Recollections of the Powers School

By Sarah L. BEACH Clark 

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Submitted by Dave Clark

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The Cory Creek School, the Husted school, The Powers School are the various titles by which this one of the Richmond Township schools is known. How the floodgates of memory are lifted at their mention. It is nearly fifty years since as a small child, a stranger in a strange home, I became a pupil at the old school. Thenceforth all my schooling, except six months in the Mansfield Classical Seminary, was received there.

The School house at that time stood nearly opposite the Husted house from which it took it’s name. It was in so dilapidated condition as to be hardly usable as a shelter for animals. The foundation was of loose stones, the floor of unmatched boards full of cracks, the plaster had partly fallen off showing the loose clapboard through the bare lath, and the windows partly glazed and partly stopped with the covers of old atlases, broken slates, etc. The walls were scribbled, where the plaster remained, from base to ceiling, and the ceiling was thickly studded with paper wads. The desks were whittled and ink spotted. There was no closet or entry. The one door opened directly into the school room, and the only place for hats, wraps or dinner pails was furnished by a few nails and a couple of shelves in one corner. Many of the pupils preferred to roll their belongings into a tight bundle, and cram them on shelves under their desks. Boys did not wear overcoats then. Their extra outdoor garments were comforters and mittens. The furniture consisted of a cross legged unpainted pine table, a chair for the teacher, and a big box stove. The latter was always the center of attention during the winter term, and the request, "Please may I go to the stove" was constantly heard.

The big boys took turns in tending the fire, and did their work well, notwithstanding which the writer often severely frosted her feet although she sat upon them most of the time when not in class. We must add to the outfit a wooden water pail and a rusty tin cup. It was considered a privilege to go for a pail of water and to pass it. Of apparatus, there was none if we except a blackboard, literally a board painted black, and a flat piece of wood called a ferule, which was not always used to hold up a window in warm weather, or to rap on it as a signal for those outside to come in. It always gave one the shivers to see an unwilling hand stretched forth to receive this instrument, and on two or three occasions, when the hand was suddenly snatched away at the critical moment, leaving the blow to be self inflicted by the striker, the satisfaction of the onlooker was hard to conceal. It was a cruel weapon.

The "young idea" was represented by from fifty to sixty pupils ranging from tiny tots to grown men and women. There were fewer homes in the neighborhood than now, but but everyone had it’s quota of children either born or adopted into the family. It is safe to say that a brighter, more energetic, willful, mischief-loving and determined lot of raw material, was never gathered under one school house roof.

Nearly every rural neighborhood will have some families who require constant boosting to keep their heads above water. There were none of these in the Cory Creek district; neither was there chronic invalidism or chronic drunkenness; therefore healthy blood coursed through the veins of the children, and healthy ideas through their brains. They were hard to manage unless by a born manager. If a teacher was qualified, industrious and impartial the school was ready to cooperate, and their progress was astonishing when we remember that there were only two short terms of three months each year, and for the older pupils but one.

If the teacher was unqualified, lax in discipline, or persisted in showing marked partiality, he might as well take his leave, as they would be as united against him as a Scottish clan.

The first teacher in the writer’s recollection was Daniel Sherwood. Others were Larmon Elliot, Emmorette Hammond, Daniel E. Clark, Harriet Shaw, Oliver Barden, Janette Richards, Lamira Perry, I.R. Spencer – during whose reign the school moved to it’s present quarters and became the Powers School- V. A. Elliot and R. R. Soper. Here the writers connection with the school ceased, until two years later when her name was added to the list of teachers of the Powers School, and many of her aforetime schoolmates became her pupils.

The school did not furnish sufficient scope for the activities of the older pupils. There were side issues. Foremost among these was the debating society. This was composed of boys only as in those days women were supposed to obey the injunction of St. Paul and keep silence in meetings, though the girls were usually present as spectators. The fame of this society spread and outsiders came to take part in the debates. Here the late Judge Elliott of Denver, the Hon. Mortimer Elliott and others who have since gained distinction, made their maiden efforts in oratory. A singing school was usually in operation one evening a week, during part of the winter; sometimes led by a professional singing master and sometimes by Warren Clark. How well we remember Warren’s rich sonorous bass, Tillie Gifford;s sweet voice and Electa Ketchum’s clear full treble. There were occasional spelling schools where try as we might, Dallie Bailey spelled us all down. It was said that he knew every word in the spelling book by heart.

Then the school exhibition which usually closed the term. How we worked to outdo the village school, and did too, as they acknowledged and sometimes invited our star orators to piece out their programs. I wonder if anyone remembers the colored preacher, Widow Bedotte and Tim Crane, or the paper published by the girls, and sentimentally called the "Young Ladies Casket" which was offset by the other side of the house by "The Big Boys Budget"; or do they recall one rainy night, when the exhibition was in full swing, and the house, notwithstanding the rain, packed till there was not even standing room, with a liberal sprinkling of town people present, when the interest rose so high that Cory Creek unnoticed got up and came in; and how old Mrs. Slocum arose from a corner with a cushion she had been sitting on, in her hand, and began a progress over the heads of the audience; and how the gentlemen gallantly carried the ladies and children to the wagons, and the town people were distributed through the neighborhood till the water went down.

But we may not linger though we would fain echo the poet when he said "Backward turn backward \ O time, in your flight", that we might look into the once familiar faces of our old schoolmates.

Where are they? Of many we may answer, "Their graves are scattered far and wide o’er woodland, plain and lea". The first great exodus from the district was at the outbreak of the Civil War. A friend reminds me that with few exceptions, each family sent forth to the war every son who was old enough to pass muster.

Two families sent four each. A complete list of them should be read as the school’s roll of honor on each succeeding occasion like the present. Some never returned and some came back to take up the duties of citizenship with shattered health. The post addresses of the living representatives of the school, would possibly contain a list of every state in the union. Some have amassed wealth, some are public benefactors, and some are holding, or have held, offices of public trust and honor.

Rev. N. L. Reynolds, when Superintendent of Public Schools of Tioga County, told the writer, who was then teaching in another district, that more school teachers had gone out from the Powers school, than from any other school in the county. All honer to the old school. May its numbers increase and its influence for good grow stronger as the years go by.

Dict to B. A. C.

August 27th, 1902