NEW DIGGINGS ON THE FEVER 1824-1864
The book can still be purchased from:
Southwest Graphics, Box 96, Darlington, WI 53530
The "Littel Mound" Schoolhouse
Pages - 67-73
We can catch a glimpse of the activities of some of New Diggings' residents during the 1840's by looking through the picture window provided by the journal and papers of William Field. Entries in his journal were limited to three in 1840, suggesting that the hard times of the late '30's carried over into the early part of this decade. Sara Field's brother, Daniel Sheffer, came to the mines from Ohio at about this time and worked for his brother-in-law during the next three years. Entries indicate that Sheffer worked Field's diggings, the latter supplying him with tools and groceries. By 1842, Field was busy not only with his farm and blacksmith shop but with other activities. His "bar" and "grocery" records were kept in what had once served as a "ciphering book" for some ninteenth century child. The heading "Middel Town" at the top of two pages in his journal suggests that he may have thought of his "Place" as a village in itself, midway between New Diggings and White Oak Springs. Invoices and bills reveal that he was now in a position to replace the double log cabin with a fine frame house, for which "walnut siding", "Irish oak", and "scantlings" were provided by Illinois merchants. Since he mentioned that seventeen barrels of flour had been left "at mi hous" in 1842, we may hazard a guess that the log cabin became a "grocery" when his rapidly growing family moved into the new home.
From this time on, he recorded accounts with "hired hands" woh "sat in to bord" and received from seventy-five cents a day to eleven dollars a month for their services. During 1842 he added hardware to his grocery stock, -- "pands", dippers, canisters, cups, coffee pots, pails, kettles, "wash basons". He listed the names of thirty-five customers, indicating on what page the account of each could be found. Among his customers were a few of some prominence locally, --such men as Charles Gratiot, Amos Brown, Solomon Oliver, and "Sir John________", identified in the index list as "Sir John Covnton". His "grocies" consisted of such staples as meal, coffee, sugar, salt, tea, soap, vinegar, tobacco, "segars" and "Peppersos". Drinks were sold in large and small quantities, - rum, gin, wine, whiskey, randy. Brandy sold at thirty-seven cents a quart; whiskey at thirty-seven and a half cents a half gallon. At on time he bought
(PAGE 68) (picture) Solomon Oliver's Rock House, now occupied by the Arthur Longhorn family.
"4 Barrels of Rum an one of Gin at 40 cents -- thirty five gallon each Barel amountin to 16 gallons at 40 cents amountin to 6 Dollars".
In his journal, Field recorded selling corn to his neighbors, and lending them sums of money. He bought a share in a mill, apparently on the East Fork of the Fever, southwest of his home, for he wrote, "one 6th of the Mill we bought of Charles Robinson and i oned 1/2 before we bought him out for $800". He signed an "artical of agreement" with two miners, allowing them to dig on "a sertin peace of mineral ground" in return for "one forth of all mineral Raised", and recorded receiving mineral rent during
1842 from "Ellis Branch", "Pint Lot", and "the Ridge", amounting altogether to 34,200 pounds.
In 1843, he made the first of his several trips to his old home in Kentucky, paying for five passages on the "Steamboat Ohio" on his return trip. He brought back furniture for his new home, - "bureau, table, 1/2 dozen chairs and 4 Bedstids, - as well as a horse, 15 bushels of apples, and 43 pounds of miscellaneous materials, -- "fethers", "bedticken", a "boult of calico", three pair of shoes, a "set of nives", and "a bonnet".
In 1844 he set about collecting the money owed him by Drummond, by then amounting to $550, and another sum owed him by his old friend McMullen who had left for Missouri owing field $655.55, according to the affidavit itemized and sworn to before George W. Jones, who had by this time become clerk of the District Court of Iowa County, Wisconsin Territory. Field bought, in 1844, a lot and building in the village of New Diggings, "Lot No. 6" and the building "known as the Ranter Hous", for which he paid one hundred dollars. He had been hired by the Bank of Galena at $20 a month to keep a record of the names of people trespassing on the bank's timberland and to make every effort to prevent such trespassing. the names of 'trespasers" appeared in his journal.
