The Old Red Brick Schoolhouse
“Is it all forgot? A school-day’s friendship.” – Shakespeare: Midsummer Night’s Dream
According to those who went to school there it was a low and not a handsome building, eighteen by twenty-two feet, facing east and west, with the door end toward Brown Street. Two windows faced Dayton-wards, and three the other way, while two looked toward the sunset. Each window had twelve panes of greenish crinkly glass and solid wooden shutters.
Mr. McKnight remembers that on the occasion of a Friday afternoon school exhibition one boy came late. As this was not an unusual affair on his part the teacher was determined not to have the exercises interrupted and locked the door. Finding he was not allowed to enter, the delinquent ran around the outside of the schoolhouse and slammed every shutter, leaving the interior in total darkness. It was this same boy who afterwards remarked to the teacher, “Father said I’d be a better boy if you would let me come back.”
The stove stood in the middle of the floor near the entrance door and the pipe was carried across to the flue in the west end of the building. Desks ran around the walls, two rows on one side and three on the other-desks that were whittled and hacked and cut with in-numerable names. The ceiling was cracked, but you could not see it for the superimposed deposit of paper balls fired upward with unerring aim; the whole taste-fully decorated with a milky way of ink which some originally inclined youngster had done with a squirt gun at the noon hour.
Mr. Urie Chambers writes: "If I could paint a picture of the old schoolhouse as it stood I would show how the cracks ran through the walls with the half bricks out here and there, and the marks of knives on every side and corner. The stone foundation was in disrepair, in the yard a shellbark hickory tree, which never seems to have grown any larger than it was then, also a dead elm tree The triangle of grass was not fenced in. At one time $15 was appropriated to fence in this lot, but the money was never used."
So the schoolhouse stood for twenty years, with its knotholes, ink spots, disfigured desks, rusty stove and cracked plaster; and if in imagination you fill this school-room with perhaps thirty children, the girls in stout woolen dresses, made for wear not for ornament, the boys in jeans pants and cowhide boots; if you put a teacher, Mr. Reddout or Squire Ramsey, in the desk; if you set these thirty children to gabbling their lessons in a half whisper, ciphering on noisy slates, shuffling their heavy shoes on the rough floor—you will have the little brick schoolhouse as it used to look some fifty years ago.
To write it down as it was, there does not seem, to the outsider, a great deal of charm about it, but not a boy or girl who went to school there but loves to talk of it. It will hardly be possible that fifty years from now any set of people will be left in Dayton who will meet once a year to sing the praises of the schoolroom they sat in when they were ten years old. So much for the old schoolhouse versus the new.
The beginning of the schoolhouse was in this way: On the 21st of March, 1846, the trustees of Van Buren Township established a new school district from Districts Nos. 8 and 11, which was then designated School District No. 7, Van Buren Township J. Stewart Wead, Jacob Shroyer and Jefferson Patterson were appointed directors. Mr. Patterson then agreed to lease the triangular piece of ground at the junction of Main and Brown Streets for the sum of one dollar and on July 25. of the same year, the trustees resolved to build a schoolhouse.
On August 1 the directors contracted with two builders, John Painter and Jacob Doll, to build a brick schoolhouse for the sum of two hundred and fifty-three dollars material, included. The job must have been rushed, for on September 18 we find the directors meeting at the new schoolhouse, when they appointed Jefferson Patterson chairman of the Board and elected Isaac Van Cleve to serve for one year.
In November, 1846, school began under the charge of Henry G. Reddout. at a salary of twenty dollars a month, each scholar paying thirty-three cents tuition fees. From this time on the school was prosperous and well attended. The teachers from 1846 to 1860 were as follows:
Henry G. Reddout
Nancy Bell Campbell
Jacob H. Kemp
John P. Craighead
Mary Ann Murray
J. C. Smith
Chas. W. Buvinger
The ground on which the schoolhouse stood has never been bought or sold. It has always been in the Patterson family. Mr. J. H. Patterson's title to it comes from his father, Jefferson Patterson, who had it from his father, Colonel Robert Patterson, who got it by pre-emption rights through Daniel Cooper and John Cleves Symmes.
