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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

The Building Of The First Schoolhouse In Turtlecreek Township

Dallas Bogan on 23 July 2004
Dallas Bogan, Warren County, Ohio and Beyond (Bowie Maryland: Heritage Press, 1979) page 335
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

This week's column takes a page from the writings of Josiah Morrow. The first school in Turtlecreek Township was established within two years after the Lebanon pioneers built their first homes. In many localities, schools were not built until ten years or more after the first settlements. Emigrants from New England were normally the first to build schools in the Northwest Territory; those from the middle and southern States last.
The first settlers in Warren County were primarily from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Many of them settled for a short time in Kentucky before coming to the land north of the Ohio. Education in the aforementioned states was not given top priority. In Virginia, one might travel a hundred miles without seeing a schoolhouse.
The first towns in Warren County were: Deerfield (South Lebanon), 1795; Franklin, 1796; and Waynesville, 1796. Morrow stated that the first school in the County was opened in the spring of 1798 near where Lebanon was laid out four years later.
The first teacher at Turtlecreek, five years previous to Ohio becoming a state, had been to college and was an exceptionably fine Latin scholar. His name was Francis Dunlevy. It is not known whether Dunlevy purposely came to Turtlecreek to establish a school, or whether he was convinced by the early leaders to continue his occupation of school teaching in the vicinity.
The location of the first schoolhouse stood a little west of the present site of Lebanon (along the bank of Turtlecreek) and on the north side of the road to Shakertown (St. Rt. 63). It was built on an elevation close to a marshy low ground known as Big Springs; possibly this water supply saved the active pioneers the labor of digging a well.
A description of the first schoolhouse is detailed as "a low rough log-cabin put up in a few hours by the neighbors who formed the little settlement and stood on the north side of Turtlecreek about a half a mile west of the place where Lebanon now stands." It was a typical design in comparison to schoolhouses built in this time period. All were constructed of logs, and in the early ones, the logs were unhewn.
The construction of the pioneer schoolhouses advanced with time, as did the early homes. These first homes were a crude cabin of round logs with a chimney of sticks and clay; next the house of logs hewed inside and out with a rough stone chimney; and lastly, the comfortable frame of today.
Land in the early days was cheap and timber was found in abundance. Because of this situation, many settlers were anxious to donate a parcel of land for a schoolhouse. However, John Shaw, an emigrant from North Carolina, was chosen to give his land for the first educational enterprise in the township.
On a specific date, settlers from miles around gathered at the selected site, most of them bringing with them only an ax, which was the only tool needed for the erection of the walls of the building. The first building procedure for the structure was the clearing of the land. All the trees on the site of the building were cut down. Tree trunks of an acceptable size for the walls were felled in the woods nearby. A yoke of oxen was used to drag the logs to the location of the new schoolhouse. White oak furnished the clapboards (a long board, thicker along one edge than along the other) for the roof. The blue ashes provided the puncheons (a slab of timber, or a piece of a split log, with the face roughly dressed) for the floor and benches of the interior.
Notching of the round logs at the ends for the walls was essential so as to lie close together. The open spaces left between the logs were filled in with strips of wood and daubed over inside and out with clay. Poles stretching across the roof, called weight poles, held down the clapboard roof. An opening of ten feet was cut out of the logs at one end of the building for the installation of a fireplace.
The chimney was made of sticks and covered with clay. Both fireplace and chimney were on the outside of the building. (Most chimneys in early times were built to be physically pulled away from the building when they became too hot and consequently engulfed in flames.)
Wintertime found the students laboring to keep the fire burning. Logs as long as the chimney was wide would be dragged in from the woods. A number of students found themselves standing before the fire to warm themselves. In excessively cold weather, the one-roomed schoolhouse could hardly be comfortable. Windows were fashioned by cutting out sections of a single log on two or three sides of the building.
Upright sticks were placed in the empty spaces and paper was pasted to them to keep out the cold air and admit the light. The paper was made transparent by hog's lard, and on sunny days, the light cast was a soft glow. But in contrast, on dark dreary days, the room must have been most dark. The floor was possibly natural earth or covered with hewn puncheons. The door was made with heavy planks and swung on wooden hinges and was fastened with a wooden latch.
