History of Wabash, Indiana (Part 2)
From: History of Wabash County, Indiana
Compiles under the Editorial Supervison of
Clarkson W. Weesner
The Lewis Publishing Company
Chicago and New York 1914


And speaking of illumination, one is reminded of intellectual enlightenment - of the splendid public school system of Wabash City. As in all new communities, private effort preceded public organization in the young Town of Wabash. For the first two or three years after its platting by Hugh Hanna its people were too busy taking care of the county seat, buying and selling town lots, erecting the county buildings, organizing the courts and otherwise getting things ready for newcomers, to think much of schools for their children. But with the influx of permanent settlers, the schools had to come just as certainly as the churches, and other evidences of up to date civilization.

In the winter of 1836-37 Ira. Burr started the procession of little log schoolhouses by providing for a class of eighteen or twenty children in a building previously used as a storehouse by William S Edsall, situated on lot 26, original plat of the town.

Then followed schools taught in the spring or summer of 1837 by Sarah Blackman, and in the following fall and winter by Emma Swift.

In the fall and winter of 1838-39 a school was taught by Mrs. Daniel Richardson in what afterward became known as the Pat Duffey building on the north side of Market Street east of Wabash. This building is described as a house built of large logs, which had previously been used for school purposes and as a public house and a courtroom, and may have been one of Colonel Burr's buildings.


Several other attempts were made by the good men and women of the raw little town to establish private schools, but in the winter of 1839-40 the citizens of the locality decided to organize for public education. Thus at that time was founded School District No. 1 of Congressional Township No. 27 north, range 6 east, in Noble Township, and citizens awarded a contract to erect a building for public educational purposes to Joseph Ray. Under his hands, in the spring of 1840, a little frame schoolhouse arose on the north part of lot No. 157, of the original plat of Wabash Town, a little south and east from the freight depot of the Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific Railway.


This first public school of Wabash was taught by Miss Mary Ross, daughter of William O. Ross, one of the pioneer lawyers and leading men of the town. A few years afterward Miss Ross married a Mr. George Miller and became a resident of Peru, Indiana. Daniel Jackson, one of the associate judges of the Wabash Circuit Court, a man of some means and much influence, is said to be the power behind the building of the first public schoolhouse at Wabash.

This one public school building, with other quarters rented for the purpose by the school authorities, supplied the demand for schoolhouses in District No. 1 during the succeeding ten years or more.

On the 5th of July, 1851, the school board of the Town of Wabash, of which Dr. James Ford was probably the leading member, employed James Fulton to teach for a term of three months in the public schoolhouse, at a compensation of $100. About three weeks afterward the board employed Robert Gordon to teach a school in a house on Hill Street, situated on lot 73, old plat. The building was known as "Rev. Smith's meeting house," and Mr. Gordon received for his three months' services $90. At the same time a third and a fourth teacher were engaged - Lydia C. Hunt to teach a school in a house located on lot 1, north addition to the town, and Mrs. Martha G. Cressy, wife of Rev. Edwin W. Cressy, in a house not located in the records. The women were paid $60 per term.

The three additional schools mentioned were opened and conducted in accord with the resolutions adopted at a public meeting of voters of the district held July 11, 1851, by which it had been divided into four wards. It was further resolved that the four free schools therein should be taught for a term of three months each, and that in case of a deficiency of funds to defray their expenses for the prescribed period a tax should be levied to meet such deficiency.


From a report submitted by Doctor Ford, district trustee, to the school board, in September, 1851, the following facts are presented:

Males over five and under ten years of age


Females over five and under ten


Males from ten to fifteen years of age


Females from ten to fifteen


Males from fifteen to twenty one years of age........


Females from fifteen to twenty one






Total males of school age


Total females of school age



Total salary paid four teachers (three months)........


Rent of houses


Repairs of houses


Unsettled, probably


Total expenses


It thus appears that the total expenses of the public school system of District No. 1 for the year were $430, and from a report furnished Doctor Ford by Miss Hunt - he calls it "a labored table" - it is also evident that of the 345 of school age there was an attendance of 290 - 147 males and 143 females.


