History of Belpre, Washington Co., Ohio
By C. E. Dickinson, D. D.
Formerly Pastor of Congregational Church
Author of the History of First Congregational Church
Published for the Author by
Globe Printing & Binding Company
Parkersburg, West Virginia
CHAPTER XVI -
THE first school in Belpre was
taught by Miss Bathsheba Rouse in the block house of
Col. Ebenezer Battelle, during the summer of 1789.
Miss Rouse was the first female teacher in Ohio and it is
significant that during the season that the first cabins were
occupied the settlers made provision for the education of their
children by the establishment of a school.
In their minds the school was the direct and immediate
associate of the home in the interests of the rising generation.
Miss Rouse taught a school for several subsequent summers
and a winter school was taught by a male teacher, among the
first of these were Jonathan Baldwin and Daniel Mayo,
the latter a graduate of Cambridge College. These pioneers
seem to have followed substantially the plan of country schools
in New England at that time, the plan of country schools in New
England at that time, which was to employ a female teacher for
three months in the summer and a male teacher for an equal time
Universal education through the common schools in this
country had its origin in New England. The settlers there
brought with them the town meeting as the unit of a democratic
government, and, because all the citizens were Participants in
such a government, all should be made intelligent. It has
been true in the history of various parts of our country that
wherever a company of settlers from New England have
located there has very soon been a school and, before the
settlement has become very large, plans have been made for an
academy and college.
When Stone's Fort was erected in 1793 there were forty
children in the families domiciled there and a school house was
built within the palisades. We find mention of a log
school house in the middle settlement in 1801 which had
evidently been erected some time earlier. There was also a
log school house at Newbury as early as 1800. These early
school houses were warmed in winter by an ample
fire place in one end of the room. The entrance was on one
side of this fire place and the teachers desk on the other side ;
there were seats for scholars on the other three sides of the room
with an open space in the center where the scholars recited, and
toed a line when they stood in the spelling class. A little
later, and perhaps at this early day, a small silver coin was
perforated for a string and worn home each night by the scholar who
was at the head of the class, and borne away in triumph on the last
day by the scholar who had worn it home most times during the term.
School houses were built in other portions of the township as they
were needed. Some small appropriations were made for the first
schools by the Ohio Company but most of the expenses were borne by
the parents. Mrs. Preston, in her history of
Newbury, states that the "wages of teachers during those early years
were five dollars a month with what the parents of the children
could give, the teacher boarded around." The five dollars
probably came from the Ohio Company's appropriations or from other
public funds and the balance from tuitions and contributions.
We have found no account of a strike of teachers for
higher wages. All sought to serve the good of all, even though
it required a real sacrifice. These early schools in Belpre
were voluntary, established and maintained by the sentiment of the
Having given this this account of the first movements
in the cause of general education in Belpre, we may pause to
consider the early history of schools in Ohio. It was the
sentiment for general education in New England which introduced into
the Act for the Survey and Settlements of Public Land a provision
for the reservation of section 16 in every township for the
promotion of education. It was this same sentiment which
caused the Ohio Company, at a meeting in Providence, R. I. March
7th, 1788, to record the following action.
"Resolved, That the Directors be
requested to pay as early attention as possible to the education of
youth and the promotion of public worship among the first settlers."
(It is interesting to observe by the date that on that day the first
company of 48 pioneers were camped at Simrills Ferry (West
Newton) Penn. constructing the boats which were to carry them down
the rivers to the point where they
were to commence the Settlement.) It seems to have been the idea ol"
settlers in various parts of the state that Section sixteen in each
township, reserved for schools, would in some way be made sullicient
for the cause of education in the state, and as a result the schools
laws enacted during the first two decades of the nineteenth century
had almost exclusive reference to the sale or renting of these
lands. It was for the interest of speculators to secure these lands
as cheaply as possible and evidently some mistakes were made by the
authorities during this period, and it became evident that some
provision must be made for schools beyond the revenue derived from
The settlers from New England desired to make provision
for free public schools, as we may learn from the schools
established in the Ohio Company's settlements, but there were many
in the state who opposed the movements for free schools.
The first efficient act for the establishment of free
public schools was introduced to the legislature in 1819 by Hon.
