History of Education
BY PRIN. W. R. GORBY, SPENCER
Roane county was formed in 1856, from portions of Kanawha, Jackson and Gilmer. At present it contains seven magisterial districts: Spencer, Harper, Curtis, Reedy, Geary, Smithfield, and Walton. Also, the Spencer Independent district, created in 1872, is a factor in the educational history of Roane county.
The first settlement in Roane county was made in 1812; and six years later the first school was organized in the county; but this school was not at the place of first settlement.
The records of pioneer days recount the well-known difficulties in securing books, teachers, and buildings, yet, withal, educational interests were not neglected, and the schools multiplied apace with the numerical growth of the population.
The peculiar Virginia system was the only one that prevailed in Roane county prior to the Civil War period. It followed a plan something as follows: A teacher was employed for a term (usually three months), at a specified salary. The salary was then apportioned pro rata among the pupils and orders were drawn upon the parents and guardians. These orders the teacher took and collected, if he could; if the parent refused to pay his portion, or was unable to do so, the teacher returned the order to the Sheriff, who redeemed it. In practice, this system was very objectionable, for those pupils whose parents paid were often favored, and they taunted the poorer ones with being “paupers.” However, many excellent minds developed under that system, and some of the best among the so-called “paupers.”
The first school taught within the present limits of Roane county was in Geary district, in 1818. William Hodge taught three months in a five cornered log hut; the building was without floor, and possessed the proverbial greased paper windows. This school continued at irregular intervals till 1847, when a more suitable building was erected.
The first school in Smithfield district was taught in 1841; there were in attendance fourteen pupils. Here, also, the building was of the most priinative kind; but in 1847, a substantial one was built on Flat Fork of Poca river.
The educational dawn in Walton tinged her skies in 1824, when Dr. Conoly taught a subscription school, in a 12 x 14 log house. It is recorded that he received in payment a dog, and the skins of wild animals; with possibly a little specie.
In 1828 Chas. Droddy taught a school at the mouth of Johnson’s creek.
In Harper district the first school taught was conducted by Asa Harper, in 1839, at the mouth of Flat Fork. In 1842, a large five cornered log house was built for school purposes and continued in use many years.
In 1832, a rude building was erected in Curtis district, and Ellas Alexander was chosen the first teacher. This building was located on the Left Hand Fork of Reedy.
Thomas Cain taught the first school in Reedy district in 1832-3. His school consisted of twenty pupils, and was located at the Three Forks of Reedy. The building was without floor, windows, or furniture, except puncheon benches. Following this other schools were taught in Reedy district by Mortimore Allen McClung, both before and after the Civil War. His connection with the schools at that particular period and his broad and unbiased views brought him into prominence as one of the most enthusiastic and progressive local school men of the times. Three sons, Dayton J., John A., and Park W., and four daughters, Signora, Matilda, Madalene and Roxie, following in the footsteps of a worthy father became successful teachers, and school officers.
The first school in Spencer district was taught in 1833 by Robert Mitchell. This school was one-half mile above the mouth of little Spring Creek. This building was more modern; for, while it had no floor and only greased paper windows, it boasted “clap-board desks.”
The first school in the town of Spencer was taught by John S. Spencer. Other early teachers were William Armstrong and John Shedd. When these were taught, Spencer was known as Tanner’s Cross Roads and New California. James Sprinston taught first after the name became Spencer, in 1858.
At present (1903) Roane county has 163 schools in 153 buildings. The log school house, except in one instance is gone. The peripatetic pedagogue has given way to well qualified men and women, and perhaps in no interior county is the educational standard rising more rapidly than in Roane. There are four graded schools in the county. At Walton a 2-room school; also at Gandeeville; at Reedy a 3-room school under the principalship of Josiah Stutler. At Spencer, a splendid brick building of eight rooms, under the principalship of W. R. Gorby. The enrollment at Spencer is over 400, and the rapid growth here makes a full high school course imperative. And it is probable that such a course will be added soon.
For several years a leading feature of Roane county’s educational work has been the Spencer Summer Normal. Here most of the teachers of the county prepare for examination; and indeed the surrounding counties as well, are represented. In the summer of 1903 the enrollment was 236, and it is believed this is the largest school of its kind in the State. Students receive full credit at the University for work done in the Normal ; and the success of the students fully attest the character of the work done.
The present County Superintendent of Roane county, Prof. N. L. Chancey, is a man of broad views, and strong personality. The marked increase in educational interest since he has been at the head of the county system of schools promises to bring about many needed reforms. Prof. Chancey is a practical school man, a teacher or experience and in full sympathy with the teachers under his charge.
On the whole, the teachers of the county are aiming toward better things. The Reading Circle, the District Institute, – and the system of Uniform Examinations all tend toward the development of better methods, and broader culture.
“Our common schools; O, let their light
Shine through our nation’s story,
Here lies her strength, her joy, her pride;
Here rests her future glory.”
SOURCE: History of Education in West Virginia, 1904