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TThe schools of the county are sharing with the contents of the newsboy's bundle, the title of universities of the poor. A close observation of the working of the public schools shows that if the induction of facts be complete, it could be demonstrated that the public schools turn out more better fitted for business, and for usefulness, than most of our colleges. The freedom and liberty of our public schools afford less room for the growth of effeminacy and pedantry; it educates the youth among the people, and not among a caste or class, and since the man or woman is called upon to do with a nation in which some are the only factor, the education which the common schools afford, especially where they are of the superior standard reached in this county, do fit their recipients for a sphere of usefulness nearer the public heart than can be attained by private schools or academies.
Keokuk county educational affairs are in a flourishing condition. The contrast between the settler's school and the present accommodations has been marked. The puncheon floors and desks, and doorless aperature for entrance, have given place to more finished edifices, in some cases elegant ones, possibly not more thoroughly ventilated, but more comfortably so.
The county has now become well supplied with comfortable, commodious school-houses, and good schools are being taught in all the townships and towns, sufficiently numerous and convenient for the accommodation of all parts of the county. Educational interests have been considered as of the highest importance by the majority of the citizens, and means and efforts have not been spared to make their public schools a success; and under the efficient management of Mr. Todd, who until recently, has held the office of superintendent for quite a term of years, the schools and educational interests are attaining a high standard.
The county teachers believe in the interchange of thought, also in the community of effort, and are making the profession of teaching a study as well as practice. Teachers' institutes are now becoming of regular and frequent occurence, and are well attended by those who take a special interest in the work. The superintendents' examination-grade is now of such a standard that all applicants do not attain it, and for those who are successful, after diligent study and preparation, it shows a much more creditable standing, besides furnishing a more efficient class of teachers.
The last county normal was held in August, beginning first Monday. It was conducted by H. D. Todd. The number of teachers enrolled was 199, of whom 50 were males. The interest was good, by far the best and most profitable ever held in the county.
It is interesting to note the growth of the schools of this county, as well as the added interest which accompanies it. From the humble beginning of one school-house, we see one in every neighborhood of the county, accommodating every child in its midst, whether it be rich or poor.
The first school within the present limits of Keokuk county was in a school-house built to suit the times. It was near Rocky Run, nearly three and a-half miles northeast of Richland. It was built of round logs, the space between them chinked and then daubed with mud. About five feet from the west wall on the inside, and about five feet high, another log was placed running clear across the building. Puncheons were fixed on this log and in the west wall on which the chimney was built. Fuel could then be used of any length not greater than the width of the building, and when it was burned through in the middle the ends were crowded together; in this manner was avoided the necessity of so much wood chopping. There was no danger of burning the floor, as there was none. The seats were made of stools or benches, constructed by splitting a log, hewing off the splinters from the flat side and then putting four pegs into it from the round side for legs. The door was made of clapboards. On either side a piece of one log was cut out, and over the aperature was pasted greased paper which answered for a window. Wooden pins were driven into the log running lengthwise immediately beneath the windows, upon which was laid a board and this constituted the writing desks. The school-district in which this wonderful structure stood extended from the east part of the county to the Jackson township line, and from Skunk river on the north as far south as one could see. Since the day of school tax levies the people are a little more definite in defining their sub-districts.
The first school, which is hereafter described, having closed, a meeting was called and it was resolved "that we build a good school-house, twenty feet square, plank floor, glass windows, batten door, pointed with lime, provided it don't cost more than fifty dollars."
