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Phillips among the Last of Monroe County’s Two-room Schools

Blog post by Randi Richardson

The Phillips Schoolhouse at the southeast intersection of Indiana 446 and Lampkins Ridge Road (Section 12, Perry Township) was among the last of the two-room schoolhouses in Monroe County.  In 1967 outdoor toilets were still in use—one for the girls and another for the boys.  Clarence Stewart, the School Superintendent, described the building as “dilapidated” and “antiquated.”

Although several alumni yet living shared their memories of Phillips School in Echoes from One-room Schools compiled by retired Monroe County teachers and published in 2006, none were old enough to recall the school’s earliest history.  That information comes from Daniel Kilpatrick, born on Christmas Day 1833, who attended Phillips, originally known as the Curry School, as a young boy.

This building was identified as the Phillips School in a caption under a photo from the Indianapolis News on March 4, 1967, and again in the Bloomington Tribune, March 8, 1967.  At least four people who attended the school corroborated the identity of the school in April 2020 when the picture was posted on a Facebook page titled “If You’re Truly from Bloomington and You Know It…”

Kilpatrick moved to Iowa with his family while still a youth.  In 1916, when Monroe County was celebrating its centennial birthday, he wrote a letter back to the place of his early childhood describing his memories of the school.  Those memories were published in the Bloomington Evening World on August 24, 1916.

Kilpatrick recalled that just about the time he was ready to enroll in school, in the early 1840s, Sam Curry left his home, a double log house with a brick chimney at each end, and moved into a new house.  The old house was then made ready for a school house.  It was, as he remembered it, “perhaps 40 feet long by 16 or 18 feet wide.  Then two logs were sawed out at each side, some four feet from the floor, and a sash of 8×10-inch lights [also known as windows] put in their place.  For seats there were poplar or walnut logs, split in two, and 2-inch pins, or legs, inserted in the bark side, the split side smoothed with the broad ax to sit on…A broad, smooth-planed board nailed to oak pins driven into holes bored into a log high enough to stand up to and write formed our school furniture.

“…[The school] soon became a hive of industry.  Classes in arithmetic and grammar were begun and later geography.  But the prominent work that absorbed most of our energy was spelling…The event of the week was the Friday afternoon spelling match.  The whole afternoon was devoted to this and ‘sayin’ of speeches…The master took a deep interest in these contests and gave small prizes to encourage and reward successful contestants.”

At some unknown point, undoubtedly after Kilpatrick moved away, the double-log house was replaced with a brick building.  It was in this building that Enoch Bryan and his brother, Willie, first attended. school.  They were born in 1855 and 1860, respectively, sons of Presbyterian minister John Bryan.  They later attended Bloomington High School and, as adults, graduated from Indiana University.  Enoch became president of Vincennes University 1883-1893 and later president of Washington State University from 1893-1915.  Willie, aka William J. Bryan, took the surname of his wife, Charlotte Lowe, for his middle name when they married in 1889.  Afterward he was known as William Lowe Bryan and was president of IU from 1902 to 1937.

The Bryan brothers, Enoch and Willie, attended Phillips School when it was a one-room brick building.  IU Registrar Cravens bought in this picture and showed it off in 1910 when Enoch Bryan came from Washington state to visit his Bloomington siblings.  The event was reported in the Indiana Daily Student on January 25, 1910, p. 1.

In late May 1917, the Bloomington Evening World told of a cyclone that recently visited Monroe County.  During the course of the storm, many houses were leveled as it swept from Clear Creek toward Brown County.  Although the Phillips School survived, “tons of bricks were blown off,” and it was considered “doubtful” if the old building could be made suitable for school purposes again.”

A decision was made in favor of rebuilding which was made known on July 16, 1917, when Bloomington architect, John L. Nichols, let the bid for the completion of a “new” frame building for the school.   A few months later the building was complete, although the September 17 opening had to be by delayed two weeks in order to finish construction.

The date of the Phillips School closure, or when it was razed, is not known.  Perhaps it wasn’t noteworthy enough at the time to record.  One might, however, assume it was closed at the end of the school year in 1967 or 1968 when the various, small county schools consolidated creating the Monroe County Community School Corporation.  It is unfortunate that our community as a whole hasn’t taken more interest in preserving the history of these early buildings, if not the buildings themselves.