Brown Township’s Willow Branch schoolhouse in Hancock County

Brown Township’s District 9 schoolhouse sat at the northeast corner of East County Road 650-North and North Thomas Road on land owned by M.J. Thomas in 18751. The original schoolhouse was commonly known as Spiceland, and it counted Dr. J.G. Stuart of Fortville and Indiana State Representative Montgomery Marsh among its earliest students2. W.J. Thomas taught there in 18823.

Photo taken November 20, 2022.

It was common practice during the 1800s for schoolhouses to hold religious services when churches weren’t available. In 1888, Mrs. R.E. Reed preached at the schoolhouse as residents worked to build two new sanctuaries the following year4. 

The schoolhouse was relocated to its present site at the north side of Willow Branch sometime prior to 19065. The community got its start in 1854 when Jonathan Smith opened a store and post office on his farm. Twenty years later, Austin Thomas opened his own store and took over the post office. The town was finally platted in 1882 after the Ohio, Indiana, & Pacific Railway was extended from Lawrence to Lynn6.

Though the community was named Willow Branch, the post office there was called Willow. That confusing annoyance was rectified in 19147, the same year that the extant schoolhouse was built by John S. Orr of Greenfield for around $4,000. A two-room structure with a concrete basement, furnace, and electric lighting, the building was one of Hancock County’s largest rural schoolhouses when completed8.

Despite its size and expense, the school closed in 1925 after its attendance dropped to twelve students. Its students and its teacher, Leonard Cook, were transferred to Wilkinson. The Willow Grove school was Hancock County’s second-to-last rural township schoolhouse to be shuttered9.

The old District 9 structure is one of the most unusual-looking schools I’ve ever come across and took on its present appearance in 1937 when Floyd Steele remodeled the building into a residence10. New brickwork and masonry added to the front of the old school by William Swords of Greenfield dramatically altered the structure, which bears little resemblance to its days as a schoolhouse11.

Sources Cited
1 King, J. J. (1875) Map of Hancock County, Indiana from recent & original surveys (1875). Worley & Bracher [Philadelphia]. Map.
2 Binford, J.H. (1882). History of Hancock County, Indiana From It’s Earliest Settlement By the “Pale Face” in 1818 Down To 1882. King & Binford [Greenfield]. Book.
3 (See footnote 2).
4 Willow Branch (1888, March 29). The Hancock Democrat [Greenfield]. P. 4.
5 Monger, O.H. (1906). Atlas of Hancock County, Indiana, U.S.A. William Mitchell Printing Company [Greenfield]. Map.
6 Richmond, G.J. (1916). History of Hancock County Indiana Its People, Industries And Institutions. Wm. Mitchell Printing Company [Greenfield]. Book.
7 Willow Branch (1914, May 21). The Hancock Democrat [Greenfield]. p. 1.
8 Last School Except One (1925, November 17). The Greenfield Daily Reporter. p. 1.
9 (See footnote 8).
10 Willow Branch School Remodeled Into Residence (1937, January 7). The Hancock Democrat [Greenfield]. p. 4
11 Making Residence of School House (1937, January 2). The Greenfield Daily Reporter. p. 1.

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