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:
This Marks the Site of the
First Consolidated School
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.