Merrick County's 100th Year: 1858-1958

Educational Development


If I were 40 or 50 years younger, I would enjoy having an active part in preparation for our Centennial celebration. As it is, about all that I can do is to stand on the side line and yell "sick 'em!" Time dampens our ardor and readers who reach my age will learn that tasks which were once taken in stride and without wearisome exertion, become difficult, if not impossible to perform. However, I have agreed to prepare a brief summary of educational development in Merrick County, and I hope the following will be acceptable.


When the original Merrick County Court House was built in 1871-'72, no provision was made for a county superintendent of schools. For more than 30 years that official officed with the clerk of the district court in a little room adjoining the space allotted to the county clerk. There were of course, no facilities for filing documents which should have been preserved and which would be valuable now in compiling a record of the early development of education in Merrick County. Census rolls and copies of important reports to the state department were kept around for a few years and then destroyed. From this it will be seen that much of the brief account which I shall write will not be well documented.

Merrick County was first organized into school districts in 1872 by Charles Mead, county superintendent of schools at that time. The book in which those boundaries are recorded is well preserved and all changes in district boundaries have been painstakingly inserted. The original school district map with all subsequent changes has also survived the vicissitudes of time. With the consolidations now going on these old divisions will soon be forgotten. We shall await with some merging the first crop of scholars from these "modernized schools." The old "District School" has turned out some hard to beat scholars, jurists, statesmen and divines.

Two of Mr. Mead's predecessors in office were John L. Martin and Ed Parker. Whether they held the office by appointment or were elected, I do not at present know, but I am trying to find out. I shall not attempt eulogies for any of Mr. Mead's successors except to say that they were all persons qualified to administer the affairs of the office. I have known them all personally and have pleasant recollections of every one.

John L. Martin and Ed Parker, two unique and eccentric characters were so deeply involved in the early history of Merrick County that I hope that some writer for the Centennial booklet may expand upon the mention which I am making of them. John L. Martin was the father of Henry Martin, one of the seven men from Merrick County who enlisted to fight for the Union. One of his daughters married James Vieregg, Merrick County's first white settler, for whom Vieregg township was named. He was an uncompromising, almost rabid, republican. He and my maternal grandfather, Jason Parker, who was an equally ardent democrat, clashed and almost came to blows. They were life long enemies. Mr. Martin had the offensive habit of biting the ear of any friend whom he chanced to meet. Tom Gosnell objected to this gesture of friendship and retaliated by biting Mr. Martin's ear so seriously as to require a doctor's attention.

Ed Parker, nephew of Jason Parker (my cousin twice removed) was probably the most colorful citizen that our county has ever had. His costume, designed, no doubt, to attract attention, consisted of tightly fitting buckskin trousers with a fringe of the same material along the legs. He wore his hair down on his shoulders and his hat was enormously large somewhat after the cowboy pattern. We have two pictures of him--one with a needle gun on his lap and the other taken with his wife, Ida, a beautiful and talented lady, who deserved a better fate than the one which befell her. Whisky got Ed just as it has millions of others. Mr. Parker was our county clerk for an extended period and reaped, I think, a considerable fortune locating settlers who wished to homestead in Merrick County. It is said that if he took a liking to a newcomer, he would put him on a good quarter section. Otherwise he might fare badly. But I am not writing biographies, as I am tempted to do, but a history of education in Merrick County.

I do not know when or where the first school was held in Merrick County. I have the daily attendance record kept in our district (No 23) by my cousin, Miss Evelyn Lowrey, for the month of May, 1872. 1 knew all of her pupils and the oldest, if living now, would be 100 years of age. The first school in district 4 (Central City) was taught by another cousin, Gertrude Conrad, in the little brick building, still standing, across the street north of the court house, now serving as an office for Mr. DeLancey.


Our county clerk, Mr. Jack Roubal, has been helpful in obtaining some information. Replying to an inquiry by my cousin, Roy Parker, Mr. Roubal writes as follows:

Dear Roy:

The following is the information I could dig out:

Court house and jail contract was let April 18, 1871, to be built at the same location of brick and stone. Bid was $12,800.00 in cash or $16,000.00 in bonds. The county elected to pay in bonds and the contractor got the bonds and had to dispose of them himself. Court and jail were completed January 1, 1872. The contractor was Chas. Lightfoot and the county commissioners were C. B. Hartwell, Jason Parker and Wm. McAllister,

The first elected county superintendent was Charles E. Mead, elected October 10, 1871. In 1878 school district No. 4, Central City, bought two lots namely 5 and 6 block 14 O. T. at the present site of the Methodist Church and parsonage. No doubt that must have been the first place where the school house was.