The first school taught in the county was by James McKinney in the winter of 1842-3 at the school-house heretofore described. The second school was taught at the same place by Miss Emily Whitaker in the summer of 1843. The following winter she and her brother, Watson Whitaker, each taught a school in the same locality, but one of them was just across the line in Washington county. The fourth school was taught at a place called Western City, then a rival of Richland, and situated about four miles northwest of the latter place. This school was taught by Emily Whitaker in the summer of 1844. Her wages were fifty cents per month for each pupil, one-third payable in money and the balance in trade. This Miss Whitaker is now Mrs. Meacham and she still owns a reel she took as the tuition for one pupil. She took most of her pay in wheat. James McKinney, who taught the first school, was not disposed to treat on Christmas, as the pupils desired him to do, so they seized him and were taking him to the creek to give him a "ducking" when Harvey McCoskey took a penknife and stabbed Pleasant Pringle just below the eye and inflicted a wound, the scar of which Mr. Pringle still bears. Twice, subsequently, the pupils were successful in "ducking" the teachers. When they had "ducked" him twice he became sick but would not treat. Some of the pupils of this first school are yet citizens of the county, among whom are A. H. Smith, to whom we are under obligations for several facts of this chapter, Pleasant Pringle, Joel Pringle, Mrs. Susan Jeffreys, and J. P. A. Lewis.
The first schools of the county were subscription schools; the teachers "boarded around," stayed one night at one house and the next at another. The course of study was spelling and the three " R's—Readen, Riten and Rethmetic." The leading principle in didactics was, "no licken, no larnen."
The contracts between teacher and patrons were perhaps similar to the following entered into between one Weller, who taught the first school in Steady Run township, and his patrons:
"Article of agreement made and entered into this 9th day of January, 1846, between R. F. Weller, of the Territory of Iowa, Keokuk county, and the undersigned, witnesseth that the said Weller agrees to teach a common school for the term of three months, viz. : spelling, reading, writing and arithmetic.
"The undersigned, citizens of the said county, agree to pay said Weller one dollar and fifty cents per scholar; also, to furnish a suitable house and fire-wood, and board said Weller; the above amount may be paid in making rails at the customary price, one-third to be paid on or before the expiration of each month. School to commence when twenty scholars are signed:
The first school taught in German township was by Julius J. Heider, in 1851; the first in Adams, by Martin Ballard, in 1849; the first in English River, by S. M. Glandon, in 1850, in an old house without windows. Webster has, until recently, had one of the original school-houses, built in the township which was erected in the fall of 1854. At the latter named place there was an academy started by Degarmo & Co., but owing to a lack of patronage it was abandoned. The first school taught in Prairie township was in the winter of 1857-8, by L. Hollingsworth, who afterward was elected to several of the most important county offices, and is now a resident of the county-seat.
In the year 1856 Benjamin Naylor, B. F. McAllister and Wm. B. Lawler started an academy at Richland, which was in operation four years. The principal, Mr. Naylor, was the author of a text-book on arithmetic and geography. The leading features of these books were much oral teaching, concert recitations, singing geography, and contractions in operations in arithmetic. Several who afterward became prominent and influential citizens of the county were students of this academy; among others, J. A. Lowe, afterward county superintendent, J. M. Jones, county recorder, and L. F. Smith, for years a teacher in the county, and now a banker of Winterset. The last named gentleman, like his preceptor, has done something in the way of book-making. Among other works of which he is the author are the "Rational Method of Grammar," and a work on banking; the former is decidedly original in conception and novel in style.
Teachers' Institute andNormals.
The first teachers' institute held in the county was an educational fair held in the year 1858, under the auspices of Judge Rogers, then county superintendent, and the State superintendent, D. Franklin Wells. Competitive examinations and class drills were the leading features of the contest. Among the teachers in attendance were L. Hollingsworth, James Winget, Cind Crossman, Isaac Hale, J. H. Sanders, Hilson Degarmo and L. McCoy.
The first regular institute was held in 1862, at Sigourney, during the month of September, conducted by Moses Ingalls, of Muscatine; the next year the institute was held in June, conducted by the same man, assisted in reading and music by Mr. Dougherty. In 1864 the institute was held at Richland, and was conducted by Prof. J. Piper. In 1865 the institute was held at Springfield; about twenty teachers were in attendance. The next year the institute was held at Sigourney, conducted by Prof. Piper; twenty-six males and forty-five females were in attendance. In 1868 the institute was held at Sigourney, beginning March 22d, conducted by T. W. Mulhera. In 1869 Prof. Gilchrist and Prof. G. T. Carpenter conducted the institute; one hundred and forty-four teachers were in attendance. In 1870, one Durham conducted the institute, and in 1871 and 1872 Prof. Piper was again engaged. The last institute was conducted by E. Baker, of Oskaloosa; it occurred in December, 1873, with an attendance of one hundred and forty.
