Jackson Township’s White Oak schoolhouse sits on sixty-four wooded acres just east of the Loblolly Marsh Wetland Preserve. “There’s a very good reason why you can’t come upon the school as you drive along,” a reporter for the Portland Commercial Review wrote in 1968. “It is located near a road which was abandoned about a decade ago. You can see it by car, with the aid of binoculars, from County Road 99 between County Roads 16 and 20 in Jackson Township1” Now that we’re firmly into the 21st century, a drone works too.
The White Oak schoolhouse, Jackson Township’s District 2 building, wasn’t depicted in an 1881 atlas of Jay County2. That’s probably due to its location in the Loblolly Marsh, part of a 10,000 acre swamp largely drained for farming in the early 1900s. “Loblolly” meant mire, or bog, in old and middle English3. Correspondingly, the schoolhouse was sometimes referred to as the Loblolly Marsh school4.
The schoolhouse first appeared on a map in 1887, when it sat on an acre deeded by J.S. Engle or Catherine Cookery5. The extant schoolhouse was built in 18996, a year before it appeared on another atlas surrounded by 120 acres owned by John Watson7.
The school’s name stems from its location near White Oak, an informal community8 that encompassed the area surrounding the District 2 schoolhouse, White Oak Friends Church9, and the adjacent White Oak Cemetery on West County Road 850-North. White Oak Cemetery was in active use from 1845 through 1941. Today, it’s part of the 40-acre White Oak Cemetery Nature Preserve, owned by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
Iris Caster taught at White Oak in 191210. Two years later, township officials decided to build a new, four-room school about two miles south of the schoolhouse at Poling11. It’s likely that the completion of that larger structure led to the closure of the White Oak schoolhouse. By 1922, it -along with the schools at Districts 4 and 5- no longer appeared on county school schedules12.
The old schoolhouse was used for agricultural storage in 1968. That year, it still featured its original, wooden belfry, although it was missing its bell13. At some point, an open frame porch was added to the front of the structure and it was converted into a home. Today, the building appears to be deserted.
The road that once passed the schoolhouse and connected West County Road 800-North with the White Oak Church on County Road 850 was abandoned at some point in the 1950s14 and today it’s little more than a pair of dirt tracks through private property. To take pictures of the schoolhouse without trespassing last summer, I parked on a public easement of West County Road 875-North and flew my drone southeast towards the schoolhouse. The other day, I set up on 400-West to try and avoid signal loss. I flew through a clearing before hooking north towards the building.
A 1968 article in the Portland Commercial Review referred to the old White Oak schoolhouse as “missing.” Thankfully, it’s not- it’s just hard to find. I’m glad it still appears to be in relatively stable condition more than a century after it was shuttered and more than sixty years after the road that leads to it was abandoned.
1 THE MISSING Loblolly Marsh schoolhouse does exist… (1968). The Portland Commercial Review.
2 Historical hand-atlas, illustrated (1881). H.H. Hardesty. Chicago. Atlas.
3 Spurgeon, B. (1986, April 14). Seen and Heard in Our Neighborhood. The Muncie Star. p. 4.
4 (See footnote 1).
5 Atlas of Jay County, Indiana (1887). Griffing, Gordon & Company [Philadelphia]. Map.
6 Jay County Office of Information & GIS Services. (2023). Parcel ID: 38-02-03-300-012.000-023. Jay County, Indiana Assessor. map, Portland, IN.
7 Jay Co., Ind. (circa 1900). Jay County. Map. Map Collection, Indiana Division, Indiana State Library.
8 C., C. & L. (1906, August 4). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 7.
9 Kelley, J.W. (1901). New atlas of Jay County, Indiana. J.W. Kelley [Portland]. Map.
10 Alexandria Public Schools Begin Work (1912, September 10). The Muncie Star. P. 5.
11 Shepherd, S. (1972, January 16). Razing of Old Poling School Arouses Memories of a Good, but Hard Time. The Muncie Star. p. 37.
12 Jay, M.T. (1922). History of Jay County Indiana Including It’s World War Record and Incorporating the Montgomery History. Historical Publishing Company [Indianapolis]. Book.
13 (See footnote 1).
14 (See footnote 1).