What School Was Like In Early 1900s Jeffersontown
Writer / Beth Wilder,
Jeffersontown Historical Museum Director
When most older residents think of their school days in Jeffersontown, fond memories spring to mind of their beloved Jeffersontown School that once stood where Tully Elementary is now located.
Jeffersontown had an even older graded school, however, which was located beside a barn and spring at the foot of Water Street (now College Drive). For those of you who may be unaware that College Drive originally had another name, there was probably a good reason it was called “Water” Street. In the early days, when a town needed a school, typically a land owner donated the worst possible piece of his property that would be unsuitable for farming but good enough to build a schoolhouse. This is evidenced in the name of another early school at the corner of Billtown Road and Lover’s Lane — Swamp College.
Not only was the old schoolhouse something of an afterthought to the townspeople — sending their children to school was not usually a top priority, either. In 1909, it was remarked that “the boys now a days go to school if they feel like it and if they don’t they stay at home.” Most of the residents were farmers, and The Jeffersonian newspaper chided parents about putting more money and care into their horses than their own children’s educations. A proposed school tax levy in 1909 would have meant that residents in Jeffersontown were spending only $9.24 per child, whereas in Louisville, $25.28 was expended on each child’s education.
At the time, school usually only lasted about six months out of the year. In fact, by law in 1911, country children only had to attend five consecutive weeks during the school term. Children were expected to help with farming, and in the winter months, bad weather often caused problems with attendance. While some schools had a horse-drawn wagon for transportation of students, most children had to walk to school, and yes, it could often be a mile or more. Several older residents in town recalled cutting through fields on their way to and from school, only to end up being chased by the local bull. In 1909, the residents along Market Street (Taylorsville Road) had a concrete walk built, so the way leading to the school would be “much less objectionable than in the past.”
As harrowing as the journey to and from the schoolhouse could be, school itself was not that bad for the students. Teachers, however, had a lot more to deal with, as students and their parents could both prove rather difficult to handle at times. In 1923, when Virginia Carrithers was told by the county superintendent that he had a “very difficult assignment” for her, she broke down in tears at the news that he wanted her to teach 1st and 2nd grade at Jeffersontown. Even by that late date only one teacher had ever stayed more than two years and most quit after one year. Sometimes the school went through two or three teachers a year.
As early as 1908, The Jeffersonian was reporting that the condition of the Jeffersontown Public School was “deplorable,” and that “our school has never had one single child to finish the common school course.” In defense of education at the time, however, it must be stated that far more was expected to be learned by 8th grade than is required now in many colleges. It should also be noted that while many local parents were lax about their children’s attendance, preferring to have their help with chores at home and on the farm, they still recognized the value of an education and the need for it in procuring better jobs — they just did not wish to put a lot of money, time or effort into it.
Which leads us to a discussion of the schoolhouse itself. In 1908, The Jeffersonian remarked that “the school in Jeffersontown has long been neglected and is classed as the worst school in Jefferson county.” H.A. Hummel, chairman of the School Improvement League, noted that “the school house in Jeffersontown is a disgrace to the town, sitting down there in a hollow. It seems to me the ones who built it tried to hide it and get it as far off as possible, so they could not see it.”
In 1909, the paper stated that “we have eight churches and one ‘alleged’ school-house.” It went on further to say that “all teachers should refuse to teach in such an unsanitary rattle-trap. Jeffersontown people ought to possess more self-respect and not tolerate such a disgraceful so-called school any longer. The location is hardly suitable for a dump, and malaria usually infests the hollow places and parents should all refuse to send their children to a school so situated.”
In 1911, the Jefferson County Board of Health actually did condemn the school on account of its overcrowded and unsanitary nature.
Fortunately, however, around that time, there was a push by many prominent businessmen in Jeffersontown to have a new, more modern, school built. The Jefferson Heights Land Company, which was working to construct the Jefferson Heights subdivision off Taylorsville Road near Watterson Trail, offered five acres of land for a local school, if the residents would but pitch in and do their fair share toward the cost of a new building.
In 1914, the new Jeffersontown School opened at the corner of College and Galene Drives. It was designed to house students in grades 1-8, and the first floor had four rooms containing two grades each, while the basement had windows to allow natural light into the auditorium and other rooms. In 1925, a second story was added so that grades 9-12 could also attend school locally. By 1950, the building was bursting at the seams, so the high school students had to be sent to other schools, while the building reverted to an elementary school. It was torn down in 1978 and later replaced by Tully Elementary School.
Just after the old Jeffersontown School building was condemned in 1911, much needed repairs were made to the original school room, a second room was added and new desks were ordered. Prospects were bright as teachers Theresa McDermott and Louisa Owings signed on for another year, this time for an extended eight-month term.
The old Jeffersontown schoolhouse continued to be used until the new facility opened in 1914, but it is long gone now. Residents no longer remember exactly where it stood or how it looked, but the ones who attended there no doubt had their own fond memories of their school days — even if they did have to walk more than a mile to school, uphill, both ways, in the snow.