One hundred and fifty years ago mothers in Wharton County watched their children either walk or ride ponies to the local school house carrying their lunch pails, after they had fed the chickens, milked the cows or chopped some wood.
Wharton County History of Education
Compiled by Janet Barrett-Hobizal from various records at the Wharton County Historical Museum, History of Wharton County by Annie Lee Williams, WISD Records,Handbook of Texas Online, WISD 1896-1975 by Wanda Kellar Sivells and other sources.
Some people don’t know what a turbulent start that Wharton County schools had in the beginning, or how the Wharton Spectator helped the schools stay open in the beginning.
Although Wharton County was given four leagues of land for the establishment of schools in 1846 when the county was first established, the surveying and straightening of deeds was not accomplished until the middle 1850’s. In the meantime the residents hired their children tutors and private school teachers. The original settlers of Wharton County were mostly educated people and only 4 out of the “Old 300” could not write, so education was very important to the early settlers.
One of the first schools in Wharton County was located in Egypt. It was built near Sadie Northingtons home. In 1854, after the Texas Revolution, the state set aside two million dollars for a permanent school fund but most of the money was squandered during the Civil War. By 1866 Wharton had a total of three public schools in which both boys and girls could attend and there were less than 150 students attending school.
One of those schools was taught by Mrs. Amanda Watts, our first school teacher but there were two others also, Mrs. Rush and Mrs. Linn. Mrs. Watts started the fist public school by trying to make enough money to feed and clothe her children (her husband having died in the war). Two prominent citizens, Dr. Saltman and Mr. Rust went to her house and shot questions at her and they declared her a school teacher. The state paid part of her salary and the students paid the rest, her class consisted of twenty-two students. She worked as the postmistress also and it was too much for her so she gave up teaching.
By 1876 the city began levying taxes for the support of the schools and people started taking the education of the youth in Wharton County seriously. By 1877 the school population was 626 between the ages of eight and fourteen. Disease and Epidemics plagued Wharton County in the early days and in 1878 a yellow fever epidemic broke out, children did not attend school and stringent measures were taken by spreading fresh burnt limes along the streets and quarantining affected persons. In the town of Quinan (changed to Hungerford in 1883) in 1877 John C. Habermacher, a local merchant was appointed a trustee of the Quinan school community. He also had a literary club and directed many local talent productions, no doubt using some of the students as aspiring young actors. There were two small schools in the tiny village of Quinan. The four Hudgins brothers had their own school called Hudginsville,as their land was further away from town and Dora Cleaves was the first school teacher. Other teachers Fannie McClusky, Nora Key and Hattie Smithers . Three months of schooling was provided by the state and the Hudgins brothers had to pay for the rest. The teachers receiving $25.00 a month plusroom and board as it was customary for the teacher to live in the home of her pupils. Within the village proper a school was operated by Mrs. George Hooker. Memories of Mrs. Ella Lane who remembered going to school in Quinan said she wentto school by horseback or in a buggy and all she remember learning in school was how to make pot hooks.
The first school in East Bernard was established in 1888 or 1889 it was a 12x6 frame building located one mile north of the railroad depot on what was called the Wallis trail. It was soon moved to town and a brick high school building was built in 1912. It had four large classrooms and an “ample cloak room facilities”. East Bernard became an independent school district in 1915-16. Nottowa, a small community between East Bernard and Lissie was consolidated with the school in 1924. Muldoon, between Hungerford and East Bernard, was divided between those two districts in 1941 and Bernard Prairie was consolidated with East Bernard in 1951. Lissie annexed in 1956.
