Pella Chronicle

August 12, 2011

Looking back at the one room school

By Helen Boertje
The Chronicle

Pella — The Coal Ridge school was north of the present Coal Ridge Church which is on Hwy S. 71. Church services were held at the schoolhouse from the time it was founded in May, 1852 until the first church building was erected south of the school in 1860.  Below the crest was Coalport village which consisted of one store, a saw mill, a grist mill, a potter’s shop and a blacksmith shop, and a bank.  B. McCowan, in his book “Down on the Ridge” writes there was no post office because Washington had heard there were still Indians and that an occasional white man was burned at the stake.  There were about  a half dozen families which boasted a large number of children for those good old days when there was little else to do.

Here is his description of the Coal Ridge school:

“Coal Ridge was a seat of learning.  It was a little frame building about eighteen by twenty feet.  It was made of native lumber.  In the center of the room stood a wood stove which at that time was up-to-date.  On cold days the boys were kept busy chopping wood.  The writing desks were wide boards attached to the wall by hinges and, when the hour for writing had arrived, these boards were elevated to their proper positions where they were supported by sticks, leg fashion.  For seats we had slabs, flat sides up.  These slabs were held up with legs, a la bench.  For backs we employed the ones God gave us when we came into this forest.  These seats and benches were made of the same height for both large and small. We little fellows climbed up on our benches where we sat humped up like Texas steers in a blizzard, our feet swinging in space. I venture to assert that that old schoolhouse sent out more curved spines into the world than any seat of learning in Marion County.    It remained on the ridge for a long time until it reached such a deteriorated condition that it was destroyed.”

One of the teachers was Squire Martin who tended his vegetable garden and raised sheep from his wife's carded wool.  He taught in the winter time and used a birch rod.  The author stated he didn't need to use it.

In typical childhood fashion they dallied in getting water for the school and also in going to and from school.  “We stopped on our way both coming and going to make strict search in every hazel bush for a stray bird's nest, stopping the while to make our naked toes the appearance of a snake track in the dust.”

As punishment for putting ink on his forehead, cheeks, and chin “the teacher put an old splint sunbonnet on me and set me down between two big girls, where for a full hour or two nothing was more fascinating to me than a small knot-hole in the school house floor; and then you devilish boys called me sissy for a week.”

They played “black man, rollie-bole, leapfrog and and blind man and then we would gather up a bunch of girls and play ring around the rosy, frog in the meadow, and then it was game mumble peg, and to wind up we would ‘crack the whip’, big boys at the head the little lads on the tail end,  you know what happened.”

He quotes the first recitation for the school program:

“You’d scarce expect one of my age

To speak in public on the stage;

But if I could chance to fall below

Demosthenes or Cicero

Don’t review me with a critic’s eye

But pass my imperfections by”

At which point he either forgot his lines or developed so much stage fright he says “I couldn’t go any farther and ran outside.”

The official list of teachers includes Alex Whaley 1885, Nora White, Della Roberts 1889, Miss Essex 1890, Miss Ollie Gelderbloom 1895, Miss Alice Crosby 1897.  Squire Martin is not mentioned nor is his first teacher Mary Davenport who ran a subscription school,  possibly out of her home rather that the Coal Ridge building.

Did you intend to send me your pictures and stories?  Hurry please or they will not be in the book.  641-628-4716 or