Volume 2, Number 4, Summer 1965
A school-minded County since its beginning days, Stone Countys school system has made progress in a centurys time.
The first school, we believe, was built in 1850, some months before our County was organized on February 10, 1851. And in the fall of 1850, it was ready to receive the first scholars - youngsters living in and around McCullah Chapel.
McCullah Chapel was located some four miles, almost due North of present day Hurley. The settlement was named for its founder, Alexander McCullah. Born in Virginia, McCullahs life, until he arrived in Missouri, was one of extreme privation and hardship. With his mother and his stepfather, he crossed the Cumberland Mountains at the Gap barefooted, each carrying a peck of corn meal and a bundle containing all their worldly goods.
Within a short time after his arrival, Alexander McCullah established a tavern with living quarters nearby, the school and church which, at first, was one building, and succeeded in getting the settlement on the map as a stage coach stop on the Butterfield Trail. Soon other families moved into the area, there was a store, a blacksmith shop, and homes scattered around the neighborhood of the big spring that supplied water to man and beast.
After the Civil War, the settlement suffered many setbacks, financial and otherwise. One by one the buildings disappeared. Some were burned. The church or Chapel was last to go; even so, the name carried over to a school district in Northern Stone County which embraced the original McCullah Chapel settlement. A country school, known as Chapel School, flourished for years, until it was voted into consolidation with Hurley, later the reorganized Hurley Schools, around 1926.
There are no records of that first school at McCullah Chapel. We do not know the average number of pupils, or how long the school term was, or even the names of any of the teachers. But this much we do know: Alexander McCullahs hunger for knowledge made possible a school where children learned, their ABCs.
Today, there is almost no sign that a busy little village ever stood near the spring which no longer furnishes great quantities of water. The farm where the village stood is now owned by Mr. and Mrs. Burl Cavener.
One of the first tax - supported schools in Stone County was organized around 1871, and served as a district school from that date until 1890. It was a one-room log school house located on the Lum Steele farm north and west of Hurley. After the building no longer served as a school, it was used for storage of hay. Many a grownup, during the years it stood there full of hay, told his children and their children how he once walked four miles to school mornings and back home evenings. It was hard to believe, I know, for my Mother went to school there. I was brought up on stories of her school days, which meant little to me at the time of the telling. She was 10 years old when she attended the log school house, however, she had gone three terms when she lived with an older sister in the Terrell Creek settlement of Greene County. Going to school wasnt exactly new, but it was different. She is now 92, but she still remembers the long walks to and from school, how, in Autumn, the boys and girls walking with her would stop at the persimmon tree for refreshments.
We do not know for certain how the log school house, which became Sub-district No. 2, was built, but my mother rather thinks it was by a special log-raising. Just back of the location were dense woods with fine trees. Likely whole families came, and made quick work of the building and had a holiday as well.
Some years ago, Clellie Steele, son of Lum Steele, who now owns the farm, found in the attic a school record which begins with the first notices of the first election held in Sub-district No. 2, Township 26, Range 24.
This election was held on April 8, 1871, at Spring Creek, the name of the settlement which marked off this Sub-district so that it zig-zagged in width from three to four miles, and was between seven and eight miles in length. Polls were opened at three oclock in the afternoon and these three men were elected directors: William C. Gold; William Steele, and Firman Tettermer. John Short acted as chairman; Mr. Tettermer, secretary, and Mr. Gold, sub-district clerk.
On April 14, 1871, the directors met with Firman Tettermer to take the enumeration, and to make out an estimate of expenses for the school for the year 1871. When it was found there would be 58 scholars in Sub-district No. 2, it was deemed necessary to arise $120.00 over and above the free money that the sub-district would draw to carry on a four months school. An estimate was therefore made out for that amount and forwarded to the township clerk.
This old log school house, which served Sub-district 2 from 1871 to 1890, was located on the Steele farm, now owned by Clellie Steele, North of Hurley. It was one of the first tax-supported schools to be organized in Stone County. The building stood until recent years, when it was torn down.