The first county normal school held was during the administration of H. D. Todd. It was held in August, 1873, Prof. Eldridge being the conductor, assisted by Miss Deering and Prof. Pickett, and there were one hundred and seventy-seven in attendance.
In the year 1875, a normal of six weeks was held, beginning August 2d, two hundred and sixteen teachers being in attendance; this was the largest normal held in the State up to that time.
The last normal was held in the school building at Sigourney, beginning August 4th and lasting four weeks. H. D. Todd was the conductor, assisted by G. T. Carpenter, E. R. Eldridge, J. J. Pollard, J. E. Richardson, Menza Roseranz, R. Bush, M. Gibney and Dr. John Wheeler. There were in attendance sixty-five males and one hundred and thirty-three females.
John Rogers, H. Jay, James Frey, D. V. Smock, A. J. Kane, J. A. Lowe. T. J. Hasty, H. D. Todd and John Bland have been the county superintendents, in the order named. Mr. Todd held the office nearly six years, and now has, throughout the State, the best reputation of any superintendent who has ever held the office. By reason of his enterprise and activity he has brought the schools of the county up to a standard much above the average of county schools, and all friends of popular education, and especially those most immediately interested can but congratulate the recently retired superintendent upon his long and successful career as a public servant.
Very much of the early history of the schools of the county is now enveloped in darkness, owing to the fact that no one has undertaken to keep an exact record of their beginnings and subsequent progress. Although meagre, what is obtainable is interesting and authentic.
In 1850 there were in the county thirty-nine schools, thirty-nine teachers, one thousand and fifteen pupils. The school fund consisted of two hundred dollars raised by taxation, six hundred and forty dollars from the public fund and eighteen hundred dollars raised by subscription, fines, etc.
The following tables will afford a good idea of school affairs and the progress made from time to time in the history of the county down to the present time:
Examination of Teachers.
Visitation of Schools.
Cabinet and Library.
Through the exertions of Mr. Todd, the late county superintendent, there has been accumulated a valuable library and cabinet. The following is a history of the same:
The Keokuk County Educational Library was organized at the first normal institute held in the county, during August, 1874. The teachers in attendance subscribed one hundred and twelve dollars as a fund for purchasing books.
At first the membership fee was fixed at twenty-five cents, but at the meeting in January, 1875, it was changed to fifty cents. Most of the members at this time, as now, were teachers. A constitution and by-laws were adopted, and officers elected, as follows: John Axmear, president; Florence Shufflebarger, vice-president; Della Darling, secretary; J. S. Picket, treasurer; H. D. Todd, librarian. The annual dues of each member were first fixed at twenty-five cents. The organization prospered, and added many new books during the first year.
At the meeting, August, 1875, many new members joined, when the membership fee was fixed at one dollar, and the annual dues at fifteen cents a quarter, or sixty cents a year. Several changes were also made in the constitution and by-laws. Each membership or share of stock was made transferable at the option of the holder. Educational meetings of the Association were held, which added much to the interest. At this session of the institute, August, 1876, the "Hoosier School-Master" was dramatized, and played by a company for the benefit of the library. This enterprise was quite successful. The play was repeated the second night, and the association realized something near sixty-five dollars from these entertainments.
At the January meeting, 1877, the membership fee was raised to two dollars, and the quarterly fees to twenty-five cents or, one dollar per year. The association was incorporated March 10, 1877, and the articles of incorporation are recorded in book Y, page 285, in the office of the county recorder. Any one can become a member by complying with the regulations. There are now about one hundred members owning about one hundred and fifty shares, several members owning more than one share; H. D. Todd owns eleven shares; E. A. Parks, six; John Axmear, five; J. K. Pickett, five; W. S. Van Horn, four; Alice Gray, four; Joel and John Richardson, two each; Wm. Schriever, two, and several other members have more than a single share.
