Jonathan Fairbanks and Clyde Edwin Tuck

Past and Present of Greene County, Missouri • ca. 1914

Early and Recent History and Genealogical Records
of Many of the Representative Citizens

Chapter 12
History of Public Education in Springfield
by Prof. Jonathan Fairbanks

Part 1
Elementary and Secondary Schools

All through the years 1830 and 1830 new families of settlers kept arriving in the Ozarks. They came weary with their long journey by ox teams from east Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina, and when they reached the "natural well," and the Fulbright spring, and met the hospitable men and women who had preceded them, they were only too glad to cast in their lot with them.

That all these earlier inhabitants of Springfield were of the best type of the American pioneer, is well proven by the fact that while the little settlement in the Ozark wilderness still lacked several months of being two years old, a rude building was erected and a school opened for the children. Thus from the earliest years of its existence. Springfield has striven earnestly for the best obtainable educational advantages for the children. It is doubtful indeed, whether any other city can show such active work for the training of the young at as early a date in the life of the place as can this.

It was in January or February, 1830, that A. J. Burnett built his little one-room cabin of poles on top of the hill where now stands the Frisco office building. That little cabin was the first white man's home in the territory now included in the city limits of Springfield. And in much less than two years after Burnett made his settlement here, the first school house was built and occupied.

That first building was, however, strictly speaking, not in Springfield, for it stood some half a mile or so west of the present city boundaries. But in the next year, 1832, another one-room cabin was erected "of small logs," on the site still taken by a building that served many years as the house of worship of the First Christian church, and that has now been for a long time a private residence. This stands on the northwest corner of Main and College streets. [409]

This first school building in Springfield was naturally a primitive affair. One who was a scholar there has left on record that "it had a loose plank floor, a door shutter and a stick and clay chimney." All of which modern conveniences the building west of town had lacked. From these humble beginnings has grown the magnificent plant of twenty modern edifices, in which the youth of our day receive free training for the duties of life. And great and costly as these buildings are, it is doubtful whether, taking into consideration the number and wealth of the community, they represented a tithe of the sacrifice and effort put forth by the fathers which resulted in those two log cabin school houses in 1830 and 1831.

Those early schools were of course' not public schools in the use of that term today. They were "pay-schools," and if there were settlers who could not afford the modest tuition fees, their children had to do as best they might with such learning as could be imparted at the mother's knee. As the community increased in numbers and wealth the schools grew correspondingly better in equipment, larger in attendance and with a more extended course of study. Still such a thing as a public school, maintained at the cost of the entire community was not thought of. The schools grew in size and importance; one at least of them aspired to the name of "college" and caused the title of "West street" to become forever after, as it is today "College street," but the time for public schools had not yet come. Then the tempest of civil war broke upon the land and for four stormy years most of the schooling was in that institution of which "experience" is the head master and where in lieu of books and teachers the principle accessories were study enemies with guns in their hands.

At last peace returned; those of Springfield's citizens who had been away fighting for the cause that they loved, returned to the little war swept town. New men by scores and hundreds came in and the sun of a permanent prosperity began to rise over the "Queen of the Ozarks." Even then it was nearly two years, in the turmoil of those busy days, before men found time to plant the seed that was to grow into that great system of free, public schools, which today is the pride of every citizen of Springfield.


In the spring of 1867 a movement was set on foot for the establishment of public schools for the youth of Springfield. Before the Civil war, there were excellent private schools, but no public schools in this city.

Several citizens joined in a movement to establish a system of public education. Public meetings were called, plans discussed, pro and con, in regard to the movement for not all were in favor of such a step. Some very influential citizens opposed such a plan with their might. One gentleman in a speech on the public square denounced the movement as illegal, unjust, infamous and declared he would oppose it to the end. Nevertheless, those in favor continued the good work, and in the fall an election was called to select a school board, which resulted in the choice of the following gentlemen: James Baker, W. C. Hornbeak, Charles Sheppard, Dr. F. T. Robberson, J. M. Kelley and William R. Gorton. These gentleman called a meeting to organize. The result was Judge James Baker, president; H. C. Hornbeak, secretary; Charles Sheppard, treasurer; Dr. E. T. Robberson, J. M. Kelley and Wm. R. Gorton, constituting the board of education. [410]





This board proceeded to select site for buildings, determined levy for tax and how to procure money for erecting buildings. Suitable places were procured for schools in the meantime in rented buildings and were opened September 9, 1867. The high school in Matthias building with sixty-eight pupils; the primary schools in Phelps Hall with two hundred and four pupils. The colored school in the colored Methodist church with forty-eight pupils. The school year was seven and a half months, afterwards increased to nine months.