In 1845, Field was billing his neighbors, - Brown, Champion, Dering, and others, for "repairin" wagons and "carridges" and "mineral beds", for "filing wheals" and "replacing "wagon tungs". He had rented part of the Ranter House to storekeeper William L. Robison, who "toock perseshun" on the "19 of Feb at $13 per month". Later in the 40's, Field purchased "Lot No. 4" in the village (in the Smith-Cothren addition) " known as the Riolten building", from James Simpson, who operated a ten pin alley and bar on the ground floor and lived upstairs.
It was during the year 1845 that Field recorded sending two of his children, "Gorge" and "Elizabeth", to "Scooll at the Newdiggings" on the "10 of Sep", and added that there were "too Scollars for 3 days" the first "weak" and for 5 days the "second weak". This is the earliest record in Field's papers of the existence of a school in New Diggings. according to the county historian, the Field, Williams and Oliver children attended school in the Oliver home in the early 1840's, where Adelaide Gray, daughter of John Gray, served as teacher. Later, Montgomery Cothren and "a Mr. Rose secured accomodations in private houses or homes that were abandoned" and " gave instructions in the elementary branches to pupils, numbering from five to twenty, residing within a radius of several miles."
However, the first movement toward establishing schools in what was then Iowa County and included Lafayette, occured in 1841. 1 According to an act adopted by the territorial legislature in 1839, Iowa County was divided into sixteen school districts, the number being later increased to twenty-one. School District No. I was compised of Town No. I and the south half of Town No. II, -- in other words, the present towns of Benton and New Diggings. The "Inspectors" named for District No. I were James Howe, James Murphy, Abraham Looney, Robert H. Champion, and Charles Gear. 2
In 1841, a tax of $2,967.50 was levied by the Iowa County Board of Supervisors for support of schools and erection of schoolhouses. At the end of this year, the first school return furnished proof of the existence of seventeen districts, with 763 children of school age, one hundred of them residing in District No. I. But the only schoolhouse in the district at that time of which there exists any record was one built in the north New Diggings area, near Horseshoe Bend. 3
In 1844, a County Board of School Commissioners was organized. William Baldwin represented District No. I on this board. School districts were then reorganized, New Diggings precinct being named No. I, Mill seat (Horseshoe ) bend, No. 2, Benton No. 3, and Coon Branch, No. 4. 4
We have little or no information concerning the first school building in the village of New Diggings, but the building erected near Horseshoe Bend has been described by William W. Mu;rphy, son of James Murphy, who thought it was erected "about 1838". He describes it as having been located "in the Fever River valley". according to the older people in the community who have heard their parents talk about this school, it stood in the field across the road from the present Leadmine State Graded School. Says Mr. Murphy:
"It was about sixteen by twenty-four feet; not plastered; lined and ceiled with lumber. Four windows and a floor possessing spacial conveniences. It was laid with very wide, green lumber so when it became dry the cracks were so wide that the sweepings rarely reached the door. The desks were models of primitive art; they consisted of a wide board extending the full length of the sides; underneath was another, making a convenient receptacle for books and slates, and where we played house during the absence of the teacher." 5
Murphy mentioned the Johnson, Sheffer, Looney and Murphy children as having attended this school. When he recalled his school day experiences many years later, he wrote:
"There is one recollection that is indelibly impressed on the tablets of my memory, also on my anatomy, and that is the benches placed in the middle of the room for us little fry to sit on...The upper side of the board upon which we sat had never felt the subtle influence of the jack plane, but the evidence of every revolution of the circular saw was visible on its surface. There we were compelled to sit, hour after hour, with our little bare feet dangling in the humid atmosphere, with no support to relieve our aching backs: sometimes sitting astraddle, then, drawing our heels under us to relieve the strain from the sensitive part."
