Mayor Chuck Fewell
Education in Greenfield began almost immediately upon the settler’s arrival. Even though the first settlers suffered with the lack of basic essentials and had little luxuries of life they understood that education would be an important ingredient to the success of their community.
Early schools were conducted in residences. The first such structure was a diminutive log cabin constructed in 1820. It stood on a knoll south of the railroad between the old and new cemetery. It was used for only a couple years.
Another school “house” was erected in 1832 on the east side of State Street just above North Street. It was also a log structure. There was also a school house on South Street and two houses on North East Street.
Old Seminary Building taken when the house was owned by the Riley’s
Some of the early teachers were Mrs. Church, Caroline Depew, Mrs. Coy, Corkings, Fisher, Mitchell, Ensminger, Meredith Gosney and James Templin. No mention was made as to which schools these early teachers taught.
In 1843 the city reached a contract with Cornwell Meek to construct a County Seminary building. This building would be used for the purpose of education. Classes began to be held around 1846. P. Lawyer and Miss M. Walls were the teachers. William T. Hatch also taught several terms and was followed in 1850 by John Wilson. H.R. Morley and James L. Mason joined later. In June of 1855 the county commissioners ordered the auditor to sell the property. Rueben Riley, father of poet James Whitcomb Riley, would later own the property and lived in it as a residence for several years. The building was later destroyed by fire. South Pennsylvania Street was eventually extended through the lot.
During this time the state of Indiana had no formal educational guidelines. With the adoption of the new state constitution in 1852, a system of free schools was inaugurated in the state. Under this new law a house was erected in Greenfield on the north side of North St. just east of the first alley west of Pennsylvania St. in 1854. This building would later be sold to the Greenfield Catholic Church, later known as St. Michaels. This structure still stands on the property today. It is home to the Garden Wedding Chapel.
The first teacher at this school was Jonathan Teague who only taught one year. John B. Herod taught at the school during the next term and then was followed by James L. Mason. In 1857, Rev. David Monfort took over the school and it quickly outgrew the building. The school was then moved to the second story of the Masonic Hall.
The school moved again, and was known as the Greenfield Academy in 1859. A catalog from the school advertised the school session as being nine weeks long.
At the beginning of the Civil War the only schools in Greenfield were located back in the Masonic Hall. All of the old school houses were all gone except one of the buildings on North Street. The December 19, 1860 newspaper stated “The fact that there is now no public school house in a town of this size and with the population of Greenfield, and that to secure the advantages and blessings of a school alike free to all, our school trustees have to go a begging for rooms. The article continued to call out the use of money from the sale to the Catholic Church property and funds that have been collected to be used to purchase property and construct a building. Not only did the citizens want a school suitable for all children but “would be an ornament to the town and an honor to its citizens.” The article also stated that building such a structure would encourage others to settle among us and assist in helping make Greenfield what it ought to be. Sounds pretty motivating to me!
On January 11, 1868, a school meeting of the citizens was held at the Methodist Episcopal Church for the purpose of selecting a teacher. Ninety-nine citizens attended. This was a large percentage of the town. At the meeting A.K. Branham was elected president and Jonathan Teague, secretary of the new school board. They also made a motion to pay a teacher $10,974. Quit a sum for that time.
The Old West School
At a meeting in December 1869, Rueben Riley made a motion to create a levy which would fund continued purchases of furnishings for schools.
On January 26, 1870 Greenfield opened its new free school. This school became known as the West School and it was located on what is now the corner of North and School St. A future high school building was constructed on this lot. 236 pupils attended. N. W. Fitzgerald was principle. Elementary and High School levels were established at this time also. To encourage good studies Mr. Fitzgerald established “honor rolls” to challenge the students.
In the spring of 1879 the first class graduated from Greenfield High School.
During the summer of 1883 the east school building was erected. The school was built for $5,000. This building was located on the east end of Greenfield. This building was located at 520 E. Main Street. It was called the Longfellow School. It was torn down in 1925. Teachers were Mrs. Strasbert, Ada Anderson, Iduna Smith and Iola Coffin.
The Longfellow School Building
During this time Greenfield High School was only a three-year course. In 1887 a fourth year was added. So there was no graduating class of 1887 they had to wait until 1888 when their fourth year was completed.
With city population growth the schools also grew. In 1890 plans for a new educational building were made before a site was even picked out. After great discussion by the residents and city council approval was given on June 14, 1890 to construct what would be known as the South School, or later the Old Lincoln School. This building was located on a 1 ½ acre lot on the corner of Pennsylvania and Pierson Streets. It was a two-story structure with four equally sized rooms and totaled 729 square feet. It was closed in 1934 but was reopened in 1948. It was later used as the first home of the Greenfield Boys Club. It closed for the last time in 1969.
Old Lincoln School Building
A high school building was still in order also. On March 20, 1895 $30,000 was approved for the construction of a high school. On July 31 Geake, Henry and Greene were contracted to build the city’s first high school only building. Total cost of construction ended up being $35,000. The building was located on the northeast corner of North and Pennsylvania Street on a ½ acre lot. It would become the honorable structure that the city had dreamed of.
