(from a book written in 1893)

The following text was transcribed from chapters on the history of education in individual Kansas counties found on pages 169-174 in:

compiled by Kansas educators and published under the auspices of the Kansas State Historical Society, for the Columbian Exposition.
(Topeka, Kan. : Hamilton Printing Company : E. H. Snow, state printer, 1893)



NEMAHA COUNTY -- Although Nemaha county was organized in 1855, it was nearly four years before schools were organized. Probably the first school in the county was a private one, taught by Miss Ada Smith, in Seneca, in 1859. The log schoolhouse built about four miles south of Seneca, in the fall of 1859, was probably the first schoolhouse built in the county.

The early educational history of Nemaha county is blended with that of Centralia. In 1858, T. P. Coan, of Clayton, Ill., N. B. McKay, of Galesburg, Ill., and one other gentleman, whose name is not known to the writer, were sent to Kansas by the "Home Association," of Galesburg, Ill., "to select a township of land, to be settled by neighbors, friends, and acquaintances, in order to have society advantages without waiting the usual slow progress." J. T. Morse was the originator of the association, and the first president. The plan was unique and interesting, and is worthy a careful study. It is sufficient for the purposes of this history to say, that the town was laid out and provisions made for the support of schools and churches. The plan provided for a section at the center of the township to be laid out in town lots and "mechanics' shares," which were lots ranging in size from 2 1/2 to 10 acres. The proceeds of the sale of the section of town lots and mechanics' shares were to endow a college. Provisions were made for eight other school districts in the township. In 1859-‘60, a two story frame building was erected on the town site, for school and religious purposes, and Rev. Mr. Strombridge, a Congregational minister, preached occasionally.

In 1861, Rev. Daniel Foster, a Unitarian minister, from Boston, and a graduate of Dartmouth College, in conjunction with F. P. Baker and others, obtained a charter for the organization of Centralia College. Rev. Mr. Foster opened the school with 60 pupils, and continued it until the spring of 1862, when, through unfortunate wrangling, which resulted in forming two factions, one party took the door and window frames out of the building, by this act compelling the school to vacate the building. The school was continued, however, in the law office of F. P. Baker for a month, when the doors and windows were restored, preparatory to moving a family into the house. The faction in favor of continuing the school rallied, took possession of the building, and guarded it with guns and revolvers all one day, while both parties sent emissaries in search of the sheriff. The messenger of the opposition faction found him first, and got warrants into his hands for the arrest of 23 of the school faction, charging then with riot. They were taken to Seneca, and, after a week of preliminary examination, were bound over for trial at the next term of the district court. They were subsequently tried and acquitted. But the trouble killed Centralia College for all time. Thus was ended one of the earliest, if not the earliest, attempt at higher education in Kansas. That which promised to be a flourishing school was cut off in the very beginning of its usefulness.

In 1876, the courthouse was destroyed by fire, and all the records of the county superintendent's office were burned, so that it is difficult to ascertain the early educational history of Nemaha county.

Centralia was organized as district No. 1 and Seneca as district No. 3. Where No. 2 was, I have been unable to ascertain. Districts were organized very rapidly, for we know that as early as 1861 Seneca was changed to No. 11. There are now 115 districts and 12 joint districts.

Following is a list of the county superintendents, with the term served by each: Joseph C. Hibbard, 1859-‘60; J. W. Tuller, part of 1860; F. P. Baker, 1860-‘61; Daniel Foster, 1861-‘62; Joseph C. Hibbard, 1862-‘63; Thos. D. Sheppard, 1863-‘65; L. C. Preston, part of 1865; Abijah Wells, part of 1865; Thos. D. Sheppard, 1866-‘67; J. H. Ballou, 18168-‘69; J. S. Stamm, 1869-‘73; I. D. Sammons, 1873-‘75; Abijah Wells, 1875-‘81; J. A. A. Amos, 1881-‘85; E. H. Chapman, 1885-‘89; J. J. McCary, 1889-‘93; Milton Todd, 1893.

Seneca Schools -— In May, 1859, Miss Ada Smith organized the first school taught in Seneca. It was a subscription school, and was taught in the old hotel on the south side of Main street, at the corner of Main and State streets, on the lots now occupied by the store of Kennard & Vickers. This was probably the first school taught in Nemaha county. There was a "bee" on the Nemaha, about 31/2 miles south of Seneca, in the fall, at which a log schoolhouse was erected, and school was taught there during the fall and winter of 1859-‘60. This was probably the first schoolhouse erected within the county. Miss Smith's school was taught three months, with nine pupils. The educational work was continued by John Clayton, who taught a winter term of subscription school, and was the first teacher employed after the organization of the district.

