Did you know Clinton County had schools before the county was even established? When the Northwest Territory was first wrested from English control under theOrdinance of 1787, the charter included provisions for the basic rights of inhabitants: “Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind,schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged” (emphasis mine).
To accomplish that, the sixteenth section in each congressional township — one thirty-sixth of the land — was set apart for common school purposes. Those lands benefitting Clinton County began to be sold as early as 1834, just four years after the county was established. However, school was in session long before the official “common school” was established.
The first schools in the county were operated in the winters of 1820-30 and 1830-31, one in Washington township in a log cabin, the other in a log cabin also, on the Bunnell farm, according to E. H. Staley and J. P. Dunn in their chapter of The History of Clinton County(1913) called “ORIGIN OF PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM SCHOOL, RESERVATIONS IN ORDINANCE OF 1787, THE EARLY SCHOOLS, COUNTY SEMINARY, OTHER HIGHER SCHOOLS, PRESENT STATUS OF SCHOOLS, CONSOLIDATION, LIBRARIES.
In those early days, schools formed around a self-taught instructor who would apply to a district’s trustees to offer a thirteen-week school session and be allowed to use part of the small sum awarded to the county from the state school fund: about $20 per year for each district.
If the trustees agreed, the teacher would take a subscription paper around the district and have parents enroll their children and promise to pay the tuition, which was $2 per pupil per session (about $50 in today’s money). When a teacher had 30 students pledged, he could open a school. If the teacher actually received the $20 of state school fund money, he deducted a small prorated amount from each pupil’s tuition.
Teachers served not only as educators, but also as janitors of the building, and relied on pupils’ parents to provide wood for heat, along with other necessities for running the school.
Under Clinton County’s new constitution of 1831, however, the various school funds were consolidated, and the township, town, or city became the unit of our school system, not the districts. For a time, the schools were badly crippled by a Supreme Court decision that prohibited a city, town, or township to levy taxes for tuition purposes. In 1867, the law was nullified. Frankfort immediately took advantage of the repealed ruling, and a special school tax was levied of $.20 per $100 and $.20 poll. At that point, the schools began to flourish.
On November 9, 1868, the Frankfort School Board began buying up property near Third and Wabash, and in 1873-1874, the Second Ward School was built. Prior to this, many school buildings existed around the city and county, but none of that size and cost. In 1883, the First Ward School was built at Gentry and Paris, but it burned down within a year. It was rebuilt in 1903. In the meantime, in 1885, the Third Ward School was built near Harrison, followed closely by the construction of Frankfort High School, known as Old Stoney, in 1892.
In 1883-1884 school year, the total number of students enrolled in school in Clinton County was 6,567. In 1912-1913, that number had dropped to 5,912. Today, there are 6,247 students enrolled.
As those students head back to school for another year, they are continuing on the esteemed tradition of education that’s been part of Clinton County from the beginning.
Originally published at Clinton County Daily News on August 6, 2016.