|BY WELLINGTON LESTER, CALHOUN SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS 1907|
Wellington Lester was an early merchant on Pink Road, with many of his clan making a mark on the world.
In this sketch, it is proposed to give only a brief outline narrative of the course of educational affairs of the territory now embraced in Calhoun county from its earliest settlement down to the present time; and in order that the reader may have the best position from which to view the subject, it is deemed expedient to speak first briefly of the territory itself.
Beginning on the West Fork of the Little Kanawha river, at a point about one mile above the mouth of this branch, and proceeding up the same, this stream marks the southwestern limits of Calhoun county, until we reach the point where the waters of Henry's Fork flow into the West Fork, when the boundary line leaves the West Fork, proper, and deflects to the south and follows the course of Henry's Fork to the mouth of Beech Fork, and thence winding among the hills, with a small bend to the south, it reaches the Clay county line and from this point eastward the county is bounded on the south by Clay and Braxton.
The entire eastern boundary is fixed by the Gilmer county line, which is irregular throughout its extent and makes one long bend to the west, thus carrying the eastern limits of Calhoun county at that point far inward. The northern limits are fixed by the boundary lines of Wirt and Ritchie counties.
Within the boundary above set out is contained the territory, which was stricken from Gilmer county and in the year 1856, took upon itself corporate existence under the name of the county of Calhoun.
In the northern part, the Little Kanawha river, in its devious course from east to west for more than thirty miles, its waters receiving many tributaries, winds it way among the hills. More than one-half of the territory and by far the best and most populous portion of the county lies between the Little Kanawha river and the West Fork.
The first settlers for the most part took up their abode along the valleys of the Little Kanawha and the West Fork, and were descendants of the pioneers of Virginia. Like their progenitors, they were daring and enterprising.
THE VALLEY OF THE WEST FORK
In the fertile regions of the Valley of the West Fork, the settlers were so few and far removed from each other that for a while schools were impracticable and the education of the children was such as they received at their homes under the instruction of their parents, and such persons as occasionally sojourned among them.
It was not until about the year 1840 that an attempt was made to teach a school in that section. Charles Arnold, John Shed, Charles Preston and Amie Silcott were among the early teachers of this part of the county.
THE VALLEY OF THE LITTLE KANAWHA
What has been said of the early settlers of the West Fork valley is also applicable to the early settlers along the Little Kanawha, a neighborhood consisting of only a few families. The first assembly of pupils within the territory of Calhoun county that could be called a school was taught near the neck of the Big Bend in the winter of 1828 (maybe earlier) in a small log cabin seated with crude benches and lighted by means of greased paper windows. Ephriam Siers was the teacher.
(See Schoolhouse Cave story)
THE EARLY SCHOOLS AND TEACHERS
The early schools were taught as follows: In the Hardman Bend in 1838 by Daniel Hill; in 1840 on Pine Creek, by Fielden A. Knight; and in the same year on the south bank of the river. Just above Grantsville, by Harrison Cunningham; in 1841 on Pine Creek, near Stevens schoolhouse, by Wm. Bennett; and at the same place in 1842 by Augusta C. Modesit; and in 1843 by Rev. John Bennett.
From 1843 to 1850 several terms were taught on the right bank of the river, about three miles above Grantsville, by Rev. Jonathan Smith. In 1847 a school was conducted on Big Root by Elizabeth Betts; and one on Yellow Creek in 1853, by Harrison R. Ferrell. Cal Kessinger, Anne Betts, John Woodford, Joab Wolverton and Anna Campbell may also be mentioned as early teachers in this section. All of the pioneers of education, whom I have mentioned, have long since gone to their final account.
About the year 1860, the public mind became centered upon the great struggle, then imminent between the North and the South. This was the all absorbing question of the day and the thought that otherwise might have been given to the cause of education was now diverted to internal strife.
What little order had developed was suspended. During the entire period of the war and for more than a year after its close, there was only a fitful bestowal of the distracted public mind upon the cause of education.
The Free School System did not go into operation in this county until the estrangements engendered by civil strife had in a measure passed away. Until this time, all schools had been taught under the private subscription plan, and of course the pay of the teacher was limited. The teacher would often board and lodge among the patrons of the school and was not expected to pay for his "keep."
COURSE AND EXTENT OF INSTRUCTION
The subjects, usually taught in those early schools were spelling, reading, writing and arithmetic, and in some of the later ones, geography and grammar. Much of the time and energy of the pupils was devoted to the subject of spelling.
Reading was taught with a special effort to secure a loud and distinct utterance. Writing was required to be done by the use of pens, made from the-large feathers of birds, and ink was often made from walnut bark, maple bark and indigo; arithmetic was the only mathematics taught and one who could instruct the pupils therein, as far as the double rule of three, compound proportion, was regarded as well equipped for teaching that subject. Geography and grammar were probably the least understood and most poorly taught subjects in the schools of this period.
A NEW ERA
A new era in the educational affairs of the county began with the coming of the Free School System. After the close of the Civil War, the old order of things completely gave way to the new.
The Constitution of 1872, placed the schools under the general supervision of a State Superintendent and the Legislature was given power to provide for County Superintendents, who should have a limited control of the school affairs of the county, and whose term of office was at first two years; but was later lengthened to four years.
EARLY COUNTY SUPERINTENDENTS
Calhoun county has had the following County Superintendents of Free Schools:
John Bennett 1866-1868
Alexander Rice 1868-1870
David Knight 1870-1872
Patrick Bruffy 1872-1874
J. P. Knight 1874-1876
R. W. Hall 1876-1878
French M. Ferrell 1878-1880
R. W. Hall 1876-1878
Daniel Sturm 1880-1882
L. H. Trippett 1882-1884
William Metz 1884-1886
James E. Ferrell 1886-1888
E. Chenoweth 1889-1890
Bruce Ferrell 1890-1892
Bee Hopkins 1892-1894
John H. Roberts 1894-1898
Wellington Lester 1898-1907