On February 23, 1860, district No. 3 was organized by electing J. C. Scott director, Samuel Lappin clerk, and C. F. Warren treasurer. This meeting authorized the board "to select and purchase a site for a schoolhouse," and levied a tax of one-half of 1 per cent. "to defray the cost of purchase," and a tax of one-half of 1 per cent. to pay teachers. But, at a meeting held the following September, these taxes were "annulled," and a tax of one-half of 1 per cent. was levied "for teachers' wages, and 1 mill on the dollar to pay incidental expenses." At this meeting, Finley Lappin, who still resides in Seneca, at an advanced age, was elected director; Dr. D. B. McKay, who died a few years ago, who remained a staunch friend to the Seneca schools to the last, and who indelibly stamped the mark of his influence for good not only on the schools, but upon every public enterprise for the advancement of Seneca, was elected treasurer; and Samuel Lappin, who was conspicuous figure in the early history of northeastern Kansas, and afterwards achieved an unenviable reputation as State Treasurer, was elected clerk. This board organized the first public school in Seneca, and employed John Clayton to teach, at $25 per month. Rev. Geo. Reack, a Methodist minister with a broad Scotch brogue, noted for his extravagant use of adjectives, taught a three-months term, from May to July, 1861, at $30 per month. The entire board was changed in September of this year by the annual meeting, and a tax of $50 was levied to make up the deficiency of the preceding year. The enumeration of the district was reported as follows: Males, 39, females, 26; total, 65. Number attending school: Males, 25; females, 15; total, 40.

The following letter explains the change in the numbering of the district:

CENTRALIA, KAS., December 11, 1861
DOCTOR WELSH: The school district of which you are clerk, in Richmond township, formerly designated as No. 3. will hereafter be known as district No. 11. Please so make a note on your book.
Yours truly,
F. P. Baker Superintendent.

T. D. Sheppard, afterward county superintendent, was employed to teach three months, from November 18, 1862, at $30 per month, and in December he was authorized to hire horses to go in search of an assistant teacher. He found one in the person of Miss Hattie E. Grover, who taught two months, at $22 per month.

In February, 1863, the board "ordered that the term of one quarter shall be composed of 13 weeks; second, that 5 1/2 days shall constitute a week." J. W. Tuller, who had been county superintendent in 1860, and was afterward county clerk, was employed for the quarter, at $30 per month, from March 3, 1863, and the courthouse was hired for school purposes.

At the annual meeting, June 25, 1863, block 40, now occupied by the Catholic Church, offered by the county commissioners, was accepted as a schoolhouse site, and the board was authorized "to build a schoolhouse, using the credit of the district after the funds are exhausted." In the following July, they contracted for the brick, and, in May, 1864, contracted with "Geo. Munro and L. J. McGowen to build a schoolhouse 24x50 feet and 12 feet high, for $1,760;" and, in July, at a special meeting, bonds of the district were voted in the amount of $2,000, to pay for the building, there being 50 votes cast, all for the bonds.

L. C. Preston was employed for the winter term of four months of 1863-‘64, at $50 per month, and he furnished his own assistant. His assistant, Mrs. M. G. Peston, his wife, continued the summer term of three months. The next teacher was F. L. Wright, who taught a month only, and was succeeded by W. F. Wells, whose health failing him in January, 1865, his brother, Abijah, and Miss Kate Webber took his place, and finished his year, and also taught the succeeding year. Mr. Wells still lives in the city, and is at present a member of the board of education. He is a prominent lawyer of this city, and has always been a faithful friend of education and one of the leaders in the educational work of Nemaha county, having been three times elected county superintendent, and having served part of another term by appointment; he has always kept in touch with the old teachers of Kansas. To him the writer is indebted for many of the facts contained in this notice of the Seneca schools.

At a meeting held pursuant to public notice by the district board, July 7, 1866, it was "Resolved, That the district board be instructed to provide for the separate education of the colored children of the district; that a teacher and room be procured for them by one week from Monday next, and sooner if practicable." Accordingly, Mrs. Loveland was employed, and taught the three colored children of school age in her own house.

This year, Rev. Chas. Holmes, now an Episcopal minister, and his sister, Mary Holmes, were employed for the year. This was the first time it was necessary to have three teachers; heretofore, two teachers for the four months of winter, and one for the summer or spring term, were deemed sufficient. At the annual school meeting in March, 1867, a resolution was offered to procure a separate room and teacher for the colored children; but a substitute was offered and adopted, "That the district board make such arrangements for the education of the colored children as they deem expedient." No provisions was made for them by the board. They employed L. C. Preston as principal and his wife as assistant, thus reducing the teaching force again to two. The colored question remained in innocuous desuetude until May 28, 1869, when a special meeting was called to consider the question, at which the following was offered: "Resolved, That we make no provision for the separate education of white and colored children." The record pithily says: "Adopted; meeting thereupon adjourned.—D. B. McKay, Clerk." This was the final quietus of the colored question in Seneca, so far as the schools are concerned; but they had questions of more importance to occupy their energies. The builders were again at the helm. May 3, 1868, a special election was held, under a special law, to vote bonds to the amount of $15,000 to build "a graded-school house," at which 57 votes (a unanimouse election) were cast for the bonds. As a result of this election, the old stone building, of four rooms, was built on the site of the present splendid building, during the summer of 1869. The old site and building were sold, and the present one purchased, for the erection of the new building.

