Chapter 2

Children Lived Their History During the War

Springfield's school children lived their history during the Civil War. They lived it every day with fear, hatred, sickness, and death. They also learned lessons of courage, hope, and survival as lived by the adults. (See Timeline.)

Civil War drawingChildren who should have been in school learned many things that were not in textbooks during the great war between the states. School children saw soldiers march in the streets during the day and camp at night on front yards. School-age children saw their schools, churches and homes turned into barracks for the soldiers. Many saw their fathers and neighbors leave and not return.

Other children left with their parents to a safer place after the Battle of Wilson's Creek. Some went north; others went south. Children noted the town's divided loyalties and lived their history accordingly. No one knew what would happen next. Even in the midst of war, life went on. Children grew older. The township schools that barely existed as the war began closed for the duration. Children had nothing worthwhile to do. They followed soldiers through the streets, first the Grey and then the Blue. A few private schools for younger children of wealthy families remained in session during the war.

Children out in the country in 1864 on Sunshine Lane and Campbell Road crowded into the new Sunshine School. Students in the white wooden, one-room building watched for soldiers on the łOld Wire Road˛ passing by. Sunshine Drive, as it was later called, took its name from the school. It remained a county school for 62 years or until 1926. Mrs. Sophia Boyd continued to teach in her father's office during the war. Mrs. Caroline Gray taught in the Christian Church and Miss Sally Gates in her home on the southeast corner of Robberson Avenue and Olive Street. McGregor's hardware store located in front of the site later.

One barracks taken over by the soldiers was the proud, almost new Male Institute. In early spring of 1865 as the war ended, the Institute was accidentally burned by soldiers living there.

John A. Stephens, who built the first academy, died when a Union soldier shot him at his own door on Mount Vernon Road in October 1861. He was hurrying home from the Square to tell his wife that Northern General Charles Zagonyi was raiding the city.

As reports reached town that enemy soldiers were approaching, a "demented" man burned the red brick courthouse in the center of the square. Carleton's Christian College also burned. It was a time of violence, turbulence and mad excitement in Springfield which lasted for almost four years.


Finally, in March 1865, the great Civil War between the North and South came to a bitter end. It had been three years and seven months since the Battle at Wilson's Creek. The battered, beaten, but relieved Springfield citizens set to work to rebuild their lives.

It was inevitable that parents felt educating their children was a part of the rehabilitation. Naturally, those who had any financial worth looked for a private school. A Union soldier, a Captain Andrews, opened a private school in the old Calvary Presbyterian Church in the 200 block of South Jefferson Avenue. Andrews taught the older boys; 15-year-old Miss Virginia St.John Hackeney taught the young ones. Former School Commissioner, A.H. Matthias, opened a private school in the South Methodist church on Patton Street.

The post-war period saw a wild and hardened younger generation. For example, the girls in Miss Sophia's (Boyd) now greatly overcrowded school began to "dip" snuff. Miss Boyd could barely believe the girls would secretly inhale the disgusting snuff. It was even more difficult to believe they would chew hickory bark to make their teeth brown, another post war custom.

The girls also responded to normal things. Out under the trees in warm weather they studied aloud. "A noun is a name," one little girl would chant repeatedly. Another girl concentrated on such things as "8 x 8 is 64." Others confided secrets of childhood to each other or played jacks and jumped rope.

Captain Andrews had serious problems with the boys. After four years of considerable freedom, they, too, sniffed snuff and were rough and wild. Wrestling, that became a free-for-all, was the favorite sport. All over Springfield there was a quick growing desire, though far from unanimous, for free schools.

The 1865 legislative school law "providing that the people might organize themselves into a school district" was radical for some Springfield citizens. Some taxpayers opposed the part that allowed a tax levy on their property. A few spoke loudly. Let the parents take the responsibility for educating their children! Why should a thrifty, hard-working taxpayer with no children of his own, be compelled to educate other men's boys and girls? They'd be wanting the state to feed and clothe them next thing.


Progressive and more civic-minded men saw the need for schools in the growing city and fought strongly for them. The public school debate became a matter of intense public discussion. Men argued on the Public Square for and against free public schools. One anti-free schools orator branded the whole thing "illegal, unjust and infamous!" Many believed the tax levy would not pass. But when the voters spoke on April 10, 1867, the majority of Springfield's citizens favored public schools!

A state education report released in 1866 showed 4,840 public schools in Missouri with slightly more than 169,000 enrolled pupils. After Springfield's public schools organized in the 1867 spring election, Missouri's schools added one township and increased the state school total enrollment by 320.

The duly elected Board of Education held its first meeting on April 24, 1867. James Baker was chosen president, W.C. Hornbeak was elected secretary, and Charles Sheppard named treasurer. Dr.E.T. Robberson, J.M. Kelley and William R. Gorton filled out that first Board.

