The year has its seasons, in which the vegetable kingdom is variously affected. During the spring, it grows, expanding and enlarging; in summer, the newly-formed portions are matured and hardened so as to endure the rigors of winter. Among animals, there is a period in which they grow and advance, and then they decay and die. The tide ebbs and flows; day is succeeded by night; and so, all through nature, there is change and variety; even the planets in their orbits at one point fly with inconceivable rapidity, while at another their motion is retarded. This seems to be true even of the intellectuality of the human family. Especially since the introduction of letters among the Greeks, there have been seasons of advancement and then retrogression in the intellectuality of the race. But this is not so plainly visible till after the revival of letters in Europe. This is true, however, in civilization, arts and sciences; we advance and then recede, drop back, not to the former state, however, and then advance again beyond the point reached before; so that the general tendency is advancement. So it is in the literary improvement of mankind, the advance being greater than the retrogression. About the close of the war of the Revolution, literature and science began to advance in a manner they had never done before, and the interest awakened at that time is still on the advance. From that time, the American people have been fully aroused on the subject of education. But in those sections of country that were settled after the Revolution, time was absolutely necessary to any beneficial results from the efforts. In the early development of Illinois, there was a great variety of influences in the way of general education. The settlements were sparse, and continued so for years. Money or other means of remunerating teachers was scarce, as the pioneers of new countries are nearly always poor. There were no schoolhouses erected, nor was there any public school fund, either State of county. All persons, of both sexes, who had physical strength enough to labor, were compelled to take their part in the work of securing a support, the labors of the females being as laborious and important as that of the men; and this continued so for a quarter of a century. In the last place, both teachers and books were so extremely scarce. Taking all these facts together, the wonder is that they had any schools whatever. With all our present advantages-our commodious schoolhouses, our abundant and every ready public fund, and the superabundance of teachers of every quality, from the very poorest up to the best-still some communities will lose months of precious time in wrangling over some matter of the most insignificant character. But the pioneers of Illinois deserve the highest honors for their prompt and energetic efforts in this direction. Just so soon as the settlements would at all justify, schools were begun at each one. The teacher or pupil of to-day has no conception of getting an education under difficulties. Everything connected with schools was as simple and primitive as the dwellings, clothing or food. The schools were at first kept in private dwellings, and then, a few years later, houses were built in the various neighborhoods, not by money subscribed, but by labor given. The men of the vicinity would gather together at some point previously agreed upon, and, with each an ax in hand, the work was soon done. Logs were cut, sixteen or eighteen feet in length, and of those the walls were raised. Broad boards composed the roof, and a rude fireplace and clapboard door, a puncheon floor, and the cracks filled with "chinks," and these daubed over with mud, completed the schoolhouse, with the exception of the windows and furniture. The window-if any-was made by cutting out a log the full length of the building, and over the opening, in winter (and they had school during no other season of the year), paper saturated with grease served to admit the light. Just under this window, two or three strong pins were firmly driven in the log in a slanting direction. On these pins, a long "puncheon" was fastened, and this was the writing-desk for the whole school. For seats, they used benches made in the following manner: Smooth, straight trees, about a foot in diameter, were cut in lengths of from twelve to sixteen feet. In the round side of these, two large holes were bored at each end, and, in each, a stout pin fifteen inches long was driven. These pins formed the legs. On the uneven floors, these rude benches were hardly ever seen to have more than three legs on the floor at one time. The dirt to daub the house and construct the fireplace and chimney was nearly always dug in the center of the building, before the floor was laid. This dug quite a cellar under the schoolhouse floor. The venerable Minter Graham informed the writer that, while he was teaching in Salem, he was one day walking the floor, deeply interested in hearing the recitation of a class. All at once, one of the "puncheons" in the floor, being a little short, slipped off the "sleeper" at one end, and, quick as thought the teacher was sent like an arrow, feet foremost, into the hole under the floor. The children screamed with fright, doubtless thinking that, like Korah of old, the earth had swallowed him up; nor would they be pacified till "Uncle Minter" crept out, and adjusted the treacherous slab.
The books were as primitive as the houses. The New Testament, when it could be had, was the most popular reader, though occasionally a copy of the old "English Reader" was found, and very rarely the "Columbian Orator" was in a family. Pike's and Smiley's Arithmetic's, "Webster's Speller" was first used, and after eight or ten years, the "Elementary Speller" came in. Grammar was scarcely ever taught; when it was, the text-books used were Murray's and Kirkham's Grammar. To illustrate the scarcity of these books, it may not be amiss to state in this connection that while Lincoln was in Salem, he took lessons from Mr. Graham in English grammar. But he must have a book, and, after diligent inquiry, he learned that Mr. John Vance, then living seven miles north of Salem, at Concord, had a copy of "Kirkham's Grammar." Mr. Lincoln walked barefoot the seven miles and back, procured the book, mastered its contents, and then returned it.
