Hopkinsville Education

Since the days of Daniel Barry, whom Collins distinguishes as the Irish Linguist,” Hopkinsville has enjoyed the advantage of many noted and excellent educators. Barry taught here as early as 1812, and came from the upper part of the State-perhaps Nelson County. Collins mentions him as having taught the Hon. Ben. Hardin in that county. Here he had for pupils, among others, James and Edward Rumsey, the former of whom afterward taught here, and sent out into the various vocations of life many distinguished men and women. Miss Lucretia Moore was another, and taught as early as 1815. Following her were Thomas Smith, afterward a divine in the Reformed Church; Gen. Chambers, Maj. Isaac Evans, Mr. Buchanan, father of Dr. Buchanan, the phrenologist, and the inventor of a flying machine ” (?) upon which he spent a fortune; William Murrell, Francis Hopkins, J. J. Johnson, a Baptist preacher; Richard Gaines, brother-in-law to Peter Cartwright; Rev. William Lapsley; Roger F. Kelley; Richard U. Buckner, uncle to Maj. John P. Campbell; Martha Dallam, afterward wife of Judge Davidge; James H. Rice, son of Rev. David Rice, the first Presbyterian minister that ever preached in Kentucky, and James D. Ramsey. The latter gentleman was a classical scholar, and one of the ablest teachers of the early period of Hopkinsville, except Barry. He was a nephew of the famous James Rumsey, the inventor of the steam-boat. Among those who received instruction from him may be mentioned: Hon. Henry J. Stites, now Judge of the Common Pleas Court at Louisville; Col. James F. Buckner, of Louisville; Maj. John P. Campbell; Judge A. V. Long; T. P. Ware and M. W. Patton, both afterward Attorneys-General of Mississippi; Munsell, Judge of the Superior Court of Texas; Prior M. Grant, Chief Justice of Mississippi, and others. Mr. Ramsey taught twice in Hopkinsville, covering a period of nearly thirty years, from about 1824 to 1854. While teaching males, many young men from Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and other Southern States flocked to him. His last school here was an academy for young ladies exclusively, and was largely attended from all over the Union.

Mrs. Sophia Lotspeich may also be mentioned among those who taught here in early times; also Mrs. Gregory, who taught a class of young ladies at the old seminary. Rev. George P. Geddinge, a distinguished minister of the Episcopal Church, and Rev. George Beckett, of the same church, taught in connection with their ministerial duties. Prof. Rogers, Rev. Jansen, Rev. Curtis, Rev. Juney and Dr. J. W. Rust, may also be mentioned as distinguished educators of Hopkinsville. To describe all the school buildings occupied by these different teachers would be extremely tedious, and of but little interest to the general reader.

Hopkinsville High School

This institution, under the management of Maj. James O. Ferrell, an able and efficient educator, is the outgrowth or succession of Prof. Rumsey’s select school, already mentioned in these pages. Maj. Ferrell took charge of the institution in 1873, and has had the management of it ever since. He made it a school for boys and young men exclusively, and during the year 1873 introduced military tactics as a branch of study, under M. H. Crump, formerly of the Military Institute of Virginia. For three years Mr. Crump had charge of the Military Department, and was then succeeded by F. D. Peabody, who also remained three years, when Maj. Ferrell decided to discontinue that department. He had, during that time, two assistants in the Literary Department. After the organization of the public schools of Hopkinsville upon their present basis, several changes were made in this school by Maj. Ferrell-the Military Department was abolished, and the institution changed to a select limited school.

Under this system the school has since been conducted, and well maintains its reputation as a select educational institution of a high order. About thirty pupils attend upon an average, and in this number six States are represented. Maj. Ferrell as a successful educator has few superiors, and his school is not surpassed by any similar institution in southwestern Kentucky.

Hopkinsville Public Schools

The excellent sketch of the public schools of Hopkinsville was written by Prof. Charles IL Dietrich, the Principal of the schools. Prof. Dietrich deserves great praise and the gratitude of the city for the high standard to which he has brought the schools of Hopkinsville. The public schools are the true foundation of the educational system, and the sooner we (of the Southern States) acknowledge this the better it will be for us and for our States. Prof. Dietrich’s sketch is as follows:

Very few sources of information are now attainable as to the early history of the common schools of the city of Hopkinsville, and some of that information savors of tradition. But the facts as near as they can now be gathered are about as follows: The first common school in Hopkinsville, organized and taught as such under the laws of the State governing the same, was taught in 1842 to 1844 by a Mr. Stevens, who was assisted by a Mr. McClellan, Miss Ruth Beach and another lady whose name is forgotten. Messrs. Stevens and McClellan taught the boys, and the lady assistants taught the girls. Mr. Stevens is still remembered by some of his old pupils for his ability as an instructor, and his severity as a disciplinarian. This school was taught in a long log-cabin, previously used by the father of Dr. Hopson of this city as a factory for the making of saddle-trees. It was located on the southwest corner of Nashville and Campbell Streets, where now is located the residence of Mrs. Gideon B. Perry.

