Old Roberts Schoolhouse

Rebekah Roberts, my 5th great-grandmother, was born on August 8, 1787 in Union Co., South Carolina to Thomas and Nancy Ann (Whitson) Roberts. She married Nathan Hawkins (b. 1782), the son of Nathan and Ann (Cook) Hawkins, on November 26, 1807 in Warren Co., Ohio, and the pair had ten children in Wayne Co., Indiana: Thomas (b. 1808); Ann (b. 1810); Betsy (b. 1813); John (b. 1815); Sally (b. 1818); Jehu (b. 1820); Nathan (b. 1823); Amos (b. 1824); Rachel (b. 1827); and Simeon (b. 1829). Rebekah “possessed the traits of character which enabled her to endure the hardships of pioneer life,” and Nathan was “noted for his strength, tradition saying he could lift as much as four men.” In 1812, Nathan and Rebekah entered a claim with the United States government near Webster, Indiana and intended to build a cabin on their 40 acres of land.

My 5th great-grandparents, Nathan & Rebekah (Roberts) Bond

Shortly after the family settled near Webster, the War of 1812–a conflict fought between the United States, Great Britain and their respective allies over maritime rights–broke out, and the British government began supplying individuals who raided pioneers’ homes and settlements on the American frontier. Nathan, Rebekah and their two children at the time–Thomas and Ann–sought refuge in Richmond, Indiana with Rebekah’s brother, Thomas Roberts. There was not enough room in the farmhouse, though, for both Thomas’ and Rebekah’s families, so Nathan and Thomas built a separate cabin for the Hawkins family: “the men of the family felled these great logs, rived the shingles, made the walls weatherproof and hung a crude door so they might settle. There was no floor and apparently no window.”

Hawkins Cabin Sketch

John E. Bundy’s Sketch of the Hawkins Cabin in Richmond, Indiana

“In March 1813, when the bluebirds came, another little daughter, Betsy, was born;” about two years later, in February 2015, the War of 1812 ended, and the Hawkins family returned to their land claim in the north. “After the house was vacated, a young man by the name of Robert Bratton came along who wanted to teach school. It was arranged that he should board with the Roberts and hold his school in the log house vacated by Nathan Hawkins. This is how it became one of the first school houses in Wayne county. This was long before free public schools were established. Some years later the log house was moved near the Roberts residence, where it was used for various purposes.” The school was called the “Roberts Schoolhouse,” and some of Thomas Roberts’ children and grandchildren attended school there.

Jonathan Roberts

Thomas Roberts’ son, Jonathan, in front of the Roberts Schoolhouse, c. 1890

By 1900, the Roberts’ family farm was well within Richmond’s city limits, and most of the land had been sold to residential developers; after Jonathan Roberts’ death in 1902, the Old Roberts Schoolhouse was given to the city, as well. A number of residents and local historians advocated for the restoration of the Schoolhouse, and one resident, Albert W. Reed, donated funds to move the cabin to Glenn Miller Park for its preservation: “Lovers of the historical and those who have a hankering after relics cannot afford to see the log cabin go to abject ruin…That the school house is valuable as a relic is attested from the fact that photographs of it were exhibited at the Chicago World’s Fair, in 1893, now almost ten years ago, attracted perhaps as much attention as did any similar picture in the entire gallery in which it was placed. People of every city and town of any size in the United States envied the city that had within its limits that building which would be an attractive ornament to any park.”

Hawkins Cabin

The Old Roberts Schoolhouse was moved for a third and final time to the front lawn of the Wayne Co., Indiana Historical Museum in 1938. Guests can view the Hawkins family’s cabin-turned-schoolhouse and read about the school’s history on a display inside the log cabin:

Sitting on one of the crude, backless, split-log lab benches, it is hard to imagine the voices of the children as they repeated the teacher’s words, teaching them by rote. This type of teaching was call a ‘Loud or Blab School.’

The students had few books, if any, and wrote on slates with slate pencils. Paper was expensive and hard to get. Students wrote with goose or turkey quill pens and homemade ink when paper was available. Students used whatever books their family might have and it was usually the bible. A few school books were printed in the eastern states, but the McGuffy Readers (1836), printed in Ohio, became the United States’ most influential school books until the 20th century.

The teacher punished naughty children in several ways. One was by seating them in the coldest part of the room. Other punishments were to face the corner or to feel the whack of the paddle or hickory stick. Dunce caps were not used until 1893.

Teacher’s helpers were the older boys. They would come early to chop the fire wood and fill the water buckets. Every one drank from the same dipper which helped to spread colds, measles, scarlet fever, whooping cough, mumps, and cholera. School terms were only a few months. Teachers’ salaries came from a fee paid by the parents.

Old Roberts Schoolhouse in Wayne Co., Indiana, 2012

I can’t wait to visit the family schoolhouse and learn more about my ancestors’ legacy; here’s hoping I can make a trip soon.

12 thoughts on “Old Roberts Schoolhouse

    1. Thank you, I’m glad you liked the post! The photos I’ve seen of the museum are really cool, and they seem to host events all the time to get the community involved. They even have a general store, ha! Let me know how it is, I definitely have to visit the cabin someday.


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