Under the provisions of the state school law of 1852, the people of Wabash soon commenced to move for the erection of a union schoolhouse befitting the growing town. In May, 1855, the board of trustees passed an ordinance levying a tax of 50 cents per $100 valuation for building such a schoolhouse. But that levy and several subsequent levies were failures, financial complications ensued, and it also seemed impossible for the town board of trustees to agree upon any plan for the building of the union schoolhouse. Finally the following five trustees were appointed for school purposes, viz.: Robert Cissna, M. R. Crabill, Albert Pawling, Warden McLees and Daniel Sayre.

In the fall of 1857 the school fund was made available and plans for a union building adopted. Further, contracts were actually let. That for the brick and stone work was awarded to David Kunse and that for the carpenter work to John Wilson. The bricks for the building were made and furnished by Hezekiah Caldwell and Hugh Hanna at $5 per thousand, the former furnishing 180,000 and the latter, 100,000.

On the 18th of May, 1858, the cornerstone of the union schoolhouse was laid under the auspices of Hanna Lodge No. 61, with all the impressive ceremonials of Masonry, Thomas Jay acting as most worthy grand master and Hugh Hanna as deputy grand master. In September, 1859, was commenced the first term of the Wabash graded schools in the building thus provided. For six months W. E. Spilman was principal and superintendent. Subsequently Samuel Eastman was principal of the high school department, Mr. Spilman continuing as superintendent of the city schools. During the first year the corps of teachers consisted of two males and seven females. The union school was opened and continued on the present Miami schoolhouse lot on North Miami Street. The original cost was $11,000, but in 1873 changes were made in its construction, mainly to remedy defects in ventilation, and $6,000 added. The high school was maintained in the union building until the construction of the present one, in 1894.


In the meantime other ward schoolhouses had been erected - the West Ward, on West Maple Street, in 1877; the East Ward, on Walnut Street, in 1883; and the Miami school, in 1888. Following the completion of the new high school on West Hill Street, in 1894, were the building of the South Side school, on Vernon Street, in 1897, and the erection of the Century school, on Manchester Avenue, in 1900. The last named is one of the best constructed public school buildings in the city, being a massive two story structure of red brick, with high stone foundation and basement.


The ground for the new high school was broken in the fall of 1893, and the cornerstone of the building was laid by the Indiana Grand Lodge of Masons on the 11th of April, 1894. Finally, it was completed and opened to pupils on the 26th of November, of that year.

The main building consists of two stories and basement, and is of beautiful Bedford cut stone. Three handsomely carved arches, supported by four massive stone pillars, span the front entrance, the floor of which is paved with tile. The ground dimensions are 116 by 65 feet, and the main tower rises 108 feet from the surface.

The two upper stories are finished in quarter sawed white oak, the entire building is lighted by electricity and gas, all the rooms have hot and cold air connections, and in other ways every provision is made for sanitary heating, lighting and ventilation.

On the first floor are reception, class and assembly rooms. The latter is large and well ventilated and will accommodate 250 pupils. On the second floor are the library, principal's office, meeting room for the board of education and class rooms. The superintendent of schools who was originally accommodated in the high school building has convenient quarters in Memorial Hall. The physical and chemical laboratories are in the basement of the high school, being well arranged and ample. In a word, the Wabash High School is one of the city's most worthy institutions, and indicates that the welfare of the younger generations holds a large and a firm place in the consideration of the citizens of Wabash.


From the last report of the city superintendent of schools the following information is taken, the table being self explanatory:

Name of School

.....Number Enrolled

.....Aver. Attend.

High School



East Ward






West Ward



South Side










The South Side School. a substantial and handsome structure, two stories and basement with stone foundation and brick superstructure, is surrounded by spacious and beautiful grounds which were formerly the property of the South Wabash Academy. The old academy was established in the '60s by Prof. F. A. Wilbur, of Wabash College, as a girl's preparatory school for the institution named, which was under the general management of the Presbyterian Church. It was originally known as the Female Academy, but after some years of unsuccessful experimenting in that circumscribed field the scope of the institution was enlarged so as to include both sexes. In this form the academy was more successful, but evidently did not reach the expectations of Professor Wilbur who resigned its principalship in 1873. At that time the Presbyterian Church also ceased to be its controlling body, the institution falling into the hands of the Society of Friends. Prof. S. G. Hastings of Earlham College then assumed charge, being succeeded as principal, in 1874, by J. Tilghman Hutchens of the Spiceland Academy. The academic course aimed to give both a preparatory training for college and a practical business education and on the whole, the institution was well managed. Of course, it had its ups and downs, and eventually succumbed, as did similar academies, to the advancing excellence and breadth of the Wabash High School.


