The History of Our County's Schools

Nell Morisette
NewsTribune Special Columnist

Hello again, for another week, to all you readers. I hope you had a good week. My family and I made a sad trip this weekend to Alabama. The "sunset" for one of my brothers was April 15. But it's a comfort to know that he has seen the "sunrise" in all its glory.

Educational Heritage of Benton County

The first public schools of Benton County were held in the log meetinghouses scattered throughout the communities. Most of the time a landowner would deed an acre of land for a school, stipulating that if the school closed, the land would go back to the owner.

Pupils were taught by itinerant teachers who were poorly paid and whose lives were rather insecure. They were dedicated teachers among the early settlers of the county.

Even in a backwoods settlement there were persons who took advantage of the formal educations they were able to obtain. It was not until 1843 that the county had a school of consequence, the Benton Academy, which opened that year.

Benton Seminary
Benton Seminary, Camden

Although it had been chartered several years earlier, classes met in a small brick schoolhouse that sat in a grove of virgin timber in southeast Camden. Three generations of young people received their formal educations there.

The academy's successor was the Benton Seminary, a semi-private school. Its classes met in a large frame schoolhouse erected at College Hill, just south of Camden's public square.

Holladay Independent Normal
Holladay Independent Normal

In 1914 the school was restructured as a high school, the first worthy of the name in Benton County with exception of Bober's high school in Eva in 1888. This school was demolished, and a modern brick building took its place in 1915. Four years later it became known as Central High School.

The Benton County schools were closed during the Civil War, and its was not until 1873 that numerous public schools were reopened. About that time, the county's white school population numbered 2578 children, and the black school population 135 children. The average attendance was 1437 out of a total 2112. There were 35 schools for white children and two schools for black children.

By the 1890s the average number of days taught in a school year was 80. In the last decade of the Nineteenth Century, the log structure schoolhouses were no longer being built. The main textbooks used back then were McGuffey eclectic readers, from the first through the fifth years, the Webster Blue Book speller, and Ray's Arithmetic series. Only in 1886 did all county schools begin to use the same textbooks, which local merchants stocked and sold.

Benton County had only one college, probably equivalent to a contemporary junior college. This was the Holladay Independent Normal, an outgrowth of the excellent school begun by Professor James A. Bober of Holladay.

It began and was chartered as a private school in May 1890; it was designed to "give instruction to adults" in arts, literature, and sciences, and also to confer the degrees ordinarily confirmed by schools and colleges. The Normal began to lose impetus when several of its outstanding teachers received teaching positions elsewhere, and closed with its June 1901 Commencement.

Thought For the Week:

The more we work at what we should be, the less we'll need to hide what we are.


If you have suggestions and/ or additions for these pages, please feel free to write County Host

Brian Nichols

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