Former Crawfordsville citizen Robert Kennedy Krout wrote his sister Jane a letter in 1908 reminiscing about their emigration to Montgomery County in 1837. He included detailed snippets of their early life and education in Ripley Township. The first school that Robert and Jane attended in 1838 was called the Humphrey school or Bunker Hill school. If some people in Ripley Township initially referred to the school as the Humphrey school, it was probably because the school instructor in 1837 was Jonathan Humphrey. He was about 20 years old and the eldest son of Robert and Hepzibah Humphrey who moved from Warren County, Ohio to Montgomery County in 1826. Jonathan’s sister, Ruth Tamar Humphrey, attended the school until she reached age 16 in 1836. She described the schoolhouse as a log cabin with seats made of split logs with pegs in them on top of puncheon floors. Puncheon floors were constructed from logs in which only one side of the log was flattened, the floor side. When the walls of the school were constructed, they left a log out of the wall for light and when the weather was cold, they would cover it with greased paper. The Stonebraker cemetery was nearby. Many of the children only attended the school during the winter months because they had to help their parents with running their farm and homestead during the spring through the fall. Robert Krout remembered Humphrey as one of “Nature’s Noblemen” but wrote that Humphrey “possessed very limited qualifications for teaching having been reared in the backwoods where no schools had yet been established.” If people referred the school as Bunker Hill school instead of the Humphrey school, it was possibly named after the Bunker family that lived in the area, instead of for the Battle of Bunker Hill.
The teacher who taught Robert and Jane next was James Gilkey. In history books, he is recognized as the first teacher. He might have been a more demanding taskmaster than Jonathan Humphrey because he was about 40 years old and with his experience as a parent of nine children, mostly all grown, he probably had greater control of the classroom and possibly higher expectations for student achievement. His youngest child, Joseph, might have been one of his pupils. While Robert thought that Gilkey was not qualified to teach anything past primary school, he wrote that Gilkey was a gifted orator. “His reading of St. Paul’s defense before King Agrippa and Cicero’s prosecution of Verres, I think could not be surpassed by any elocutionist,” he said. James’ son Daniel H. Gilkey also taught school and served Montgomery County as a teacher for over 50 years.
Krout held the highest opinion of all his teachers for William A. Wellshear. “He was well-equipped to discharge all the duties required in the schools of that day,” Robert wrote. “He possessed a bright intellect, fine social qualities and a warm friendship for his pupils.” William A. Wellshear was originally from New York, but made his way further west as a young man while working on a keelboat on the Ohio River. He made his home in Cincinnati where he married Mary Hankins Compton before the extended Compton clan migrated to Montgomery County and settled in Ripley Township. William and Mary were living there in 1840 with two children John William and Mary Jane. By 1850, William and Mary returned to Cincinnati, and William worked as a bookkeeper until his death in 1877. Their son John also worked for a time as a teacher at a local school before becoming a lawyer. Their daughter Mary Jane married Brigadier General Henry G. Kennett. After William’s death, Mary Compton Wellshear lived with her son in Missouri for a few years before she returned to Alamo in Montgomery County to live with her brother John Hyde Compton and his family until her death in 1895. She and William are buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati.
Robert Krout mentioned two more teachers to his sister Jane but did not say anything about them. They were Simeon Crane and James Helverson. Krout then named some of the children that he and Jane attended school with: Frank and Mary Ann Black, David and Sebastian Watson, Susana Watson, Tom and Frank Larsh, Nettie Larsh, the Stonebrakers, the Shafers, the Titus boys, the McMeaken brothers, and Catharine Fruits and her sisters.
Students attended school in this little log schoolhouse until 1855 until a new log schoolhouse was built on the property of David and Elizabeth Black. It was in this second school, now solidly known as Bunker Hill school that Robert K. Krout’s daughter Mary Hannah Krout taught school in 1872. She along with other teachers had 43 students. This particular building was used until a new frame schoolhouse was built on the property of John and Susannah Weir. This building was used until 1915. When it was razed, workers found an attendance record ledger. The Weir’s granddaughter Phyllis Weir Dunlap kept it in her possession until she died in 1991.
If you have any pictures of Bunker Hill students or of any of the buildings, or any other documents relating to the county’s history and would like to share them, please contact the reference department at the Crawfordsville District Public Library. You may call us at 765-362-2242, ext. 117, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Amie Cox is a local history specialist at the Crawfordsville District Public Library and the district media specialist at the Crawfordsville Community Schools.