Bunker Hill Historical Society
Bunker Hill, IL  62014
Early Bunker Hill Schools-Part 1

A History of Bunker Hill Schools-Part 1

The following is taken from "A History of the Bunker Hill Schools" manuscript prepared by Miss Florence Seim:

Moses True and John Tilden, in coming to now is what is Bunker Hill in 1835 from New Hampshire, were probably the first early settlers to see the possibilities of developing this section into the great agricultural region it is today. These early pioneers started a vast expansion program that soon saw a wave of emigrants, mostly of German, French, and English descent, migrating to this part of Macoupin County from the East. These early settlers were soon to transform the unbroken prairie into thriving farms from which developed many towns and centers of business.

At the turn of the century, emigrants were still coming in great numbers. Bunker Hill and Woodburn were fast becoming important trading centers, in the midst of a rich agricultural area, and the hardships and struggles of the early pioneers were fading into memories.

The first schoolhouses, as described in the early history of Macoupin County, were constructed in unhewn logs and covered with boards which were held in place by weight poles. Nature or mother earth supplied the floor. Oiled paper, placed over an aperture in the wall, was used to take the place of glass. Heat was commonly furnished by a large fireplace at one end of the building.

The furniture was of the rudest character. Seats were usually made of split logs with wooden pins driven into them for legs. To render them comfortable and secure economy in clothing, these seats were sometimes hewn. The writing desks were simply low shelves against the wall.

The subjects taught in those early schools were orthography, reading and writing. In some of the better ones, arithmetic was taught. Even though the subjects were very limited at that time, the greatest impediment to early learning was the lack of suitable teachers. Less was required and less was expected of the teacher then than of those today.

The first school taught in the county was conducted by Wm. Wilcox at Staunton in 1824. He boarded around and received $30 for ten weeks work. He was succeeded in 1827 by Roger Snell.

The first lady teacher in the county was Miss Charlotte Sherman, who taught a school in Brighton Township.

The first institute held in the county was organized in Carlinville on Sept. 16, 1857. A constitution was adopted and permanent officers were elected.

It continued to hold semi-annual sessions up to Dec., 1870. For two years sessions were held annually and then it gave place to the Macoupin County Teachers' Normal, which was for the self-improvement of teachers.

Even in the early days teachers complained of the limited salary paid them for their labors in public schools. In 1878 the highest paid salary to any Macoupin teacher was $100 per month and the lowest was $17.50. The average monthly salary for the same year was $38.57.

In 1836 (March) Moses True and John Tilden employed Luke Knowlton, a surveyor, to plot the town of Bunker Hill, this being the regular plot as laid down in the Corporation map.

Scarcely had Bunker Hill showed signs of becoming a town until the early pioneers turned their thoughts to the education of their children. These early pioneers, who were determined to develop this new country were advocates of "learning" and wished to have their children, who were to be the men and women of tomorrow, versed in the fundamentals of a workable education.

The first school in Bunker Hill Township was established sometime between 1825 and '30 on Section 21, and was afterwards moved to Section 22. Sections 21 and 22 are between Bunker Hill and Woodburn. Mr. Richardson was the first teacher and was succeeded by Josiah B. Harris. About 1831, a schoolhouse was built of [sic] Section 20 on land belonging to John T. Wood. John Wilson, Jesse Wood, and Aaron Leverly were early teachers in the Township.

A combined church and schoolhouse was erected in the fall of 1839 by citizens of Bunker Hill. It was 18' x 26' and was only a few feet from the present Congregational Church. Most of the material used was produced in this vicinity. Other material such as grease, oil, putty, locks for doors, pine lumber for seats, etc., were "store purchased". The bill footed up less than $100. It was a very rough, unplastered little room, with blankets and shawls hung around the walls and doors to keep out the cold winds and snow. This building, primitive and roughly built, was the first church and the first schoolhouse. In it the early settler worshipped and his children were taught to read. In later years the old schoolhouse became the property of W. J. Knibb and was used as a barn. It has been moved many times, its last location being on the southeast corner of Mr. Knibb's yard just back of the Methodist Church. In March 1883, the building was torn down and destroyed.

Francis N. Burnham operated the school and was succeeded February 3, 1840 by John A. Pettingill. In March, the spring term was in charge of Jane Putnam, who afterwards became Mrs. John Huggins. Dr. John A. Delano taught school here some years later before going into practice with Dr. E. Howell.

The date that the "old brick schoolhouse" (now the city hall) was built cannot be ascertained. Two of our older residents recall attending their first school there, but the dates that it was in use are not known. At that time it was a two-story brick building and remained such until 1948. The tornado in March of that year damaged the building considerably and it was reduced to a one-story structure. It was leased by the school district because the first schoolhouse had become too small. One of the first teachers at the red brick school was a Mr. Mark. In 1862, the Bunker Hill Academy was leased and used as a public school for 7 years.

The first authentic record of an early school board here was the board of 1862 composed of J. V. Hopper, elected in 1859; J. B. Clark, 1860-1863; and J. A. Pettingill, 1861-64. Teachers that term were Hattie Carpenter, $25 per month; O. S. Cook, $70 per month; M. G. Dickinson, 6$ per week; Juliet White, $22.50 per month; and L. C. Sanford, $20 per month.

A. W. Edwards, founder of the Union Gazette on March 23, 1866, during the first years of the publication of the paper, urges his readers to take interest in the schools. He wrote the following: "The public schools of this village are supported at an annual expense of $2000. Will not every citizen feel that it is his duty and privilege to see from personal investigation whether the money is wisely expended. No person having any degree of patriotism can feel an indifference in the intellectual and moral training of the young."

Union Gazette-Feb. 9, 1866: "If mothers would take a little pain to instruct their progeny that walking up the aisle of the church need not be necessarily be attended with quite so much noise as the passage of an army over a pontoon bridge, probably the aforesaid progeny would heed the maternal instructions and much more satisfaction would be allowed to those who go to church to hear the sermon. Some children, large ones, too, seem to think that it required two distinct noises when they put their foot to the floor, first the heel, then the toe. We assure you, it's all a mistake; one sound is sufficient. Seriously, the noise in some instances is distressing to the nerves and could just as well be avoided. Will the reader set the example?"

Union Gazette-Aug. 17, 1866: "The attention of the young ladies and gentlemen of Bunker Hill and vicinity is respectfully invited to Mr. P. G. Clayton's Writing School which has just commenced and is being held at the Seminary. Commencing at 7 P.M. Open every evening." In these early days, private schools flourished here and along about 1867 Bunker Hill could boast of our such schools. Prof. T. L. Sawyer advertised his school as a "Classical and Scientific Institute", and opened the fall term in 1866 on Sept. 3rd.

According to Prof. Sawyer's advertising, "Young ladies and gentlemen wishing to qualify themselves for teachers will receive the instruction requisite". Spelling, reading and writing were daily exercises for the entire school. Forty-five minutes of every day were devoted to penmanship. One afternoon of each week was devoted to composition and every scholar capable of forming a sentence, was required to compose. Commercial arithmetic and bookkeeping were exclusively attended to for those preparing for the counting room.

Terms for a session of ten weeks in the private school were: Primary department, $6.00; Junior class, $9.00; Senior class, $12.00; Incidental expenses in each department, $.50; French and German languages, $5.00 extra; No deductions were allowed for absence, except for protracted illness.

Coming Soon!!!! - Part 2 - "A History of Bunker Hill Schools"