The condition of the State school fund was such that it continued in operation but five months in the year. At this time the county constituted one school district, and this school is said to have absorbed during its continuance all the money coming from the State fund. There now arose a discussion as to local taxation for school purposes. This was strongly opposed by many of the citizens, who argued from what at this day would be considered a false, selfish and illogical stand-point. The discussion resulted in much bitter feeling, and indirectly in the closing of this school. From this time until after 1849 no record appears of any school either private or public.

The present Constitution, adopted in 1849, contained provisions for a common school system which together with statutory provisions enabled schools to be sustained for five months in the year. Public schools seem to have been taught at times in connection with one of the colleges. Mrs. Rogers, Mrs. Nancy Stevenson and others, whose names are not now known, taught private schools and received a share of the State school fund to apply to indigent pupils.

Yet notwithstanding constitutional and statutory provisions, interest in general elementary education flagged greatly, and no common school organized and taught as such appeared from the time of the Stevenson school of 1844, until the year 1871. The boundary of the original Hopkinsville School District No. 37 was worded as follows: ” Beginning at B. B. Jones to R G. Whitaker, J. S. Malone, William Mason, J. L. Tutt, Samuel Harrison, Wyatt Rembrough, E. Love, E. Wall, Wallace Ware, J. W. A. Mc-Garvey, Mrs. Lorin, John B. Knight, C. A. Shephard, William Hurt, Thomas Hayes, William Pendleton, Benjamin Gray, John McCarroll, James Stephenson, George O. Thompson, George Wood, J. H. West, G. B. Long, W. W. Rossington, H. Hopper, K. Twyman, Stephen Trice, E. B. Richardson, Thomas Clark. All the above names and others are added to the schools of Hopkinsville.”

In March, 1871, County School Commissioner G. A. Champlin made and fixed the boundary of the district as follows: ” Beginning at Wood’s Mill on the East Fork of Little River; thence to N. L. Baker’s (William Hurt’s place); thence to Dr. R. W. Ware’s; thence to Smith Hay’s; thence to N. E. Gray’s old place on Greenville road (now owned by E Starling); thence to brick house on Madisonville road (belonging to the Bank of Hopkinsville); thence to the forks of the Cadiz and Princeton roads; thence to H. A. Phelps’ house on his farm; thence to Dr. Charles Shackelford’s; thence to bridge on Clarksville road; thence up the river to the place of beginning.”

This boundary was subsequently (in 1872) modified so as to conform to the boundary of the corporation of Hopkinsville, and so it now stands. The date of the establishment of this district is not known, but it evidently was during the interval 1845 to 1854. The first report given is for the year 1854, in which year there were reported sixty-four children and a per capita of 70 cents. The Trustees for this year were: Finis E. Henderson, Preston B. White and James Correl. The next report was made in 1862, when forty-seven children were reported and a per capita of $1.05.