I also have a letter from Mrs. F. J. Clark giving well authenticated information about the first school held in the county. Readers will be interested in this letter:

Mr. Marsh:

In regards to your inquiry about records of the first Merrick County school, I have a scrap book of pioneer Merrick County, dating from its organization and among the articles is the following taken from the John L. Martin collection. "In 1866 John Martin, Clause Stoltenberg, William Hayter were elected as board of directors of school district No. 1. A log school house with roof of willow brush and sod was built and the first year a Miss Ellen Abbot taught with a salary of $35. The building and wages cost $100.

In 1866 Mr. Martin was appointed examiner of teachers, and the next year was elected as county superintendent of public instruction.

The first Sabbath school in Merrick County was organized in school district No. 1, June 30, 1867.

Mr. Martin's records were taken over by one son Blaine of Grand Island, but after his death, don't know what became of them, but a grandson, Guss Fonner of Grand Island had access to them and wrote quite an article for the Historical society that Mr. Martin had given to the Merrick County celebration of July 4, 1875, for the Centennial of the United States.

These articles are printed records from the county paper, but time of printing not saved.

Mrs. F. J. Clark
Central City


As stated before, Merrick County was organized into school districts in 1872 by Charles E. Mead our county superintendent at that time. Mr. Mead, for whom Mead township and Mead school (No. 19) have been appropriately named, was one of the best loved citizens that Merrick County has had. His wife (nee Rena Summers) shared his popularity and it is a sad reflection that they were not permitted to share each other for a longer period of time. Mr. Mead, while engaged in getting wood from the Pawnee reservation, which had to be secured while the Loup River was frozen, contracted a severe cold which developed into T. B. A sojourn in Arizona failed to help him, His widow immediately resumed work in the education field and for more than 25 years was a beloved teacher in the Minnesota state normal school at Winona. Their son may still be living. If some reader knows his whereabouts, I am sure he would be delighted if you would send him a copy of this Centennial book.

The Meads were frequent visitors at our house, coming first for dental work and later on missions of friendship.

Mr. Mead was followed in office, as County Superintendent, by John Patterson, a brilliant, Irish born lawyer who practiced for more than half a life time in Central City. He was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin. Next came B. W. Baker, a fine scholar and excellent teacher--a graduate of the Pennsylvania state normal. Mr. Baker was succeeded by J. C. Martin, a lawyer, who later served as an assistant justice in the Nebraska supreme court. George Ayres, served for four years. Mr. Ayers, a lawyer of great ability, had the distinction of serving for 30 consecutive years as assistant to our attorney general. His advice was eagerly sought by everyone who needed legal counsel. Fred A. Marsh held the office for eight years. His claim for distinction lies in his having out lived all of his contemporaries, claiming an unbroken residence of 86 years in the most favored spot on God's green earth, Merrick County, Nebraska. Others who have held the office in more recent years and well known to many readers, are Miss Frances Kelley, Anson K. Holmes, Wm. Stone, Miss Margaret McCutchen, Miss Pearl Simmons, Mrs. Mary Hruza, Mrs. Margaret Turnbull and the present competent incumbent, is Clair Dixon.

Persons interested in the history of Nebraska Central College may be able to pick up


some information in the following paragraphs and pages.


From the first, beginning as early as 1856, Nebraska Methodists have evinced a lively interest in Christian education. At various times and in many locations Nebr. Methodist conference, and in some cases individual Methodists, have established schools of learning. The record of these foundings has been told painstakingly and in a most interesting way by Dr. Jackman in his "Nebraska Methodist Story." Some of the sites chosen for these schools were Omaha, Nebraska City, Peru, Osceola, York, Plattsmouth, Lincoln, Fullerton, Central City, and several others.

It was in 1879 that the North Nebraska conference decided to start a school at Fullerton. This school operated for only a short time and I do not know the size of its enrollment. When I went to teach in Nance County in 1890, the building was still standing, but had the appearance of having been long vacated. Of all the schools enumerated, our Nebraska Wesleyan University is the only one that has withstood the ravages of time with a present enrollment of about 1,000 students.

