The Vidette-Messenger Centennial EditionThe 1936 special edition celebrating Porter County's centennial year . . . .

The following article has been transcribed from the August 18, 1936, issue of The Vidette-Messenger, published in Valparaiso, Indiana. This particular special edition focuses on Porter County's centennial celebration and contains a 94-page compendium of Porter County history up to that time.

Return to the index of articles from The Vidette-Messenger's Porter County Centennial special edition.

Source: The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; August 18, 1936; Volume 10, Section 2, Page 14.


City's Modern School System Dates From 1871; Enrollment 400; Prof. Banta Was Head

While the first school in Valparaiso was built in 1837 on the site of the present Presbyterian church on ground owned by Dr. Seneca Ball, school development in the city did not begin to assume a place in local affairs until 1870, when Valparaiso school authorities purchased the building and grounds of the Valparaiso Collegiate Institute, located on the site of the present Central Junior high school for the sum of $10,000.

The organization of the present graded school system in Valparaiso in 1871 was the birth of Valparaiso City Schools. The same year an imposing public school edifice, the Central building, was erected, which in size and elegance, was unsurpassed in the state.

The need for additional facilities was manifest and pressing. The only buildings in the city were four small structures, capable of accommodating in the aggregate 240 pupils.

On two occasions it became almost a matter of necessity on the part of the trustees to avail themselves of the room afforded by the Roman Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian school buildings by having the teacher of those schools; so that while they were on without any change of administration or influence they were supported out of the public school fund. Technically, perhaps this was done according to law, but in violation of the spirit, an early historian commented.

The construction of the Central school, since razed for the present building, in 1904, was an event of 1871 when it was opened for its construction marked an epoch in the history of local schools.

Thus the Valparaiso public schools became a reality.

Thomas G. Lytle was mayor of Valparaiso when the new school was erected. Members of the city council were M. L. McClelland, Don A. Salyer, T. A. Hogan, C. Weaver, A. L. Jones and Michael J. O'Brien. School trustees were A. Freeman, T. T. Maulsby and Benjamin Wilcox.

Bonham and Winslow were general contractors on the building; Shade and Gregg had the brick and stone contract; James O'Keefe the painting and R. Rose, of Chicago, was architect. Mr. Rose was also architect on the present Porter county jail built in 1870.

The building, comprising 1,017,000 bricks and 150,000 feet of lumber, covered with a French mansard roof, ornamented by two quadrangle towers, 100 feet high, on either end, and a veranda on the east side, ?? feet wide and 60 feet long, presented a sightly appearance on the outside, but for the purpose for which it is used it is faulty in design and construction, a historian declared.

Nevertheless, the style of architecture of the building was after a light, airy Parisian mode and was a complete combination of symetrical proportion substantially built of brick strengthened with stone and 30 in pilasters. Several entrances were reached by easy flights cut from choice Joliet stone.

The building contained sixteen magnificent study rooms, with intermediate floor on the second floor and an assembly room 64x36 feet, and a large restroom. Four hanging chandeliers provided light.

The 100 foot towers on either side of the building were visited by hundreds of persons who were able to get fine views of surrounding country. Wheeler and Wanatah could be seen without a glass and the dark woods of Jasper county were clearly discernable.

When the graded system was organized in 1871, the enrollment was about 400. This included a number of graded children, who were afterward taken out and sent to the Lutheran church. For the school year of 1878 and 1879, the total enrollment was 720.

In 1881 and 1882, the enrollment reached 742, but owning to the prevalence of epidemics the attendance maintained was only 466. The number of teachers the first year was ten. In 1882 the number was increased to 16.

A curious phenomenon occurred in connection with this graded school, namely, the accumulation of a surplus tuition fund, which in space of three years, amounted to about $15,000, and that without the levying of any tuition tax. Inquiry into the cause of so strange an accumulation of funds led to the conclusion that the enumerator had probably, by some oversight, taken the names of the children from abroad, who were attending the normal school.

Regarding the accumulation of surplus funds an early historian said:

"It is now understood that such mistakes will be carefully guarded against hereafter, the custody of so much money causing no little perplexity to the board."

When the Central school was built in 1871, William H. Banta became superintendent of Valparaiso City Schools. For twenty-six years he remained at the head of the local system. High school principals who served under him were James McFetrich, Mrs. W. H. Banta, Miss Susie Simms and Walter H. Evans, now judge of claims, New York city.

During the last two years of Prof. Banta's regime, first steps were taken to relieve the congested condition of Central school, which housed not only the high school, but all grades. The Columbia school was projected during 1892, at a cost of $14,000.

Charles H. Wood succeeded Prof. Banta in 1894 as superintendent, with Miss Rebecca Bartholomew as principal. During his administration of affairs the Gardner school was built in 1899 by Kirk & Foster at a cost of $12,000.

