The ruins of America’s first consolidated schoolhouse, in Raleigh, Indiana

What’s left of the Washington Township Public School sits just east of Raleigh, an unincorporated community in the northeastern corner of Rush County. Local legend -and even a boulder that sits out front- proclaims the building to have been Indiana’s first consolidated school in the nation1. Fact or fiction, the building’s remains are among the most compelling schoolhouse ruins I’ve ever come across.

The ruins of the Washington Township Public School in Rush County. Photo taken March 11, 2023.

A schoolhouse here existed as early as 1867 when Raleigh was little more than a post office along the Flatrock River2. A decade later, Washington Township Trustee William Hall erected a three-room building that accommodated a hundred and forty pupils on the site, which led to the closure of five one-room schoolhouses. The consolidation was incomplete, though, as Hall still operated four schoolhouses in the far-flung corners of Washington Township3.

I’ve come across other schools in East Central Indiana that were claimed to be the first consolidated schools in the state. One was at Royerton, in Delaware County’s Hamilton Township. By 1903, the school had absorbed eight rural schoolhouses, but it wasn’t until 1923 that all of the township’s students attended class there4.

The front entrance of the Washington Township Public School. Photo taken March 11, 2023.

Another institution that claimed to be the first to consolidate in Indiana was the Lincoln School, near Maxville in Randolph County. Built in 1909, the school served as White River Township’s only high school outside of Winchester and absorbed the students of five rural schoolhouses when it opened5.

I’m sure there are other early examples of partial township-wide school consolidations that claim to be the first, but Washington Township’s building in Raleigh looks to have beaten the two I know of by about thirty years. In the late 1800s, the school’s status as the first to combine rural district schools in the entire country was questioned by a professor in Boston who claimed that a Massachusetts institution had been the first. An investigation confirmed that Washington Township’s claim was legitimate6. Apparently, the first consolidated school in the United States of America was in random Raleigh in Rush County, Indiana.

The school extended to the left of the image. Portions of its original roofline are visible where the brick changes color. Photo taken March 11, 2023.

The extant school, or what remains of it, was built in 19067. Interestingly, the man charged with erecting the new building, trustee George W. Hall, was the son of the trustee who erected its notable predecessor8. The building cost $18,000- about $600,000 today, and State Superintendent of Schools Fassett A. Cotton spoke at its dedication9.

The paths of several staircases can be seen upon close examination of the school’s remains. Photo taken March 11, 2023.

The school’s remaining tower stood close to its western wall; most of the structure was east of its entryway. Its asymmetrical design is unusual among those that have survived, but it was deployed occasionally around East Central Indiana in the early 1900s. Schools at Kennard, Lynn, and Losantville, among others, I’m sure, featured variations of the same layout. Unfortunately, none of them are still standing today.

Local officials ordered the high school closed in 1955 after an injunction filed against its closure failed in court10. Washington Township’s older students were sent to Rushville to continue their studies, and the school survived as an elementary for thirteen more years. Nevertheless, it closed for good in 1968, when its remaining students were sent to continue their studies at Mays, three and a half miles west11.

Some of the school’s footprint can be seen to the left and right of the tower. It extended mostly to the foreground and right of the image. Photo taken March 11, 2023.

The closure of early consolidated schools due to the advancement of principles they ushered in holds some irony. The Rushville Republican called the school’s circumstances “a monster of its own making12!” Down the road, the school at Mays, which absorbed Washington Township’s students, hung on until 2016. Today, it’s home to Mays Community Academy, a public charter school that serves students from grades 1-6.

In 1970, the Washington Township Public School and its six-acre grounds were sold to a local farmer for $2,160. The terms of the sale stipulated that the abandoned building be torn down within three years13, but that didn’t happen. Aerial images still show the structure standing as late as 1983, but the majority of the building was demolished sometime prior to 1998 due to an increase in vandalism14.

A boulder asserts the school’s prominence from what was once its front yard. Photo taken March 11, 2023.

Today, all that remains of the first consolidated school in the nation is its entryway and bell tower. It makes for a striking sight, rising from its surrounds like the Pharos Lighthouse at Islands of Adventure or an ancient Spanish monastery. A boulder with a plaque furnished by the Tuesday Study Club social organization in 1927 asserts that “our school was the first, make it the best” from a grassy plot in front of the ruins. An Eagle Scout project furnished the fence around the boulder, but aside from the footprint of the original school and front yard, the rest of the site is used for farming today.

I’m drawn to places where people once spent time. Sometimes that leads me to some incredible ruins. Among the two hundred and fifty schoolhouses I’ve been to, Oak Grove in Jay County and College Hill in Hancock have been some of the most memorable. The remains of the Washington Township Public School in Raleigh are on a different level: not only was the building much larger than the one-room schools it supplanted, but its history makes the fact that its belfry still stands even more unique. It’ll only be a matter of time before this tower, and the rest of our abandoned schoolhouses, have crumbled into nothing more than our memories. That’s why documenting them and preserving their memories is so important. 

Sources Cited
1 Owens, E. (1968, February 19). Royerton School One of the Very First to Be Consolidated. The Muncie Evening Press. p. 4.
2 Warner, A. (1867). Map of Rush & Decatur counties, Indiana. C.O. Titus [Philadelphia]. Map.
3 King, S. (1974, April 7). Forum The Readers Corner. The Indianapolis Star. p. 192.
4 The consolidating of Delaware County schools progresses (1903, June 28). The Muncie Morning Star. P. 9.
5 Thomas, L. (1972, January 30). 1st Consolidated School Being Razed, a Victim of the Plan It Inaugurated. The Muncie Star. p. 21.
6 Raleigh School Is Dedicated (1906, December 3). The Rushville Republican. p. 1.
7 Raleigh School Annual Reunion Will Be Sunday (1952, July 8). The RUshville Republican. p. 4.
8 (See footnote 6).
9 Raleigh Will Have Great Day (1906, November 24). The Rushville Republican. p. 1
10 Raleigh Loses High School; Said ‘Oldest’ (1955, September 16). The Muncie Star. p. 20.
11 Historic Raleigh School To Be Closed This Fall (1968, February 7). The Rushville Republican. p. 1.
12 (See footnote 11)
13 (See footnote 3)
14 Unknown (2012, August 13). Re: The Ruins of Raleigh, Indiana [Blog comment]. The Gentleman from Indiana. Web. Retrieved March 12, 2023.

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