In records of the annual meeting, March 31, 1870, we find: "Motion made and carried, instructing and authorizing the school board of said district to reduce our school to a graded school immediately." George Graham, A. Wells and J. P. Taylor were appointed to make propositions to the board appointed to locate the State Normal School to locate at Seneca; empowered the committee "to offer the schoolhouse of the district;" and, also, "to make such other and additional offers as they may think advisable, in order to secure the location of said school." The committee attended the meeting of the board and made their offer, but there is no record of their report. We only know their mission was not successful, but nothing was lost. Seneca had the best schoolhouse in northern Kansas, a preeminence she still maintains.

But, having disposed of the colored question, and having built a new schoolhouse, we must now look after the teaching force. In the fall of 1868, Rev. J. H. Ballou, a Universalist minister, was chosen principal, with Julia E. Marian, assistant. Mr. Ballou moved to Lawrence, after teaching a short time, and E. M. Dimmock took his place. As the result of Mr. Dimmock's efforts, we find the following, adopted at the next annual meeting:

Resolved, That the board of directors of this district are hereby instructed to employ no persons as principal of the school who is not a graduate of a normal school, unless he brings satisfactory testimonials from some experienced educator, or from some institution of learning or school above the common-school grade, with which he has been connected either as student or teacher.

S. L. Hamilton was employed as principal for the summer and fall of 1869, with Louisa Harden as assistant. Miss Harden, now Mrs. Murphy, still resides in Seneca, and was a quite successful teacher, remaining in the schools for full four years. She was succeeded by Mrs. L. H. Dey, with one term intervening. Mrs. Dey taught five years, and was succeeded by Mrs. E. M. Collins, who still holds this position. Thus the primary department—that is, the first year in school for the pupil—has been conducted for the past 25 years with but three changes, and for the last 15 years without a change. Mrs. Dey was an excellent teacher, and under her management the primary school prospered, and it continued without any falling off in progress or efficiency under the able management of her successor. This is an unusual record for a town of this size, as regards changes of teachers; but a more remarkable record is that Mrs. Collins, in 15 years' successive teaching, has been at her post of duty every morning except two, having been detained at home by sickness only two days in 15 years.

Mr. Hamilton was succeeded by A. H. Owen, early in 1870, who remained at the head of the schools until 1873. Mr. Owen was the first to occupy the new schoolhouse, built for the reception of a State normal school. He was the first principal to attempt a graded school. Under his management a third teacher was added to the force, in the person of Daniel Huhn, who taught a German school. This was really a concession to the Catholic element of the district, and was continued five years, during four of which Mr. Huhn was the teacher; the last year, Miss A. Deichman took his place. The German school was then discontinued, and German was not again taught in the schools until 1886-‘87, when it was added to the curriculum, and has since been one of the studies of the high school.

A. H. Miller took charge of the schools in the fall of 1873, with three assistants, (a teacher having been added the preceding year,) and conducted the educational affairs for two years. Mr. Miller was the brother of Sol. Miller, editor of the Troy Chief, and died in Doniphan county within the last two or three years.

D. F. Hoover was the next principal, taking charge of the schools in the fall of 1875, with three assistants. Mr. Hoover continued at the head of the schools until June, 1886, when he resigned, to take charge of the schools at Concordia, Kas., having served the people faithfully and effectually for 11 successive years. During administration of affairs, the corps of teachers was increased to nine, an addition was made to the main building, and a ward school, the "Van Loan Memorial Building," was erected in the southwest quarter of the town. Mr. Hoover's work at Seneca was eminently successful, and he left the schools fairly graded and in good condition, with a course of study covering 13 years, including three years of high school. Graduates of the school were credited at the State Normal School, and admitted to the classes there without examination.

Early in 1886, Seneca was organized as a city of the second class, and the number of the members of the board of education was increased from three to eight. The first board elected under the new order was Hons. J. E. Taylor and R, M. Emery, from the first ward; Rev. J. A. Amos and Geo. W. Williams, from the second ward; and R. E. Nelson and L. B. Keith, from the third ward—all representative business men. Mr. Amos was elected president, G. W. Williams vice president, Howard Thompson clerk, Edward Butt treasurer. The territory adjoining the city, but outside of the incorporation, did not take part in the first election, but, the following spring, elected H. B. Nichols and Daniel Marshall, two representative farmers, members of the board, after which time, until 1892, the board consisted of eight members. In the spring of 1892, in conformity to the recent law, no member was elected from outlying territory. The board was thus reduced to seven members. The board, as now constituted, is: T. C. Vickers, president, third ward; Geo. W. Williams, vice president, second ward; Abijah Wells, D. J. Firstenberger, first ward; Frank Greenwood, second ward; D. B. Harsh, third ward; and J. P. Taylor, from district outside of the city. G. O. Taylor is the clerk, and J. H. Hatch treasurer.