The patent to this quarter section is made out to Robert Patterson and signed by James Madison, President of the United States, October 5, 1816.
At this time Robert Patterson owned about all the land that could be seen from the schoolhouse site. His grant covered twenty-four hundred acres and it stretched from the Soldiers' Home to the Lunatic Asylum. He always meant that the triangle should be used for school purposes; therefore, when his son, Jefferson Patterson, established the Van Buren District School No. 7, he was carrying out the original intentions of the original owner.
The school was Mr. Patterson's pride. For fifteen years he was chairman of the Board; almost all the meetings were held at his house. His wife was equally interested and with good reason; eight of her children went there to school: Robert, William, Stephen, John, Frank, Stewart, Katy and Julia. She always welcomed the children down at the farm when they came Saturdays to play with her own.
Almost every child that went there to school has pleasant memories of Mrs. Patterson. She some-times took the whole school over to the Asylum to a dance, packing the children down on the floor of a big wagon. Her father, Colonel John Johnston, was a frequent visitor at the school. The children remember his tall form, blue coat and large buttons, his courteous manner and his interest in penmanship. The Colonel's first advancement in life came in a government office in Washington, where his place was given him because of his beautiful writing; therefore he justly considered it a large part of a boy's training. The children learned that when Colonel Johnston came to visit the school they should always get out their copy books, and which was sung when he severed his connection with the school, Mr. Moorman tells us, ran as follows:
"Goodbye, goodbye, my loving friends,
I bid you all goodbye,
And may we meet again to sing
Sometime before we die."
Mr. Chambers, whose memory will do much to keep alive the annals of the old schoolhouse, writes: "When school took up in the morning, the older class recited first, then down to the A B C class. All studying was done during school hours, and while reciting was going on. The blackboard was be-side the door, only a board on wheels, not very large, and we wrote with lump chalk. We had one teacher who thought he was a great penman. This teacher's name was Bovenshire.
"Our first teacher was Mr. Reddout, a very peculiar man. He was a Spiritualist, and once taught three months, but could not draw his wages because he said the spirits wouldn't let him. Ramsey used to whip often; used a hedge switch, and brought it around a circle with some force and made quite a noise.
"At noon we played ball, fox and the like. Also played horse. Mr. Patterson was good to us boys; great to entertain. One day he had a big lot of wool to take down to the spinners. He had a big sheet full; said he would take us two down; carried us to the canal; loaded his wool on the shift and brought us back.
"I can well remember how we used to play soldier (John H., of course, was captain), how he used to march us over what is now Far Hills, how we used to go on forced marches and charge • the enemy on top of the highest hill. Sometimes they were British and sometimes Indians, but we always; whipped—the captain would not have it any other way. That was his first experience in fighting. (His last, up to date, was with part of a tribe known as the Dayton City Council. History will say he whipped them to a standstill.)
"We had no examinations; had spelling matches at night; other schools would come in and spell against us; come in sleighs and bobsleds. Stewart Wead was one of me directors; he used to haul wood to the schoolhouse and always brought a big bundle of switches with the load of wood. We once built a furnace outdoors and roasted some apples. Often some of the parents would come to the schoolhouse after school at night, and take most all of the scholars home in big wagons; a very cold way to ride.
"One great sport in winter was coasting down hill west of the woods across from the schoolhouse; also, catch behind sleighs and wagons.”
Mr. Wm. McKnight, known in old times as "Bill," makes this contribution.
"We lived on the Cincinnati pike at what is now known as Carrmonte and had over a mile to walk to school. The Shroyers lived near there and Amanda and Sarah Shroyer also went to school. Sarah was lame and had to be drawn in a little wagon by the rest of us. Sometimes in winter the snow was deep and the girls would walk behind the boys and step in their foot-tracks. We took our lunches then, large slice of bread and butter and apple butter, cold sausage, hard-boiled eggs and apples. At noon we would make a snow fort and take sides. It was always either the Indians or the British that we were fighting, and John Patterson was always in command (as he has been ever since). No one could pass down either road past the schoolhouse without getting a shot. Of course we coasted also. Down the Brown Street hill would go our sleds with a rush and then came the long climb back again.