During an interval of nine years following this last report no record of school work appears other than that of the private schools, which, how-ever, were credited with doing good work. Notably among the teachers of these appears the name of Mr. Rumsey, who taught in the old seminary building where now stands the depot. On the 11th of November, 1870, certificates to teach were granted to Miss Patty White and Miss Marietta Shipley. In 1871 these ladies began to teach the public schools of Hopkinsville, or as they were frequently termed the free schools.” After teaching one year these ladies were reinforced by the addition to their number of Mrs. Martha White. There was no public school building and the schools were taught just where taste or convenience dictated. Miss Shipley continued teaching for two years, but Mrs. and Miss White continued their joint labors till 1881, when the organization of the graded public schools caused an abandonment of their school. In 1880 Messrs. Skehan and Flippo were engaged in public school work, but for some reason their work did not extend beyond this year. During this past decade, most prominent among the zealous advocates of popular education and as School Trustees, appeared James A. Wallace and William Skerritt. No less deserving of mention for meritorious service in establishing and advancing the schools of the people, was the County School Commissioner, G. A. Champlin. The need of more thorough and systematic effort in the organization and operation of the schools was manifest and fully appreciated. Consequently an act was passed by the General Assembly of the State, March 13, 1872, entitled ” An Act to Organize and Establish a System of Public Schools in the City of Hopkinsville for White Children in said City.” According to its provisions, James A. Wallace, William Skerritt, George C. Long, G. A. Champlin and R. J. McDaniel were appointed Trustees. The act also provided for the issuance of city bonds not to exceed $20,000 in amount for the purpose of securing suitable grounds and buildings. It provided for the levy and collection of a tax of 35 cents on the $100 worth of property. It was further provided that only the property of white persons should be taxed under this act. No organization of the Trustees was effected in accordance with the act of 1872 till July 16, 1879. The question of the issuance of city bonds as previously mentioned being submitted to a popular vote was carried, but not without much and bitter opposition. A part of this opposition was based upon difference of opinion as to the best method of raising the funds necessary for the establishment and support of the schools. Some were afraid to undertake the experiment and would rather bear the ills they had, than fly to others that they knew not of.” Still others variously based their opposition upon ideas of expediency, self-interest and constitutionality of the measure. It was stoutly asserted that the proposed bonds would never find a market, although members of the opposition themselves became purchasers. It was claimed that real estate would depreciate in value, and that citizens would leave their homes to escape the burden of additional taxation. In spite of these dire predictions the friends of the measure, confident in the wisdom and utility of it, persevered until their efforts were crowned with a success which fully demonstrated the correctness of their views and the fallacies of the opposition.

Especially prominent in their advocacy of schools in accordance with this act were James A. Wallace, William Skerritt, G. A. Champlin, Robert M. Fairleigh (who now occupied the place of Trustee, made vacant by the death of R. J. McDaniel), George C. Long and Henry Blumenstiel, at whose place of business frequent meetings were held in the interest of the movement. An amendment to the original act was passed by the General Assembly, March 24, 1880. In the latter part of 1879 the Trustees purchased the lot on the east side of Clay Street, between Broad and Market Streets, at a cost of $3,000.

In the spring of 1880 building plans drawn by R. G. Rosenplanter of Clarksville, Tenn., were accepted and shortly afterward the contract for the construction of the same was let to Robert Mills of Hopkinsville. The building is a handsome three-story brick, contains twelve schoolrooms and the same number of cloak-rooms. The cost of the building was $13,380.25. It was completed in time for occupancy in the winter of 1881.

The selection of a Superintendent was a difficult and perplexing question to the trustees. Although in successful operation in many parts of the country the graded school system was new to this people, and necessarily an experiment here. The Trustees realized the importance of se-curing the right man for the right place. Many applications were before them-some from persons near home who were known to be excellent instructors, but few offered who had had successful experience in the line of graded school teaching. Viewing the amount of local opposition to the measure and the absolute necessity of making it a success from the very start, and in order to harmonize all elements and quiet opposition, the board was particularly careful in its selection of a Superintendent. Charles H. Dietrich was selected. He was a young man thirty-two years of age, and sent letters of unqualified indorsement. He graduated at the Ohio State University. By chance one of the Trustees of these schools heard of his eminent success in former teaching, and being assured of his administrative ability, wrote to ask if he would like to cast his lot among them. He consented to come provided they thought he was the proper man, and sent such indorsements from Prof. Oston, President of Ohio State University, Profs. Norton, McFarland and Millikin and from Col. Innes and Henry Wood, all of Columbus, Ohio, that the Board of Trustees after a spirited contest and ardent discussion, selected Prof. Dietrich to conduct the new enter-prise.

He came to Hopkinsville restored to health (which had failed by close confinement in teaching, and had been restored among the mountains of New Mexico), vigorous and ruddy, and under his supervision the schools opened on the 7th of February, 1881, with 324 pupils and seven teachers. There has been a steady increase in the number of pupils. At the close of the third year there were found to be enrolled for that school year 650 pupils. The number of teachers has increased to eleven. Up to the present time the schools have remained in charge of Prof. C. H. Dietrich, and the following teachers have held positions therein: Mrs. E. W. Mc-Kenzie, Mrs. Rosa M. Branham, Mrs. L. H. Patton, Miss Patty B. White, Miss Annie C. Kennedy, Miss Marie L. Wardroper, Miss Pauline Vaughan, Miss Gertrude King, Miss Sina L. Harris, Miss Alberta Pendergast, Miss Agnes Dryden, Miss Susie B. Rutherford, Miss Lelia Mills, Miss Minnie R. Lander, Miss Katie McDaniel, Miss Mary Dun-can, Miss Laura Mayo, Miss Aurine Williams, Miss Lucy McGowan and Miss Sara McKee.