Of course the early school building had to be equipped with furniture. The seats were benches made of slabs split from logs with long pegs installed in them for legs; they had no backs. The writing desk was also slabs hewn smooth on the upper side and fastened to the wall by pegs driven into augur holes in the log under the window. The pupil in writing would sit facing the light.
What is a school without a teacher's desk? It was a smooth plank some two feet wide and three feet long fastened to the wall by two wooden pegs. Blackboards, wall maps and charts were unheard of.
The early schoolhouse of the Northwest Territory could be erected without cost for the ground; materials and labor was free. It could be built and furnished and ready for occupancy in a single day. Skilled mechanics were not needed and it could be built without the use of a nail, a pane of glass, an iron hinge or lock, or a paintbrush.
Twenty-five years passed before a public school system was initiated in Turtlecreek Township. Early schools were not free schools. The teacher was paid by the quarter so much a scholar. He or she was forced to accept pupils of all ages and degrees of achievement.
Classification of the pupil was almost impossible. Most students were in classes by themselves. They had no printed subject matter furnished by the school. They brought from their homes miscellaneous publications, some of which were badly mangled. The most common reading material consisted of the Bible. Writing materials consisted of pens from goose and turkey quills, which the teacher mended when broken with his "pen-knife." Ink was made at home from oak bark and copperas. Paper at that time was un-ruled, thus the pupils were taught to write in straight lines.
Francis Dunlevy, after some two years of teaching on the bank of Turtlecreek, removed his schoolhouse some two miles northwest nearer his farm. Being known as a defined man of education, his expertise in teaching attracted many quality students, and soon the new school was filled up. Some of the students walked for a distance of four or five miles to receive their education.
Dunlevy was a member of the Territorial Legislature, which began in the winter of the years of 1801-02. The sessions were short and he may have taught school a segment of each year until he was elected judge in 1803.
Many of the early teachers were inappropriately qualified for the teaching trade and students were taught only English. Too often teachers of the pioneer children were wanderers and a worthless lot and were not adapted to any type teaching ability. A teacher who was ironhanded and cruel often supervised the classroom.
The pupils of the Turtlecreek School were most fortunate to have such a fine teacher as Dunlevy. A student with natural ability, regardless of the primitive surroundings, could apply himself, and with a desire for knowledge could learn at a rapid pace. Many students of the Turtlecreek School became good scholars and several of them went on to become citizens of distinction. Dunlevy is given credit for tutoring Thomas Corwin, the great orator, who became the twelfth Governor of Ohio.
James Q. Howard said of Thomas Corwin: "In the concurrent judgment of all who have felt the spell of his matchless eloquence, the greatest natural orator and the most marvelous wit, mimic and master of the passions of men that the continent has yet known."
Matthias Corwin, Jr., an elder brother of Thomas, was also a pupil. Receiving a good education, he became a man of intelligence, a member of the bar, and served several years as Clerk of the Court. He died in middle life.
Moses B. Corwin, a cousin of Thomas and Matthias, was also a pupil. He was a well-known lawyer in Urbana, Ohio, and was twice sent to the Legislature and twice to Congress.
George Kesling was an older student of Dunlevy's, turning fifteen after entering school. He became an outstanding citizen of Warren County, serving as Captain in the War of 1812, and as a Representative in the Legislature, as well as an Associate Judge. Andrew Jackson, serving ten years, appointed him postmaster at Lebanon.
Enos Williams taught the first school in Lebanon after it became a town. He also was a student of Dunlevy.
A.H. Dunlevy, the eldest son of the teacher, was one of the younger students in the first school on Turtlecreek. His occupation in life after school conformed to that of a lawyer, an editor at Lebanon, and the County's first recorded historian.
One of the earliest pioneers in the area was Henry Taylor. He purchased an entire section of land in the Lebanon area and built the first mill on Turtlecreek. His two sons attended Dunlevy's school. One of these sons, William, was said to have been the first male child born in Cincinnati, the date being March 20, 1791.
Two sons of Rev. John Smith, from Columbia, were known to have attended the early Turtlecreek School. Smith, in 1803, was elected one of the first Senators in Congress from Ohio. Rev. Smith preferred this school to any taught at or near Cincinnati at that time.

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