History of Washington Township School

Washington Township 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 fairgrounds, present-day Fairgrounds Park, not far from State Road 49/Calumet Ave.

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.

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.

Washington Township in Porter County started with only two schools, but by 1882 there were seven. With the seven schools scattered throughout the 30 square miles of the township, no student had to walk more than three or four miles to their school. The schools in Washington Township were: District 1, Hansford School; District 2, Malone School, District 3, Luther School, District 4, Prattville School; District 5, Bryerly School; District 6, Snake Island School; District 7, Blake School. The schools were consolidated in 1911 with a new building built on the site that the Washington Township School stands on today.

Consolidation of schools in Porter County really had its beginning in 1907. Much of this centralization occurred during the regime of Fred H. Cole, who served as county superintendent from 1908 to 1933, or a period of twenty-five years.

Advantages of consolidation are that pupils are better classified and the work of the teachers is much better organized and presented and the pupils enjoy the advantage of music, drawing, manual and household arts and agriculture. Pupils also have the advantage of high school facilities. Schools can also be conducted at less expense than a number of separate one-room schools.

From school records of 1901 and 1902, it was ascertained that the total number of town schools in Porter county was ninety-four, composed of seven town school and eighty-seven one-room schools. At the present time there are thirty schools, made up of ten high schools and twenty grade schools.

Thus in the course of a little over thirty years of consolidation, the number of school plants has been reduced to fifty-eight, or nearly two-thirds.

Despite the great era of building which has been going on during the last thirty years, the bonded debt of the county school system is only $264,100, spread over twelve townships.

The ten high schools of the county, outside of Valparaiso, are equipped to teach all subjects taught in schools of the cities.

Porter county employs no attendance officer, the county board of education having abolished the office several years ago and imposed the duties on the county superintendent.

The Washington Township School was begun in 1911 by Trustee Elias D. Cain. "In 1911 a white brick structure was built by the late E. D. Cain, who was then trustee. It consisted of two good-sized rooms with a corridor and cloakroom between. Grades seven and eight and two years of high school occupied the one room, and the lower grades the other. The cloakroom later was used as a tiny classroom.

In 1917, during Fred Schwinkendorf's term as trustee, two classrooms were built on and a third year of high school was added. After some time and effort a commission for a four-year high school was obtained, which commission expired every year. In 1928 under the trusteeship of the late Morgan Porch, a $48,000 addition was built including a gymnasium, and a continuous commission was granted for all twelve grades.

The Washington Township High School is the only white brick school in the state. It is a long and low building with a spacious lawn set off by shrubs and trees, and rather resembles a country clubhouse. Mrs. James Wilson tells us that her uncle, George Partial, mentioned as one of the earliest teachers of the county, planted the locust trees around the Malone School when he taught there, and that they became a landmark. These trees still stand in front of and behind the old part of the Washington Township High School.

The building contains four grade rooms, a laboratory, two classrooms, an assembly room, an office, a storeroom, furnace and boiler rooms, a gymnasium, a large and attractive dining room, and a home economics room with an electric range and tables equipped with hot plates. The school is a center of activities of the entire community. An athletic field of several acres affords recreation facilities.

At present the faculty consists of four high school teachers, four grade school teachers, and a music supervisor. Unless the record has recently been beaten, this school has the highest ranking of any rural high school in the state on the basis of scholarship of its alumni in college. Washington Township has three Phi Beta Kappa's among the alumnae.

The first class graduated in 1917, and the alumni now number 116. Every year they hold a banquet at the school."

The 1917 addition to the school mentioned in this newspaper item was added to the left side of the school seen here. A second entrance, similar to the one seen hear was included with the addition.

In common with the rest of Indiana, the rural schools of Porter County are administered through a township trustee system. Each trustee is charged directly with the responsibility of the schools of his township. The trustee must provide buildings and equipment, employ principals, teachers, janitors and bus driver, and purchase school supplies. Each trustee is the financial agent of his township. Acting in an advisory capacity is the county superintendent of schools.

As in any other type of organization, the success of the schools depends greatly upon the ability and the character of the officials in charge.

Various lines of development have characterized our schools, particularly during the past three of four decades. One of the most noteworthy, reaching back over a period of little more than a quarter of a century, has been the movement toward consolidation -- the elimination of the one-room schools, and their replacement by a single combination grade and high school for the accommodation of all children of the township. Of course, public highway development and improvement gave impetus to this movement, for consolidation became possible only with improved transportation facilities.

