From the “Scratcher” or notebook of the Superintendent of Public Instruction Philetus Fales:
Mar. 27, 1868: “Visited School in dist. 17. Teacher Miss Beeson. School in excellent condition. 26 present.”
Apr. 21, 1868: “Also visited Dist. 17, but contrary to expectations found school not in session. Are building new big school house & have not yet finished it. Qualified appraiser of school land appointed on 6th of April viz. Messrs Bird, Huddleston & Dial.”
June 23, 1868: “Rode to School house in 17 and found it unoccupied although I had received notice that school was to commence 1st of June.”
Jan 29, 1869: “Visited in dist. 17. Ira Pigman teacher under special permit by requeast of School Board. Poor school.”
Jan. 24, 1870: “[Term began] Dec. 13. Ira Pigman, teacher. My qualified special certificate. School visited Jan. 24th.”
From “The hitching post…” column in the Ottawa Herald, a series of articles about early Franklin County schools researched by Bruce Fleming and written by Herald Editor and Publisher Jim Hitch. This article appeared 7 March, 1991.
West Valley School, Dist. 17, was located three miles south of Rantoul and about 1 ¾ miles west, on the north side of the road (see locator map).
It isn’t known exactly when the district was formed, but the school closed for good in 1962 and was torn down in 1977. James, Earlene and Bean Schulz live in a mobile home on the old school site.
Two former students, Nola Mae (Cole) Herman and Johnaver (Cole) Johnson, recall that the school house originally was located a half mile west of where it was last moved.
Land for the second site, they said, was purchased from Charled and Sarah Cutler for $62 on July 22, 1903.
The school building also served as a community center. Community meetings and box suppers were held monthly. Herman and Johnson recall that once, for a program, they sang “Buttons and Bows.”
Geneva (Lockwood) Bruner, Rantoul RFD 1, another former pupil, remembers that Nellie Welton, who now lives at 511 Willow, taught at West Valley in the 1920s and walked about three miles to school.
During cold weather, she sometimes would stop at a farmhouse along the way to get warm before continuing to and from school.
“I remember the coal stove in the northwest corner,” Bruner said. “The fire would go out every night, so we would all sit around the stove the next morning until the room was warm enough for everyone to go to their seats.. Everyone wore their coats and we were still cold.”
Sometimes , she said, teachers would make hot soup for lunch if pupils brought ingredients from home. “Everyone seemed to have lots of tomatoes, which they had canned during the summer, so we had lots of tomato soup.” A hot lunch program was begun around 1940, she said.
Bruner also remembers performing for a community meeting. “My last teacher, Evelyn Scott, and I, played a violin duet. Earl Brunner, (her husband) played the banjo and sang.”
The last teacher was Fern Roseberry and some others were Edna Crowley, Edna Lynn, Maude Eneihen and Mary Croan.
Former pupils still living in Franklin County, not mentioned earlier, include: Warren and Wayne Brunner, Jim Schultz, Fern (Davidson) Gregg, Vera (Burnett) Cole, Keith and Helen Davidson, Judy Pennington, Dorothe (Brown) Sobba, Edith (Brown) Montgomery, Janice (Pennington) Kerns, Wilma (Ball) Brown, Charles and Lyle Brown, Robert and Eddie Schultz, Leota (Schultz ) Montgomery, Cherie (Davidson) Frogatte, Betty Stevenson, Marilyn (Stevenson) Waltman, Phyllis (Stevenson) Johnson, Harold Vail, Doris (Vail) Hicks, Nadine (Seymour) Peters and Ila May (Vail) Turley.
In 1863, Isaac Goodnow, state superintendent of public instruction, declared, “Far better for a scholar to walk three or four miles to a first-rate school than forty rods to a poor one.”