Source: South Whitley Tribune, Thursday, August 11, 1955
South Whitley Schools, Dating From 1837, Are County’s Oldest
South Whitley’s educational system, oldest in Whitley county, was founded in 1837 when David Parrett opened school in a log cabin on the north bank of Eel River where the State street bridge now stands. Ten students were enrolled in that first school.
Since school was sustained by subscription, the pioneer pocketbook regulated the length of term, which ranged from three to four months after harvest time and before spring plowing. One long, hand-hewn slab of wood, held in place by pins driven into the wall, was the only desk in this early nineteenth-century school house.
Cleveland township was a little more than a year old and South Whitley, then called Springfield, was just a few months old when the first school class was held.
The opening of Parrett’s early school was commemorated December 4, 1937, when the teachers of Whitley county, in the county’s educational centennial, erected a monument in South Whitley near the site of the first school building.
“Let There Be Light…” is the inscription on the bronze tablet fitted into the north face of the pudding stone marker. The marker, of native stone, was shaped by Charles Bates of Cleveland township. The stone was from the Mrs. Asher Grimes gravel pit.
Prof. Ross Lockridge, Indiana University, spoke at the centennial observance, which was attended by more than five hundred persons. Miss Mary Raber unveiled the monument which was presented by former county school superintendent A.R. Fleck.
Acceptance remarks were made by Homer Myers, president of the South Whitley town board, and Harry T. Yoder, county school superintendent. Miss Sadie Smith, South Whitley primary teacher for 41 years whom a plaque in the present elementary school building honors, was present but was unable to take an active part in the ceremonies.
Schoolmaster Parrett was succeeded by Miss Elma Thomson who in turn was replaced by Sarah Sluves. By 1841 the attendance had increased to 25 and David Decker had become teacher.
An eight-cornered schoolhouse was built in 1850 near the southwest corner of Main and Wayne streets. The desks were boards around the wall of this quaint old school and 2x4’s were used for seats. Five pupils were enrolled during the first year in that octagonal building. Among them were Al Edwards, George Johnson, Ford Grimes, Will Glassley and Mrs. Ellen Robbins.
Early in the summer of 1852 Joseph Stultz, then a justice of peace in Cleveland township, decided to teach school and found that he needed a license to receive a salary from public funds.
Finding no school examiner in Columbia City, Stultz asked the board of county commissioners to appoint such an official. They temporarily named I.B. McDonald to the post. After a brief oral examination, Stultz was given the first Whitley county teacher’s license.
School buildings were built throughout the township, and in South Whitley a building was constructed in 1866 which housed both the town schools and the private school of the Springfield Academy. It stood at the corner of Broad and Maple streets.
By 1882 there were no less than thirteen school districts in the township, each having a school house of either brick or frame construction. School was held for about seven months a year at these schools. At that time there were 781 children of school age in the township, school equipment was valued at $2,000 and school funds of all kinds totaled $3,500.
South Whitley high school was organized in 1886 with G.M. Nabor as the first principal. A graduate of the Indiana State Normal, he graded the school and began to organize what was to be the South Whitley high school. A year later the “old schoolhouse,” then the finest school building in Whitley county, was constructed.
Groundbreaking was early in the spring of 1887 and cornerstone-laying ceremonies at the building site on Calhoun street between Market and Columbia were held June 4, 1887, by the Masonic Lodge in South Whitley. The stone was put in place by William P. Dunlap and Fredrick Pence, two of the oldest citizens of the town. W.E. Ashcraft, South Whitley publisher, spoke, and music was presented by the town brass band and the town glee club.
The building was designed after a school in Toledo, Ohio, erected at a cost of less than $11,000, and was of brick and stone construction. The brick used cost $5.00 per thousand, and the stone cost $1.50 per perch of 24 ¾ feet. The price was fixed on the stone, and everybody was allowed to haul until the required amount was obtained.
The workmen employed were: George Lancaster, C.W. Cotton and Riley Scholl, excavators; B.F. Seymour, William Waters, J.P. Ebersole, Henry Saltsgiver, Henry Redman, Benjamin F. Batz, William Cordill and Charles W. Meadows, masons on the foundation; David Simonton and Frank Van Camp, brick masons; Isaac Pecuniar, Charles Pecuniar, Richard Harl and John Monks, tenders; Francis W. Cleveland, Enos Stanley, Eli Overhulser, Martin R. Clapp and Taylor Newcomer, carpenters. The heating system was installed by Isaac D. Smead & Co.
James Arnold was trustee of the township during the school construction, and his name was carved into stonework above the main entrance.
The new school made it possible for South Whitley to maintain educational leadership in the county for several years. In 1888 L.W. Price, a graduate of Ada College of Ohio, was chosen principal, teaching here until the spring of 1890. He was succeeded by J.D. Merriman who finished the year’s work in a ten-week select school.
When Mr. Price left the class numbered about fifteen persons, but the class dwindled to just two by the end of the course. The two scholars, who that summer became the first alumni of South Whitley high school, were Nettie Baker and Sadie Vaux. Both are now dead.
The first class was graduated June 19, 1890. Thomas Riley Marshall, then governor of Indiana [sic: Marshall was Indiana governor between 1909-1913] and later to be elected vice-president of the United States, delivered the first commencement address.
Later Mr. Marshall was to characterize the Whitley county schools of this period in this way: “The course of study then pursued embraced McGuffy’s readers, Ray’s arithmetic and Webster’s spelling book. Slates were in vogue and the gay, festive spitball then as now attracted the attention of future presidents of the United States. The solemn warning of Solomon as given in the scriptures, to spare the rod and spoil the child, was duly heeded.”
With the consolidation of rural schools came the construction of the Cleveland township high school building in 1931. A modern, two-story brick building, it was designed for use in a well-balanced school system as is in South Whitley today. Well-equipped shop, home economics, science, commercial, music and athletic facilities were included, and provision was made for possible future expansion.
Carl Thomson was township trustee when the building was built, and Glen Knepple, Hibert Ward and Henry Hollman composed the advisory board. A.R. Fleck was county superintendent of schools. Architects for the structure were Griffin & Goodrich, and the general contractor was W.O. Cary & Son. The building was dedicated in 1932.
In the summer of 1951 a local citizens committee, composed of Lewis Bayman, Adolph Auer, Eugene Beard, Eva Mae Beard, William Carey, Hugo Fox, Ray Hartzler, Mrs. Ray Hartzler, Rev. M. C. Morrow, Dale Reiff and Ben Roth, began a school survey with Purdue University, and the survey indicated that a new grade building should be built and that provision should be made for future expansion of the high school facilities.
Accordingly, plans were formulated for the present $300,000 elementary school building now located across the parking area from the high school building west of town. Construction work began June 23, 1952, classes were first held there August 31, 1953, and dedication was held October 18, 1953, when former South Whitley principal Lee L. Eve spoke.
Harold Howard was township trustee when the building was built, and the advisory board was composed of Adolph Auer, Dale Reiff and Lewis Bayman. Harry T. Yoder was county school superintendent. Harry Bunger & Son, Cromwell, held the general construction contract, Eugene Lancaster had the contract for the plumbing, heating and ventilation and Glenn W. Rupple had the electrical contract. Boyd E. Phelps, Inc., Michigan City, was the architect.