The schools were made by subscription, the charge being from $1.50 to $2.50 per scholar for a term of three months, the schools running only in mid-winter. School opened at 8 o'clock in the morning and closed at 5 in the evening. The teacher must be an adept at making quill pens, as pens of steel or gold were then unheard of. The principal game among the boys was "bull-pen," a kind of ball. The party was equally divided. A field was laid out with as many corners, or bases, as there were men on a side. They tossed for choice, the winners' side taking the corners, or bases, the others going into the "pen." The game was this; The men on the bases, tossing the ball from one to another as rapidly as they could, threw and struck one in the "pen" whenever they could. If one threw and struck no one, he was out; but if he struck one, the men on the bases all ran away, and if the one struck first did not throw and hit one in return, he was out; though if he did, both kept their places. So the game went on till all on the "corners" were out; the others in the "pen" often had their ribs sorely battered with the ball; but many became such adepts in the art of "dodging" the ball when thrown at them, that it was almost impossible to strike them. This game was, in time, abandoned for a game called "town ball;" the present base ball being town ball reduced to a science.
It is a rather strange, but very creditable fact, that schools were begun in the principal centers of the early settlements nearly at the same time, and within less than two years after the first pioneers came to the county. It cannot be decided who it was that taught the first school in the county, or where it was taught. It is pleasing, however, to know that the name of the first teacher in each of those settlements has been preserved-the place, the approximate time, and all this; but the exact date not being given, we cannot tell which was first. Clary's Grove, Sugar Grove, Indian Creek and Rock Creek settlements each claims the honor of being the first to start in this direction.
Mr. Tarleton Lloyd, now ninety-five years of age, had settled on a claim on Rock Creek, on which were two log cabins, one 16x17 feet, the other, 15 feet square. Mr. Lloyd lived in the larger of these, and, about 1820 (Mr. L. cannot give the date positively), a man by the name of Compton opened a school in the smaller of these cabins; and this served as a schoolhouse for two years, when a better one was built. In 1820 or 1821, Messrs. Meadows, Boyer, Wilcox, McNabb and Grant put up a house in Sugar Grove, in which to have school. This was built of split logs, or large rails, and a school was at once opened in it by James McNabb, who, as the reader will probably remember, was drowned in the Sangamon River some time after. The next school there was taught by a Mr. McCall, and the third by Mr. Templeman. In 1820 (positively), a school was taught in Clary's Grove, in a log cabin, by Robert Armstrong. The old settlers of this grove are very positive in the assertion that this was the first school in the limits of "Little Menard."
In 1820 or 1821, a log cabin was put up on the brow of the bluff on Indian Creek, not far from the present site of Indian Point Church. In this, a Mr. Hodge taught the first school in that vicinity. We give in detail only these earliest schools, for, by one or two years after those named were begun, schools were opened in considerable number, to that any effort at giving any further particulars would be simply ridiculous. As the school system was not adopted and put into operation by the authority of the State till as late as 1847, it follows, of course, that there were no regular districts for schools, no public funds of any amount, and, therefore, they were all run by private enterprise, and on the subscription plan. But in order that the people should not be imposed upon too egregiously, it was common for the neighborhood to select some one of their number to examine and pass on the qualifications of the applicant, giving him, if qualified, a certificate of the fact. In another part of this work, Mr. Perrin relates an incident actually occurring in the county: A gentleman applying for a certain school was sent to the proper dignitary to be examined and procure a certificate. He appeared before his honor, and was handed a Bible, opened at a chapter of genealogy in the Old testament, which, of course, was all jaw-breaking proper names. He read the chapter, when the old gentleman said, "I guess you can teach school." He then produced pen and paper and told the applicant to write a certificate. He did so, and, when done, handed it to the old gentleman for his signature. Said he, "Just sign it for me, and I will make my mark, as I can't write."
In some communities they were determined not to be imposed upon; as in the vicinity of Indian Point. Long before the introduction of our admirable system of school laws, a number of leading citizens constituted themselves a committee on examinations, and these examinations were close and rigid. Many were the poor fellows in ye olden time, who, after sweating for long hours in the dreadful ordeal of a cross-fire between these sturdy old farmers, were doomed at last to fail. But the result was a wholesome one to the community adopting the plan. The Indian Point school is an illustration, for they, adopting this plan in a very early day, have always had the very best of schools-the best in the entire county, perhaps.
After the adoption of the present school system, the interest in education was greatly advanced, and, at present, our districts in every part of the county are enjoying the very highest privileges. Each district has a neat and pleasant schoolhouse, furnished with every comfort and necessity. The best of teachers can be employed, and a public fund is provided to meet all the expenses. Subjoined, we give some important items from the county Superintendent's report for the year ending July 30, 1879.
There are, under twenty-one years of age, males, 3,226; females, 3,041; total, 6,267. Between the ages of six and twenty-one years, males, 2,160; females, 2,012; total, 4,172. Number of schools in the county, 63. Frame schoolhouses, 35; brick, 28. Number of teachers employed during the year, males, 58; females, 53; total, 111. Months taught by males, 327; by females, 266; total, 593. Total number of days attended, 264,043. Number unable to read and write, males, 8; females, 4; total, 12. This includes, of course, only those between six and twenty-one years. The cause, in one case, was mental incapacity; in all the others, the cause was the neglect of parents. Average wages paid to male teachers per month, $51,37; average paid to females, $34.13. State fund received, $4,650.22. Interest in public fund, $264.77. Amount of district tax levy, $14,833.16. Total sum expended in the county for school purposes during the year, $38,386.28. The county never had any normal school till during 1878, and the summer of 1879. Each term was of six weeks, and forty pupils were in attendance during each term. Each term was a decided success.