It was a three stories tall, a Romanesque Revival stone structure with massive tower and triple-arched entry way. It mirrored the courthouse perfectly. It had 11 total classrooms on the first and second floors and an additional six classrooms in the basement. It didn’t have an auditorium, cafeteria or gymnasium at the time but those weren’t a necessity as they are today.
It served as the city’s high school until 1926 when another state of the art high school was constructed. At that time it became Riley Elementary School and in 1908 it double as the city’s public library. It was used as an elementary school until 1981. It was placed on the National Registry of Historic Landmarks in 1980. It was sold to Gordon Clark and Associates Architect Firm who began to give the structure a new life as apartments. On April 30, 1985 a huge orange glow began to light up the evening downtown sky. The building was totally lost to fire. The only parts of the structure that were salvaged were the triple archways that had greeted hundreds of school kids through the years.
The arch ways would continue to greet more people. A new structure was built around those arches and it was used as the office for Greenfield Physicians and it is now currently the main office for the Greenfield-Central School Corporation.
The East “Oklahoma” School
1895 High School
The last one room school house that was constructed was in 1906 and it was located on the East end of town. The school would be known as Oklahoma and it was located on the east side of Brandywine Creek. The building was also used for church services on Sunday mornings. It was used until 1947. At this time Greenfield had five school buildings.
1926 High School
In 1926 a new high school structure was built on the corner of North and School Street. This is the same location as the West School building. A separate gym building was added in 1929. This building was used until 1969 when Greenfield would build yet another high school building. At that time the building became Lincoln Elementary and was used until the late 1980’s. Today this structure still graces our downtown landscape as apartment building.
In 1953 Harris Elementary school was constructed. It was named after Lee O. Harris who had been a prominent educator in our town. James Whitcomb Riley was one of his pupils and he was very active in organizing and seeing the construction of our other school buildings.
Harris was a one-story brick structure that had 6 classrooms. That was built on a spacious 24 acre site on the north end of downtown along Park Avenue. In 1957 a second wing was built adding six more classrooms. Over the years several additions to the building have been made and it is still used as an elementary.
Also in 1953 Weston Elementary school was constructed in similar style to Harris. It is located on a 10 acre lot on the west side of downtown on the corner of Polk and Monroe Streets. It is a one-story brick structure with six rooms. Additions have also been made to the school and it is still in use today.
Jr. High School now Greenfield Intermediate School
A new Jr. High School building was constructed in 1960 on the same 24 acre lot that Harris Elementary was located. It was a two-story structure and at first it held 7th, 8th and 9th grades until 1970 at which time it held just 7th and 8th grades. After many additions the building is still in use and is known as Greenfield Intermediate School.
In 1963 Oak Park School building was constructed on the west end of the 24 acre lot that Harris and the Jr. High School were located. This building was used as an elementary building. It was later razed to make room for the expanding Jr. High Structure.
School consolidation had a huge effect on all of the small communities that dotted Indiana. The State Consolidation Act of 1959 forced school corporations to begin consolidating if they didn’t meet certain population levels. By the late 1960’s Greenfield began to face that consolidation pressure.
In 1969 Greenfield High School consolidated with Hancock Central High School to form what is known today as Greenfield-Central High School. To house the newly joined group of students a new high school building was constructed. It became the 4th high school structure that Greenfield has seen and in 1970 the new combined students began school in the new building. It is located between Franklin and Broadway Streets.
Greenfield-Central High School
In dealing with Greenfield’s booming population the school corporation constructed two more buildings.
In 2000 J.B. Stephens Elementary was constructed on the far northeast side of Greenfield, located along Blue Rd. A one-story brick structure with a big rounded blue entrance awning became Greenfield latest addition of quality educational buildings. The school is named after J.B. Stephens who is yet another long-time educator.
J.B. Stephens Elementary
In 2008 the new Jr. High School building was built along N. Franklin St. It’s a two-story brick structure with all the amenities. As of this date it is the last school building that has been constructed.
The Greenfield-Central School Corporation expanded its boundaries along with school consolidations. The corporation includes both Maxwell Intermediate School and Eden Elementary which are located in Green Township in the northern part of the county but not within the city limits of Greenfield.
There have been a total of 15 different high schools in Hancock County. Today we currently have four. There have also been numerous elementary buildings. Several of the brick one-room school houses still stand today and serve different purposes.
Even though we’ve focused mainly on structures we can’t forget the many educators that occupied all of these classrooms over the years. There’s simply too many to list, but their roles have been significant. Without their dedication to our youth these structures would have simply been empty shells, or better yet they would have never been constructed.
Since its early settlers Greenfield has been proud of its success in educating our community. Because of that dedication it has left a great structure that will ensure that the future generations will be afforded the same opportunities.
By Greg Roland
Binford History of Hancock County
Richmond History of Hancock County
Images of Hancock County by Joe Skvarenina
Hancock County Then & Now by Joe Skvarenia & Larry Fox