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HISTORICAL MARKERS OF SPRINGFIELD & GREENE COUNTY, MISSOURI

MARKER NUMBER SIX

FIRST SCHOOL IN GREENE COUNTY


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This marker has the incorrect number 4 on the marker itself. The marker is located at 1820 Mount Vernon Street, just west of the old Missouri Pacific Railroad crossing.

The text of the marker reads as follows:

"225 FEET SOUTH OF THIS SPOT. THE FIRST SCHOOL-HOUSE IN GREENE COUNTY WAS BUILT BY PIONEERS, 1831. SMALL CABIN, LOGS CUT OUT FOR WINDOW AND DOOR OPENINGS. NO SHUTTER, DOOR OR CHIMNEY. DIRT FLOOR, THREE-LEGGED BENCHES. FIRST TEACHER, JOSEPH ROUNTREE. PUPILS FROM ROUNTREE, MILLER, FULBRIGHT AND WEAVER FAMILIES. MARKER ERECTED, 1921, BY SPRINGFIELD UNIVERSITY CLUB."

In January, 1831, Joseph Rountree arrived in Greene County, Missouri. During that same year, he and his pioneer friends built a crude school house; and soon thereafter formal education began in Greene County. According to one biographer, Joseph Rountree served as teacher in the school for "two sessions."

Since this first school is so closely related to Rountree, it seems appropriate to briefly examine his background and experience. He was born in North Carolina in 1782, then at age 37 moved to Tennessee where he remained until traveling to Missouri. He was reasonably well-educated for that period and was reputed to be "very proficient in mathematics and a good scribe." He taught school in both North Carolina and Tennessee. He and his wife Nancy had a large family - two girls and six or seven boys. They left for Missouri in 1830, in search of "suitable lands upon which to locate." Trudging through 18 inches of snow, his family and the Sidney Ingram family arrived in what was to be Greene County in late January of 1831.

Joseph Rountree was a mature, educated family man at age 49 and was, no doubt, a welcome addition to the pioneer Ozarks community. It is noteworthy that the school was built within the first year of Rountree's residence in the area. Several pioneer families probably cooperated in building and supporting the school. Most historians mention the Rountree, Fulbright, Weaver and Miller families as instrumental in undertaking the project and in supplying the first students. The site of the first school house in Greene County was on property settled by Joseph Miller, John Polk Campbell's brother-in-law. One historian wrote that almost all of the pupils who attended Rountree's school became prominent local citizens.

The school was not a public school but rather a private "pay school." In pioneer Springfield and Greene County, most children were educated "at the mother's knee" and/or "in the fields with father." The first public schools did not appear until 1867.

From the beginning, Joseph Rountree was engaged in occupations other than teaching. He was elected Justice of the Peace soon after he arrived, and he developed an outstanding orchard on his farm near Wilson's Creek. For a time he operated a general merchandise store. In later years he became a judge of the county court. He actually taught in the area for perhaps only two years. Apparently, the monetary rewards from teaching were not sufficient to entice him to remain in the teaching profession.

The significance of the first school in what was to become Greene County is that it was built and put into operation within the first two years of the settlement of the area; it is also noteworthy that the community attracted a mature, experienced individual as the first teacher in the first school, and that a contemporary school bears his name.

References:

Fairbanks and Tuck, History of Greene County, 1915.

R.I. Holcombe (ed.), History of Greene County, 1883.

E.M. Shepard, "Early Springfield", Missouri Historical Review, October 1927.

R.C. Glazier, "An Almost Condensed History of the Queen City of the Ozarks", Guide to Springfield, 1993.

—Prepared by Charles E. Gray

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