"Right across from the log cabin where the Schenck house now stands was what we called our "fair grounds.' We had a race track, cattle and agricultural exhibit, all this patterned after the State Fair. ‘Bob’ (McKnight) was John H. Patterson’s pacer. He was a ‘dun’ horse and was driven by lines from the bark of the papaw. Nancy Jane Wead (Mrs. Davis) was always the judge at these fairs; she always declared that she had to bite into the apples to judge which variety ought to take the prize, and was scolded by the others because she took such big bites.”
Politics, which the elders discussed at home, of course found its way into school circles.
“Some of the pupils had a flag on a hickory pole in Houk’s lane. Frank Patterson, U. Chambers, F. Garst and a number of others put their savings together and purchased a flag – then went out to get a pole and instead of getting one of ‘ash’ as they intended, brought in a sassafras pole. Mr. Brown was the teacher and the pupils tried to draw him into their political squabbles. He would have nothing to do with it, and they finally made it so uncomfortable for him that he gave up the school.
“The Patterson boys were all fighters. Four of them were in the War of the Rebellion, all except Frank J., who was not old enough. Bill Patterson did not live long after his return from the war.
“Many things were commendable in the old school in the matter of getting our lessons. We had to listen to the classes above us reciting. This fixed things in our heads, so that when it came our turn to recite we knew the lesson thoroughly. We had no continuous schooling as they have it now. Always in tobacco-stripping time we had to stay home and help.”
The girls, too, had their share in the household duties. Mrs. McKnight (Amanda Shroyer) recalled how she had to stay home on wash days and help, sometimes only getting to school in time for the spelling matches. These spelling matches were of great importance in the old schools and nothing in the modern school quite takes their place. Mrs. McKnight was one of the best spellers in the little brick schoolhouse. She sometimes spelled the whole school down. Once the word was "daguerreotype," and it was missed by every pupil in the school but her. Mr. McKnight used to be "trapper," which meant he was to seize on the misspelled word on whichever side it came and spell it correctly. He was a good speller, too, but once he disgraced himself on a very common word. He was excited, and in a hurry to go up head he spelled it:
The lessons in geography were recited in a high sing-song, which modern educators would not allow for a minute, but which fixed facts in the mind like iron.
"State of Maine, Augusta, on the Kennebec River.
"Massachusetts, Boston, on the Boston Harbor."
Fifty years have not succeeded in erasing the jingle nor the lesson.
Mrs. Nancy Jane Davis, who used to be Nancy Wead, has much to say about the old school.
"I started to school at about the age of ten and went until I was a little over fourteen.
"Jefferson Patterson donated the ground for the school. It was built on the ground now occupied by the log cabin. It was built of red brick, faced Brown Street, the door being in the same place that the door of the log cabin is. It had two windows on one side, three on the other and two in the end of the building. These windows had solid wooden shutters. The stove was in one end of the room and the pipe ran back over the center of the room. The ceiling of the schoolhouse could hardly be seen for spit balls and ink spots. The boys would squirt ink on the ceiling with their squirt guns.
"We studied hard—we had to have our lessons. Under one or two teachers we did not study much.
"In those days we carried what we called work-pockets. These were made of blue calico or some like material. On our farm, we had fine apples, and as many of the children had none we carried this bag full of apples to school each day for the children to eat at noon.
"There was a large spring on what is now known as the Golf Grounds. This was walled up with stone and was surrounded with trees—white pine, hemlock and juniper. It was an elegant spring, and the water was ice cold. This spring was on Mr. Garst property and on the side of the hill across the road from the schoolhouse. In those days the boys were sent for water, and to prolong their stay would stir the spring with stick, and throw stones into it to rile it. This would make Mr. Garst very angry, as he would have to wait until the water cleared, and, when the boys saw him coming they would run and hide in the bushes. There was another spring across the road near the Ramsey place and we used to go there for water.
"Among the many teachers we had were Nancy Campbell from Darke County, a second cousin of mother's; Jacob Kemp, Henry Reddout, and also a Mr. Varian.
"I remember Mr. Reddout as being a very strict and good teacher. It was he who gave us pictures at the close of school as a reward for the most head marks, also treated us to candy at Christmas. We went to school all during the Christmas holidays.