The academy at Fullerton having failed, the North Nebraska conference in 1884 decided upon a new institution, this one of collegiate status. Three towns, Norfolk, Fullerton and Central City wanted the school. Central City won out and the college building was erected in the summer of 1885. A midsummer storm blew in the north gable of the building and occupancy was delayed until January, 1886. The first session of Nebraska Central college was held in the building now occupied by Safeway stores. Removal to the new college building was accomplished at the start of the new year and I was one of the first students to enroll. Readers must excuse my being personal in what I shall write about this school. Never officially connected with the institution, I have enjoyed an intimacy of relationship with people and events entering into its history that would enable me to write, a small volume, if recited in detail. I have known personally all of the teachers and practically all of the students connected with the school during both Methodist and Friends regime. For 32 consecutive years, while the Quakers were in charge, I addressed the student body at least once a year, a cherished memory.

Prior to 1884 Section 5-13-6 adjoining Central City on the northwest was an open expanse of prairie. It was decided that 100 acres in the center of this section would make a satisfactory campus for the new college. Title to this land was acquired by promising to establish a college and have its land surveyed into residence lots, every other lot to be long to the original owner. A committee consisting of N. R. Persinger and wife, James Stephen and wife, J. M. Sparks and wife, J. C. Holden and wife, O. L. Barton and wife having acquired title, by the above means, on July 21, 1885, deeded the land to North Nebraska conference and the money acquired from the sale of lots was applied on the cost of the building, already in process of construction.

The school promised well at first. Interest for a time ran high. A number of homes and at least two boarding houses sprang up, all of which have now disappeared. Under the direct management of Prof. J. K. Stableton, principal and Miss Ellen M. Austin, preceptress, attendance increased, mounting at one time to about 200. The first president was Dr. Marquette followed by Dr Maxwell and Dr. Crane. During the three years of its existence the college turned a class (1888) of four members, Wm. Fowler, Joseph Sparks, Henry O. Chapman and Miss Jessie Benton. After three years the church found it too burdensome to support two schools and decided to concentrate its support on Nebraska Wesleyan. Heart broken, Prof. Stableton went back into public school work, heading the schools at Lexington, Nebraska, for 16 years. He then did post graduate work at Harvard, after which the (sic) taught two years at Charleston, Illinois, and was then elected to the superintendency at Bloomington, Illinois, serving for 19 years and resigning over the protest of teachers, scholars and patrons. A wonderful man who started many boys on the upward way.


Abandoned by the Methodist conference, the college property was taken over by James Stephen who in 1898 negotiated with the Society of Friends to establish a college which would be operated under the auspices of that church. Their 50 years of sponsorship began in the fall of 1899 with Prof. Riley Haworth as president. Others serving in that capacity were Sam Haworth, E. Hadley, Eli Parisho, Floyd Perisho, Stacy McCracken, Homer Coppock, Stephen Myrick, O. W. Carrell, Rev. Carrell served for 31 years. He and his wife are now valued faculty members of Doane college located at Crete, Nebraska.

This narrative, already too long cannot be extended to cover, in detail, the 50 years during which the Friends operated the college. Consecrated Christian men and women made noble sacrifices in its behalf. Hundreds of students benefitted by the instruction and moral


discipline which it afforded. Many of its alumni have held positions of high trust and responsibility.


Our schools have always been a first interest with the people of Merrick County. Our first school buildings, many of them still standing, were modest, but better on the average than the homes in which our people lived. Districts 23 and 43 were the only ones that had sod school houses and I attended school in both of them. About 1920 Districts 8, 15, 18, 23, and 31 decided upon two-room schools and operated for several years on a 9-year curriculum. Only two of these schools have continued that practice.

Our five towns have been lavish in their expenditures for education facilities. For instance the total value of all school property in Central City is given as $785,840 (figures by Supt. Cox). Few cities of that size can report any such investment.

Miss Dixon, county superintendent, reports the total value of all school property in the county $9,802,350. The average wage for rural teachers last year was $2,502. This compared with about $300 when I began teaching in 1890. Our school population has dropped from about 3,200 in 1890 to 2,310 in 1957.