At a meeting of the board held February 13, 1868, a committee was appointed to select a site and at the next meeting on the 18th of February; a suitable place was reported at a cost of $2,000. The site and cost were satisfactory and the board ordered two hundred bonds of the denomination of $100 each, $20,000 running ten years, drawing ten per cent. interest, be issued to meet the expenses. The board reported the purchase of the Burden property, corner of Jefferson and Olive streets, for $2,000.

A committee was selected to purchase a lot for a colored school. This body selected a site on Washington avenue near Center street and $5,500 in bonds were authorized to pay for lot and building. This building was completed June 7, 1872, at a cost of $4,867.52. On January 3, 1873, the board of education purchased an additional lot of J. H. Shaw on Olive street to add to the grounds of the old Central building erected in 1871, which lot cost $1,850.

In 1874, the western part of sections 14 and 24 of township 29,range 22 was added to the school district of Springfield. On May 8, 1880, twenty bonds of the denomination of $100 each, bearing ten per cent. interest were called in and new bonds bearing six per cent. issued in their place and payable after five years.

June 1,1882, the board purchased a lot for school purposes in the third ward for $735 and contracted with Thomas Conlon for building the third ward school house at a cost of $5,996.90. May, 1883, the board purchased a lot on the corner of Mt. Vernon and Grant streets, fourth ward, for $850.

On May 23, 1884, the board exchanged the old building on Drury College grounds for a new building erected by Drury College on southeast corner of Center street and Washington avenue. That is now the Lincoln colored school building. [412]






June 10, 1884, the board awarded the contract to Smith and Anderson for the sum of $6,800. June 5, 1886, the board purchased two lots at the corner of Kimbrough and Cherry streets in the first ward and had erected a six-room building by Everett Smith and Anderson at a cost of $8,000. But, to make a long story short, Springfield has now twenty school buildings, for which she owes a small bonded indebtedness, say $28,000. Her buildings are as follows: Old Central, sold in 1910; Bailey, erected in 1882 at a cost of $8,000; Campbell, built in 1884, at a cost of $6,800; Phelps, built in 1886 at a cost of $8,000; Campbell addition, built in 1900, at a cost of $6,632; Phelps addition, built in 1908, at a cost of $3,400; Bailey addition, built in 1890, at a cost of $2,950; Bailey second addition, built in 1895, at a cost of $8,000; Lincoln colored, built, in 1883, at a cost of $5,000; Lincoln colored addition, built in 1887, at a cost of $4,000; Berry built in 1887, at a cost of $5,321; Berry addition, built in 1901, at a cost of $3,970; Weaver, built in 1887, at a cost of $5,321; Weaver addition, built in 1895, at a cost of $5,000; Rogers, built in 1872, at a cost of $15,000; Rogers addition, built in 1891, at a cost of $9,450; Waddill, built 1898, at a cost of $5,321; John McGregor, built in 1905, at a cost of $7,500; John McGregor addition, built in 1910 at a cost of $11,500; Douglas, built in 1892, at a cost of $3,808; Dr. E. T. Robberson, built in 1905, at a cost of $7,500; Judge M. Bowerman, built in 1906, at a cost of $8,800; Waddill addition, built in 1911, at a cost of $3,400; Robberson addition, built in 1912,at a cost of $13,000; Mary S. Boyd, built in 1912, at a cost of $13,000; Pickwick, built in 1908, at a cost of $7,000; new high school building, built in 1893, at a cost of $100,000; new high school second addition, built in 1906, at a cost of $35,000; new high school third addition, built in 1914, at a cost of $120,000; J. E. Tefft, built in 1914, at a cost of $40,000; Fairbanks, built in 1906 at a cost of nearly $8,000, and in 1910 an addition was built at a cost of over $4,000. Many thousands of dollars have been spent for repairs, alterations and furniture not accounted above.

The school property now, in 1915, is worth at least $650,000, all paid for but $28,000 due in 1921, on bonds. [414]