"Mr. Varian lived in the big red brick house with the stone wall around it, across from the Fair Grounds, where Mr. Houk afterwards lived.
"Every two weeks we had a spelling match instead of the usual exercises now held on Friday afternoon. We had to learn to spell in those days. Spelling, writing, geography, reading and arithmetic were our chief studies.
"The Patterson grounds were much used for Sabbath school picnics and celebrations. I remember one time the Episcopal Sunday school and several other Sunday schools had a picnic at the Patterson Woods, and Mrs. Jones brought an immense blackberry cobbler. It had an upper and under crust with little pieces of flaky crust through the interior of it, and it must have been about the size of a dish pan. I think that saleratus was used in those days instead of baking powder.
"Col. John Johnston gave a talk that day and told how he had made peace between the Indians and the whites. He used to often come to my father's house. I have a book he gave me— he also gave my sister one. He used to bring us a great many papers, for he got papers from all over the United States, from New York, New Orleans and all parts of the country. He would often walk up to the schoolhouse and sometimes he would drive old Pompey. Old Pompey died from the bite of a mad dog. He was hitched in a shed near me sawmill when the mad dog bit him; they took him home and shut him in the basement cellar in their stables. He lived but a short time and in his final struggles broke his neck.
"We used to have fairs and exhibitions, the boys being the race horses. I was one of the judges, also Bill McKnight. The judges awarded the prizes. We would take papaw leaves and pin them together with a small twig, also sassafras leaves, and make garlands of them, and drape them around us, fastening them on the right shoulder with a bunch of leaves and bringing the garland over to the left side just below the waist to imitate the judges at the fairs. We used different colored leaves for the premiums.
"At our little fairs we had an exhibition of vegetables, plants and flowers, and sometimes we would set our dinner out if we had nothing else. For a butter exhibit we would place the bread butter-side up, and for a bread exhibit would place two slices of bread together, the butter in the center. Sometimes we would all put our dinners together and have a picnic dinner.
"At the noon hour the children were in the habit of running about the room while they ate their dinner, but Cousin Nancy. I remember, made us sit quietly until we had finished eating and then have our play.
"We played at housekeeping just as children do now. We used to lay stones on the ground in the shape of the rooms we wanted, build cupboards of boards and moss and fill them with broken bits of dishes.
"I like the old method of teaching better than the new-fangled way of doing things now. Reading lessons came first in the morning. The higher readers first, and on down to the primer. Some of the teachers read a chapter from the Bible and had prayer. Mr. Kemp and Mr. Varian both started the day's work in this way. The reading usually took until recess, then we had arithmetic, writing geography and spelling classes until dinner. Whoever would have the most head marks at the end of the school term would get a merit card. I received the highest and my sister next.
"Mr. Kemp taught two winters. There was one teacher the boys got mad at because he burned so much wood and as the boys chopped the wood it made them lots of work. One morning early a number of the boys put red pepper on the stove. When school took up everybody got to coughing and finally the teacher; then he found out that pepper had been put on the stove. I can remember how John Patterson laughed and laughed while all this was going on.
"We used to ride fifteen miles to church on Sunday We would get up at three o'clock in me morning, get our breakfast, milk six or seven cows, change from our working clothes to our church clothes and get started at seven o’clock to the old Associate Presbyterian Church fifteen miles away. We took our lunch and horse feed in a box under the front seat of the carriage – threshed oats for the horses, and father would set the box on an old stump of an old locust tree just high enough for the horses to eat out of. I remember the old locust tree was still lying there.
“In those days the sermons lasted from one hour to one and a half and sometimes two hours. Dr. Samuel Wilson was pastor. We would get home about six o’clock in the evening, change our clothes, do the milking, get supper and get to bed about nine o’clock.
“My mother, when she was a girl, used to even walk seven miles to church and go barefooted most of the way. She would carry her shoes and stockings until she came to a little brook about one-half mile from the church, wash her feet and put her shoes on and go to the church, and returning she would take off her shoes at the brook and go barefooted home. It would not only save her shoes, but it was more comfortable to go barefooted.
