EDUCATION A PRIORITY HERE SINCE LATE 1700s
By JUDY JENKINS
Editor's Note: Much of the information in this article is from “Historic Henderson,” a publication compiled in 1974 by Maralea Arnett, Katheryn Baskett and J. W. Duncan
You'd think that the first settlers in this vicinity would have been too busy clearing land, putting up houses and barns and scrapping with the occasional Indian to worry much about educating their children.
But, even then, learning was considered important. In the latter 1700s, a school already existed, not in Red Banks, but in the neighborhood of Diamond Island. In October 1794, schoolmaster Henry Patmers sent to local mill owner John Dunn a request that Dunn pay 10 shillings for his offspring's quarterly subscription to the school.
In 1813, the Henderson Academy was established with a board of trustees headed by Adam Rankin. The school, later called “Blackberry Hall” because of the thick growth of blackberry bushes around it, stood at the corner of Third and Elm Streets.
Among its head mistresses was Elizabeth Blackwell, who was to become this nation's first woman doctor.
Determined that the school's graduates would be fine citizens, the board established strict rules of conduct, including obedience to teachers, politeness, no gambling or swearing, and no keeping of bad company.
The first tutor; the Rev. Daniel Comfort, was paid $250 for a six-month term.
In 1819, Mrs. James Wilson, whose husband had built what is now considered the city's oldest home at 226 S. Elm Street, opened a “Select School for Girls” in her home.
Likely, Mrs. Wilson was motivated by economic reasons as well as altruistic ones, as her husband had recently died. One of the central features of the school was a piano which had come to Henderson by covered wagon in 1815.
The spindle-legged George III instrument of five-octave range was manufactured in London about 1800 or 1802. Mrs. Wilson, who was considered a fine pianist, taught her students to play the instrument and also schooled them in French and English, singing, embroidery, plain and fine sewing and deportment.
Henderson's public school system was established in 1869 with the first building erected on the corner of Green and Center Streets. Called Center Street School, it was fine edifice three stories tall and topped by a bell tower.
The school opened in 1871, with Maurice Kirby as first superintendent. Until 1906, when James Barret purchased the Adams residence on Washington Street and gave it to the city, the town's only high school was housed on the top floor of the Center Street School.
The three-story building donated by Barret was given his name, Barret Manual Training High School, and, with an annex built in 1910 and a gym in 1927, it served the community for nearly half a century.
A number of communities began with subscription schools. The oldest chartered high school in the county was Corydon, whose first class graduated in 1878. Early in the 20 th century, the school hired L. H. Gehman as principal, and he introduced a new concept – a junior high school.
Toward the end of the century's second decade, a push for consolidation of the county's eight high schools began. The small schools were necessary, historians later noted, because buses could not be used on the existing dirt roads and mule-drawn wagons could not transport pupils over long distances.
Corydon was the last independent school to join the county system.
The schools not only stressed reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, but also featured athletics. The Corydon football team of 1914 included a future governor; U.S. senator and baseball commissioner; A. B. “Happy” Chandler who, in his teens, was known as “Irish.”
Before venturing into politics later, that young man taught and coached for a time. Around 1920, his girls basketball team was defeated in a bid for the state championship by the Barret Manual Training High School team which included future Gleaner publisher Francele Harris (Armstrong).
Barret's boys basketball team not only won the first tournament held in Kentucky in the 1915-16 school year but went on to win the national championship in Athens, Ohio.
Douglass High School produced many fine athletes, including those who earned the western Kentucky football championship in the 1922-23 school year.
Progress Edition, The Gleaner, Saturday, April 24, 2004
Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2005 HCH&GS