There is some confusion about the township schools being open soon after the war. An old city newspaper reported a teacher being dismissed September 1, 1865, for refusing to take the much hated post-Civil War "oath of loyalty." In addition there is a story of 12-year-old George Benton who drowned in a public school well on October 10, 1866. It seems he lost his hat down the well and a wall crumbled in as he went down to get it.

On June 4, the new board received a report from the old township organization with a list of inherited equipment. The list included four water buckets, three brass bells, three stoves with stove drums, 20 joints of stove-pipe, two fire shovels, two brooms, 12 pine benches with backs, 70 feet of common desking, and one ax handle.

The new Board of Education also inherited a debt of $1,250 for the past due salaries of seven teachers that included D.L. Gorton and Miss Sally Gates. With these liabilities and resources, the first school board set out to provide an education, at public expense, for all boys and girls in Springfield.

It is a matter of record that when Springfield opened its first free public schools in 1867, a school for Negroes opened the same day. The board members sought to follow the law for "Separate but Equal" Negro schools from the beginning of public schools. Although the "Jim Crow" law probably influenced some of them, the Springfield board members fulfilled the "Separate but Equal" law through the years. Springfield's Negro children's education was equal, at least outwardly, but remained segregated for 87 years.

Dudley GortonThe Board of Education paid Dudley F. Gorton, a former township teacher, $100 a month to be the first superintendent. Gorton wore a clipped mustache in a day when most men wore beards. A stout and ruddy Connecticut sea-captain, Gorton was a brother of William R. Gorton, merchant and school board member.

Gorton's task was not easy. Children who had not been in school for years and others who had never been in school were uncontrollable. Still and all, the superintendent, teachers, and board members met the challenge and established Springfield's first public schools. Churches announced the examinations to help determine grade level before school started. The first books purchased by the board and ready for the first day of school were Bibles.

Springfield school children lived history again on the first public school day on September 9, 1867. The total enrollment was 204 in elementary, 68 in high school, and 48 in the Negro school. The first school term lasted seven and a half months. The children sat on long benches; there were no desks at first. Phelps Hall, where the Woodruff Building currently stands, housed the first elementary school over a dry-goods store. Mrs. Gorton taught the younger children. Mr. Gorton "decisively" taught the older boys who had difficulty adapting to a classroom after so much freedom.

Jefferson Avenue hill, still ungraded and steep downhill to Jordan Creek, was a popular place for the untamed boys. Several old stagecoaches, stored in a lot near the school, tempted the rowdyish boys to get hold of one, and send it "careening down Jefferson hill and ruining it."

In addition to the Gortons, the board named Dr.C.M. Dunsmore as principal and high school teacher. Dunsmore was elegant of manner with a "fine use of language." He taught history and Latin. Also named were former private school teachers, Miss Sally Gates and Mrs. Sophia Boyd. Misses Alice Slocomb and Amanda Cowan came later to teach in the elementary grades.

Superintendent Gorton recommended two texts, Ray's Rudiments of Arithmetic and McGuffey's New Series Readers for the beginning school year. The next year the board agreed to buy Guyop's High School Geography.

Housing the students was a major concern the first fall and for the next three years. The high school started but moved from Phelps Hall to the former First Methodist Church on Patton Alley. Later the church became a school owned by Matthias and known as the Matthias Building for years. The Negro school met in the ACE church in Jordon's Valley.

Mrs. Boyd, the assistant primary teacher, taught in a little brick building on Phelps Street west of Boonville Avenue those first years. Miss Amanda Cowan taught the intermediate grades in two rented rooms in the Jarrett building over a grocery store at the corner of South Avenue and Walnut Street.

J.H. NixonA new superintendent, J.H. Nixon, came in 1869 for a monthly salary of $125. O.S. Reed followed Dr. Dunsmore as high school principal for a ten-month term at $100 a month. Two years later B.F. Newland succeeded Nixon for $150 a month. Nixon, a New Jersey Presbyterian clergyman, came here for his health. He had visited his sister, Mrs. Henry Sheppard, before he came to stay. Slender, medium height, and with dark brown sideburns, Nixon taught only two years. He was, however, long remembered. The children adored him. In bad weather, Nixon helped the younger children on the dangerous Jefferson Street hill. He is also remembered for selling bonds for a new school building.

A place to house the schools became an even bigger issue the second year as more children enrolled. Moving around and using store buildings and churches was all right for awhile. After two years, however, serious talk started about whether to build ward schools or one large modern central school.