"Will Wonderly, Mr. Urie Chambers' uncle, went to school there. He and John Patterson look our part when the boys snow-balled us. Some of the boys would dip their snowballs in water and a coating of ice would form on them and then pelt the girls with these, and if they happened to hit you in the face it scratched your face, and for this reason John Patterson and Urie Chambers took our part.
"We used to sail sticks for boats in the little run along Brown Street clear down to the Ramsey spring. While Mr. Ramsey was teaching the boys would go down to his place and get watermelons and muskmelons while he was eating his dinner and we would have them for dinner. He would not let the girls sweep the schoolhouse and would not sweep it himself. The girls swept it while he was at dinner one day and he was very angry, and we told him that we did not want to live like pigs. He did not like dust, but we had dusted his desk and all the seats.
"Mary Ann Murray, one of the teachers, used to whip Urie Chambers' feet because he talked out loud in school. He was too little to know better, and he would come and sit between my sister and myself in order that we might protect him. She had an embroidery class in the summer at the schoolhouse Saturday afternoons.
"They used to have picnics at me Bluffs, and Mrs. Wead, Mrs. Davis' mother, used to bake little grape pies in pans about two inches wide by four inches long and she would take a large platter of these to the picnics. The children were very fond of these, especially John McKnight. The Bluffs are located between Calvary and the city.
"The last day of school each year we had a picnic dinner in the schoolhouse. The teachers usually had their friends there.
"We lived three-quarters of a mile from the school, and one winter I can remember that father took us to school in the big two-horse sleigh each morning and came after us at night because the snow was too deep for us to walk. We usually stopped and took in a little boy whose father carried him down to the road on his back. and he was waiting for him each night as we drove by. We lived three-quarters of a mile from the school-house.
"We had to milk five or six cows on wash days and we would get up a little earlier than usual and get the washing almost out before we went to school; and when we went home in the evening in warm weather we washed up the dishes, got our cows up, milked them and did up our other chores and often pieced out quilts. We retired at eight o'clock. I was only nine years old when I got my first quilt done. I have it at home now."
Mrs. Lucy Paul Popenoe, writing from Hannibal, Indiana, sends this:
"I have put off writing to this late date thinking I would surely find some pictures I wanted to send, but several searches in the attic and elsewhere have proven futile. And when you asked me to write a reminiscence I smiled to myself and wondered what it should be, for so many things come to mind that I scarcely can make up my mind which or what it. shall be. Whether it shall tell of the time the ‘big boys' (I won't mention any names for — if they read this no doubt they will recognize themselves) shut us girls up in the schoolhouse and put red pepper on the stove. My. how we coughed and sneezed and cried, until great big-hearted John Shroyer and some others came to our relief.
“Or shall it be about the coasting times, when the big boys made a sled large enough for the whole school and piled us smaller girl. in the center, and how we went down the hills over in the Patterson woods? Or still it might be when some of us made an oven in me clay bank back of the house, and baked potatoes at noon time And again I might tell how the big boys and girls would call the school to order when the teacher, Squire Ramsey, was inclined to be tardy at noon, but never could find out who rang the bell or pounded on the door.
“Or perhaps the best times were our spelling matches, when we younger ones spelled along with the older ones. Didn’t we feel big to spell down our good friend, John Patterson, or one of the Garsts? When Friday afternoon came, almost as regularly came the beloved and dignified Colonel John Johnston.
"At other times came the school board. Who of us does not remember Mr. Mead, Mr. Shroyer, Captain Houk, Mr. Chambers and Colonel Patterson, as they frequently heard us spell or read? Oh those were school days worth living, and they are more cherished by me than days in the seminary or elsewhere. I might go on indefinitely, as one memory recalls another, but I will leave something for others to tell. With tender memories of those days, and kind regards for one and all of us that are left, I am,
"Lucy Paul Popenoe."
Thus it was that the men and women of the past generation passed their youth in hard work, with no more exciting recreations than playing at State Fair or sham battles and no more serious mischief than squirting ink or making a long journey going for a bucket of water. It was all very simple, very plain, very quiet and not very easy. But it was normal, and that is why they look back upon it with so much pleasure and meet their comrades with renewed happiness at each yearly reunion.
May there be many more and all as pleasant as the last one, will be the wish of all the pupils who went to school in the old red brick schoolhouse.
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