In 1881, Jacob Van Loan died, and left a part of his estate to district No. 11. The bequest amounted to $4,485, and with it was built the "Van Loan Memorial Building," in third ward, as has been before stated.

The present superintendent, J. G. Schofield, was first elected in 1886, and has been unanimously, with one exception, reelected every year since. Under his administration, the number of years in the course of study has been reduced to 12, and the number of teachers has been increased to 12. The efficiency of the schools has been greatly increased by closer grading, until now each teacher has but one grade of scholars to teach, except in the high school—here the four classes are assigned to two rooms. There are eight years in the grades and four years in the high school. The first year in the high school is really an advanced grammar school. In it, higher arithmetic, bookkeeping, advanced grammar, physical geography, civil government, physiology and United States history are taught. Two English classics are read, critically, each year. The present year, "Evangeline" and Hawthorne's "Tales of the White Hills" were the ones selected. After this year, the ninth in the course, the regular high-school work begins, and continues three years. The ground covered may be described briefly: Mathematics—algebra, geometry (plane and solid), and plane trigonometry; four books of Caesar, six orations of Cicero, and five books of Virgil; two years of German is optional. English is continued by all pupils throughout the course. Lockwood's Lessons in English, History of English Language and Brooke's English Literature are the texts. The critical reading of English classics is kept up throughout the four years of high school, and pupils are examined and graded on the work done. They are also required to write essays on the readings. The scope may be judged by the work of the present year: "Deserted Village," juniors; "Lady of the Lake," junior and middle classes; play of "Julius Caesar," senior and middle classes; and "Prologue" and Merchant's Tale," of Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales," seniors. General history, chemistry, physics, botany and drawing complete the list of studies. The last five months in school are devoted to a complete review of arithmetic, language, Latin grammar, and reading. Each pupil in the schools is required to do some literary work at least once each month.

The literary societies are controlled and managed by the pupils, but it is a part of the school work, and the teachers are held responsible for the character of the work done. In the high school, one of the rooms is organized as a senate, and the other as a house of representatives. In these bills are formulated and passed, under the rules of the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States, thus affording instruction in parliamentary law and practical legislation. Graduates of the high school are admitted to the freshman class in several of the courses of the State University without examination. They are also admitted to other State institutions and colleges of Kansas.

To procure thoroughness and mental power in pupils has been the aim of the present administration. The first class (of five) was graduated in 1881, and in each succeeding year until 1886, when 36 were graduated, the number increased. The requirements for graduation having been enlarged, there was no class in 1887, but a class of four was graduated in 1888, three of them post graduates, having completed the old course with the class of 1886. No class was graduated again in 1890; so that, of the 104 graduates from the schools, only 13 have been graduated since 1886, including the three mentioned above, who were graduated with the class of that year. The graduating class of 1893 is a little over 18 years.

In 1888, the old stone building came to be regarded as unsafe, and as the board had to provide more room for the schools, it was deemed advisable to tear away the old building, and build on the same site a commodious modern building. Accordingly, in December of that year, the board requested the mayor to call a special election to vote bonds for that purpose. The election was held February 2, 1889, at which $20,000 of 5-per-cent. bonds were voted, by a vote of 338 for to 140 against the bonds. The board advertised for plans, and accepted the one from which the present building was erected, but finding that the house could not be built for the money voted, they asked an additional sum of $5,000, which was voted in May. The contract was let, and the building which now graces the block east of the courthouse square was erected, and in the early spring of 1890 was occupied by the schools. The building is of brick and stone, two stories above the 10-foot basement, in which are play rooms and lunch rooms. It is heated by steam, and is well arranged for ventilating purpose. It contains 12 rooms for schools, a recitation room or superintendent's office, and a library. Seated with single seats of modern make and finish, with slate blackboards, teachers' closets, commodious cloakrooms, spacious halls ample windows, and modern architecture, it makes a building of which every Senecan is justly proud.

Thus we leave the schools of Seneca, and when we compare the present situation with that of a quarter of a century ago, at which time the schools were housed in an ill-contrived building of one room, seated with benches without backs, with two teachers, one in each end of the room, hearing classes six hours a day, we cannot bring our minds to believe that it is possible to increase the arrangements for the comfort and mental culture of the children in the same ratio for another 25 years.

transcribed by Rita Troxel, State Library of Kansas



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