Arthur A. Hughart became superintendent in 1902, succeeding Prof. Wood. Mr. Hughart served until 1912. During his regime, the old Central school built in 1871 was replaced by the present Central building costing $80,000. Edward Wilson and J. H. Wilson, of this city, were the contractors. Miss Nona McQuitken began as principal under Superintendent and was later succeeded by eugene Skinkle.

Prof. Hughart left Valparaiso in 1912 to become superintendent of the Coffeeville, Kansas, schools, and he was succeeded by Prof. Eugene Skinkle, then principal, Homer M. Jessee, of Mooresville, Ind., assumed the principal's post.

After serving for three years, Supt. Skinkle died, and Chauncey W. Boucher, who was one of the instructors at Valparaiso University in the eighties, and later conducted normal schools at Muncie and Marion, Ind., became head of the local school system.

When the Central school was being built, school sessions were held in the Armory building on Franklin avenue, and in the rooms in the upper floor of the Bornholt building, now occupied by the First Federal Savings and Loan association.

In later years when the city schools were unable to accommodate the increasing attendance the old Valparaiso Elks' lodge building was used for school purposes. The building was destroyed by fire and the grade pupils who attended lost all their books and other school property.

On September 17, 1919, the school board, looking ahead to the time when a new high school would be built, purchased of L. D. Wolf, of Los Angeles, Calif., formerly of Valparaiso, the property at the southwest corner of Washington and Chicago streets, for $8,260. As this was not sufficient ground under the new school laws passed later, the board sold the property to A. C. Smith, and then acquired the Ball property on North Napoleon street through condemnation proceedings. Later additional property was purchased of Lewis E. Myers.

Professor Boucher may justly be called the father of the city's school system. During his administration the $80,000 Banta grade school building in the first ward, and the new $250,000 Valparaiso high school and $112,000 gymnasium were built, the Banta school in 1924 and the high school and gymnasium in 1927 and 1928 respectively.

During the period of fifteen years which Prof. Boucher was at the head of the city schools, the enrollment showed a big increase and high school graduating classes began to assume big proportions with each passing year.

In 1930 Prof. Boucher was honored when the Valparaiso high school and gymnasium was dedicated in his name. The gymnasium is now called Boucher gym.

Upon retirement of Prof. Boucher as head of the city schools in 1930, Roy B. Julian, of Bedford, Ind., principal of the high school in that city was named his successor. Superintendent Boucher died in 1932.

Superintendent Julian is now serving in that capacity. Homer M. Jessee is serving as principal and will soon enter his 25th year.

At the present time there are fifty-eight teachers employed in the local school system, with 1,769 pupils enrolled, of which 630 are in high school. The plant comprises six large buildings, a strong contrast to the small one-room structures of the early days of the city. Eight men are employed as janitors, and the school term is nine months. The classes range from Kindergarten to the twelfth grade.

The high school is approved by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary schools, and courses offered are: General Arts; College Preparatory, Commercial, Home Economics, and Industrial Arts.

The increase in high school graduates has been marked during the last half dozen years. In 1931 seventy-nine seniors comprised the class, while in 1936 the class numbered one hundred and nineteen.

Valparaiso's school plant is valued at more than half a million dollars.

Bonded indebtedness on the local schools decreased steadily despite the costly building program back in 1927 and 1928. The bonded debt of July 1, this year was $49,500, of which $9,500 is on the high school and $40,000 on the gymnasium. All of this will be retired in three years.

Today the public schools of Valparaiso operate on virtually a cash basis -- a remarkable state of affairs for a tax-spending body. No tax anticipation warrants have been issued to carry on the schools during any school year.

Under the direction of the late Superintendent Boucher and Superintendent Julian, with the aide assistance of Principal Jesse, an important cog in the local school system, the Valparaiso schools have gone forward in numerous lines of activity.

For some time the school has published its own paper, and a school year book, the Valenian. Late day scholastic interests include classes in journalism, dramatics, public speaking, home economics and the manual arts. Music organization has also been stressed, including the organization of a splendid band, choruses, and glee club groups and instrumental ensembles.

Health and public safety have likewise been stressed in the schools of late years. A school nurse, constantly guards against contagion in the schools and a well organized boy patrol system minimizes the chance of traffic mishaps to small children in crossing streets near school buildings.

Kindergartens have been for some years a part and parcel of the program in the Central and Banta buildings.

Under its capable instructors, the Valparaiso schools has established educational standards ---?--- and extra-curricular accomplishments through the years. Championship in district and regional basketball competition have been common. Valparaiso graduates have always ranked high at state universities, indicating the splendid caliber of educational background to be obtained in this city's school system.

Truly, Valparaiso schools are institutions of which the city may justly be proud.

Article transcribed by Steven R. Shook


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