Ephraim Cutler the member from Washington County. This met with
strong opposition but was introduced in the legislature the next
year 1820-21, when it was passed by the House but was not considered
in the Senate. The matter continued to be earnestly advocated by the
friends of general education, and as violently opposed by those of
In the legislature of 1821, Caleb Atwater, a
representative from Pickaway County, secured the passage of a reso-
lution providing for the appointment, by the Governor, of a
commission of seven members "to collect, digest and re- port to the
next General Assembly a system of education for common schools, and
also to take into consideration the state of the funds set apart by
Congress for the support of common schools." The members of this
commission were Caleb Atwater (chairman), John Collins, James Hoge,
Nathan Guilford, Ephraim Cutler, Josiah Barker and James M. Bell.
This Commission made very extensive investigation and
reported to the legislature of 1823-4, but this body was so much
opposed to legislation both on public schools and internal
improvements that no action was taken. In the
next legislature which convened in 1824 the paramount is- sues were
the common schools and the canals.
It is an interesting fact that these two subjects were
closely associated in the legislation of Ohio and they really aided
each other. The more intelligent members of the Assembly were
in favor of the schools and the more progressive favored internal
improvements. A goodly number of members were embraced in both
classes, and by joining forces both projects succeeded. As a
result of the report of the Educational Commission a bill was
presented, drawn by Nathan Guilford, which embraced
the principles presented by Mr. Cutler five years
earlier. This bill provided that a "fund shall be annually
raised among the several counties of the state, in the manner
pointed out by this act, for the use of the common schools, for the
instruction of youth of every class and grade without distinction,
in reading, writing, arithmetic and other necessary branches of a
common education." This money was to be raised by a tax on all
property in the counties. There were also provisions for
laying out the townships into convenient school districts and the
appointment of examiners without whose official certificate no one
could draw pay for teaching. This bill was entitled "An Act to
Provide for the Support and Better Regulation of Common Schools" and
it became a law Feb. 5, 1825. The following circumstance
relating to its passage is given in Randall and Ryans History of
Ohio (Vol. 8, Page 383) "When the bill was on its final vote
for passage in the House, Ephraim Cutler, who was a
member of the Senate from Washington County, stood anxiously beside
Mr. Guilford waiting for the result. For years
he had advocated the principle then pending before the House.
In the constitutional Convention of 1802 and in the General Assembly
he had long sought this end. When the vote was announced
showing that the bill had passed, Mr. Cutler turned to
Mr. Guilford and reverently repeated the words of
Simeon (Lu. 2:29) 'Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in
peace according to thy word for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.'
Thus was accomplished the greatest educational work in Ohio's
The three men to whom Ohio owes this legislation were
Ephraim Cutler, of Washington County, Nathan
Guilford, of Hamilton County, and Caleb Atwood, of
ty, although they represented different portions of the state it is
an interesting fact that all these men and also Samuel
Lewis, appointed first State Superintendent of Education in
1837, were born and educated in Massachusetts, so that our excellent
school system is due to the sentiment instilled into the minds of
these gentlemen in the old Bay State, and the home of Mr.
Cutler had been in Belpre township.
Supplemental laws have been passed since that time
especially about 1850 when an act was passed which opened the way
for special union districts and the establishment of High Schools in
townships and villages. These laws have affected the
subsequent history of schools in Belpre.
In the educational systems of New England down to half
a century ago the common schools provided the rudiments of an
education for all classes of children. The higher English
branches and languages were taught in Academies or tuition schools,
where scholars were fitted for college. It seems to have been this
idea of an education which led Messrs. George Dana, A. W.
Browning, Lorin E. Stone, and Charles Cook, to construct
the building, immediately south of the Congregational Church, which
was called Belpre Academy. The first principal in this school
was Miss Hannah Temple, a grand-daughter of
Rev. Samuel P. Robbins, second pastor of the First Church in
Marietta and Belpre. She was a superior teacher and her work
is still remembered by many of her pupils. After a few years
Miss Temple was succeeded by Miss Nancy
Porterfield who continued in charge of the Academy until it
was superceded by the High School. This excellent teacher
decided to change her name to Mrs. William Armstrong and
become a prominent citizen of Belpre where she has devoted her life
to the improvement of the community.
About this time there was some rivalry among the
families in the village and J. B. Hulburt, who had been a
teacher in one of the neighboring township schools, was placed in
charge of another tuition school known as Belpre Seminary.
