- Associated Press - Monday, October 6, 2014

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) - Building dedication adds to annual celebration

An addition to one Vigo County park may take its visitors back to school days gone by.

Dozens of community members on Sunday attended the dedication of the new log schoolhouse during the annual Pioneer Day celebration at Fowler Park on the south side of Vigo County.

The one-room schoolhouse, measuring 22 feet by 18 feet, was sponsored by the Educational Heritage Association Inc. of Vigo County, a not-for-profit organization. The project was nine years in the making, said Board President Geri Black.

“It’s very exciting,” Black told the Tribune-Star (https://bit.ly/1uskdyp ) just before the dedication. “I’m really proud of the school.”

Many of the characteristics of the log schoolhouse are authentic to the 1830s. During that time, students learned in dimly lit classrooms heated by a fireplace. There were no desks, and the benches had no backs.

The Fowler Park schoolhouse has a fireplace, porch and shingles made of wood. Its size is also authentic to the period.

Soon, the organizers plan to install benches with no backs and with individual slates, which pioneer children used to write on.

It is situated among other period structures - log cabins, a log barn, smokehouse, blacksmith shop - at the park, in an area known as Pioneer Village. The village recreates Indiana life in the 19th century and sees a lot of activity, particularly during the annual Pioneer Days.

“It made the village complete,” said John Gettinger, vice president of the Educational Heritage Association Inc. of Vigo County.

While most of the schoolhouse’s characteristics are authentic, some are not. Gettinger said the glass windows and wood flooring may not have been used in a pioneer school.

“We just had to make those accommodations because we want the building to be usable,” he said. Organizers hope that children and educators will visit and use the structure.

During the log school dedication on Sunday, which was hosted at the church next to the schoolhouse, several people involved with the project delivered brief speeches. Fred Nation spoke on behalf of the Wabash Valley Community Foundation, one of organizations that helped to fund the project. Larry Reck, whose late wife, Alice, founded the association, was asked to give the benediction.

Vigo County historian Mike McCormick gave a brief history of schooling in the area.

“We didn’t have any public schools here until 1853, and then we only had one because up until 1853, the wealthy people in the community … didn’t want their children going to public schools, to be associated with the common herd,” McCormick began. He said that many schoolhouses in 1836 were private schools, and since the log schoolhouse was based on that time period, he believes it would have been a private school.

He also told the crowd packed into the pioneer church building about public school advocates who helped establish the public school system over the years.

Other individuals, including Vigo County Parks Superintendent Kara Kish and Assistant Superintendent Adam Grossman, spoke at the event.

“Thank you for choosing this as a home” for the schoolhouse, Kish said. She also thanked former superintendent Keith Ruble, who is being credited by the organizers as the designer and builder of the schoolhouse.

Ruble said it took about seven weeks to physically build the log and wood structure. Its shingles were built on-site, he added.

“It’s a building to help kids (today) appreciate learning,” Ruble said.

He hopes kids today will gain an appreciation for the things they enjoy at school. In those days, he said, only one person from each family got to learn, so that person is the designated reader and writer for the family. They learned reading, writing and arithmetic. Children had to walk to school or ride a horse, unlike children today, who use the modern-day school bus.

“Back in those days, it was an absolute privilege to go to school,” he said.

In addition to helping kids learn about history, the schoolhouse also serves as a symbol of commitment to public education.

“I think it brings the idea that in America, we’ve always believed in public education,” Gettinger said. There is a “commitment to every child having the opportunity to learn,” he added.

The log schoolhouse tells the story of how public education in America started. People learned how to read the bible and studied in order to be good voters, he said. “This, in my mind, is why America is great.”


Information from: Tribune-Star, https://www.tribstar.com

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