From Time to Thyme

By Paula Dunn

Hamilton Heights Huskies’ Family Tree

My cousin, Kermit Ross, recently showed me a program book from the 2015 Hamilton Heights Alumni Association reunion that contains an impressive history of the Jackson Township and White River Township schools.

(Both Jackson and White River Townships are covered because the two school systems have been combined since the creation of Hamilton Heights.)

The history, compiled by one of Kermit’s Jackson Central ’61 classmates, Ed Fennell of Arcadia, was passed out to everyone who attended the reunion. Kermit brought it to my attention because he felt there might be a column in it.

Once I got a good look at all that information, I had to agree.

The earliest schools in Indiana were subscription schools where tuition was paid by students’ parents. After the enactment of the new state constitution in 1852, schools began to be managed by townships.

That’s where Fennell’s history starts.

In the beginning, White River Township had 16 township schools and Jackson Township had 20. Fennell notes that, in both cases, the schoolhouses were situated about two miles apart in order to keep students from having to walk more than one mile to reach their classes.

I have to admire the effort he put into this work because I know from my own research on Noblesville Township that digging up precise details on those early schools isn’t easy. The information you find is often incomplete and/or confusing.

Township schools were usually designated by numbers, but sometimes they’re only referred to by a name, which makes it difficult to pinpoint their location or even be certain which school is which.

Also, a school’s number and/or location could change over time. For example, Walnut Grove was originally White River Township School No. 8, but it was later moved to another location and became No. 15.

It wasn’t until the late 1800s and early 1900s that things began to settle down.

In Jackson Township, the first high schools were located in Atlanta, Arcadia and Cicero. Atlanta’s first high school graduation took place in 1896, Cicero’s was in 1898 and Arcadia’s was in 1899.

Meanwhile, back in White River Township, a new building was erected for Walnut Grove in 1903. The following year Walnut Grove became a commissioned high school. The school’s first graduating class — all seven members — received their diplomas in 1905.

(Commissioned high schools were those bearing commissions from the state board of education, as opposed to those managed by the township.)

With the establishment of the two townships’ high schools, athletics came into play. (No pun intended.) Fennell provides the mascot, school colors and fight song for each high school from this point on.

Walnut Grove’s teams were called the Wolves, and the school colors were gold and purple. The Arcadia Dragons’ colors were black and gold, while the Atlanta Cardinals’ colors were red and white, the same as Cicero’s Red Devils.

In 1943, all Jackson Township high school students began attending school in Arcadia when Jackson Central High School was created. Jackson Central’s mascot was an eagle, and the school colors were a patriotic red, white and blue.

The consolidation of Jackson Central and Walnut Grove in 1965 resulted in the creation of the current high school, Hamilton Heights. (Of course, we know they’re the Huskies and their school colors are brown, orange and white.)

The largest section of Fennell’s program book is comprised of lists of alumni from Walnut Grove (1905-1965,) Atlanta, Arcadia and Cicero (1896-1943,) and Jackson Central (1944-1965.)

Also included are a couple of maps showing the approximate locations of the township schools, memorials and tributes, and drawings of the various buildings by Walnut Grove graduate Sam Gibbons.

Kermit told me he’s heard there may be an update to the program book this year.

Stay tuned.

– Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears on Wednesdays in The Times. Contact her at [email protected]