As stated W. E. Spilman was the first superintendent of the public schools of Wabash. He served from 1859 to 1861; Joseph Mackey, during two terms of 1861 and 1862; Miss Hattie E. Grosvenor (afterward Mrs. Mackey), in the spring term of 1862; E. P. Cole, from 1863 to 1865; R. H. Wilkerson, 1865 to 1866; Samuel C. Miller, during a portion of 1866; R. C. Ross, earlier part of 1867; J. B. Yeagley, 1867-68; Pleasant Bond, 1869-71; J. J. Mills, 1871-73; I. F. Mills, brother of the foregoing, also during 1873; D. W. Thomas, 1873-86; Miles W. Harrison, 18861903; Adelaide S. Baylor, 1903-11; Orville C. Pratt, 1911.


None connected with the educational system of Wabash has made a higher or more enduring record than Miss Adelaide Steele Baylor, for thirty six years identified with every step in the progress of the public schools, whether of the city, county or state. During a period of fourteen years she served as principal of the Wabash High School and eight years as superintendent of the city schools, while since July, 1911, she has been the able assistant to the state superintendent of public instruction, as a lecturer and active organizer in the field. Aside from her abilities as a clear, luminous and convincing expositor of both practical and advanced theories in the field of higher education, and her inspiring work at teachers' institutes and other meetings of the profession, Miss Baylor has achieved a national reputation for the strength and profundity of her mental attainments in mathematics, philosophy, psychology and other provinces of deep investigation and learning. Officially, she is a leader in both the state and national teachers' associations.

What makes this record a special cause of pride to the home community is that Miss Baylor is a native of Wabash, her mother being of the well known Steele family of which Col. William Steele, one of the fathers of the town and the county, Was one of the most popular and highly honored citizens who ever lived within their limits. In 1878 Adelaide Steele Baylor graduated from the Wabash High School, and the same year was employed as a teacher in the city schools. In 1884 she assumed her first position in the high school as assistant to the learned and able Prof. A. M. Huycke, its principal, whom she succeeded in 1889. Her fine administration of the affairs of that institution earned her an advancement to the head of the city schools, which she assumed in 1903, being the first woman in the state to hold that position.

In the midst of her pressing and absorbing duties as high school principal and city superintendent, Miss Baylor never rested in her determination to add to her individual attainments and efficiency. In the years 1893-94 she was a student at the University of Michigan, also attending the summer sessions of 1894 and 1895. During the summer quarter of 1896 she also studied at the University of Chicago, from which she graduated in the summer of 1897. Not satisfied with this, in 1908, while superintendent of city schools, she pursued post graduate courses at both the universities of Michigan and Chicago. These numerous university courses have been supplemented by European travel, so that Miss Baylor's culture is both pleasing as well as broad and deep.


Following Miss Baylor, as principal of the high school, was C. W. Knouff, who succeeded her in 1903, and served until 1908. In the latter year C. H. Brady was placed at the head of its affairs, and in 1911 he was succeeded by the present incumbent, O. J. Neighbours.


In here taking leave of the public schools of Wabash, it would be inexcusable to omit anything but enthusiastic mention of the services rendered to them and to the cause of higher education, by Warren Bigler, who has served as a member of the city school board since 1885 to 1903, and during a large portion of that period as its president. If any one man can be mentioned in the same class with Miss Baylor, it is Mr. Bigler, albeit force of circumstances has made it necessary for him to make the dedication of his time, means and strength to the cause of education and individual culture, somewhat auxiliary to the insistence and pressure of a business and financial life. It is needless to add for the information of those who know Mr. Bigler that he is one of the stanchest admirers of the abilities, services and character which are associated with the personality of Miss Baylor.


The Carnegie Public Library of 'Wabash is an educator of wide usefulness, and everybody takes a just pride in its work. The earlier efforts to supply the public with mental food and stimulus are credited largely to the women; and that is the rule, as the histories of all similar movements will prove.

