsel and Jackson Townships and in many other rural schools of Livingston County. She also taught in schools in Daviess County and at Meadville. Mrs. Williams was a member of the corps’of teachers in the Chillicothe public schools, and taught three years as primary teacher in the Kansas City public schools. She was head of' the schools of Lock Springs just prior to taking up work in Kansas City. Mrs. Williams has the distinction of being the only woman to have held the office of Commissioner of the Livingston County schools. She was elected in April, 1893 and served two years - the term of this office was for only two years at that time. She was the first woman to hold an elective office in the county, and it is thought she is also the first woman to hold in elective public office in Missouri.

Not always were the teachers poorly equipped; many of our successful lawyers and doctors taught as a means of securing money for their own education. Mrs. Mary M. Lawler remembers teachers from academies, colleges, and even universities in the New York School, where water to drink was carried from a spring a mile away, and, as it was in all schools, passed in a wooden bucket during the study hours. Naturally, everyone drank from the same bright tin cup or dipper. Ah, sanitation!

The law creating the office of County Superintendent of Schools, called then County Commissioner of Schools, went into effect in 1868, when J. D. Roberts was elected Superintendent. Those still living who have served in this office are: Mrs. Annie Stewart Williams, County Commissioner: Dr. W. A. Henderson, Mr. Frank Sparling, Mr. J. M. Gallatin, Mr. J. J. Jordan, and Mr. J. A. Boucher, County Superintendent of Schools.

In 1885, there were 7,328 children in the county. 345 of these were colored. For the year ending April1, 1885, the amount actually expended for school purposes was $45,573.37. The average expense for each child of school age in the county was $6.22. Many children did not attend school, however, so the actual expense per child was much higher. At the close of that same school year the county boasted .97 school districts, not including Chillicothe, and 105 schools, including Chillicothe. At the close of the 1936 school year, there were 14,379 children, including 106 colored; the expense was $195,255.71, averaging $44.59 per pupil. The number of school districts at the present time is 71, and the number of schools 65, not including eight consolidated schools and Chillicothe.

Since 1915, consolidated schools have replaced many of the old district schools. Now, children are transported in buses to modern brick structures where the opportunities for elementary and secondary education equal those found any place in the state. The superintendents for our consolidated schools, 1937-38 are: Mooresville, C. C. Cokerham; Utica, Justine M. Walker; Dawn, M. E. Lomax; Ludlow, J. Drew Nelson; Wheeling, John F. Uhlig; Bedford, G. B. Winburn; Chula, Fred Cinatto; Avalon, Norman Calvert.

In Chillicothe in 1858, the Reverend Ellington, a South Methodist minister, taught a private school in his church on Locust Street. The first seminary in Chillicothe was a boarding school, located on East Webster Street. Here boys were allowed to attend until they were sixteen years old. On the street in front of the school, a board sidewalk at least eight feet from the ground, made an excellent place to play during recess. When the public schools came into existence, this school had to close.

During the Civil War, in answer to pleas from parents, Father Hogan, the first Catholic priest in Livingston County, opened a school in the old seminary building. Here for two years he taught both boys and girls. In January, 1872, the Catholic sisters opened a day school in the old Redding building, but in the spring of 1873, a lot was purchased from Thomas Bryan and the Convent built where it now stands. Although it is owned and operated by the sisters of St. Francis who came here in June, 1935, the school is still called St. Joseph's Academy. Its large and active alumnae association was organized in 1898, by Miss Ellen Wall whose untiring efforts have meant so much to the school. The parochial schools of our city were started in 1872. In 1880, the first school building was erected. Here Mr. Henry Schultz, now living in Chillicothe, taught boys and girls in 1882 and 1883. The present two-story brick building was constructed in 1913. Since 1920, this building has housed only grade school pupils. Both boys and girls attend St. Joseph's Academy for high school work. The present enrollment in the parochial grade school averages one hundred; the enrollment at St. Joseph's Academy, fifty.

At the close of the Civil War, a system of grade schools for Chillicothe was established under a special charter. In 1865, the second, third, and fourth ward schools were built, but the first ward pupils attended school in the Garr building at the corner of Locust and Calhoun Streets. At the same time high school met in the basement of the First Methodist Church, which stood on the same site as the present building.

In a small two-room structure on West Webster Street, white teachers had charge of a little group of colored children. Now, our colored people have a well equipped grade and high school, presided over by teachers of their own race.

It was in 1876 that the old three-story Central building was completed at a cost of $35,000. When in 1886 the tall tower was struck by lightning, the heavy iron bell fell through to the basement and a new squat tower was built to replace the former high one. Old Central was in constant use from 1877 until the close of school in 1923, when it was condemned, and shortly afterward razed. The old bell, which had called in so many lagging as well as hurrying feet, was saved and now stands as a beautiful memorial on the north lawn. It was for Old Central that Mr. Hazelton of New York gave a considerable sum of money to establish what is still the finest library in any school of its size in Missouri. Mr. Hazelton, who never saw our town, did this because the little western city paid promptly and faithfully the bonds which he had purchased.

On the same lot with Old Central, in the year 1900, the present Central school, then a high school, was built at a cost of 25,000. In 1914, an addition, costing $33,000 completed the structure. New Central is now a grade school since the building of our $300,000 high school. In 1923, the bonds were voted and Mr. R. Warren Roberts chosen architect. The building was open for use January 5, 1925. The present junior-senior high school faculty numbers 25, and each year an average of 100 students are graduated.

Six substantial and influential business men compose the school board, they are: Mr. Joseph D. Stewart, President; Dr. Ruben Barney, Vice-president; Mr. Roy F. Chase, Treasurer; Mr. Frank McCalmont, Secretary; Dr. Clarence M. Grace and Mr. Allen Moore. Mr. H. R. McCall is Superintendent and Mr. Giles Theilmann is principal of the Chillicothe Public Schools.

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