Through efforts of W. W. Northrup, Esq., a
special school district was organized in Belpre Village in 1872, and
W. W. Northrup, N. B. Adams, and C. A. Brown were
chosen a Board of Education. This Board organized a High
School with J. B. Hulburt as principal and Mary
Barkley, Edna Hubbard and Parks S. Browning,
The following year Prof. E. S. Cox became
superintendent of the schools and principal of the High School.
He graded the village schools, systemized the course of study, and
thoroughly organized the several departments and so prepared the
schools for greater usefulness. Mr. Cox was an eminent
teacher for many years.
Mr. L. D. Brown was superintendent in 1874.
This gentleman was afterwards superintendent of schools in the state
and still later was President of the State University of Nevada.
It is pleasant to record that Belpre contributed her mite in
preparing Mr. Brown for greater usefulness.
Previous to this time the village schools were held in
the frame building now occupied as a dwelling by Dr. Charles
Goodno. The size and importance of these schools increased
so rapidly that in 1875 the citizens decided to construct a new and
more extensive building of brick. This was completed at a cost
of about $10,000 and the following year was occupied by the schools.
The village continued to increase so that even the new
building was too small, and in 1907 it was enlarged by the addition
of four school rooms and a Superintendents office. The frame
building was used as a school for colored children until 1887, when
in compliance with a state law, this school was closed and all
children without distinction of race or color were received into the
public schools. This movement caused some objections to be
raised at first, but it was soon approved by all classes of the
people and it aroused in many of the colored children an ambition to
make themselves worthy of their larger opportunities, a very
respectable number have already completed the High School Course.
The first class consisting of four members was
graduated from the High School June 10th, 1875. The program of
exercises was as follows:
(First Page) -
FIRST ANNUAL COMMENCEMENT
BELPRE HIGH SCHOOL
In Methodist Episcopal Church
at Eight P. M.
Saturday, June 10th, 1875
REV. J. C. ARBUCKLE, B. A.
at Methodist Episcopal Church
on the evening of
June 11th, A. D. 1875
(Third Page) -
Music - Qui Vi
Again with Song
Ovation - To the Victors Belong the Spoils
David P. Guthrie, Jr.
Music - The Rover
Essay - Stepping
Essay - The Port to Which We are All Sailing
Music - The Land of Swallows
Essay - A Scholars Aim
Music - Ah! With Rapture My Heart is Beating
Conferring of Degrees
Mrs. Shaw sang at each commencement until an
orchestra was introduced.
This school has graduated a class each year since that
time. It is a first class High School and its graduates are
admitted to the colleges of the state on their diplomas.
There are now within the township four special or union
districts; the village, with ten rooms; Rockland, with four rooms;
Center Belpre, with two rooms, and Little Hocking with two rooms.
Besides these there are three small schools in remote neighborhoods,
Newbury, Red Bush, and Mill Branch.
When pupils from these small rural schools enter the
High School they usually maintain as high rank in scholarship as
those from the union schools. The standard of scholarship is
high in all Belpre schools and there are a respectable number who
enter higher institutions each year. There are also some who
for various reasons secure their High School course at Parkersburg,
and a considerable number each year graduate from Commercial
Colleges at Marietta and Parkersburg.
Most of the time representatives of Belpre may be found
availing themselves of the privileges of a College Education either
at Marietta or other similar institutions.
Intelligence was a very
marked characteristic of the inhabitants of New England from the
beginning. It is probable that no settlement ever made
embraced so large a proportion of liberally educated men as the
settlement in Massachusetts Bay. Schools, Colleges, private
and public libraries appeared very early in the history of New
England. The pioneers in Belpre were nearly all from New
England and brought with them the habits and tastes under which they
had been reared. At that time there were none of the almost
unlimited variety of magazines now within reach, and there were no
daily papers, and even if there had been there were no means of
delivering them in this distant wilderness. The information of
the people must be derived from books and these were not very
abundant in the log cabins of the settlers.
This condition will help us to understand why the first Library in
the North West Territory was in Belpre. About 1880 a newspaper
discussion arose between three libraries in Ohio respecting
priority, which each claimed. The matter was referred to
Hon. John Eaton, then United States Commissioner of Education.
He referred it to a committee of literary gentlemen in Ohio, who
reported as follows: "Hon. John Eaton, National Commissioner
of Education, Washington, D. C, Dear Sir: The undersigned, who
were named by you as a Commission before whom could be brought
claims to prove the establishment of social (or public as
distinguished from private) libraries in the Northwest Territory,
beg leave to report that they have had before them the claims of
three localities, viz: (1) Cincinnati, (2) Ames Township, Athens
County, called Coon Skin Library†,
(3) Belpre, Washington County, and that they are unanimously of the
opinion that the claim of the last named place has been made good. *
J. J. BURNS.
We are informed by Dr.