At Wabash, the initial step in the founding of a library was taken by the women's club known as the Round Table. At a called session of that organization, held on June 4, 1889, as a memorial meeting to Miss Jessie Stitt, a charter member of the club whose death had occurred about two weeks previously, a motion was made that a fund be raised to be known as a Jessie Stitt Memorial fund, and that this money should form the nucleus for a library fund.

The question of a public library had been discussed for a long time but nothing was done until the Round Table took the initiative. Immediately after this resolution was passed the meeting adjourned and at once organized and went into session as the Woman's Library Association. There were twenty four charter members of this association and each was a member of the Round Table.

Each agreed to pay 50 cents to start the fund. Later an assessment was made and the members kept up the work until $50 had been raised, when the library was announced as an assured fact.

The ladies after fixing the membership fee at $1 a year, began soliciting donations in money and books, and also solicited for new members. On January 11, 1890, the Woman's Library of Wabash was opened, the Probate Court room having been secured to be used for library purposes.


Mrs. C. E. Cowgill was the first and only president the association ever had, being reelected each succeeding year. In this connection it may not be out of order to say that Mrs. Cowgill deserves special mention, in any discussion of library history in Wabash. She gave liberally of her time and money, and without detracting from the credit due others, it may be said that the success of the enterprise was due in no small degree to her indefatigable energy and marked liberality.

The association started out with 300 volumes and this number was steadily increased from time to time. The services of the librarian were always donated.

The Probate Court room continued to be used for the library until 1895 when the books were removed to the high school building, the Woman's Library Association continuing in charge.


In 1900 the Woman's Library Association consolidated with the High School Library, the former passing out of existence, the new organization being known as the Wabash City Library with Mrs. Nelson Zeigler as librarian. The board of directors consisted of members of the school board, Mrs. C. E. Cowgill and Mrs. J. I. Robertson. Shortly after the formation of the Wabash City Library, the books and headquarters were transferred from the high school to Memorial Hall. There the public library remained until the opening of the Carnegie building in 1903.


At different times during the few previous years applications had been made to Mr. Carnegie for a donation, at least a dozen letters having been written to the noted founder of libraries. On February 23, 1901, Warren Bigler, then president of the school board and ever a steadfast and influential promoter of library matters, wrote again to Mr. Carnegie, and two days later Mrs. Cowgill added her earnest plea to the steel magnate. The latter especially gave a history of the hard struggle made by the ladies for the establishment and maintenance of a library at Wabash. Although Mr. Carnegie, through his secretary, had previously intimated that he was limiting his appropriations for library purposes to cities of at least 50,000 inhabitants, he evidently capitulated before these last pleas, for about two weeks afterward Mr. Bigler received the following from James Bertram, Mr. Carnegie's secretary, dated March 6, 1901: "Dear Sir: Yours of 23d received. If the city of Wabash will furnish a site and agree to spend $2,000 a year on the support of its library, Mr. Carnegie will be glad to give $20,000 for a free library building." At this time the library had 3,300 volumes on its shelves.

The stipulations mentioned in Mr. Carnegie's letter were fully met by the Common Council of the city, and the present beautiful building was completed in February, 1903. Since the library became a Carnegie institution, its board of managers has included two members of the City Council. The first meeting under the new order was held at the residence of Cary E. Cowgill, April 25, 1901, and the following officers were elected: Charles S. Haas, president; Mrs. C. E. Cowgill, vice president: Oliver H. Bogue, secretary Miss Effie Roberts was the first librarian. At the next meeting, held on April 30th, it was resolved that the cost of the new building was to be limited to $17,000; the actual contract (awarded to John Hipskind & Son) amounted to $17,795, without heating.

The library has continuously increased in literary volume and public favor under the management of such earnest and able men and women as Mrs. Cowgill, Mr. Bigler. Mr. Haas, Mrs. James I. Robertson and Messrs. J. H. Stiggleman and C. S. Baer. Both Mr. Haas and Mrs. Cowgill have held the presidency for several terms.

The present board of managers is as follows: President, Mrs. C. E. Cowgill; vice president, C. S. Baer; secretary and treasurer, Charles S. Haas. There are some 6,000 volumes in the library, a generous and wise assortment of current magazines, and surroundings so comfortable and tasteful that there is no more profitable institution, or more restful place in Wabash than its public library. The librarian is Mary Roberts. Since 1911 traveling libraries have been installed at the South Side and Century schools. Thus those who are at an inconvenient distance from the Carnegie building can avail themselves of the library privileges. This is but one of the many features which has earned such warm commendation for the liberal scope of its work.


