Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Ruins of Raleigh, Indiana

The Belfry
Yesterday evening Kelly and I went out for a pitch-in and our usual, Saturday night dancing. The trend started as a way of getting a little healthy exercise, but it's become a passion. At least two nights a week you'll find us polluting the hardwood of some venue with our hybrid of Latin and swing dancing. Regardless, yesterday we made the trip to Rush County and the tiny town of Raleigh and the evening kicked off with covered dishes brought in by local residents and visitors alike. The tables groaned with the usual Indiana staples: green bean casserole, chicken and noodles, and a couple versions of Mississippi Mud Cake. 

As you probably can guess, a heavy meal doesn't exactly do much for a fellow's dancing. Personally, I can attest to the fact that making three trips through the serving line doesn't make the situation much better, either. So, after dinner Kelly and I decided a little walk would be in order and, accompanied by Kelly's mother, we made our way out into the early evening to stroll along the county road that serves as Raleigh's main traffic artery. 

After walking along and enjoying the air, Kelly's mother asked if we would like to see the ruins at the edge of town. Now, I'm not sure about you, but to me the word ruin carries a certain adolescent mystique. I'm encouraged to imagine dungeons, trolls, and buried treasure. In spite of being without my trusty sword and shield, there was no way I would have thought about turning down the opportunity to see anything that could remotely be classified as a ruin. We strolled down the root-heaved sidewalk and just beyond the pole barn that serves as tiny Raleigh's fire station I caught my first glimpse of the tower. 

The warm yellow brick and arched belfry gave the impression of a monastery, somewhere in Capistrano that a flock of swallows would feel comfortable calling home. A blanket of ivy clothed the tower's midsection in green, but in spite of its cover the devastation visited on the structure could be seen. A jagged stump of wall jutted from the tower's back and the windows gaped, providing easy access for the twittering martins that claimed the building as their roost. 

The Washington Township Public School was the first consolidated school in Indiana, established by William S. Hall in 1876. Mr. Hall purportedly had a passion for education and according to INGENWEB: 

"Washington township and the town of Raleigh will ever be known as the home of the consolidated township school, such a school having been organized at Raleigh under the direction of William S. Hall as early as 1876, which is said to have been the first movement of the kind in the United States. Mr. Hall, whose ardent interest in school work is referred to elsewhere in this volume, was one of the most influential of the earlier residents of Washington township, served for years as the local justice of the peace, as township trustee, during which latter term of service he performed his notable work of school development, and later represented this district in the state legislature. His son, the venerable Frank J. Hall, now living at Rushville, who was born in this township, was elected lieutenant governor of Indiana in 1908. It is said that the first white male child born in this township was Kin Prine and first female, Polly E. Jackson. The first marriage was that of John Martin and Prudence Cooke. The first school teacher was John N. Penwell." 

On the Threshold
I walked up the path that hundreds of children must have tread on their way to school and crossed the ancient threshold into the ruins of an old school. The door opened to a jumble of bricks and fallen stone and to my right I could see the charred remains of a staircase that must have led up to the belfry. Standing there, staring at the corn and silos, an air of depression fell over me. How many places like this one have been lost to the modern age? How many small towns are like Raleigh, dwindling into dust in the era of globalization, urbanization, iThis, and That-pod? Don't get me wrong, I'm no Luddite. I love my indoor plumbing, effective medicine, and the interconnectedness that the internet offers, but I recognize the clunk of falseness that comes from our footsteps as we all boldly stride into a future where we're increasingly disconnected from one another and under the sway of the new, corporate Rockefellers. I know that "friending" someone is not the same as being their friend. The heralds of simpler times, those that possibly never really existed, call to me whenever I visit a place like the old school house. 

Outside the ruined school in a fenced off plot a plaque is mounted on a bolder. It reads: 

The Plaque
This Marks the Site of the
First Consolidated School
in Indiana
Established 1876 by
William S. Hall
trustee of Washington Township
"Our school was the first, make it the best."
Erected by Tuesday Study Club

I don't know if the marker came during the school's time or afterward, as a remembrance of glory days gone by. Tuesday Study Clubs were (and are) social groups similar to book clubs and they tended to draw retirees who had time and a desire to socialize, so the '27 group could have been marking their golden youth when the monument to the school was put in place.

I wanted to put out a call to anyone who might have grown up in Raleigh, IN or the surrounding area - especially anyone who might have attended the old Washington Township Public School located in Raleigh, IN. I'd like to hear your stories of the place, what it was like to attend school there, what do you remember about the town and its people. I'd love to hear what you have to say.


Robert Lee said...