At the turn of the century there were ninety-four schools in the Porter county system, eighty-seven of which were one-room schools. The number of schools in each township ranged from six in center, Pleasant and Washington, to ten in Porter and Westchester. Today there are twenty-five schools in the county system -- ten combination grade and high schools, two six-room, one four-room, one three-room, four two-room, and seven one-room schools. Another year will see the passing of at least three of these one-room schools. Eight of the twelve townships will then have complete consolidation.

Consolidation has not been characterized by decreased school costs, as might be assumed, but rather by increased costs. In consolidation transportation costs run high. This, coupled with a greatly expanded school program, and the general increase in price levels over the last two or three decades, make school costs seem great when compared with the era of the one-room school. The advantages of consolidation are not to be found in the field of school costs, but rather in a greatly extended and enriched school program. Under the Aladdin changes since the beginning of the new century school objectives have greatly changed. In the attractiveness of the new school program, the child finds not only preparation for life but life itself.

Instead of the drudgery of the old school days, the child finds school one of the most interesting and pleasant periods of life.

In the school directory of the year 1905-06 appears the high school course of study outlined for the schools of Porter County. It was a five point program -- mathematics, consisting of algebra, geometry and commercial arithmetic; foreign language, Latin of German; English, composition and rhetoric, and literature; science, physical geography and chemistry or physics; and history, ancient, modern and American. The only subject that smacked of the modern was commercial arithmetic. And, even here the commercial arithmetic of those days was not materially different from the standard course in arithmetic long in vogue. Every subject was required. Not one was elective.

Compare this with the modern high school program, which retains practically all of the old, but to which has been added a full commercial course -- typing, shorthand, book-keeping, business English, commercial arithmetic, commercial law, junior business training, etc.; domestic arts, cooking, sewing, child care and home making; physical education, physiology, health, gym and field work; music, vocal and instrumental; art and numerous other subjects.

This phenomenal enrichment of the school program has been coincident with the rapidly developing changes in our new highly mechanized industrial order. Many of these innovations are still regarded by some as the so-called fads and frills of education. Yet, they are here to stay and will undoubtedly become a permanent part of our education setup.

Porter County maintains a school system considerably above the minimum program fixed by the state. For instance, the state's minimum program requires only eight months term of school, with a minimum salary for grade teachers from one hundred to one hundred twenty dollars per month; and for the high school teacher one hundred twenty-five to one hundred thirty-five, depending on training and experience. Also, the necessary curricular offerings fall far short of those outlined above.

Washington Township School 1940s


Our school has a long and rich history dating back to the 1800's.  One of our student's grandparent, Mrs. Bev Overmeyer, has been researching that history and came up with the following report:

History of Washington Township Schools

When you drive along the well-kept roads bordering the farms and businesses of Washington Township today, it’s hard to imagine mastodons roaming the fields or Potawatomi Indians battling the Fox from Illinois in a bloody boundary dispute.

The National Geographic Society says the first human inhabitants of the area came shortly after the melting of the glaciers over 5,000 years ago. An almost perfect skeleton of a mastodon was unearthed during dredging on Cooper’s Washington Township farm in 1911. One of the massive bones was displayed in the Valparaiso Public Library history room.

The Indian battlefield, later known as Morgan Prairie, was a stretch of field and forest unbroken by a plow. The agreed-upon "best two out of three battles" took 500 native American lives. The bodies that could be retrieved were buried along the Kankakee River. The skeletons found abandoned in a marshy area of the battlefield on the moraine ridge set the date of the boundary war in the summer of 1776.

In 1776, few Europeans had ventured into the Northwest Territory. No permanent white settlement had been made in the area.

About 100 Indians lived in the marshes and forests near present-day Route 30 in the early 1800s where busy highways and shopping centers now obliterate a Potawatomi village, hunting grounds and graveyards. Chief Strongbow lived near the site of the restaurant that bears his name.

Porter County was formed from part of LaPorte County in 1836. Washington Township was then organized by the Commissioners of Porter County who named the township in honor of George Washington. The township boundaries were 600 North, 200 East, County Line Road and Division Road including 30 square miles.

A pioneer village called Prattville, consisting of a general store and a saw mill, was located about a mile from the present Washington Township School site. Several trading posts and tradesmen sprung up along the ancient Indian Sauk Trail while early settlers hunted their food and acquired farmlands. An ox cart and wagon trail passed through Prattville until 1859. The settlement was a covered wagon stop on the trail to Oregon and other destinations west. The Sauk Trail is now Indiana State Route 2.

The township’s first white settlers were brothers William and Isaac Morgan who settled on land north of the Sauk Trail in 1833. The land was known as Morgan Prairie.

Most county historians agree that the first township school was taught by Mary Hammond in a log house built by A.V. Bartholomew on Ruel Starr’s property during the winter of 1835-36. The next school was taught by Thomas Campbell in an 18x20-foot log house on the Kimmerer farm. This school was taught for one term.