After considerable discussions at a town meeting in the courthouse on January 1, 1868, a suggestion for four common ward schools prevailed. At a board meeting the next night, discussion centered around land that had been offered for a new school. Before the Board adjourned, W.R. Gorton made a motion that the school board build one main school building with the motion amended to read the Board accept the Lisenby lot and erect a primary building in the 4th ward at a later date.

At the next meeting, the Board ordered that 200 bonds in the denomination of $100 each be issued to run ten years with the right to redeem said bonds any time after five years. The interest would be at a rate of 10 percent per annum payable semi-annually. The bonds were for the purpose of erecting the first school building.

As early as March 14, 1868, the board purchased for $2,000 the northwest corner of Olive Street and Jefferson Avenue, known as the Burden lot, as a school site. A 20-foot $200 addition in July promised plenty of future building space. Thus, Springfield planted its first root for a permanent public school building!

The new school board struggled with the problem of finances. By April, the board issued the first $20,000 worth of ten-year, ten-percent school bonds to pay for the property and to erect a central school building. As usual, a few influential citizens violently fought the bond issue. Others endorsed it. One salty historian recalled "there was a yell that went up to high heaven against it."

Investors did not take to the bonds. In fact, they did not sell for two years and then for 86 cents on the dollar. Superintendent Nixon finally negotiated the sale through his eastern connections. In August, the Board rented for $40 a month two rooms in the Jarrett building at South Avenue and Walnut Street and the Mason's and Robberson's stone house on College for grade school purposes, and the H. A. Matthias building for a high school.

While students waited for the completion of the new Central School, the enrollment increased rapidly. In October 1868, Mrs. Burden, who originally owned the lot, got permission from the board to give two vocal music lessons weekly "for free" in the public schools.

In March of 1870 Superintendent Nixon reported a contagious disease caused a "manifest falling off of attendance." He reported "the general spirit of the schools seems to be good, and the change of the primary schools to the Christian church made the students as comfortable as they can be under present circumstances."

Christmas week was unusually busy in 1870 as Superintendent Nixon and his "scattered" teachers moved to the new Central School. Excitement soared in the city when the doors of the $36,000, three story, 12-room, red brick building on Jefferson hill opened in January.

It was nearly 40 years since Uncle Joe Rountree gathered the neighborhood children from the Kickapoo Prairie in a little log cabin and taught reading, spelling, and figuring to them. Springfield was "brand new" then. Since then there had been a civil war and the city of 6,000...and the rapidly growing public school system it had built...were looking for a new beginning. The new two-story red-brick Central School provided that hope for the future.

Old Central SchoolWhen the new school opened in January, white children already in the public schools could hardly wait to get inside. The colored children on their way to school in the Jordan Valley Methodist church glanced in wonder at the big building. It was beyond their imagination to envision its inside equipment. Even those who opposed paying for the new school felt better when they saw the statuesque school structure on Jefferson hill.

Building the school had not been easy. When the bonds didn't sell, the school board built it anyway by paying the contractors in building warrants. That saved time although it cost more. Nevertheless, the board felt justified that students who had moved from one old store-building to another for classes now had one school.

Before the opening of Central, classes in the make-shift and crowded rooms met for only half-day sessions. In the new building double or morning and afternoon sessions became the custom. School at Central, on the whole, became a busy, varied and learning experience. The students at Central sat companionably in double seats. At intervals during the day deserving or honor students passed the water bucket up and down the aisles to thirsty classmates who drank from the tin dipper. Sometimes the mules in the mule barn west of the school "brayed" and stamped so noisily that students on that side of the building could not recite out loud. 1

The neatly and fashionably dressed Central teachers wore frilly and decorative aprons. Christmas and end-of-school teacher gifts or special remembrances were likely to be a "lacy apron with crisp, fluted ruffles."

Only two students, Mattie Haywood Morris and Laura Massey Whitson, were in Central's first graduating class in 1872. Like others to follow, both came back to Central as teachers. The next graduating class in 1875 had one member, Fannie Campbell Owen. Fannie, of the original Campbell family of Springfield, also returned to teach. From 1875 to the present, Central has had a graduating class.

Each spring the graduating class members gave public oral examinations and answered questions from the superintendent. The board members, parents, ministers, and interested city citizens attended. After the principal completed his questioning, he turned to the audience and asked for further questions. Few took advantage of his "gracious formality."

Central School studentsThe playground back of the Central school sloped down to the Jordan Creek, a fascinating place, especially for boys. They waded, went fishing, and climbed the trees on the creek bank. In high water they ferried across in boats. A high board fence separated the girls and boys on the playground. It was not only shocking, but considered a disgrace, if a girl or boy was seen on the "other" side.

Superintendent Nixon finished the school year and then accepted the presidency at Lindenwood College. B. F. Newland, the new superintendent, came in the fall. It was difficult for Newland to be popular after Nixon. He did not meet the challenge.


