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.


Morgan, Center and Boone Quickly Followed and 1838 Brought Construction Boom

The story of education in Valparaiso and Porter county reads like some fantastic chapter from the "Arabian Knights."

Over a century ago the dwelling of Jesse Morgan in Westchester township was the scene of the first school in the winter of 1833-34. The name of the teacher cannot be ascertained. About that time there were a number of adventurers wandering through the frontier region, and some of these men possessed a fair education they were in the habit of stopping at some place upon the approach of winter and organizing a school. When spring came they would continue their journey, and in time their names would be forgotten. More than likely it was one of these migratory pedagogues who taught the school at Mr. Morgan's.

Today the public school system in Valparaiso and Porter county is second to none, a university of world-wide reputation, and exceptional standing, two radio institutes, a boys' school, two parochial schools, not to mention various other educational enterprises, serve the county, annually training thousands of boys and girls, young men and young women with the latest approved academic and vocational equipment.

A century ago the public school equipment of city and county was worth less than $100. Today it is worth upwards of $2,000,000, (buildings, grounds, equipment, etc. of all schools). A century ago the enrollment of all public schools in the county, including Valparaiso, was but a handful. Today the number is in excess of 6,000.

One hundred years ago there were only a few persons engaged in teaching. Today the number surpasses two hundred.

A century ago where several hundred dollars would finance a full year's term, today the outlay runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars maintaining all branches of education (public, college and parochial schools).

All of which indicates, briefly, the tremendous changes that the years have wrought since schools had their inception in the county.

With the influx of families into the fertile regions of the county then the need for some method of schooling was felt. A wise community leadership decree that a school should be established.

In 1834 a subscription school was taught in what is now Morgan township by Miss Orilla Stoddard, but the exact location of the school house -- a log structure 12 by 14 feet -- is a matter of some dispute. It was located on the Morgan Prairie, convenient to the homes of Morris Witham, Henry Adams, William Billings and John Keller, who were patrons of the school.

The first school in Center township was taught in the summer of 1835 by Miss Mary Hammond. The school was located about a mile north of the present Porter county fair grounds, not far from State Road 49.

The following winter a school was taught by the same teacher in Washington township, in a log house erected for the purpose by A. V. Bartholomew. Four families were represented and the term lasted for three months.

In 1837, about a year after the organization of the county was completed, Ruel Starr, school commissioner, made his report on the condition of the school fund. It showed receipts of $973.13 and disbursements of $858.94. The report contained no mention of money expended for erection or repair of school houses, or for the payment of teacher's salaries, a plain indication that up to this time no public schools had been established.

Some of the public school records relating to the public schools cannot be found, and from those that can be obtained it is practically impossible to form any definite idea as to when and where the first school districts in the county were established, or who were the first teachers.

At about the time Mr. Starr made his first report the first school in Liberty township was opened in a little log school house in the Zane settlement, Mrs. Sophia Dye being the teacher. She had fifteen pupils enrolled and received a salary of two dollars a week, raised by subscription. There is a tradition that a school was taught in Union township in 1836, in a log cabin near the place known as "Hoosier Nest," but some say the school was not taught there until the following year.

In Boone township a log school house was built in 1837 and school was taught there that year. About the same time the first school was taught in Valparaiso by a man named Masters. It was in a small building which Dr. Seneca Ball had erected in the rear of his residence, and which was subsequently used by him for a wood house. It was located on the present Presbyterian church property, and the spot is marked by a stone by the Porter County Historical Society. A Miss Eldred, who was a sister of Mrs. Ruel Starr. Harry E. Ball and Sylvester W. Smith also taught in the building before it was abandoned for school purposes.

The year 1838 was one of considerable activity in the educational affairs of Porter county. Schools were maintained in all the neighborhoods where they had previously been established. A log school house, about 16 x 18 feet, was built in Jackson township, a mile and a half east of Jackson Center, and Jane Jones taught the first term there, receiving a salary of one dollar a week. Prior to this, however, a subscription school had been taught in the township in a private dwelling about a mile and a half southeast of Clear lake. In Pleasant township a log school was erected a mile and a half east of the present town of Kouts. The school was built by the co-operative labor of citizens and the first term in the fall of 1838 eleven scholars were enrolled.

Two school houses were built in Portage township in 1840, one on Section 20, Township 36, Range 6, and the other in the southwestern part of the township.

About this time or a little later, Rev. James C. Brown opened a private school for young ladies on Jefferson street between Michigan and Franklin streets. The school was successively taught by Mr. Brown, Rev. H. M. Blackburn and S. L. Bartholomew, when it was discontinued for lack of support.

During the decade from 1840 to 1850 a number of new schools were established in various parts of the county; the public school fund became available, and the beginning of a public school system was inaugurated.

The first school houses were nearly all log building along the sides of which one log was left out and the openings thus formed were covered with oiled paper in lieu of window glass to admit light. Window glass in those days was a luxury too great to be considered in the construction of the district school houses. A huge fireplace at one end furnished heat to the school room, the seats were usually formed of split saplings in which holes were bored with a large auger and plug inserted into the logs and ran along the sides of the room. Here the pupils went at "writing time" to follow the copy written by the teacher at the head of a sheet of foolscap paper, and goose quills were frequently used. The three R's -- "Reading' Ritin' and Rithmetic" -- constituted the usual course of study, and the pupil who reached the "Rule of Three" in the last named branch was considered a fine mathematician.