I never went to school there but can tell you my experience with the school.

My family moved a mile east of Raleigh from Fayette county in 1968-69. I don't remember the exact year. I was a freshman or sophomore in high school. The Raleigh school had been closed and not being from that area I don't know the year.

I worked for area farmers to earn some spending money. I'd plow, disk, bail hay/straw, I did it all. One of the farm families that I worked for and became friends with was the Hill family. Albert Hill bought the school for almost nothing around the time we moved there. One of my buddies worked for Abe Hill also. One day my buddy came to my house and asked me to play basketball with him. Well, Abe had bought the school and gave my friend the key to the gym.

Well, we had not lived there long and I had never really paid any attention to the school before but when I walked into the gym I was awed by the old place. I walked through the whole school with amazement. It was a large three story building that had a gymnasium added to the rear of the building. As I walked through every room I was surprised that many things were left by the school corporation. In the music room there were band uniforms, music books and a few instruments. The shop had some tools in it. Some learning books here and there in most of the rooms.

The gymnasium was awesome! It faced north and south. The door from the parking lot was on the northeast side of the gym. When you walked into the gym there was a ticket window on the right and then a trophy case. The trophy case was full of trophies. Inside the ticket office were rolls of tickets that said Raleigh High School 25 cents. It cost a quarter to attend a basketball game I guess. On the east side were the bleachers. A sign on the wall that said capacity 800. The west side had a stage with beautiful curtains hanging from end to end. Hanging from the top of the stage were banners noting their basketball team. I remember one said Rush County Champs 1952. On the south side of the gym was a beautiful old scoreboard that had a big figure of a musketeer looking man and it said Sir Walters on it. The basketball court was unbelievable with a mirror shine to it.

The grounds to the school were pretty large with a playground and ball diamond to the east of the school. A gravel parking lot was between the school and playground.

At sixteen years of age I didn't realize what a treasure it was an the impact the school had/has on its alumni. All of the memories.

Eventually, vandalls distroyed the school and everything in it. I don't know what became of the trophies, banners, scoreboard, etc... Abe had it torn down but left the tower.

Abe passed away in 2004. I seen his son, Steve, a few months ago and asked him about the things in the gym and he said that the family doesn't have them. He doesn't know what happened to them.

I'm sorry that I couldn't tell you more.

MarilynW said...

I am trying to leave a comment, but no luck. So trying again. I went to Raleigh School for 11 years. I was a senior the year they closed the high school. Our class of 13 went to 5 different schools our senior year. It was so sad for us. It was a wonderful school and I have many wonderful memories there. Marilyn Waggoner Witt

Shirley Biehl said...

I grew up attendng Raleigh School starting first grade in 1957 and graduating eighth grade in 1965. Gene Heniser was principal the year we started school. Our class was not the largest and ended up being quite small with only three girls and six boys.

We were also the last eighth grade class to graduate from Raleigh. James Cheesman was principal that year and he and Karen Farlow took our class to Cincinnati, Ohio for our class trip. I remember eating haddock for the first time on that trip. It would be fun to reminisce with classmates to see what they remember!

During those eight years I can remember students who started with our class and moved away and others who moved into the community and then left. Of the nine of us who graduated in 1965, I believe six of us actally started school together in the fall of 1957. Two of those six were twins and at one time there was another set of twins in our class.

I remember playing house near the west side of the front lalwn where there were cedar trees (if my memory is correct) with my classmates as well as playing football near the bus barn and softball near the most southeastern part of the school property. We learned how to square dance in the gym on Fridays and that was where I was when we learned President Kennedy had been shot.

The school used to hold a carnival in the fall. We had cake walks, a fishing area (one of my favorites), bingo and I would imagine a basketball shoot.

I can remember attempting to make a barometer by using one of the students' curly hair and making a taradaktyl for science class.

While in the fifth grade, I learned to play the clarinet and my brother played the trumpet. Our music teacher at the time, Mr. Jones, also taught at Mays. Our last music teacher was Mrs. Griffin and she also taught art. She and Mrs. Blair made a good team and helped us present some good entertainment for our parents.

Eighth grade prom was held at the Community building and I believe the Carter Lanning Band played the music.

This summer we are planning a Raleigh School Reunion for anyone who attended. Come join us Saturday, July 27th from 1 pm to 5 pm at the Raleigh Community Club Building to reminisce! RSVP to or 765-645-5410 by July 15th. Hope to see you there!

Tori Kealiher said...

I've been seeking some information on the history of Raleigh after finding out that it may have been named after one of my ancestors. Does anyone know where to look? I can't find very much online, and can't make it out there.