The officers are one president, one vice-president, secretary, treasurer and librarian. They also constitute the board of directors, and are the committee to select books.
There are now, at this writing, five hundred and fifty seven volumes, treating of a great variety of subjects. The historical and biographical works are the most numerous; yet the reader of scientific, fictions, or miscellaneous works, will find all the best authors represented, with their best works, and in some cases with nearly all their writings.
About one year ago the librarian, and a number of members, became interested in geological and historical specimens, and with little effort, have collected quite a museum of curiosities.
There are many historical and interesting specimens scattered through the county, which have ceased to attract much curiosity or interest where they are owned, and if placed in this museum, would soon make a collection in which every enterprising citizen of the county would take pride. Many relics which can now be found will soon be lost, if not collected, and thus posterity will be deprived of this important means of perpetuating the memory of the present and past.
We predict for this Library Association a brilliant future. The importance and benefit of a library all will admit. The success of this enterprise from the first is due to the efficient management, the devotion and interest of the members, and the little expense necessary to keep it in operation.
As this is an educational undertaking, it has its home or headquarters in the office of the county superintendent, where it has had that fatherly care from the first which it needed to make it what it is, that the desires and wishes of its founders and members may be fully realized.Transcribed by Pat Wahl.
You raised these hallowed walls; the desert smiled,
And Paradise was opened in the wild.—Pope.
The first settlement of the county was scarcely completed before the servants of the Lord were at work in the new vineyard. Within the last fifty years the agents of the Christian religion have been taught and trained to accompany the first advance of civilization, and such was their advent here. In the rude cabins and huts of the pioneers they proclaimed the same gospel that is preached in the gorgeous palaces that, under the name of churches, decorate the great cities. It was the same gospel, but the surroundings made it appear different, in the effect produced, at least.
The Christian religion had its rise, and the days of its purest practice, among an humble, simple-minded people, and it is among similar surroundings in modern times that it seems to approach the purity of its source. This is the best shown in the days of pioneer life. It is true, indeed, that in succeeding times the church attains greater wealth and practices a wider benevolence. Further, it may be admitted that it gains a firmer discipline and wields a more general influence on society, but it remains true that in pioneer times we find a manifestation of Christianity that we seek in vain at a later time and under contrasted circumstances. The meek and lowly spirit of the Christian faith—the placing of spiritual things above vain pomp and show—appear more earnest amid the simple life and toil of a pioneer people than it can when surrounded with the splendors of wealth and fashion. But we may take a comparison less wide, and instead of contrasting the Christian appearances of a great city with that of the pioneers, we may compare that of thirty years ago here in the West with that in the present time of moderately developed wealth and taste for display, and we find much of the same result.
The comparison is, perhaps, superficial to some extent, and does not fully weigh the elements involved, nor analyze them properly. We simply take the broad fact, not to decry the present, but to illustrate the past. So that looking back to the early religious meetings in the log-cabins we may say: “Here was a faith, earnest and simple, like that of the early Christian."
The first religious meetings in the county were held in the cabins of the settlers, with two or three families for a congregation. On pleasant days they would gather outside in the shade of the cabin or under the branches of a tree and here the word would be expounded and a song of Zion sung.
The Friends, or as they were more generally known, the Quakers, were the pioneers of religious organization. The remarkable sagacity which always seems to characterize these people in their selection of lands early lead quite a number of them to locate on the rich and productive soil of what is now Richland township. For the first few years after the settlement of the county, members of this denomination were much more numerous than all others. In 1841 they erected a small house of worship about one-fourth of a mile north of the present town of Richland.
The Methodists, Baptists and Christians, always among the first in pioneer work, were not long after the Quakers. In 1847 the Methodists and Christians built houses of worship in Richland which were probably the first church buildings of note in the county, although organizations were formed and temporary buildings erected long prior to that time.