Teachers. —The first teachers employed in the schools, when first opened in 1867 were the following: D. L. Gorton, principal, at a salary of $100 per month; Miss Amanda Cowan, principal of grammar school at a salary of $50 per month; Miss Slocum, assistant, at a salary of $40 per month; Mrs. D. L. Gorton, principal of primary school, at a salary of $50 per month; Mrs. M. S. Boyd, assistant, at a salary of $40 per month; Miss Sallie Gates, assistant in high school, at a salary of $50 per month; Mr. Scott Hayes, colored school, at a salary of $50 per month. These seven teachers enrolled the first year three hundred and twenty pupils, two hundred and seventy-two white and forty-eight colored, being an average of forty-eight to each teacher. Cost for teachers, $2,785 or $8.75 for tuition for every pupil enrolled. In 1870, Mr. and Mrs. Gorton having resigned, a Rev. J. H. Nixon was chosen superintendent, holding his place one year, when a Mr. B. F. Newland was elected superintendent, holding his place two years; a Mr. C. C. Hutchinson was elected to fill the place; this he held till 1875, when J. Fairbanks was elected superintendent at a salary of $1,500 per year of eight months school. In 1876, the new constitution went into effect confining the school levy 40 cents on the hundred dollars and the board of school directors was compelled to reduce the salary of all its teachers—the superintendent to $150 per month, the highest grade teachers to $40 and the lowest to $30 per month. This condition continued for several years till the wealth of the city increased, till a larger amount was received from taxation.

Fairbanks was superintendent from 1875 to 1912, when he was made advisory superintendent and W. W. Thomas was elected superintendent. This year makes the fortieth for Mr. Fairbanks to be connected with the schools and this will make the third year for Mr. Thomas to be connected with the Springfield public schools.


In the school year 1875 there were enrolled 1,052.
In the school year 1885 there were enrolled 2,585.
In the school year 1895 there were enrolled 5,155.
In the school year 1905 there were enrolled 6,559.
In the school year 1910 there were enrolled 7,562.
In the school year 1913 there were enrolled 8,350.
Principals of the Springfield high school from 1867-1915:


O. M. Dinsmore


R. L. Goode


O. S. Reed


T. J. White


J. A. Graves


W. L. Atkinson


Henry Rikards


W. T. Carrington


F. J. West


H. A. Hollister


R. L. Goods


W. T. Carrington


W. H. B. Trantham


E. E. Dodd


The number of teachers has increased from seven in 1867 to two hundred in 1915. From 1872 to 1885 there were two school districts in what is now Springfield, North town and South town. In 1885 the two towns were united by a vote of the people. The fifteenth annual report of the public schools of North Springfield showed there were enrolled in 1886-87 nine hundred and forty-five pupils. This was under Supt. Howard Gates, being the fifteenth annual report of that district. The teachers of that year 1886-7 were: Howard Gates, superintendent; Miss Emma Hardin, Miss Hattie Brooks, Miss Margaret F. Finley, Mrs. M. H. Patterson, Miss Georgie L. Evans, Miss Agnes M. Ball, Mrs. Maggie Lovan, Miss Mollie B. Buckley, Miss Cora A. Clayton, Mrs. M. J. Perrin, Mrs. L. G. Winters, Miss Carrie Shank, Miss Anna M. Barrett. [415]

This year (1885) the two towns were united under the name of Springfield. Mr. Howard Gates became an instructor in the Springfield high school, and most of above teachers were retained by the Springfield board of education.

At this time North Springfield had four school buildings each four rooms at a cost of thirty-five thousand dollars in bonds besides a small tax voted for the purpose. When the two towns united none of these bonds had been paid but were assumed by the Springfield board of education and long since paid.

Members of the board of education since the opening of the public schools in 1867:


W. C. Hornbeak


Thomas N. Appleby


W. R. Gorton


William A. Reed


Charles Sheppard


Ellis Paxson


J. M. Kelley


Darwin Johnson


E. T. Robberson


J. W. Hall


James Baker


R. L. Goode


L. H. Murray


C. W. Hamlin


Dr. J. E. Tefft


J. H. Stemmons


J. Fairbanks


F. E. Headley


F. S. Jones


Dr. H. S. Hill


John F. Worth


George A. McCollum


B. L. McElhany


E. T. Butler


James Abbott


A. J. Eisenmeyer


L. A. Newton


J. H. Jarrett


John McGregor


Ed. V. Williams


J. B. Townsend


B. A. Hardrick


M. Bowerman


E. D. Merritt


H. F. Fellows


A. D. Allen


William Naegler


Dr. F. W. Diemer


J. R. Furguson


George Hendrickson


C. P. Johnson


Dr. W. P. Patterson


C. M. Eversol


W. F. Hagebusch


N. M. Rountree


George Pepperdine


S. N.Ingram


John Schmooke


W. C. Booth


L. F. Pipkin


Norris Fellows


F. T. Jared



Springfield is really an educational center, drury College, a very superior institution of learning, ranking among the beset; Springfield State normal School noted for its great excellence, business colleges of the highest order, superior Catholic institutions of learning, all in this city, and a system of public schools known for their excellence far and near, having graduated nearly two thousand students from her high schools up to the present time and with eleven hundred now enrolled in same. Some of the ablest teachers, lawyers, doctors and business men have graduated from the Springfield high schools and these other educational institutions. [417]

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