Writer / A. J. Wright, Carmel Clay Historical Society
As the 2020 school year begins, it is worth noting that this year is the 160th anniversary of high school in Clay Township. What many might not know is that Carmel High School was not the first.
For most Hamilton County students in the 1860s, education ended upon completion of common school, which was comparable to present-day middle school. However, Clay and Delaware Township (Range Line Road to White River used to be a part of Delaware Township) provided two of the earliest public high schools in the state. Both of these schools were built by Quakers, who sought to shelter their children from the corruptions of the world and believed that a well-educated membership could operate the church in place of a trained ministry.
On May 28, 1860, Jonathan and Drusilla Wilson donated two acres on the southwest corner of Main Street and Six Points Road upon which the Friends built a private academy. The Poplar Ridge Seminary was a two-room frame building with a belfry. The school was administered by a board of trustees until 1867, when the board requested that the Poplar Ridge Monthly Meeting assume ownership of the school.
The Friends spared no expense to make it an exceptional school. Isaac Jones was hired at $60 a month to teach the high school class. Some in the community protested, asking why the teacher should earn three dollars a day in the schoolhouse while they toiled in the fields for 75 cents. Others offered to cover the difference should tuition income fail to cover his salary, and the complaints subsided. The school flourished and was “full to overflowing” for many years, drawing students from all over the county.
When high school enrollment reached 36 students in 1868, Jones’s salary was raised to $75 dollars a month. The classes taught that year were orthography, reading, arithmetic, geography, grammar, astronomy, algebra, physiology and chemistry. The school also served as a community center for Clay Township, which opened a public library in the school in 1866. By 1874, it had a collection of 425 volumes.
As the tax-funded public school system improved, private academies struggled. The Poplar Ridge Seminary reported a loss in 1869. That year Poplar Ridge Monthly Meeting’s Committee on Education recommended that the school be donated to the township to “obtain the benefit of the public school fund,” but no action was taken. Though the school made a profit in 1870, it closed the following year.
In the fall of 1871, the meeting allowed Clay Township to use the unoccupied seminary building for public school purposes. During the fall term, the school caught fire and burned to the ground. In November of 1872, the meeting deeded the empty lot to the township, which rebuilt the school. Clay Township opened its first public high school in the new building in 1873 under the direction of Principal Rebecca Trueblood, who taught at the old school intermittently with Isaac Jones throughout the 1860s. The township allowed the meeting some level of oversight regarding the management of the school and the hiring of its teachers for many years thereafter.
In 1887, Clay and Delaware Township partnered to move Carmel High School into a modern building that would accommodate more high school students from both townships and allow Clay to discontinue high school at the outdated Poplar Ridge Seminary. When construction was completed in the summer of 1888, the two-story graded school had seven rooms, including a nearly 1,800-square-foot reception hall. Clay Township ended the high school program at Poplar Ridge but continued to operate it as a district school. The building was moved to the northeast corner of 116th Street and Clay Center Road in 1899 and served as a consolidated school until it was replaced in 1911.
Much of this article was taken from the book, “Early History of Carmel Schools”, published by CCHS in 2019 and available at the Monon Depot Museum in Carmel. You can find CCHS online at CarmelClayHistory.org or facebook.com/CarmelClayHistoricalSociety.