The only inkling we have of what the first school building in the village of New Diggings may have looked like or of where it was located is provided by a ragged scrap of paper on one side of which William Field wrote:
"Bill of H. Potwin - Paied of - Scole House Bill - Littel Mount Scool Hous"
On the other side of the paper is a bill, dated May 22, 1847, made out to Field by Henry Potwin, listing:
610 feet siding 6.40
60 lights 3.00
14 Bolts & screws .25
2 lbs. nails .16
33 lbs. nails etc. 2.64
Potwin added a note, asking Field to "Please pay the above bill to L. Rice". Since Mr. Field was said by his sons to have been "instrumental in building the first schoolhouse in the community" it appears that the materials itemized here must have been used in constructing that building. the "Littel Mount" refers, apparently, to the steep incline already mentioned which flattens out to form a little mound half way up Church Street.
However, about three years before this bill was presented, in 1844, the missioner and priest Mazzuchelli had made arrangements for a school in the village at the same time that he set about to construct St. Augustine's Church. "Even before its (the Church's) completion he had opened a school," wrote Sister
Mary Paschalla O'Connor in Five Decades, 6 "and he sent Sister Seraphina there for the fall term of 1847. Something of his hope for this mission may be gleaned from the expense account which he included in his letter to the Master General, sept. 10, 1847, showing an item for $50 for "the building of a schoolhous:. "A little wooden house recently purchased for the Sisters who now have a school of sixty pupils' was included with church and presbytery in a total evaluation of 'at least $3200'"
According to stories told to the oldest living residents of the area by their parents, this first classroom was the basement of St. Augustine's Church. Later, it was said, classes were taught in a portion of the church partitioned off from the main sanctuary by curtains. The first actual school building project, then, seems to have been the one mentioned above, for which Henry Potwin furnished materials. "The little wooden house" mentioned by Mazzuchelli is remembered by oldsters as having stood near the church before it was moved down the hill to its present location on the corner of Main and Hill Streets.
The Sisters from the Order of the Most Holy Rosary at Sinsinawa Mound became the District School teachers in 1847, "teaching for five months of the year until public funds were exhausted and then continuing as a parish school, " wrote Sister M. Paschala. sometimes the Sisters had secular assistants, as in 1848, when "Sister Mary Clara Conway and a secular companion were assigned to New Diggings." during the winter of 1849, Father Mazzuchelli himself taught the school, living in two small rooms in the rear of the church. In William Field's journal during these years he recorded that on July 5, 1846,
"Mrs. Mill Do agre to teach Scooll for the sum of ten dollars for 3 monts only $10.00"
and also that on July 9. 1849, he "Pd Scool teacher at the Cath o Lick Church $2.00".
An epidemic of cholera which occured in the diggings in August, 1850 , prevented the opening of school in September. "In an effort to dispel the subsequent good during the midwinter holidays", wrote Sister Mary Paschala, "the priest planned a dinner on New Years for the children of New Diggings. All the staples were included, from the "two turkeys" to the "dried apples for pies', and when school re-opened in 1851, it was with the added attraction of a hired teacher to train the children in singing." When the Sisters retired to the newly acquired Convent in Benton in 1852, the school was taken over by a layman named Amara, who was succeeded by a Mr. McDonald. In 1861,
the Sisters resumed their teaching duties in the diggings.
Meanwhile, the Presbyterian Church had been abandoned by that sect in 1851 and was used as a school before it was moved across the road to the west side of Church Street. Possibly the first small school could not hold the 'sixty pupils" mentioned above, making an additional room, provided by the church building, a necessity. Miss Elizabeth Haire, who died recently at the age of ninety-four, remembered a two room schoolhouse "on the flat" which served, she said, until a new school was built, and when the latter was struck by lightning and burned to the ground, a new and larger one was built in its place. 7
County Coordinator Dori Leekley
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© 1997-1999 Dori Leekley
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