Pella Chronicle

Days Gone By

October 8, 2010

Looking back at the one room school

Pella — The Spring Hill school stands on its original location about 3 and 1/2 miles south of Knoxville.  It is on the north side of Pratt St. and on the west side of Hwy. 14.  When the school closed, the land on which it stands reverted back to the Finarty family and it was used as a shop. Near the old school, which could tumble down any day, is a grain bin, Both buildings are on land belonging to John Finarty.

The Knoxville Journal of  Nov. 26, 1884 says  “Spring Hill now boasts of the finest country schoolhouse in the county.  It is an ornament in the community and speaks well for their interest in educational matters.”

In the fall of 1888 the corespondent mentions the school has a new stove and that teacher Miss Davenport is paid $37.50 per month.

In  Nov. 1889  Spring Hill was having a three week vacation giving the “big boys” a chance to gather the corn.

On Jan 15, 1890  the correspondent says it’s enough for people of the district to pay taxes to buy ground, build schoolhouses, etc. and those that get the benefit ought to rustle around and get their own books. (It seems there was never enough money to meet all school needs)

Note the large number of students in the 1892 picture. Several students were probably absent as the following year the newspaper reports an enrollment of 93 school age children, double the number in the photo which was provided by one of the students,  Lottie McConoughey,  for a Journal story in 1932.  She says these young men and women trudged through spring mud and winter snow in their copper-toed boots or shoes, carrying their lunch in a “poke” or a tin bucket, to master the intricacies of the three “R’s”.

I talked with Clarence Evans who began his grade school education at Spring Hill and completed it at the Knoxville Middle School. He and two friends who were in the same grade through high school graduation are looking forward to their 50 year high school reunion next year.  His last teacher at Spring Hill was Freda Chamberlain, whom he described as a live wire, a real character. Sometimes Freda would take down an old mandolin that was stored at the school for an impromptu sing-a-long.

This summer Clarence visited Freda, now in her 90’s.  Although she has some memory problems, she recognized him.  When he offered his arm as they walked down the steps she informed him that she was capable of going down the steps by herself.

Spring Hill was heated by a fuel oil furnace which stood near the back of the classroom.  Clarence said he always picked a seat at the back of the room as the wind blew through the sandstone foundation making it pretty cold near the front.  He sometimes spent an entire noon hour trying to toss a softball straight up to the chimney just so he could hear it clatter down the metal pipe. Teacher was not happy when he succeeded.

The Spring Hill students also played a version of Annie-Annie Over using a basketball rather than smaller ball. “It made it easier for the younger students to catch it,” he said. They devised a more dangerous game in which they would swing on the metal swing and someone would toss a football in their direction.  Standing on one foot they would try to kick the ball as far as it would go. Once one of those flying footballs hit the neck of a farmer  on his trractor. (I’d say they were lucky the farmer was able to be angry.  He could have lost control of the tractor or even been killed by that ball)

He also related an amusing incident involving one of his teachers and her boyfriend.  The man sometimes stopped by the school and honked the car horn and she would step out the door to greet him.  One day the teacher forgot that she had given a student permission to use the outhouse and when the student opened the door to return to the school room he caught the two in an embrace.  After that she always did a head count before she stepped out the door to greet her boyfriend.

Clarence expressed great admiration for country school teachers who had to teach every subject at every level and still carved out time each day to give extra assistance for the “slow learner”.

Teachers at Spring Hill included  Miss Lizzie Leonard, Ada Meek 1883; Dixie M. Cornell 1886; Della Smith, Miss Davenport 1888; Miss Adda Young  1889; Miss Lizzie Smith, Frank Wright 1890; Mrs. F. M. Wright, Sylvia Masteller, Miss Vincent  1891; Miss Crew, Mr. Denny, Miss Maggie Watkins, 1892; H. J. Curtis  1893; Ada Meek 1894; Ada Meek, Laura Essex 1895; Kate Derry, Alma Cloe 1896; Julia Ruckman 1897; Alma Cloe, Flora Batten, Miss Julia Ruckman 1898; Flora D. Batten  1899-1900; Charles W. Conrey, Art Betterton 1901; Jean Rogers 1903; Iva B. Marsh 1904; Art Betterton 1905; Lucy Ward 1906-07; Carolyn Cooper 1908; Mary E. Flanders, Cora Rankin 1909;  Maude Welch, Clara Mason 1910; Clara Mason 1911; Mary Greenaway  1912; Mrs. Rosa Smith, Edith Agan 1913; Virgie Shinn 1914; Mamie C. Smith, Bernice Phelps, Alletta Cuningham 1915; Mamie McKeigh 1916; Virgie Shinn 1917-18; Sylvia Allen 1919; Mrs. Maud Christiansen, Janie Black 1920; Sylvia Allen 1921; Marie Hand 1922; Mrs. Hon 1923, Ruth Woodle 1924; Beulah Welch  1925-27; Ruby Seaman  1928-30; Hollare Maddy 1931; Madge Crozier 1932-35; Evelyn Gurney 1936; Cleo Hill 1938-40; Inez Stittsworth 1941; Rena Fee Welch 1942; Bonnie Jean Nichols  1943; Luella Beebout 1944; Luella I. Beebout, Mary Myers Ely 1945; Kathryn Smith 1947-48; Rena Welch 1949; Violet McDonnell  1950-51; Mildred Dooley 1953-54; Freda Chamberlain 1955-56.

Please continue to contact me with your memories and pictures of Marion County country schools.  641-628-4716 or


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