The Morgan property was taken over by Wilson Malone who owned much of the land that is now Valparaiso. Malone gave his land and name to the first log cabin school built in the township in 1836 for $25. The school was on the site that later became Washington Township School when the district schools consolidated in 1911.

The children of four families attended the school for three months during the winter. The children were needed to work on the family farms during the rest of the year.

There were no public funds for teachers in 1836. In these early times, residents voted down a tax on all citizens to pay for the schools. The teacher was paid by subscription--$2 per student per month, about $10 to $12 monthly.

Goodspeed’s "History of Lake and Porter County" in 1882 states that "this sum was considered sufficient to pay the teacher who was required to wield the birch (switch) with sufficient force to overcome the unruly young man of twenty summers."

Later, educated men traveling west often taught school when they stopped for the winter. Men were paid more than women when salaries were established, though there were always more women teachers than men. Later some restrictions were placed on women teachers’ behavior and lifestyles. Licenses became required in the 1890s.

Washington Township Teacher Contracts: 1899 - 1907

The early inhabitants wanted to provide an education for their children and established seven one- and two-room schools throughout the township by the 1880s. New schools were built as public school funds became available. Some of the funds before the Civil War came from fines paid to the Justices of the Peace by violators of the "Sabbath Breaking" law.

The first schoolhouse built in Washington Township was probably Morgan schoolhouse in about 1836 or 1837. The Luther schoolhouse was built about the same time in the mid- to late-1830s.

The typical first schools were log buildings on land donated by landowners, usually those with children who would attend the school. Neighbors got together and "raised" the school. A typical school building was a simple room with one log left out in each wall for a window. These openings and the door were covered with oiled paper or cloth, glass being a costly luxury.

There was a fireplace at one end of the room. The students rolled large logs into the fireplace.

Luther School was described by an early student as having long seats around the room with desks in front of them. Here students copied the teacher’s writing. Subjects commonly taught were reading, writing, spelling and arithmetic. A pupil who reached the level of the Rule of Three was considered a fine mathematician.

The log cabin schools were replaced by frame, then brick buildings as they burned down or became too small for their student population. The schools were typically on one-acre plots with enough room for a small playground for 15 to 30 students.

Some of the games played at recess sound familiar—London Bridge and Farmer in the Dell. Others like Dare Base, Pump, Pump Pull Away and Old Maid Baseball have given way to soccer, baseball and football.

At night the schools hosted spelling bees as well as writing and singing schools. Schoolhouses were often used as churches.

Though the township started with only two schools, by 1882 there were seven "well-conducted, neat and commodious schools," as reported in Goodspeed’s history.

By then, there were seven district schools scattered throughout the 30 square miles of the township. No student had to walk more than three or four miles to their school. Some students rode horses to school. Sometimes the horses then returned to work on the farm until school was excused for the day.

Hansford School was District 1. Located at 575 East, southeast of State Road 2, the school was named for the landowner, John Hansford, who owned 900 acres of farmland. He came from England in 1842 and was an employee of the Grand Trunk Railroad, one of the railroads running through the township.

District 2, Malone School, became Washington Township School when five districts consolidated in 1911. Wilson Malone was a Porter County pioneer, coming from Ohio in the 1830s. He took over Morgan’s land.

District 3 was the Luther School, one of the first two schools built in the township. Named for John Luther, it was built next to the cemetery where many Porter County pioneers are buried. It is located on 100 North and 400 East, southeast of the airport.

Prattville School, District 4, was also called Kemmerer. The red-frame schoolhouse was on the north side of Route 2, west of 325 East. It was located one mile southwest of the current Washington Township Schools. Early students were sometimes "bussed" to school at Prattville School in stage coaches.

Brierly School in District 5 burned down when it was struck by lightning in a 1903 summer storm. It was located on 450 East and 500 North. The Brierly descendants were members of the Farmers’ Association in 1921.

Island School, District 6, was known as Snake Island School. Located at 575 East, south of 150 North, the school was near the site of an ancient island where the snakes of the marsh gathered to warm up in the sun. The island also housed the teepee of an Indian medicine woman in earlier days. The red-brick school with arched windows was replaced by a housing development. It was torn down in the late 1970s - early 1980s.

Blake School, District 7 was located in the northwest corner of the township on 300 East and 500 North (Burlington Beach Road).

A.J. Bowser, long-time editor of the "Chesterton Tribune" and popular "Siftings" columnist for the "Vidette-Messenger" in the 1930s wrote, "The struggles of the people of Washington Township to secure educational facilities for their children has been the story of all the rest of the new country."

Researched and written January 2002

Beverly Overmyer