The old record book has a copy of the first teachers contract, signed by the teacher, James A. Torbett. The formal wording states that James A. Torbett, being a qualified teacher, will be paid $32.50 per month; beginning on the first day of August, 1871, for a three months school. He is to keep the daily register, etc. School to be closed on October 31, 1871.
My Mother, Mrs. E. R. Scott of Hurley, well remembers how the log school house looked the first day she attended. It was a fair, sized building, facing East, with the one door in the East. On the South, an opening had been left in the logs for windows, which came later. Slab benches were the seats. The girls were seated on the South side of the room and the boys on the North. The teachers desk was a crude affair. When a fire was needed, a big old wood stove with a drum burned the scholars faces on the side next to the stove, and froze them otherwise.
It was quite an excited crowd of youngsters, grown boys and girls who went trooping into the log school on that first day of August, 1871. The logs had not been daubed with the mud solution used in that day and great, yawning crevices invited small boys to all manner of mischief.
Years later, Joe Gold, a lad who remembered the first day of school, told how Jack Short, father of Dewey Short, then a "right smart hulk of a boy," attempted to stick his head through a crack between the logs and got stuck tight and fast. Some of the older boys had to prize the logs apart far enough so the badly frightened boy could pull his head out.
And that must have been a hectic day for James A. Torbett, the teacher, for, after he taught three days, he became so ill he could do no more teaching in Sub-district No. 2. Joe Gold remembered that when he heard the news he thought, "Now I wont have to go to school any more, the teachers sick." Little boys havent changed much, have they?
But schools have a way of "keeping," regardless. And on August 21, 1871, a new schoolmaster entered the one room log school, Z. T. Snyder by name. immediately the boys dubbed him Old Spider. He must have been made of stronger fiber for, according to the contract, he finished his school on November 8, 1871.
The teacher was expected to be in charge of text books. And since books of any kind were scarce, the few that could be gathered up were
passed around. Along with the Bible, and a few copies of the New Testament, the Book of the Day was the Blue-Back Speller. Another standby was Rays Arithmetic.
Compared with our schools of today, it was a strange conglomeration of scholars and school supplies. Yet, the needs of the people were met. When a boy or a girl had finished school in Sub-district No. 2, he or she could cipher and spell, carry and borrow in subtraction and long division (all of which may be alien in todays Arithmetic). And best of all they could READ!
Looking through the pages of my mothers Blue-Back Speller, I asked, "Could scholars actually spell the words in this book?"
"Yes," said my mother. "I knew three girls who went to school with me in the log schoolhouse who not only could, but did, spell every word in the book." And she named them.
The old record book is full of interesting statistics. Names written in ink dimmed by years but still legible appear as "Names of Youth," with their ages, arranged in alphabetical order. The register for the last school lists 52 scholars. On a page near the back there is a list of resident tax payers.
Many human interest stories could have been written about Sub-district No. 2. But alas, most of the scholars have been gone many years. The term of school was lengthened, eventually, to four months. But school was out before Christmas, for then severe winter weather set in. Even so, in that day snows came early and children often trudged through the snow, from as far North as the County fine and below Hurley to the South.
The last school taught in the log school house had as teacher Ruben Sells. That was the year 1890. Then Oak Hill school district was organized and the school was build on the farm now owned by Mr. and Mrs. Wade Kemp. The first term began in the fall or late summer of 1891. Children from Hurley, then called Spring Creek Settlement, attended that school until the Hurley district was organized and the first one-room frame building began operations the first of September, 1909. Roy Sullivan was the teacher.
Did you ever memorize Whittiers poems called School Days? It goes like this:
"Still sits the schoolhouse by the road, A ragged beggar sleeping, Around it still the sumac grows, And blackberry vines are creeping."
In Whittiers day there must have been many abandoned school houses such as he described, even as there have been in more recent years of our school reorganization, with this difference; our school buildings were sold to the highest bidder and turned into attractive homes. Some few of them still bear the earmarks of school houses, but most of them do not.
Little log schoolhouses, such as Sub-district No. 2, live only in memory.
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly
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