Other events beside the new Central school opening in 1870 happened on the north side of town. As a result of the first railroad coming to Springfield, a lively railroad town grew and expanded there. North Springfield incorporated on July 12, 1870. In the winter of 1870-71, George S. Escott opened the first town school known as "the chapel," west of Jefferson Avenue near Locust Street. He taught 60 to 80 pupils there. That same year a Miss Bills opened a small school north of the railroad. Twelve North Springfield legal voters signed a petition in May 1872 asking for an election to organize a city school. Two days later, such was their urgency, another election named the board of education. They were: C.F. Leavitt, president, Robert Sears Jr. secretary, J.G. Raithel, treasurer, J.J. Bernard, H.W. Mathewson, and Ed Finney. The school building was under construction three weeks later on April 20 when a third election authorized the bond issue. North Springfield's first school building was a $17,000 four room modern brick structure. The fence alone cost $857. Hot air furnaces for four rooms cost $750. Large iron lightning rods protected the fine new building.

Students occupied the North Central or later Rogers School in January, 1873. J.E. Davis and a Mr. Wood taught in a store building on Commercial Street during North Central's construction. Financial difficulties, chiefly due to enormous interest on their bonds, almost overwhelmed the board. In January, 1876, after "considerable talking and debating ," the board closed the schools for the rest of the year. However, the board notified the teachers they could use the building if they cared to continue on the old-time "subscription" basis.


After three months in the new Central school, the board named a committee to select a site for a colored school. Bonds to buy the site and build the school became available for $5500 at ten percent. The chosen site between Benton and Washington Avenues was ideal at first. Two years later, in 1873, Drury College organized on an adjoining plot just north of the colored school. The four-room colored school building, south of where Burnham Hall now stands, was ready within the year. At first there were two rooms, then three, and at last four! A deep well in back of the school furnished fresh water for the students. The girls and boys played in separate playgrounds, but drank from the same large gourd dipper.

Among the well-remembered teachers in the new colored school were First Baptist Church members Titus Hayes, his son Ed and daughter Kate. Three teachers including the principal taught in the colored school by 1875. Before 1878 the Negro children from the new town of North Springfield also attended the South Negro school. Later a Mrs. Raithel taught the colored children in a rented room in the north community. School enumeration in 1880 showed 532 colored children in the city.

After the Civil War many Negro teachers came to Springfield. The first one was J.H. Rector, an itinerant preacher from the north. With his wife he ran a subscription school on Walnut Street. Later he taught colored public schools in the Methodist Church. Other early Negro teachers were a Rev. Lewis, and Walter Jeffers. In 1884, Professor Will H. McAdams, originally from Springfield, became principal of the colored school. The highly respected principal maintained that position for 32 years.

Many colored children went to school only half days. Young girls of 10 and 12 worked before and after school. Some worked mornings and went to school in the afternoon. They didn't call it vocational education, but many small colored children (girls) learned as much about sweeping, dusting, washing and ironing as they did of reading and writing during their school days.

A tall fence separated the Negro school from Drury College. Since its establishment in 1873, Drury College sought an agreement to remove the colored school from its campus. Finally, in 1883, the Board of Education agreed that Drury would build a new school on Center Street at Washington Avenue for the colored children. The Board of Education accepted the newly named Lincoln four-room brick school in 1884. Drury received the deed to the old school and site.


Another superintendent of the public schools, C.H. Hutchinson, came in 1872-75. He proposed to introduce a "normal instruction " into the high school but the board felt it had "no authority to incur such an expenditure for such a course of study at this time." Hutchinson left an ineradicable memory on his students. He expected students to sit in class with their eyes straight ahead. They could neither talk nor move their feet. When they entered or left a building their instructions were to stand still marking time in line their hands clasped behind them with their eyes ahead.

The school curriculum started changing and becoming more progressive. Early in 1872 the board approved a "drawing school." The art teacher, like the singing teacher, performed for gratis. The textbook committee reported and the board favored adopting Loonies First Steps in Music singing books for all the schools. It was understood that no pupil would be permitted to leave the public schools to take music lessons during the regular year.

The Springfield Public School Board of 1874 was a memorable one. That year John McGregor, who became board president for most of the next 20 years, and M.H. Bowerman, who became secretary and kept his office for 36 years, were "brought onto the board."

The Board of Education's long problem with superintendents "permanently" ended in 1875 when they chose a former school teacher and sawmill owner to head the public schools. The Jonathan Fairbanks era was about to begin.

[Journal] [Contents] [Chapter 1] [Chapter 3] [Chapter 4] [Chapter 5] [Chapter 6] [Chapter 7] [Chapter 8]
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