Historical Notes on French Lick Public Schools
Reprinted with permission from the Springs
September 19, 1957 issue.
The first school established in French Lick Township was on Sulphur Creek in 1820. The first three teachers were Samuel Cobb, Jordan Miles and John Harvey, respectively. In 1834 Col. John Pinnick and Samuel Wolfington employed an old sailor named Acley to teach the first school within the town limits of French Lick. The French Lick Baptist Church was used for a school house from 1836 to 1846. Early teachers there were Jacob Sishion, David Smith, David Porter and William Ferguson. The first public (free) school to be taught in French Lick Township was in 1855-56.
The children who lived within the limits of French Lick attended District No. 5 school after the tax supported township schools were started. Until the spring of 1891 this school was located east of the present French Lick Milling Company and the Twin City Lumber Company near the French Lick Creek. The teachers who taught last in this building were John A. Stackhouse, Minnie Roach and Kate Pennington Claxton. The sixth grade was the highest grade offered in this school although the work taught was equal in many respects to that now offered in the seventh and eighth grades of today. This school burned in 1891.
Trustee Richard A. Spaulding erected a new one-room building on the north west corner of the present school lot. It was about the first of December when the new house was completed and the school term was started. Mr. John A. Stackhouse was employed to teach in the new building for the first tern, 1891-92. The building was typical of that day. The door opened into a small vestibule on each side of which was a cloak room. In the opposite end of the room, the south end, was the teacher's desk on a small raised platform. Across the south wall was a blackboard. The pupils faced the teacher's desk. The room was about twenty-four feet by thirty-two feet. At that time here were no houses nearer the school than Maple Street. The school was almost surrounded by cornfields. Miss Alta Ritter taught the school term 1892-93 and she was succeeded by Mr. Robert S. McVey. It is probable that Mr. McVey was a teacher in this school until 1900-01 when the School Town of French Lick was organzied and Mr. L.L. Gooding was employed as superintendent.
The present school ground was traded to the School township by Mr. William A. Bowles original plot of 1857. The original lots were adjacent to the residence of Dr. Ryan and he did not wish to have a school that near his home. Trustee John C. Collins added two rooms to the house built by Trustee Spaulding sometime during the years 1894-97, inclusive. During the year 1897-98 the following three teachers were employed to teach: R. S. McVey, William G. Morgan and Mae Hoggatt. Although the Town of French Lick was incorporated July 6, 1899, the township continued its control over the school during the school year 1899-1900 with Superintendent McVey at its head.
The first Board of Education was composed of Dr. William E. Ryan, John C. Robbins and Azor C. Smith. L.L. Gooding was employed by the new board as the first superintendent of the present school corporation of French Lick. The three-room building became the property of the school town and continued in use until the school term of 1904-05. Only three teachers were employed for the year 1901-02 to care for 195 pupils. This crowded situation was relieved by using the dwelling of Miss Mae Hoggatt for the primary department. Miss Hoggatt's residence was used not more than the two years, 1902-04, since the south end of the present school building was used during the year 1904-05.
The colored school was started in the fall of 1911. The School Board purchased the old Christian Church building for a school building for the colored children. The first teacher was William H. Circey. School was held continuously in this building for the elementary colored children until the end of the school year 1936-37. Miss Ivanettta Hughes was the last teacher for this school. The enrollment was never over 15 or 16 and during the last few years of its existence the enrollment had dropped to 6 or 7. This school was named Dunbar School.
French Lick High School did not receive a State Commission until the spring of 1909. However, it is referred to as a high school as early as 1901-02. Superintendent L.L. Gooding was at least prepared to teach high school subjects since he advertised the French Lick Normal School.
The first class to graduate from the commissioned high school was in the year 1908-09 when diplomas were issued to two boys, Exum Morris Hall and Arthur Speece.
Athletics made an early start in the French Lick High School. Football was played in 1901 and baseball almost as early. French Lick joined the Indiana State High School Athletic Association in 1913 and has renewed its membership each year since. A basketball team was organized in 1915.
Since 1915, basketball increased in popularity until it became the school's leading sport. Developed in this deviation of interest from football and baseball to basketball was a keen and interesting competition between French Lick and its next-door neighbor, West Baden.
The heated rivalry, especially in basketball, developed between teams representing the two schools continued for many years, but as history and communities progress, so did the school.
This year, on June 4, 1957, residents of French Lick and French Lick township, in a referendum, voted to accept a proposal of school consolidation with West Baden school. Five schools units were included in the proposal, and it was thus that Springs Valley Community school was born.
Children of school age living in French Lick, French Lick township, West Baden and Jackson and Northwest townships merged into one school unit. Classes were held, and will continue to be held in the present school buildings of French Lick and West Baden until new facilities can be constructed, possibly by 1959.
Behind the story of the consolidation of the schools of the two towns lies a tale of long and tireless effort to combine the two institutions.
Consolidation of the schools had been nearly a perennial effort on the part of some residents, just as perennially battled by other residents.
It was not until late last winter that a group of young businessmen, most of them with children of school age, gathered together under the banner of a "citizens committee" and went to work to bring about the consolidation.
The original 13 men who constituted this committee, later joined by other interested and conscientious fathers, included: Guy Love, Mickle Marshall, Hollis Denbo, Alva Charnes, Kenneth Owen, John Tomlinson, Alden K. Shields, Rhys D. Rhodes, James L. Ballard, Paul M. Howard, Ward Hendrix, Harold Agan and Grant Marshall.
This group held numerous meetings with interested parents, and with the school boards of both communities. After many trials and tribulations, the matter was brought to a vote in French Lick and French Lick township. There were no dissenters in the other three school unit areas.
When the final vote had approved consolidation, it brought forth a furor of planning and meetings to line upa seven-man school board to direct the new school and have it ready to start operation Aug. 1, 1957, about seven weeks after the consolidation had been approved.
Emerging from this confusion came a school board of seven representative residents of the areas encompassed in the new school unit.
Those named included E.W. Beaty and William M. Cave of French Lick town; John Tomlinson, West Baden; Alden Shields and Lewis Brown, French Lick township; Burel Conrad, Jackson township, and Cleo McDonald, Northwest township.
This group, in meetings prior to its official entry into office, selected as superintendent Lloyd H. Wagner, who had been in school work for 20 years and at the time of his appointment was principal of Honey Creek township schools near Terre Haute.
Mr. Wagner succeeded William H. Spradley, formerly of Clarksville, superintendent of French Lick, and Clayton Conrad, superintendent of West Baden, in taking over all the schools in the new system. Mr. Spradley had been superintendent at French Lick since November, 1956, when he succeeded J.W. Chambers, who had resigned to become a representative of a school book publishing company. Mr. Conrad, who had been superintendent at West Baden for a number of years, remained in the present school system as principal of Springs Valley junior high and elementary grades taught at West Baden school. Mr. Spradley became principal of an elementary school at Salem when Mr. Wagner received his appointment here.
The new consolidated school opened here Aug. 28, , with all senior high school students attending the former French Lick school, along with elementary students from grades 1 to 6 who had attended French Lick the prior year or were residents of French Lick or nearby in the case of first-grade students.
Students in the seventh and eighth grades of both schools were assigned to the former West Baden school, along with elementary students of grades 1 to 6 on the same prospective as French Lick's young students.