Decatur Township Educational History
Did you know that Decatur Township had a school as early as the 1870s? The school building (Valley Mills) was located southeast of Highway 67 at Valley Mills behind the home of Augie Fuchs and the now vacant Dairy Queen. The town of Valley Mills was established in 1856, so it was some time before the school was constructed.
The earliest records of the school start in the 1890s, some twenty years after the school was built. The graduating class of 1890 consisted of only eight people. Records kept through 1932 gives names of graduates, with the exception of approximately tens years, where information is missing.
Photographs and drawings indicate the building as constructed of brick and appears to be in two or three rooms with a bell tower above the entrance. There are rumors that remnants of the foundation still remain amongst the trees and brush.
That was described in the Grade School chapter of Elden Mills' Between Thee and Me. p52:
"The school house at the Valley. a mid-nineteenth century wooden building had three rooms. One of them crammed with the accumulated detritus of twenty years past, was locked at all times. Each of the other two rooms housed half the school, four grades each...Elden Mills also writes that his father, Thornton Mills, served two terms of four years each as Decatur Township Trustee," hiring all teachers and handling the finances (indeed all details) of the schools in two communities," Between Thee and Me. p23. I believe the two communities were West Newton and Valley Mills. These were the days when the township trustee managed the schools. lbm
"In 1907 father, as Trustee, authorized the building of the new school house at the Valley. It was a two-story brick building, two classrooms downstairs, one for the first and second grades and one for the third and fourth. Upstairs was the big assembly hall divided in the center with movable partitions, that allowed the back half to be used for classrooms....He produced a good building with space for a growing population of children, and probable expansion into a high school that would use the same facilities, which did occur two years later." Ibid p 54
We talked with Alice Milhous Emmert, who was a student at that time. Her memory of that year is amazing. The gym that was located across Thompson Road from the damaged school building was altered to accommodate the needs of the student population.
The stage was divided into 4 sections for the home economics room, seventh and eighth grade classes, and the cafeteria. The gym floor was divided into four sections to accommodate grades three through six. There were two Quonset hut type buildings erected nearby for grades one and two. The high school students were relocated to West Newton and graduated from there. This arrangement continued for two years. The teachers taught at Valley Mills for part of the day and then went to West Newton for the other half of the day.
During this time the school on High School Road (the old high school) was constructed and the students were then moved into the building. It's memories like Alice's, and her willingness to share with others, that help us better understand our township history. It is amazing what a glance into the past will tell us.
At that time, students were transferred to West Newton. The last graduating class was in 1932, this class had 16 graduates.
From the period of record (1890-1932) several families remain in the area and their descendants still attend "our school".
Information regarding township schooling prior to 1870 remains unknown, unless there is someone out there in this growing community that can offer us a glance into the past of Decatur Township Schools.