The city has two pretty public parks, both located north of the Wabash. Hanna Park, which is on the eastern outskirts of the municipality, is in process of improvement. The rounds of the city park toward the west are laid out to a certain extent, provided with a music pavilion and refectory, and other public conveniences. There also is the Lincoln Log Cabin, with its historic museum and pretty rest room.


The cabin is not only historic, but the adjacent ground. The depression in front of its steps was caused by incessant travel along the first road running through the site of Wabash - the old road running from Vincennes to Fort Wayne, of which this rut in front of the Lincoln Cabin was a small section. The Indians made this trail through the woods while on their travels to and from these cities. They rode horseback, single file, both men and squaws astride their ponies, and would halt at the cabin of Little Charley, which was located where the abutment of the railroad bridge now stands on the west side of Charley Creek. On their way they would also stop at Paradise Spring, afterward known as Hanna Spring. This road angled through the city as it is now located.


The city park was formerly the grounds of the old Agricultural Society of the county, and something about the early steps leading to its establishment as a beauty spot in Wabash is thus given in a souvenir edition of the old Wabash Times, published in 1897. The story reads: "In no other city, probably, of like population can be found a public park possessing more natural loveliness, grandeur and magnificence than the One owned by the city of Wabash. The grounds comprise about thirty five acres and were formerly the property of the now defunct Wabash County Agricultural Society. The site was selected by that society many years ago when it was yet a part of the virgin forest. Its most attractive natural beauties were retained, and these have been made more pleasing of late years to the artistic eye by intermingling with them adornments of a less primitive character.

"When the old Agricultural Society went out of existence on January 23, 1889, it conveyed a portion of its grounds to the county for the location of an Orphans' Home, and a part, consisting of about ten acres it conveyed to the City of Wabash conditionally, viz: 'That the same shall be forever held and maintained by said city of Wabash as a public park, or other public purposes, and with the further condition, that the ground shall be held for the use of all county and town outdoor meetings of a lawful character fitted for such uses, until such time as the same may be laid out and set apart for a Public Park by said city, and then they shall set apart a space of one or two acres in some prominent and proper portion of said grounds in the discretion of such city, to be held and kept for such meetings and for such purpose, proper and convenient buildings, sheds, tents or amphitheater may be erected thereon, and all other ground to be kept for ornamentation and use common to Public Parks and places of resort.'

"Somewhat to the discredit of the city be it said, that for several years after it had been so generously dealt with by the old Agricultural Society, the City Government showed but a niggardly appreciation of the gift. No effort was made to further beautify the park or even preserve from desecration its natural loveliness At last, however, steps were taken looking to transforming the grounds into a City Perk which should be such in appearance as well as name. A Board of Park Commissioners was constituted, plans for the further beautifying of the park were evolved and an appropriation was made by the Common Council for the purpose of giving tangibility to these plans. The park commissioners were Messrs. Marland Gardner, Will Yarnelle and Arthur Burrell, all young men and possessing artistic tastes combined with practical sense.

"Under the administration of the present Board of Park Commissioners many attractive features have been added, among which may be mentioned electric lights, drinking fountains, comfortable seats and the finest bicycle track in the state. It is the intention of the commissioners to add to these attractions just as rapidly as the funds which may be appropriated for this purpose will admit. Among the additional improvements contemplated is a beautiful lake of sufficient dimensions for boating and skating purposes. The natural conditions of the grounds will admit this superior attraction at comparatively small cost, and when completed and other plans akin to it are carried into effect Wabash can boast of an ideal public park."

The city since then has purchased about thirty acres adjoining the above tract, making in all about forty acres, and a new steel amphitheater has been erected, and macadam driveways are being constructed throughout the park, which is the principal one in the city, and is located on West Hill Street.

Hanna Park is on East Hill Street, and was donated to the city by the heirs of Col. Hugh Hanna, which gives it its name This park has been placed in an attractive condition, but as yet no buildings have been erected in it. It has been made attractive with flower beds and is a fine resting place for those who live near it.

[Return to History of Wabash, Indiana Part 1]

Continued with the biography of Clarkson W. Weesner.

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