There was a Methodist church organized at Richland in 1840 by Rev. Moses Shinn, the original members being James Looman and wife, H. Harden and wife, Mrs. Lavina Ruggles and George Ruggles. The Christian church of Richland was organized shortly afterward, and as before remarked a substantial church building was erected in 1847. One of the first Baptist churches organized, was by Andrew P. Tannyhill in the southern part of the county in 1843.
Benjamin F. Chastain organized a Christian Church in Jackson township, in 1844. The original members were Woodford Snelson and wife, Jesse Gabbert and wife, Dr. Raglin, Nathan Ruth and Benjamin Chastain. Meetings were held at the house of Woodford Snelson who lived on section thirteen.
Among the first Baptist preachers was Andrew P. Tannyhill, who preached in barns, dwelling houses or in the woods, wherever and whenever he could get an audience.
The Mt. Zion M. E. Church was organized in the south part of the county in 1854. The following were the original members: Jas. D. Williams, Jacob Battorff, Philip Heninger, Andrew Taylor, Benjamin Hollingsworth, Joel Skinner, Benjamin Parish, Thomas M. Thompson, Jas. M. Cheeny, James Cowger.
There was a Christian Church organized at Lancaster, in 1848, with the following membership: William Trueblood and wife, J. W. Snelson and wife, Thomas Cobb and wife, Asa Cobb and wife, James Mitts and wife, Samuel Williams, Elizabeth Williams, W. H. Brant and others.
A Methodist Church was organized in the same place, about 1852, the original members being: S. A. Evans and wife, Mrs. Jessie O'Neal and Miss Mary O'Neal.
In 1846 there was a Methodist church erected at Sigourney. The pastor at that time was Rev. S. Hestwood; the church having been organized some time previous by Rev. Mr. Hulbert.
A Baptist Church was organized in Sigourney, in 1845, by Rev. Mr. Elliott.
Churches were also organized in the eastern, northern and western parts of the county in an early day.
In 1850 there were in the county four Baptist churches valued at nine hundred dollars; three Christian churches, valued at eight hundred dollars; two Quaker churches, valued at four hundred and fifty dollars; seven Methodist churches, valued at thirteen hundred dollars; or in all sixteen churches, valued at three thousand four hundred and fifty dollars.
The following are the names of the ministers, or as they were then called preachers, who first labored among the people of Keokuk county: Moses Shinn, a Methodist, who was probably the first of the denomination to preach in the county. Revs. Haynes, Kirkpatrick, Orr, Hulburt, Hestwood and Snakenburg were also pioneer Methodist preachers, some of whom are still living.
Rev. Mr. Spainshower was probably the first Baptist preacher who traveled among the people of Keokuk county. He was followed by Rev. Andrew P. Tannyhill, and Rev. Mr. Elliott. These men labored among the people with considerable success and their work is still visible, especially in the southern part of the county.
The Presbyterian Church was late in getting a foothold in Keokuk county. About the year 1856, a small church of less than a dozen members was organized in Sigourney. N. H. Hall, then of Webster, J. F. Wilson and the Gregg family, of Lafayette township, constituted the membership. S. C. Kerr was their first pastor. In 1858 Rev. D. V. Smock settled in Sigourney and took charge of the organization. Some four or five years afterward Mr. Smock moved to Lafayette township and was succeeded in Sigourney by Rev. A. A. Mathews. On moving to Lafayette, Mr. Smock organized a church there and in 1860 another church at Martinsburg. Mr. Smock was a useful and highly respected citizen of the county, and like Rev. Mr. Snakenberg, of German township, had great influence among the people. Their influence upon the morals of the people cannot be overestimated. Mr. Smock was elected to the office of county superintendent of schools, in 1861, and continued to hold the office till 1868. He is now dead, but his works still live.
Many other particulars might be given relative to the churches of the county, but the details are reserved for another place, where they will be given in connection with other matters pertaining to the history of the several townships where they are located.
Transcribed by Steven McBride.