Old Smithton School
Worth County Reporter--April 1988
By Bill Gladstone & Margy Mathews Asher


The old Smithton schoolhouse was near the center of the school district. The schoolhouse was north and east of the town of Worth. To get to the schoolhouse a person turned north at the John Schuster corner (were Steve Combs lives now), past the Bid Mathews home, on past the Lizzie James home, down through the holler and across a large ditch to where the road turned to go east past the Dee Grace home. It was near this corner, on the west side of the road, where the schoolhouse was located.
It was in a rather desolate location and very seldom did anyone travel past the schoolhouse.
There was heavy timber all around the schoolhouse. Just enough land had been cleared for the schoolhouse and a rather large playground. The schoolhouse was a typical country schoolhouse. There were four windows on both the north and the south, with a door on the east end. There were two outhouses, one on the north for the girls and the one on the south for the boys. There was also a shed where the fuel for the winter was stored.
Inside the schoolhouse were just the bare necessities to carry on the school work. It included a teacher's desk, chair, pupil's desks, a pot-bellied stove, recitation benches near the teacher's desk, a water bucket, dipper and a wash pan. There were nails along the wall on which to hang our wraps and a shelf for our dinner buckets.
A few days before school was to begin the ladies of the district would go to the schoolhouse to give it a good cleaning. They scrubbed the floor, washed the windows and cleaned the walls. Then they would go to the outhouses to clean them. In addition to cleaning, they always left a Sears Roebuck catalog.
Our parents warned us to be on the lookout for an insect called the Devil's Darning Needle. We were told that if it bit us it meant sudden death. So, we kept a keen watch for this insect when we went to the outhouse.
Three men from the district served as school board directors. It was their job to hire the school teacher and conduct the school business. My father, Bid Mathews, served several terms on the school board. In that era the school stressed the three R's and the teacher was in control of the students (or was supposed to be). When a student needed punishing it was taken care of by the teacher. There wasn't any principal around to take care of the discipline.
My parents were Bid Mathews and Maude Costin Mathews. We lived where the Merle Jones home is now. My Grandma Costin stayed with us a lot so she and my Mother would begin in August to get my sister Virginia and I ready for school. We always had new dresses to wear the first day of school. We also had a Big Chief tablet, pencils, pencil-box, lunch box and a book satchel. There was always a raincoat, cap and overshoes if we needed them. We had to furnish our own books and our parents bought used ones if they could find good ones.
My sister, Virginia, started to school in 1916. Ed Miller, the brother of the late Charley Miller, was the teacher. Each day when Virginia came home our Mother would give us cookies or cake and then we would play school. Each day Virginia would teach me what she had learned in school that day. By the end of the year I was as ready for the second grade as she was.
The next year, when I started to school, Floyd Hunter was the teacher. Mr. Hunter let me take the first and second grade together and from then until we graduated from high school Virginia and I were in the same grade.
Mr. Hunter lived in and around the community for several years. Even though the enrollment was large Mr. Hunter ruled the roost. There was a rope swing on a limb where a person could swing out over a large ditch and back to the bank. Mr. Hunter was swinging one day when the rope broke and his leg was broken. His leg was put in a cast and he walked with a crutch. That didn't stop him from keeping good order. He not only used the crutch to walk with but he also used it to enforce discipline.
My sister and I always took our books home at night. If we got our lessons at home we would have more time at school to look around and see what was going on.
There were four of us who went through the grades together and graduated from the eighth grade. Herbert Davidson, (brother of Madonna Stabe), Hazel James, my sister Virginia and I.
In the third grade Jessie Blake was our new teacher. I think it was the first time he taught school and sometimes his Mother would come to help him at school.
If the weather was nice we always played outside during recesses and at noon. We played such games as Sheep-In-My-Pen, Dare Base, New Orleans, Blackman and sometimes a ball game.
The ball was made out of twine and we used a board for a bat. Outs were made when a fly ball was caught or the runner was hit with the ball. Some of those boys could really raise a knot with that old twine ball. You knew for sure when you were out.
When it was real cold and the ponds were frozen over we would go to a pond east of the schoolhouse. The boys would play hockey with a stick and a tin can. We younger kids would skate on the ice with our overshoes which soon wore them out. When our parents found out what we were doing they soon put a stop to that.
When the weather was bad we played games inside. Some of the games we played were Hop Scotch, Poor Poor Pussy, Scat and Upset the Fruit Basket.
A lot of times, usually on a Friday afternoon, we would choose up sides and have a ciphering match or a spelling bee.
When it would get real cold my Mother was afraid that Virginia and I would get sick so we had to put on our long underwear and wear plenty of warm clothing. To help us keep from getting a cold Mother would take some asafedita and tie it in a cloth which was put around our necks. The asafedita had a terrible odor and when it was hot in the school room the asafedita really took over. Whether it helped or not we had to wear it every winter.
My fourth and fifth grade teacher was Fern Hass. She was a very good teacher and there are two things that I especially remember about her as a teacher. She taught us how to play ball. Also, when the weather was bad she sometimes stayed at our house overnight. When she did my parents would invite the neighbors in and we would play cards. Fern was a card shark for sure.
Myrtle James was our teacher during my sixth grade. She had been raised in the neighborhood and had gone to the Smithton school as a girl. She later married Jim Beauchamp and they were the parents of Shelby Beauchamp.
My seventh grade teacher was a Reverend Bittiker. He was the pastor of the Baptist Church in Worth but they couldn't pay him enough to make a living for his family so he also taught school. The thing I remember most about him was that for opening exercises each morning he had us sing religious songs. We like to wore the book out singing Will There Be Any Stars In My Crown. He taught one year and I have never heard of him since that time.
And my final teacher at the Smithton school was Alpha Blake. At the end of our eighth year we had to pass a county examination which was graded by the County Superintendent before we could get our certificate. The graduation exercises for the rural schools were held in Grant City.
There was no well on the school grounds so each morning two students were chosen to carry a bucket of water from a well about 1/2 mile away. Of course all of the students wanted to be chosen to carry the water because it meant getting out of some classes.
There were three days in the school year which were very special. Christmas was one. We always had a program and Santa would come and pass out the presents and the teacher would always have candy treats. Valentine Day was another special day for me. After the last recess we would have a party. The teacher would decorate a box for the Valentines and they would be passed out.
And, of course, the last day of school was always special. The families in the district would come for a basket dinner, we would play games and the grade cards would be passed out and then we could go home for the summer.
Some of the people I remember as being students at the old Smithton school during the years I was there were: Hazel, Cecil and Claude Garrett, Gladys, Bertha and Louis Schuster, Josephine, Bervin, Hazel, Omer and Carl James, Herbert and Madonna Davidson, Glen Cooper, Mabel Holmes, Truman Adlerson, Dorothy Morgan, and of course my sister, Virginia, and I.
In about 1924 or 1925 the Smithton district and the Round Grove district consolidated and a new schoolhouse was built alongside highway 169 and in the center of the new district which was also called Smithton.
The old Smithton schoolhouse was sold to Dee Grace and he moved it east to his farm site.
The old cement porch in front of the schoolhouse door is now at the back door of the Dorthe James farm home.