Henry County, IAGenWeb


Canaan Township

by Perry C. Mathews (1893-1975)

click on photos for larger views

The Independent School District No. 8 was one of the nine independent school districts in Canaan Township, Henry County, Iowa.

Canaan Township was the last of the townships to be organized in Henry County. In the early days the entire area, including the Colfax District, was known as “the terrible Canaan flats” and was considered by many to be unfit for human habitation.

The township as organized provided for nine Independent school districts, each containing four sections (of land). Usually the school-house was placed in the center of the District, providing school facilities for every child within two miles. This plan was not always carried out, as the law provided the voter substantial range for independent action.

In 1848, James Lawrence, an emigrant from England, became the District’s first resident, (also the first resident in Canaan Township) when he moved his family to his farm in the south half of Section 33. The area developed slowly. Lack of drainage, transportation, communication and local markets, in addition to a tenacious prairie sod, were only a few of the problems confronting our pioneers.

Settlers continued to move into the area and in the summer of 1868, acquired a two-acre tract of land in the northeast corner of the Aaron Lutes farm at the common corner of Sections 27, 28, 33 and 34. The first Colfax School was built on the site in 1869.

Our pioneers were a frugal, hardworking, and religious people. Soon after completion of the building, a union Sunday School was started and for many years the school-house continued to be the religious and social center for the community. Much later, unfortunately, all the records of the first school were lost by fire. It was known to have been built of lumber, quite small and soon found to be inadequate for the purpose for which it was intended.

In 1886, the District decided to build a new and much larger school building at the same location as the first school.

Early in the spring of 1887, a contract was entered into between Mr. A. Holland, President of the Independent School District No. 8 (Colfax) and Emerson J. Mathews, a resident of Canaan Township, in which Mr. Mathews agreed to furnish all material and labor in the erection of a building in accordance with attached specifications. The building was completed and accepted by the Board in time for the beginning of the 1887-1888 school year.

The building was a wooden one-room structure 24’ by 34’ with 12 feet to the square. The roof ridge extended north and south and was covered with cedar shingles. A brick chimney was built in the center of the roof to accommodate a large stove placed in the center of the schoolroom. The blackboard, made of pine boards, extended across the north end of the building. The teacher’s desk was located on a small platform located near the center of the same end. Two shelves in the southwest corner were for the girls’ lunch boxes, etc., and two similar shelves in the southeast corner were for the use of the boys. An additional shelf in this corner was used for the water pail and the long-handled community dipper. Two rows of hooks extended across the south end to accommodate the pupils’ coats, hats, etc. A row of double desks facing north and extending along the east side of the room were used by the boys, and a similar row along the west side were used by the girls. Seats for recitation were placed in a row in front of the teacher’s platform. Unlike most of the one-room schools, the building had an ornate belfry containing a bell of suitable volume to denote the different periods of the school day.

For many years the school was ungraded, the teacher would segregate the students into A and B groups, according to age and ability. Later, the approved grading system was used.

The pioneer school year usually lasted eight months, consisting of fall, winter, and spring terms. The spring and fall vacations were for the purpose of allowing the farm boys to assist in the planting and harvesting of the crops. The winter term was much longer and was attended by many of the older boys. Often a school would have three different teachers during a school year. The teachers were required to do their own janitor work which included sweeping, dusting, scrubbing, carrying in fuel, building fires, taking out ashes, etc., etc. Usually the teacher would find a place to room and board with some family in the District.

The Colfax School continued in operation until the end of the 1948-49 school year when it was closed. Miss Greta Helphrey was the last teacher. There were eleven pupils, seven girls and four boys, in five different grades.

During the next twelve years, the District sent their children to other schools as paid pupils. In July 1961, the District was consolidated with the New London School System, and Colfax District No. 8 ceased to function as a school.

In December 1956, the Colfax School building, land, and remaining school equipment were sold at public auction. Perry Mathews purchased the building and gave it to the Midwest Old Settlers and Threshers Association, with the provision that the building be moved to the Association grounds, there to be maintained as a representative of the typical one-room school so characteristic of this area in early pioneer days.

Transcribed and contributed to Henry County IAGenWeb by Pat White, November 2020.

School Days  **  Henry County IAGenWeb

 Copyright © IAGenWeb.  All rights reserved.