The second public school teacher in Wharton was G.C. Kelly. He had graduated from Waco University in 1880 and came to Wharton the year after. Kelly conducted his classes in the Baptist Church. The students had no desks and Kelly bought books and sold them to the students. A campaign began in 1889 to make improvements on the old school building. The Wharton Star published in its paper the conditions of the schools and R.H.D. Sorrell offered 3.75 acres of land on Richmond Road for a school location. In 1889 the site was accepted and $10.00 was paid for it. Tragedy struck in that year as a small pox epidemic broke out and Wharton County had over 1000 cases, and the school was put on hold. “Pest houses” were built along the river for people to be isolated that were ill. Taiton built its first school in early 1890 and in the mid 1890’s Danevang’s community hall served as its school until it was replaced by several new buildings that served for the elementary grades in 1909. It rebuilt the school system in 1918 although it served only grade school levels.
In 1894 the town of New Philadelphia’s name was changed to Lissie in honor of the first school teacher there, Miss Melissa Leveridge, by the then postmaster Hope A. Adams. She later married H.P.Stockton.
In 1895 El Campo formed an Independent School District and its first school was a room building built in 1891 with 30 students. There are now five public schools in El Campo and 3,500 students. Whartonians were constantly battling Malaria and typhoid epidemics during this time and children couldn’t attend school for fear of contracting the diseases. With the formation of The Wharton Independent School District in August 1896, came responsibilities of buildings and taxes so a tax rate was established of 25 cents per $100.00 to purchase and construct a public free school building and site. As the attendance grew they had to move to the Old Masonic building and in 1898 a red brick school house was built, it along with the later added annex was located between Richmond and Sunset streets. Carson Brothers of Wharton was awarded the contract to build the new school, and the top story was taken off and used as a school for the Negro population.
By 1898 Wharton County had fifty-six school districts that were established for white, black, and Hispanic children, using the school fund from the sale of school lands and education grants from the state to build schools and pay for teachers, books, supplies, and a hot lunch program.
Inadequate operating funds and epidemics plagued the school system. A small pox outbreak in February of 1900 forced the superintendent to “exclude those students who might be infected with small pox”. In 1903 saw the opening of the first school in Iago in a one-room structure with twelve students. The 1904 Wharton County Scholastic Census records 1,806 White, 2,832 Black in Wharton County I.S.D.'s. With Wharton having 566 students in all schools, black and white, and El Campo having 258 White, Louise 99 White. Dr. Teague became Mayor of Wharton and had Caney Creek drained to cut down on the Malaria and Typhoid epidemics and the schools could operate on amore consistent basis as far as attendance.
By 1905 just one year later, there were 1,431 students in the many common white school districts in Wharton County including Isaacson, Adams, Jones Creek, Prairie Park, East Bernard, Rancho Grande, Hearte Palmetto, Golden Rod, Blue Creek, San Bernard, Pecha, Gobbler Creek, Lake View, Danevang, Hahn, Lissie, Middle Bernard, Round Mott, Plain View, Lane City, Hungerford, Kriegel, Iago, Parkdale-Don Tol, Taiton, Sandies, Crescent, Pierce, Mackay Stonewall-Egypt, Glen Flora, Louise and Blanton. These schools had a total of 37 teachers to almost 1500 students!
Glen Flora built its first school in 1905,a small wooden two teacher building. It was destroyed by a storm in 1909 and a new one was built in 1911. In 1960 this building was being used as a teacherage. In 1931 a new school was built about 3 miles from Glen Flora and called crescent and in 1961 Crescent High School was consolidated with El Campo school.
In December 1906 the school was indefinitely closed due to an out break of diphtheria. Many children and adults alike died in this epidemic. In 1913 an all woman faculty was elected. Teachers received $60.00 a month. Even though the school was partially supported by the state, it was still plagued with financial problems. That was when the community stepped up and helped. The Mutual Improvement Club helped with distributing literature. A local merchant, T,. Gorden donated trees for shade for the children and offered more if the children would take care of them. The Wharton Spectator began a drive in 1914 to keep the school open eight months out of the year after the trustees voted to raise $250.00 to keep the school in operation the full term. ”Trustees feel that Wharton’ patriotism toward educational institutions is unquestioned,” the Spectator editor wrote in his paper.
