Mystery Place: In the old days, Hill School really was an uphill hike

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Ginny Hall | July 10, 2015

Hill School was located on the northwest corner of Tamarack Road and U.S. Highway 12 in the town of LaGrange. If you have traveled in this area you can quickly see why the school got that name. Imagine you are in the first or second grade and have to trudge up that hill.

Hill School was District No. 1 for that township. On May 6, 1843, when the Town Commissioners of Common Schools —Thomas Waterman, James Lauderdale and Nathaniel Holden — met at Waterman's store to determine the school districts for the township, they created five districts and cut the size of this jurisdiction.

Thomas Waterman came to the area from New York in 1838. He was town clerk in 1844 and a town supervisor in 1857. James Lauderdale was a county supervisor in 1873. Nathaniel Holden came to the town of LaGrange from Vermont in 1842.
Cornish family prominent
This first school in the township was located here, beginning as a private school in the winter of 1840. Melissa Cornish taught a three-month term in the winter.

The Cornish family features prominently in early records of this area. Melissa's father, Gabriel Cornish, and his sons did the first plowing of the sod in LaGrange. Gabriel's wife died Sept. 16, 1837, the first burial recorded in township cemeteries. Another daughter, Elvira, was the first woman to marry in the township.  

The first religious service in the township was held in the Cornish home. A son, Anson, was the first postmaster in the township.  Another son, Nelson, bought land in the northwest part of Section 23 and sold the northeast corner of his land for the Round Prairie Cemetery. The family moved to New London in 1853.  
Taxes supported school
On Nov. 11, 1842, a special school district meeting was called to vote on repairs to the schoolhouse. It was determined that the cost would be covered by a special tax. Other business determined that the school would be open three months in the winter and a male school teacher would be hired. Older boys tended to come only to the winter term because there was less farm work at that time. Each student was required to furnish one-half cord of wood or pay the trustees $1 per cord.  

On June 6, 1843, by now officially the town of LaGrange, a special meeting again set a three-month winter term. Public money belonging to the school district was to be applied to the teacher's salary and the remainder of the cost of the salary to be divided among the students according to the number of days attended.
New school built
On Sept. 15, 1846, the group voted to raise $200 to build a new schoolhouse on the site of the present school. The finished size of the new frame building was to be 34 feet by 20 feet. On March 25, 1848, the classroom was again enlarged by removing the entry wall and reseating the students.

On Nov. 4, 1850, the names of the school district officer positions were changed from clerk, collector and trustee to director, treasurer and clerk. The group also voted to raise $30 by tax for school support.

The next year the group voted to raise $15 for a library and $5 for a bookcase to hold it.  School census records for 1854 indicated 56 children between the ages of 4 and 20, but only 34 attended school. Two years later the census recorded 52 children of school age with 41 attending school. That year the schoolhouse was valued at $100.

On June 17, 1863, a special meeting was called to discuss the need for more space.  It was decided to raise $500 to build a new schoolhouse and out buildings. The old school was sold for $40.  
Farming schedule accommodated
On Sept. 28, 1863, the district voted to have a two-week school vacation in the fall for the harvest. Teachers were to board with students' families. The next year they voted to raise the teacher's salary and teachers were expected to find their own housing. The following year the district voted to raise $5 to buy shade trees for the schoolyard.

In the 1909-'10 school year the teacher was Gertrude Bunsa; she had no previous experience. Records indicate she received $28 for the fall and spring months and $30 for the winter months for teaching seven pupils.  

Hill School closed in 1938. In 1953 the district joined with District No. 7 of LaGrange as District No. 1- Consolidated with the city of Whitewater.
Ginny Hall, a historian from Delavan, is author of the “Walking around ...” and “Meandering ... ” books, which highlight the history of Walworth County communities.

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