Athens School


The following article “School at Athens, Calhoun County - 1847" comes from the report of the 1889 Annual Meeting of the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society, Vol. 14, pgs. 360-363.  The author, Anson De Puy Van Buren, was a member of the Committee of Historians of the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society.  Born to Ephraim and Olive (Jay) Van Buren 21 April 1822, he came with his family to Battle Creek in 1836.  He taught in many early schools around Calhoun County.

This was a large school, and taught in a log schoolhouse at HART’S Corners, in the township of Athens.  It was the first schoolhouse erected in the district.  The school director was Philander KNAPPEN, son of Rev. Mason KNAPPEN, of Richland, Kalamazoo County.  I was informed by Mr. KNAPPEN that the teacher he had employed the previous winter had been turned out of his school by some of its unmanageable boys.  This did not frighten me, as I replied: “I have been used to tending a threshing machine, and know how to bring out the wheat.”  This expression was soon known all over the district, and no doubt had a salutary effect on my school, for a while at least.  The schoolhouse was furnished in the old style.  Desks against the logs on three sides, seats of rough boards with wooden legs; a large brick chimney with broad flaring jams at the east end of the house.  I was to receive eighteen dollars per month.  The old text-books had been mostly supplemented by later ones.  Hence we formed classes in most of the studies. 

 It was an interesting school, composed of boys and girls between the ages of six and eighteen, most of them in, or merging into, their “teens.”  We got along finely for the first and second weeks; but during the third week we began to see indications and actions that reminded us not only of the trouble in the previous winter’s school, but that we had the same “unmanageable boys” in our school that caused that trouble.  Finally it came to my ears that these boys were going to defy “this teacher who had tended a threshing machine.”  This threat was soon put into execution, for the ringleaders of the opposition, Horace BROWNELL, Elliot STIMPSON, and Frank KNAPPEN, openly refused to obey me in something they were ordered to do, and where obedience was simply their duty.  Here I was held at bay by three unruly pupils, who persistently defied my authority.  I was prepared for the emergency; that was, to settle this matter on the spot.  Mr. HART and Mr. John ROGERS had been clearing off some swale land, and had presented me with a dozen splendid beech whips.  I had wilted them by running them in the hot ashes in the fireplace, and placed them out of sight behind the chimney.  I have no desire to go through with a description of the whipping I gave those boys, but will say that it was the severest that I ever gave to a refractory pupil in the schoolroom.  The boys were some fourteen or fifteen years old, and wore coats of corduroy, which shielded them considerably from the effect of the blows.  Frank KNAPPEN was the last one punished, and the most stubborn and defiant, but finally yielded, and agreed with the rest to obey the rules of the school.  This whipping made some stir in the district, but it was effectual; I had no more trouble from unmanageable boys in the school after that.  If there was any other way to settle this trouble I did not, or could not, see it then.  I can now.

 These stout, robust boys grew up to be strong, muscular young men.  And when the south fired on Sumter in 1861, and a call came from President Lincoln for soldiers to defend the Union, Frank KNAPPEN and Horace BROWNELL enlisted, “and went to the front.”  Frank fell bravely fighting for the old flag at Kenesaw Mountain, and Horace BROWNELL was last seen fighting like a hero in a desperate charge on the rebel entrenchments at Gettysburg.  As he was never seen after that battle, there is no doubt but what he was among the slain on that great day.  Elliot STIMPSON went to California, where he still resides.

This was a large school, numbering from fifty to sixty scholars, and, after “these incorrigibles” were brought to see that their best interest lay in the line of study, we pushed ahead in school work.  And, at the close of the winter’s school, if we did not formally graduate any in the “three R’s,” many of the pupils got so near through that they could see out, and readily finish the course themselves.  And we aimed to leave all desirous to continue in the pursuit of knowledge.

 The spelling school was a source of diversion and improvement to the school and the neighborhood.  The school east of us was taught by a Mr. WALKER, in what was called the “WALKER Settlement.”  With this school we had many a spelling “bout,” as also with the one northeast of us, taught by Miss Livinia E. HANSON, now Mrs. L. E. COLE of Galesburg.  The Nottawa mission and school, among the Pottawattomies, was some two miles southwest of our schoolhouse.  This mission was then in the charge of Rev. Manasseh HICKEY of the M. E. Church.  He was assisted by a Mr. CRANE and a young lady, Mr. Hickey’s sister.  Mr. CRANE and Miss HICKEY had charge of the Indian school.  There were then some over one hundred of the Pottawattomie band who owned, lived on and cultivated the section of land purchased for them by their agents, NORTON, HOBART and Thomas ACKERS.  They lived in log houses.  The mission house was quite a large log structure and used for the large gatherings of the Indians at home and from abroad.  The schoolhouse, also built of logs, was used for school on the week day, and for religious meetings on Sunday.  My first home was with the director, Philander KNAPPEN.  I found among Mr. KNAPPEN’S books, the “History of the Patriot War in Canada” by Edward Alexander Theller, in two volumes.  This was a great treat to me, and I read them through as eagerly, and with as deep interest as I ever did Robinson Crusoe, or The Arabian Nights.  I never have seen this history since.  It is a rare work.  The right man wrote the book.  Theller was to this history as Capt. Horry was to the life of Gen. Francis Marion.  Both were written by men who were thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the times and had been active participants in the stirring scenes of which they wrote.

“Boarding round” was interesting to the teacher in those early days.  There was less attraction from the outside world to enlist one’s attention, or divert it for the themes of social life; hence the old fireside was the more interesting.  I wish I could reproduce some of the talk, or at least some of the more interesting stories as illustrative of the life in Michigan homes forty years ago.  Charles Dudley WARNER, in his “Back Log Stories” says that the best talk is that which escapes up the open chimney, and cannot be repeated.  We might say that all of our talk, and the stories told, while boarding round in the district, escaped up the open chimney and cannot be repeated, for the lack of a chronicler to note them down.

 Lemuel DAVIS was, probably, the oldest man in the entire settlement.  The electric telegraph had just come into use, and I had the pleasure of explaining its workings to this genial old gentleman, of a generation now past and gone.  He had an idea, at first, that letters were sent from place to place, on the wires.  When told that a new alphabet was used, one that represented our letters, he was still more surprised, and thought that we might be getting on a little too fast; that we might yet make a better use of some of the old things instead of trying to invent so many so many new ones.  “Yet, let them have this telegraph, it will be a bauble, at least, to please these restless spirits, who can’t be satisfied with anything old, and if it proves really useful, we shall be glad of it.”

Editors note: Lemuel Davis is my 5th great-grandfather.  Gee - given his feelings about the telegraph, I wonder what he would think of the Internet!     Sandy


Athens School
Battle Creek Central High School, 1941 Paean Year Book 
Battle Creek High School 1956-1957 Student Directory 
Caines District School, Newton Twp. 
Ellen Stillman "My School Day" Autograph Book 

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