Community celebrates surviving 1-room schoolhouse

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HOPE, Ind. (AP) — As they step through the door of Simmons School, students are transported back in time 100 years to the days of one-room schoolhouses.

Students from around the state who visit the one-room schoolhouse are taken back to the late 1800s, when the school was built, to learn about life at the turn of the century.

They learn that about 45 students of all ages would walk miles to the schoolhouse, and those students would be taught by a single teacher — usually a woman. They would sit at the same desks, and they would perform the same copy work with a pen and ink, which was graded for neatness and penmanship. And, when they made a mistake, they would wear the dunce cap, which was once used to punish slow learners.

Those lessons would have been lost when the schoolhouse closed in 1906 if it weren't for Glen Keller, the Hauser Historians and the entire community of Hope.

After years of research and fundraising, Simmons School was loaded onto a giant truck and driven four miles south down Indiana 9.

That happened 25 years ago, and a two-day celebration among students and community members will mark the anniversary.

"Simmons School has a lot of value to this community," said Barb Johnson, who chairs the Simmons School committee. "I think it's the idea that it all started as a dream and then it happened. It wasn't just a couple people; it was the whole community."

Plans were already in place to build a new Hope Elementary building beside Hauser High School on Indiana 9 when Keller, then the superintendent, brought up the idea of including a one-room schoolhouse at the educational complex.

"I had no idea anyone had even heard my suggestion, because there were no 'boos' from the crowd," he told The Republic (

Keller knew Hope values heritage, and he got the idea from a visit to a teachers institute in Ohio. The architect included a spot for the one-room schoolhouse in each subsequent drawing, and Keller started recruiting help.

"I had no idea what was ahead of us at that time, but what an adventure it became," he said.

He asked Johnson to chair the new committee temporarily — although it ended up being a permanent position — and they turned to students for help.

"You give a kid a job, and they say, 'We can do that,'" Johnson said.

So the Hauser Historians, a history club at the high school, started researching buildings in the area. There were a few one-room schools within a few miles of Hope.

"We went ahead and climbed through windows," Johnson said, laughing and hoping the statute of limitations has passed. "We were trespassing on private properties and breaking in, but we didn't get caught."

The students found and settled on Simmons School because it had the most character with the bell tower, Johnson said. It was located in Haw Creek Township near what is now County Road 900N, about two miles north of Hope and half-mile west of Indiana 9.

But only half the battle was fought at that point. The schoolhouse committee would need about $40,000 to move the building to Hope Elementary.

The Hauser Historians wrote news articles for the local newspaper, and they rallied their fellow classmates to donate by asking each student to bring $1.

The students alone raised $2,500, and Keller said that sparked an interest from the community.

Donations were rolling in after that in amounts of greater than $1,000, and the schoolhouse was even donated by Kenneth and Julia Bense, who owned the property on which Simmons School was located. Old pieces of flooring were removed from the schoolhouse, and Paul Shoaf turned them into jewelry boxes to be sold to those who wanted a keepsake.

"Things just began to happen," Keller said.

On Sept. 19, 1989, the town of Hope gathered on the square and waited for the schoolhouse to be transported by.

"It got a lot of hubbub," Keller said. "The day of the move, it was like a party, like a parade. Downtown was filled with people, and they actually stopped the truck downtown so people could just savor the sight."

But then there was phase 2. The renovation came next, and architects predicted it would cost upward of $100,000.

Again, the community stepped up to bring Simmons School back to life.

John Anderson installed a metal roof with the help of his sons and a few friends. Merrill Clouse made a trip to Florida and came back with the original bell. Tim Clapp built double desks to match an original one donated by Martha Shaffer.

"It just worked," Keller said. "And it really gave the community a shot in the arm with a lot of nice things happening."

Even as trucks whir by outside the historic structure's windows and classes at Hope Elementary tap away on iPads next door, visitors at Simmons School are given an authentic experience.

Johnson said the second-graders sometimes think they really did time-travel.

"They'll ask, 'How did you get us back in time?'" she said.

The trick is for students to buy into the experience.

They're asked to dress in period clothing — dark, knee-length pants with a light shirt and suspenders for males and a long dress and hair bow for females — and bring a lunch in a basket or tin pail.

Teachers can also take the role of a schoolmarm, but more often Simmons School provides one with experience in drilling students on copy work and recitations.

Mary Currier, now a teacher in Indianapolis, was active in the Little Hoosiers club sponsored by Johnson and spent many hours in the schoolhouse when she was younger. She said she would be surprised if her students now could grasp what it was like for a student in the 1800s if it weren't for Simmons School.

"I think it is important students still get the opportunity to experience the time period," she said. "I think all kids need to take a break from technology and the hustle and bustle of life and experience a single day at the one-room schoolhouse."

Although classes at Hope Elementary and Hauser Junior-Senior High School can use the schoolhouse for free, as Simmons School is considered part of the school corporation, most visitors come from out of town.

About 60 schools rotate through each year, some traveling from as far away as Centerville in Wayne County.

A school spends the entire day at the schoolhouse, starting when the schoolmarm rings the bell in the bell tower and followed by proverbs, the Pledge of Allegiance and traditional games at recess.

"They almost always come back once they come here," Keller said. "Because it's something different from their normal school day. They're enjoying every minute that they're here."

Students will have the chance to watch a blacksmith, learn to folk dance and listen to a dulcimer Friday.

It is all part of the two-day anniversary celebration for Simmons School.

Friday is for the students, who will participate in many old-fashioned activities and will be joined by Glenda Ritz, Indiana's superintendent of public instruction.

Although the public is not invited to the celebration Friday afternoon, the community will have a separate chance to explore Simmons School on Sunday.

The committee organized the public event, which will take place 2 to 4?p.m., to say thank you to the community. The school will be open, and ice cream will be served for free — although donations are welcomed and encouraged.

Simmons School has remained open for 25 years, even when naysayers were telling the committee the building would turn into a storage shed within a year.

"That didn't sit well with me," Keller said. "I hope it just continues on as it has been. I think it serves a real purpose in a lot of ways, when you think about what it does for kids and the community."


Information from: The Republic,

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