S. P. Hildreth that General Israel Putnam during his life time
collected a large library of useful books, embracing History, Belle
letters, travel, etc. for the benefit of himself and children and
called it the "Putnam Family Library." After his death, in
1790, these books were divided among his heirs and quite a number of
them found their way to Belpre, brought out by his son and
grandchildren, when Colonel Israel returned with his
family after the Indian War in 1795.
The family, with their generosity and public spirit,
knowing the habits and tastes of their neighbors, were not willing
to enjoy these books alone and so made them a nucleus of what came
to be known as "The Belpre Farmers Library."
As evidence of the early establishment of this library
we have the following:
Marietta, Oct. 26, 1796.
Received of Jonathan
Stone, by the hand of Benjamin Miles ten
dollars for his share in the Putnam Family Library.
In the record of Probate
Court in 1801 we find the estate of Jonathan Stone
credited with his share of library stock. From this we infer
that other shares were distributed and other books purchased from
time to time. In Howe's History of Ohio we have a significant
mention of this library. Under Meigs County we find a
quotation from a letter written by Amos Dunham who
lived several miles from where the library was located. He
says: "The long winter evenings were rather tedious, and in order to
make them pass more smoothly, by great exertion I purchased a share
in the Belpre Library, six miles distant. From this I promised
myself much entertainment, but another obstacle presented itself—I
had no candles;—however the woods afforded plenty of pine
knots,—with these I made torches by which I could read, tho I nearly
spoiled my eyes.
Many a night have I passed in this manner till twelve
or one o'clock, reading to my wife, while she was hatchelling,
carding or spinning. "This wife left the testimony that her
husband "could always find time to attend the meetings of Belpre
Library regardless of the pressure of other work."
Isaac Pierce was librarian and the books
were kept in his house. We have found no record of the whole
number of books in this library, nor what books were purchased from
time to time, we may safely say that the library was highly prized
and was of very great benefit not alone to men like Amos
Dunham but specially to the generation then securing an
education and forming habits. The library continued in
circulation about twenty years. In 1815 the association was
dissolved by mutual agreement and the books divided among the
stockholders. We have no record of the reason of this
dissolution but we are confident it was not through any decrease of
interest in education or in the value put upon books. A
considerable number of these
FRANKLIN P. AMES, M. D.
HON. A. W. GLAZIER
books are now in possession of descendants of the stockholders.
HIGH SCHOOL LIBRARY.
We find a record of
the fact that when Mr. L. D. Brown was principal of the High
School in 1874 he made the beginnings of a High School Library.
Quite a number of books were secured, and are still in existence at
the School Building. No additions seem to have been made to
this library for a considerable number of years and the books are
not regularly distributed. It is true that inhabitants of
Belpre can secure books from the Parkersburg Public library by the
payment of annual dues, but the people of Belpre are sufficiently
intelligent and should be sufficiently enterprising to maintain a
library of their own. One of the objects of the Belpre
Historical Society, described in another part of this history, is to
collect and preserve Historical documents and relics. This
Society might very properly be associated with a Library Association
in erecting and sustaining a building which should be used both as a
library and historical museum.
In our visions of the future we hope to see before very
many years a trolley line extending westward and eventually
connecting us with all the river towns as far at least as
Cincinnati. When that time comes the land along the river will
doubtless be divided into small farms devoted to intensive gardening
and the hill sides will be variegated by fruit orchards. Many
fine residences will also be built as country homes. When this
vision becomes real the citizens will be as intelligent and
enterprising as any who have gone before them and there should be in
some central locality a fire-proof building in which a free public
library should be sustained for the town. Such a library is
really needed to supplement our excellent schools and so help
prepare the constant stream of young people who shall be educated
here and go forth to act their part in the progress of the coming
years. It may be possible, if the inhabitants of the township will
pledge themselves to fulfill certain specified conditions, to secure
funds to erect a building from the generous gifts of Mr.
If this should fail what more valuable or lasting
monument could be erected by a descendant of a pioneer or of a later
citizen of Belpre than to build and endow such a library.
- END OF CHAPTER XVI -