In 1914 schools abolished whippings in white schools; instead children had to stay after school, they also forbade the students from sweeping the floors or carrying wood.
Schools closed again in April of 1915 due to lack of funds, even though the newspaper tried to begin another drive to raise the money to stay open. One of the few social activities of the school was reported by The Spectator was an announcement that a May Day celebration would be held. “On May 1 Wharton Public Schools will observe May Day with maypole dances, wreath drills, flower drills and a baseball game. This will be commencement for all below high school. After the program is over all will go to some shady spot nearby where lunch will be spread picnic style.”
When Professor J.M. Hodges was elected as school superintendent things started to change for the better in the school system. He pushed to get the district affiliated. He worked to increase the district from 16 square miles to 56. Wharton school achieved affiliation with the University of Texas in May 1917. Hodges also pioneered a lunch room program to which his wife volunteered in preparation and serving. A bond issue was also padded so that a new three story building could be built. With affiliations came strict rules for the staff. The teachers were not allowed to get married, nor could they go out on a school night unless it was first approved by the board.
In 1920 the High School was built on Rusk Street.. A gym, Homemaking Department and Ag Department were added to the three story building in 1939. Also in 1939 the football Stadium was built just east of the school. Then in 1944 a galvanized building made of iron was built to house the Agricultural Farm Machinery Repair Shop and then later turned into the Vocational Agricultural building. 1920 Wharton Common School District Census was 4,389 White- 2,461 Black, one of the schools, Nottowa was established but it had fewer than seven grades and in 1924 it was consolidated with East Bernard.
By 1925, East Bernard had a nine teacher school and Louise followed with four teachers and over 100 students.
In 1928 Boling Independent School District was established and encompasses 147 square miles of Wharton County and had 710 students according to the 1928 County Scholastic Census.It also records Common Schools at 5,022 students and Wharton ISD 1,682, including El Campo ISD 809,Louise ISD 257,East Bernard 395 and Iago 280 students. In 1948 two barracks were added to the school property on Rusk Street, just north of the gym, and in 1950 the Mexican school was moved from Richmond Rd. to this campus and used as a band building. With the annexation of the Sorrel, Pierce and Mackey,(which was part of the Crescent) Common School Districts in 1951 and 1953, more room was needed for the growing number of students. In 1956 the two story addition to the south of the three story original structure was added and in 1957 the Field House was built. This was converted into a Junior High School. In 1957 the children in Lane City and Magnet began attending Wharton schools as their Common districts were added to Wharton Independent School District.
In 1929 the Dave Wood Negro school on Highway 59 East of Wharton was in existence; the Alta Vista School on Montgomery Rd, the Mackey Negro School, the Jack Ford Negro School and the Wharton Training Negro School on Canton Street. The Wharton Training School burned in 1936, and they held classes at the fair grounds in 1936-37 and by fall of 1937 a new wooden building was erected oat Canton Street. A barracks building was added to this campus in 1948 and in 1950 the gym building. In 1946 the Wharton County Junior College was opened to serve continuing education of our Wharton Students.
The Intermediate school was built in 1950 with a large modern cafeteria and a fully equipped kitchen. Five rooms were added to this building in 1955. By 1969 when it was known as the Alabama Road School twenty –two more classrooms had been added with air conditioning along with a music, library and playroom.
The Wharton High School on Ahldag Street was finished in 1962, and its Cafeteria and shop building were added in 1966. One of the temporary buildings from the Alabama Road School was moved to this campus in 1969 and converted into a Cosmetology building. Later the same year, the other temporary building was also moved here and converted into an Art Room sharing space for the Athletic Directors office. The land was purchased and stadium was built North of Boling Highway that same year also. In 1970-71 there were over 3,000 students enrolled in the five schools of The Wharton County Independent School District.
In 1980-81 there were 2788 students, In 1990-91, 2912, and in 2000-2001 there were 2595.This year there are 2283.
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