With some embarrassments but with generally progressive success, Prof. Dietrich with his able corps of assistants has been able to bring the schools to their present surprising perfection. All available means have been used to further their progress. By the efforts of Prof. Dietrich and others interested in the schools a public school library has been founded containing many valuable books of reference, instruction and general reading, suitable to pupils of all ages. The schools speak for themselves to-day. They rank with the best in the country, and are inferior to none. They are justly the pride of the citizens of Hopkinsville, and so well established has their merit become that many families from the surrounding country have moved into the city, and at the present time scarcely a vacant dwelling house or cottage can be found in the city limits., So completely have the public schools become identified with the main interests of the people, that many who were once violently opposed to their establishment have become their zealous advocates, and they are recognized throughout the whole county as the best means they have for the education of the children and advancement in civilization and prosperity.

Prof. Charles H. Dietrich

It is eminently appropriate, and no more than justice to the efficient Principal of the Public Schools, to give a brief sketch of him in connection with them, and the editor assumes to add the following:

Prof. Charles H. Dietrich was born in Fredericksburg, Wayne Co., Ohio, September 19, 1849. He is descended from German ancestors-his grandfather Dietrich being a native of Hanover, and his grandmother of Holland. Some years prior to the Revolutionary war these ancestors settled in the southeast part of Pennsylvania, where they reared a family. Of this family was John Dietrich, the father of Charles, whose name heads this sketch. John Dietrich was born in 1799, and married Elizabeth Boyer, also a native of Pennsylvania. and who was born in 1804.

Prof. Dietrich is the youngest of the family of eight children. He was educated in his native village, and in 1873 graduated from the Ohio Central Normal School at Washington. The same year he entered the Ohio State University at Columbus, from which he graduated in the class of 1878. He then began teaching in the public schools of Columbus, where he remained about two years. Owing to failing health, he was forced to resign his position as teacher, and he then went to New Mexico, where, under Government appointment, he engaged in the mineral survey of that region. After regaining his health he returned to Ohio, and in January, 1881, came to Hopkinsville, where in the following month he organized the Hopkinsville Public Graded Schools. He is still at the head of the schools, and his ability as a teacher and educator is shown by the success the schools have attained under his administration. He was married, November 28, 1883, to Miss Minnie R., daughter of Wilson J. Lander, of Hopkinsville. The Colored Schools – The following sketch of the Colored Public Schools is written by Judge G. A. Champlin, County Commissioner of Schools: The first common schools for colored children were taught in the year 1875, the Legislature having in the winter of 1874-75 passed an act known as the Colored School Law. This law gave the colored schools the benefit of certain fines, and the principal part of all taxes paid by the colored people, but was very inadequate, and only provided a fund that paid the small sum of about 50 cents for each child of pupil age, which by the law included all between the ages of six and sixteen years. On account of the meager fund, the colored people and the friends of their education were very much discouraged. It was said by many that it was useless to make any attempt toward education with such a small per capita. There was a great want to be supplied in the way of teachers, only about four or five competent persons being found in the county who were ready and willing to engage in teaching. Only five districts were formed the first year, and only about 500 children were embraced in the census for that year. Schools were taught in these districts during the school year ending June 30, 1876, and the colored, people were convinced that much good could be done, even with the small sum applied to their education. The next year the districts were increased to sixteen, and the census to nearly 1,500, and in about three years the whole county was districted, and the census ran up to nearly 5,000 children. The colored people evinced a great desire to improve, and took much interest in everything pertaining to education. The act of the Legislature giving additional aid to colored schools enabled the colored people of the county to have common schools taught in nearly all the districts, now forty-four in number. The-teachers are much better than formerly; indeed, compare very favor-ably in qualifications with the teachers in the white schools.

The colored people of the city of Hopkinsville have by assistance of the whites erected a commodious and very good and substantial building, costing,. including furniture, grounds, etc., between $2,500 and $3,000, and, with a Principal and a competent corps of teachers, maintain one of the best schools in the State, during eight to ten months in the year.

The colored people manifest as much if not more interest in common schools than the white people of the county, and everything considered they have made remarkable improvement. They certainly deserve much credit for what they have done in this way. It is now conceded by all that the colored people ought to be educated in order that they may understand our laws, and thus become better citizens.


Perrin, William Henry, ed., Counties of Christian and Trigg, Kentucky, Historical and Biographical, Chicago : F. A. Battey Publishing Co., 1884.

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