With a population of 14,000; with but one town of any size in the county -- Versailles, and it with a population of 1,420 -- the erstwhile sparse settlements, and a not very generous or liberal public school policy in the State, yet Morgan County has seventy public district free schoolhouses, and a school population of 4,165, and also has two male and female institutes where the higher education is being successfully taught. The degree of efficiency and excellence is well maintained in the schools of the county. Under the circumstances, the surroundings of the ante-bellum period, the disorganized condition of society for the five years of the war and the five years immediately after, surely these figures show a remarkable degree of intelligent energy in the cause of education. The ex-slaves have been kindly considered, and the white man has paid his taxes freely to supply the colored children with the means of education. The people seemed to realize that the best thing for all was to improve the intelligence of their former slaves, now that they are fellow-citizens. Therefore, there have been no symptoms of race trouble in Morgan County. And the different church denominations have exhibited the broadest spirit of liberality toward each other, and have been ever ready to join hands in the good work. Still no people have ever been more watchful and conservative in the matter of going in debt for any kind of public purposes. They have put up such schoolhouses only as they could without going deeply in debt or greatly distressing the tax-payers. For this reason they have not made as much noise and commotion as have some communities, but they have acted wisely, as time will abundantly prove.
First and Later Schools
As early as 1833 Thomas G. Davis taught a school in a small log house near Joshua McPherson's, about twelve miles northeast of Versailles.
Soon after the county was organized, in 1833, it was divided into twenty-tour school districts and numbered from one to twenty-four. Of course, schools were opened in these districts as rapidly as settlements became numerous enough to sustain them, and in some localities this condition did not occur for several years.
The next school was at the Walton settlement, afterward the first postoffice and town or named place in the county. Walton had built his mill, and the place took the name of Millville. When the county seat was taken from Millville and brought permanently to Versailles, the people of the place in 1836 built a log schoolhouse and employed as teacher a man named Thomas. A two-story frame schoolhouse, two large rooms, was put up, and answered for many years the school purposes of Versailles. The old frame building stands near the present brick schoolhouse.
In 1885 the present brick edifice with four spacious rooms was built, at a cost of $6,000. An excellent graded school is maintained; the four rooms are principal's, first, second and third assistant's. Charles M. Banks is principal; Mrs. James A. Wray, Misses Lucy Williams and B. D. Robinson, assistants.
A male and female high-school was incorporated in May, 1885. It was a movement on the part of the prominent citizens of Versailles, who felt a deep interest in the cause of education. Meetings were held, and stock subscribed and a company formed. The company purchased the Williamson residence for school purposes, paying therefor $1,500. At the time of the purchase the property was owned by W. C. Silvey. The professor in charge of the school was Prof. J. K. Gwynn, with an assistant teacher. It failed to receive the expected support, and languished. It is now again operated under new auspices, and is prospering fairly well. The youths of Morgan County can now be prepared at home for entry upon the regular courses in the higher institutions of the country. It is in charge of Prof. F. Gwynn.
Akinsville Normal and Commercial Institute
Akinsville Normal and Commercial Institute was incorporated October 22, 1886, and is one of the prosperous and progressive institutions of Morgan County. It is a male and female institution, and is intended as both a practical and commercial school and to fit the youths of the county to enter the regular college courses, as well as prepare for the profession those who are intending to become school-teachers.
One of the very early schools in the county was at the place now Hopewell Church. This is the oldest settled neighborhood in the county, and the neighbors met and by their labor put up a. log building for school and church purposes. Here the primitive subscription school was taught for many winters. Three months' school then during the year was the limit that many good people supposed would never be surpassed. Their first school term was taught in the winter of 1832—33. The next one was near McPherson's, north of Hopewell. Near the same time a log schoolhouse was built and a school taught in the north part of the county. Some of the pioneer children walked as far as three and a half miles daily to school, when there were no other roads, often, on the way than slim paths or trails, and on the way they would often see the wild animals of that time, especially the deer and wolves. One of these former school-boys will now tell that he had no fears of the wild animals, but always passed certain points on the way in mortal dread of its concealing a band of war-painted Indians.
In these seventy district school buildings there are taught terms of four to nine months every year. They are all frame except five log houses. The size and excellence of some of these compare favorably with even city schools. Among others giving the best school advantages may be noted Barnett's, Mobley's, Kelsay's, Walnut Grove, Hopewell and Fisher's.
But two or three districts have any school debt, and these are small amounts of bonds for buildings.
The following are the districts and the school population in each. Some of these have a very small population. This is from the fact that such districts are partly in another county:
Morgan County receives $3,700 from the state annually as her share of the pro rata school fund.
Certainly the most attractive feature in the school affairs of the county, at least to the tax-payer and to those contemplating coming here to make their homes, are the excellence of the school buildings and number and excellence of the schools; as well as the absence of any heavy indebtedness and a very low rate of school taxes. A wise economy has been used—not at the expense of efficiency -- and it is easy to see that this kind of conservatism will soon place the county in an enviable position both as to schools and finances.
History of Cole, Moniteau, Morgan, Benton, Miller, Maries and Osage Counties, Missouri, Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.