Reported by Miss Dixon

The Clarks school district was organized in 1871, with Sarah J. Allan and Mrs. D. Martyn as the first teachers. The first class, which graduated in 1887, consisted of two members, both of whom are deceased. Of the second class of seven, who finished in 1889, Mrs. Maude Brown, Mrs. Laura Brown and Mrs. Sophia Black are still living.

That year, the school year was shortened from ten months to nine. There were six teachers on the faculty with T. K. Galvin as superintendent at $85.00 per month.

In 1895 names familiar to some of the "old-timers" begin to appear in the record: J. G. Mote, Superintendent, with Prudence Baird, Nellie Baird, Laura Gilbert, Clara James, Katie Dodge, listed as teachers. In 1910, W. C. Green was superintendent followed by E. L. Witte, John L. Zink, R. S. Stevens, H. H. Zemer, Harry Vedder, F. I. Rezek, Melvin Abrahamson, O. A. Knott, R. J. Strickland.

From point of service Harry Vedder served as head of the school system for the longest period of time, thirteen years, followed by Robert J. Strickland, who will begin his twelfth year as superintendent in September, 1958.

In 1933, Miss Lelia Moorman came to Clarks as principal of the high school where she remained until her retirement in 1953, and where she still resides.

The first school house in Clarks was south of the Union Pacific tracks. In 1880, it was moved to the site where the Cahill family now live. In 1889 the first brick school house was built on the site of the present building. It was torn down to make way for a new building in 1917, to which only recently has been added a fine new gymnasium and auditorium and four elementary classrooms.


Early settlers were anxious to provide a basic education for their children, and their experience in the Silver Creek community is probably typical of other communities. The following record of education at Silver Creek is taken verbatim from an excellent 15 page history of the town written several years ago by I think, one of the Terry sisters:

The first efforts in education consisted in organizing a private school, taught by Miss Clamina Goodrich in 1870. The children assembled in one room of the Cyrus Lee Hotel. Mrs. Lute North was pupil of the early day schools, and informs us that the teachers were paid quarterly, by collections. A district school was organized in 1871, and a small school house erected. The children multiplied in great numbers, and it became necessary to move the primary grades into a small building east of George Merrils present residence. The teacher was Mrs. Lowry. In course of time the first school building was doubled in size and E. L. Martson and Julua Sprague were the instructors. This building became too small and was sold to Ed. Towslee who divided it and made two residences. They were at this date in the Towslee addition and owned by Mrs. R. O. Minic and Mr. John Flinn. The new school building was a four room, two story structure built in 1886, by John A. Alpaugh. This building in time, became too small and sold to C. R. Metzer who used the lumber for out buildings and to partly construct the residence of his son Malin, which burned recently. The present school building was erected in 1910. It is a brick structure and accommodated nine teachers.

The North Ward of the Silver Creek school began its history in a building of Charles S. Terrys, on Section 18. At present it is occupied by James Blair on the Fred Terry farm north of Silver Creek. It was built by Charles Davis


about the time he built the Episcopal Church. Mrs. Ersin McFarlin nee Kate Clark, was the first teacher.

Our home girls, most of them children of pioneers, have played an important part in the education of Silver Creek. A partial list is as follows:

Pauline Wooster, Julia Terry, Blanch O'Connor, Nellie Hill, Harriet Terry, Pearl Simmons, Myrtle Harris, Sadie Terry, Cora Martin, Mable Cremeen, Mayme Kula, Bethel Sprague, Thurma Sprague, Bernice Simmons, Nita Buchholtz, Viva Hurst, Elsie Sprague, Julia Sprague, George Bentz, Hugh Swortwood, Charles Wooster.

The first annual Commencement of the Silver Creek High School was held June 6, 1892, in the Congregational Church. The members of the class were: Hattie Terry, Mary Milliman, Lottie Lee, Warren Turk, Grace Benster, Julia Terry, Valedictorian; Ward Clark, prophet and historian; Edith Turk, salutatorian. J. F. Connor was Superintendent. (end of quote).


The history from which the above is taken, has so far escaped publication. But it represents too much labor and painstaking care to be lost to the public. Someone, now living in Silver Creek, should see to it that it finds its way into print. I am returning the copy to Mrs. Fred Meredith, 334 - 2nd Ave., S. E., LeMars, Iowa.

A number of changes, of course, and improvements have been made at Silver Creek since the above educational record was written.


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