Williamsburg #51

From the “Scratcher” or notebook of the Superintendent of Public Instruction Philetus Fales.

June 22, 1868:  “Visited school in district no. 13, Miss Starr, teacher.  Rode over territory at corners of 13, 12, 32 & 38 to examine into propriety of organizing new district in forks of Ottawa and Wolf Creeks.  Also wrote orders for first meeting in district 51.”

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. No date given.

Williamsburg School district 51 was organized in 1868 and school was held in the center of the D. Fogle home, which is located on the north side of Main, adjacent to the west side of the park.

Additions have been constructed to the north and south sides of the original house.

In 1870, a year after the town was founded by William Schofield, a frame schoolhouse was built on the site of what is now the park. Helen Beardsley was the first to teach there.

She was hired by the first school board of Schofield, Daniel Fogle and Roger Hekok. The next year A.G. Turner, who was also a preacher, was added to the staff.

According to the Williamsburg High School Alumni Directory (1885-1967): “Readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic were taught to the tune of a hickory stick,”

Turner believed in “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” and a pupil guilty of misconduct was sure of being greeted by the summons, “John Doe, Come forth, Pull off thy jacket.”

Then Turner laid on the lash. According to the directory, at the end of each week, he lined up all the pupils and gave each one a whipping on general principle.

Dan Fogle Sr., 1727 Princeton, Ottawa, attended early Williamsburg schools and recalls that he later owned a coal mine near the town.

In 1885, a stone school was built by Moses Cowan to replace the frame building and this structure served the community until 1959 when the present school was built.

Sunday school and church were held in this building until 1878, when the stone Methodist Episcopal Church was built.

Little information has been preserved about the early days of Williamsburg District 51, but its existence, as was the case of Ransomville, closely connected to the mining industry.

Coal mining was important to the economy. There were approximately 100 miners in th area, mining a hundred tons per day from the mines that were located a mile northeast of town. The coal veins were 14 to 20 inches thick.

Arza Fogle of Williamsburg tells this story concerning the Williamsburg school well:

“On the corner where Smith’s Snack Bar stands now, there stood the Fisk Chloride of Gold Sanitorium, also known as the Grant Hotel, established in 1894.

It had its origin with the discovery that the water in the south well on the school ground was bubbling. Some enterprising citizens thought this to be a great discovery, that we had a Ponce de Leon fountain of youth right here in Williamsburg.

“It was decided that the water was too valuable to be drunk at-large, so a fence was built around the well, with a lock on the entrance to keep the school children from drinking the precious mineral water, while big plans were being made.

“Some Williamsburg doctors, P.W. Roger, William R. Feegan and a Dr. McMillan, checked the water and samples were sent away for testing. F.G. Welch, the town’s big promoter, advertised the bubbling water and shipped it to people everywhere for a price per jug.

“A mineral spring company was formed and promoters got an international water man interested. He was a Dr. Fisk, who had four mineral water sanitariums in America and one in Lincoln, England. A hotel-sanitarium was built across the street from the well.

Mineral water treatment was given there for all diseases arising from bad blood, kidney, liver and stomach trouble, consumption, drunkedness, dope addiction, lost manhood, etc.

“It was advertised that treatment at the sanitarium would ‘cure the worse,’ with the guarantee, ‘No cure-no pay. No charge for board to anyone not benefited.’

“The water was claimed to be the ‘Best cure on earth for drunkedness’ and it was shipped out for this purpose for 75 cents for a two-gallon jug.”

The well is gone, but the school has survived.

Bob “Badger” Marks, 904 N. Mulberry, recalls that “My brothers and I worked in the coal mines during the winter. We would dig out under the coal vein so we could wedge the coal down from the top and break it off. Then we would break it up into pieces that we were able to push back, with our feet, into the main tunnel.

“The main tunnel had a higher ceiling that you could walk through by leaning over. But most of the mine was held up with posts about 20 inches long that we wedged in ever so often. During the rainy season, it got pretty wet in the mines. About a ton of coal per person could be mined in a day.”

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