In February, 1838, the Indiana legislature passed an act providing for the establishment and maintenance of county seminaries throughout the state, such institutions to receive their support through the appropriations of certain fines and penalties for violation of law. The law made it the duty of the county commissioners to appoint trustees, who were to have general powers in the founding and control of such seminaries.

Trustees were appointed in Porter county in the fall of 1838 "to receive and care for the county seminary fund until a sufficient amount had been accumulated to found a seminary. More than ten years passed before the trustees felt justified in the attempt to found a seminary in the county.

By 1849 the fund amounted to a little over $2,000 and the first steps were taken toward building a seminary, but a change in the board of trustees and some other causes delayed the matter until 1851, when a lot was purchased at the corner of Jefferson and Monroe streets, and a building costing $2,000 was erected. The seminary was a frame structure, two stories in height, with three rooms above, and two rooms on the ground floor. School was opened in the building in 1851, with Ashley M. Pierce as principal and Miss Eliza J. Forsyth as assistant.

The upper story was used, the rooms on the first floor not having been finished in time at opening of the school. The enrollment was 120. By enactment of a new school law in 1849 the county seminary law was repealed and the county commissioners were required to sell the county seminary.

Pursuant to the law the commissioners of Porter county advertised the buildings and grounds for sale on the fourth Monday of July, 1853, one tenth of the purchase price to be paid down and the balance in nine equal installments, the proceeds to go into the public school fund. On day of the sale the trustees of Valparaiso purchased the building for $1,200, and the name of the school was changed to the "Union School of Valparaiso."

The first term under the new regime opened on October 31, 1853. A short time before the opening of the school the trustees announced that repairs on the building had absorbed all public funds, but that "as soon as sufficient funds shall have been accumulated, a three months' school will be supported entirely by those funds and made entirely free of charge to all."

The school was divided into three grades. Miss Field was teacher of the first grade; Miss Marietta Skinner, the second grade, and Ashley L. Pierce, the third grade and principal. School was taught in the building for three terms, but on March 17, 1857, the institution was totally destroyed by fire.

Within a twelve month after the burning of the Union school building, the Methodist church started a movement for the establishment of a school, and in the spring of 1859, work was commenced on the Valparaiso Male and Female college. The building was completed in time for the school to open on September 21, 1859, under the presidency of Rev. C. N. Sims, with 157 students in attendance.

Associated with Mr. Sims were F. D. Carley, Mrs. Loomis, Mrs. Hall and Miss Moore as instructors. During the Civil war the institution experienced some hard times, but after the close of hostilities there was revival of interest and in 1867 the east wing was added to the building. Then, after four years of fluctuating fortunes, the college was abandoned in 1871.

Not long after Valparaiso Male and Female college was projected, the Presbyterians bought a lot and organized the Valparaiso Collegiate Institute, the first term of which opened on April 16, 1861, with Rev. S. C. Logan as principal and H. A. Newell as assistant. This institution continued in existence until shortly after the Civil war, when the buildings were sold to the City of Valparaiso. The site of the Collegiate Institute is now occupied by the Cen....

In 1873, Professor Henry Baker Brown, of Republic, Ohio, came to Valparaiso and purchased the building formerly occupied by the Methodist Male and Female college. He opened the school on September 16, 1873, with thirty-five students. From this small beginning in 1873, the school grew to an attendance of 6,000 and faculty personnel of 200 members. In 1925 when the school faced the threat of, it was taken over by the Lutheran church and rejuvenated.

In 1871 the graded school system was organized in Valparaiso and in that year the Central school building, since razed, was erected.

The first parochial school was built by German Lutherans at the corner of Chestnut and Academy streets in 1865. It was abandoned after a number of years. In 1872, Father Michael O'Reilly established St. Paul's parochial school, which still survives. A German Lutheran parochial school was built on the site of the present Lutheran parish hall next to the present church building and was used for many years until it was razed for the new parish building. A Parochial school has also been maintained at Chesterton by the Catholic church for a number of years.

Dodge's Telegraph and Radio Institute was founded in Valparaiso in 1874 by the late George A. Dodge. At one time it was connected with Valparaiso university as a department of that institution. In 1891, George M. Dodge, president of the institution, assumed control and is still at the helm. Its students come from all parts of the United States.

At the time the graded school was introduced in the county, the teachers' institute also became a factor in the educational development of Indiana. Under the law teachers who attended were given credit upon license certificates.

At the county institute of 1881, the late Porter County Teachers' association was organized with Prof. M. L. Phares as president; Miss Kate Cronacan, secretary, and Miss Lizzie O'Reilly, secretary.

At the next session held August 24, 1882, Professor Phares and Miss Cronacan were re-elected, and S. E. Brayton was chosen treasurer. A committee of three -- Professor W. H. Banta, Superintendent appointed to draft a constitution H. A. Porter and Miss Hewitt -- was and by-laws. There the history of the organization ended as far as records are concerned.

In the nineties and later the city's elementary school buildings were constructed. The Columbia was built in 1892; the Gardner in 1890; the Central in 1904; the Banta in 1924; the Valparaiso high school in 1927, and the Boucher gymnasium in 1928.

Development of the public schools has gone on apace of recent years and the value of the system as a community asset has grown to immeasurable proportions.

There have been other factors in the educational upbuilding of Porter county. There are innumerable study clubs, literary societies, the radio, the newspaper, the moving picture -- all contributing a  portion to the common cause of educating the masses.

Truly, education in Porter county has developed from a humble log cabin beginning to a complex institution of exceptional attainments.

Article transcribed by Steven R. Shook


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