Alexander Schoolhouse open for visitorsAugust 6, 2021
By CHRISTINE STEPHENSON
JASPER — As visitors wandered through the Alexander Schoolhouse, one of the first schools in Dubois County, they listened to reenactment videos of what learning in the schoolhouse would have been like nearly 200 years ago.
Many of the teacher’s instructions felt familiar. Sit up straight at your desk. Don’t interrupt your classmates while they work. Don’t speak unless you are called on.
Others felt more outlandish compared to today. One at a time in the outhouse. Make sure to bring wood to class tomorrow to light the stove. Bring one of your family’s geese to class, too, so the feathers can be plucked and used as quills.
Life in the mid-1800s to mid-1900s is preserved in the Alexander Schoolhouse, which now sits behind the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center. The Redevelop Old Jasper Action Coalition has been working to transport and refinish the schoolhouse for several years, so it can remain in the community as a place of learning as a mini-museum.
The schoolhouse will have a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday, followed by tours of the school and the nearby Schaeffer Barn.
First built in 1820 near Shiloh Church south of Ireland, the school was one of the first three in the county. Back then, it was known as the Shiloh School. In 1859, it was moved to a farm owned by the Kellams family, who are descendants of the Alexanders, and was renamed the Alexander School. The school burned down in 1915 and was rebuilt three years later.
After the building was no longer used as a schoolhouse, it remained on the Kellams’ farm and was used to store grain, Cheryl Kellams said. The family wanted to refinish and display the home to the city but couldn’t afford to do it alone. With the help of ROJAC and funding from John and Carma Habig, the school was deconstructed wall by wall and transported to its current location.
The school was placed in memory of siblings George and Margaret Wilson, who were instrumental to the early success of childhood education in Dubois County. In 1887, Margaret was the first student in the county to earn a diploma. She started teaching the next year, when she was only 16. George started teaching when he was 17. Eventually, Margaret became the superintendent of Jasper City Schools, and George became superintendent of all Dubois County schools.
While teaching, Margaret also had to abide by some rules that would be strange and outdated today. She was not allowed to be married or even ride in a carriage unless accompanied by her brother or father. She was to wear two petticoats under her dress, and the dress could not be any more than 2 inches above the ankles. Before the school day would start, she would have to arrive early to start a fire so the stove could keep the children warm.
A turn-of-the-century pot-bellied stove is displayed in the schoolhouse for visitors to learn about. Other artifacts displayed include one of the oldest student desks in the county, which belonged to Simon Ackerman, who was an altar boy for Father Joseph Kundek. Several other items, such as a desk donated by John Habig, have been preserved for nearly a century or longer. John’s wife, Carma, was one of the last descendants of the Wilsons. She died in 2018.
More information about the schoolhouse, including videos about the lives of George and Margaret Wilson, can be found at https://historicjasper.com.
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