by Randall Eckley
THE TRADITION CONTINUESWhen Joseph Bailly established a trading post on the Little Calumet River in 1822, he became the first permanent resident in what is now Porter County, Indiana. However, it was not until the 1830's that true settlement of the area began. By this time a crude road from Detroit to Fort Dearborn (Chicago) passing through the region had been constructed, Indian land claims had been settled, Porter County along with Liberty Township had been organized, and government sale of lands had begun.
The first families to settle in Liberty Township were grouped into three settlements. The Zane settlement was the first to be established in 1835. The Salt Creek Settlement was centered around a grist mill constructed in 1836. The Dillingham Settlement was founded in 1837 and was the last to be established.
Although the first families to settle in Liberty Township were occupied with building homes, clearing lands, and planting crops, they also valued education and quickly established schools. The first school in Liberty Township was held in a small log house in the Zane Settlement. Sophia Dye was the first teacher. She had about fifteen pupils enrolled and received a salary of two dollars per week. The first schools in the Dillingham and Salt Creek Settlements were held in private residences. A log school house was built in the Dillingham Settlement in the late 1830's. This school became known as the Cole School. It was not until 1856 that a school building was constructed in the Salt Creek Settlement.
These first schools were private subscription schools. A member of the settlement would agree to teach school, and parents would pay a subscription fee to have their children attend. Later, itinerant teachers would be hired to conduct school.
Prior to the Civil War, education was entirely a local matter. Each county established licensing requirements for teachers, and individual localities determined length of terms, curriculum, and salaries. In 1859, the average daily salary for teachers in the state was $1.13 for men and 86 cents for women. By 1866 this had increased to $1.88 for men and $1.31 for women. In 1883, teachers in Liberty Township were paid $25.00 for the winter term and $33.00 for the summer term.
It was not until the 1890's that laws were passed requiring children between the ages of seven and fourteen to attend school for twelve weeks each year.
When the first settlers arrived in Liberty Township, they discovered hardwood forests, fertile farm land, and a few Indians.
It was not until the 1870s and 1880s that the state legislature finally undertook initiatives to improve the quality of education in the state. During this period, township schools were graded, a uniform course of study with standardized examinations were introduced, and legislation was passed establishing a system of uniform textbooks. Despite this legislation, compulsory education laws continued to be weak. It was not until the 1890's that laws were passed requiring children between the ages of seven and fourteen to attend school for twelve weeks each year.
As railroads came to Liberty Township, stations were established and small villages were founded. These villages included Woodville, Crocker, and Babcock. As the population of the township grew, additional schools were built. By 1876, the Linderman, Johnson, and Babcock schools had joined the Cole (formerly Dillingham), Phares (formerly Zane) and Salt Creek schools in serving the township's children. By 1910, these schools had been joined by the Daly and Crocker schools.
In 1907, high schools were officially recognized by the state legislature as part of the public school system. At this time the Liberty Township schools did not offer a complete four-year high school program. Students desiring a high school diploma usually attended school in either Chesterton or Valparaiso with Liberty's township trustee required to pay the tuition. A complete high school program was established in 1913 with a new building housing grades 1-12 constructed on the site of the Johnson School and renamed Liberty Center.
Although the building housing Liberty Center was relatively new, it became apparent by the 1920s that its facilities were inadequate to meet an expanding curriculum. Laboratories were needed for both science and vocational courses, and a gymnasium was needed to implement the new physical education curriculum recommended by the state.
Another factor which played a part in the decision to construct a new facility was the issue of rural school consolidation. State officials strongly advocated the consolidation of rural one-room schools believing it would increase efficiency and improve the quality of education. By the 1927 school year, population shifts resulted in only fours schools in addition to Liberty Center being used.
Approval for consolidation of the township's schools and construction of a new high school facility was granted, and construction of a new high school facility began in 1928. With the opening of the new high school in the fall of 1928, the township schools were consolidated with all students attending school at Liberty Center. Under consolidation, students in the first six grades attended school at the Liberty Center building, and the seventh and eighth grades were housed in the new building along with high school students.
By 1928, the one-room school house which had served Liberty's students for almost a century became a part of the township's history. In the early 1950's a new elementary building was constructed east of the new high school, and the old high school that had been converted to an elementary school was torn down.
For forty years, Liberty Center High School served not only as a school but also as a place where residents of the township could come together as a community. This sense of community was intensified by a relatively low population which allowed residents to become acquainted and by the fact that many were related by birth or marriage. However, by the 1960s it became obvious that the township could not longer support its own high school and increasing curricular demands.
During the 1950's, the Indiana General Assembly enacted legislation to facilitate the consolidation of local school districts. It was hoped that the small township schools would join together to form larger districts which would be able to provide students with increased educational opportunities. With the lack of funds making an expanded curriculum prohibitive and improved school buildings almost impossible, residents of Liberty Township petitioned the Porter County School Reorganization Committee to join the schools in Westchester Township.
Enjoying both financial and policy support from the central administration, school board, and community, each school has had the opportunity to implement programs to prepare students for the future.
The assessed valuation of Westchester Township had always exceeded that of Liberty, and by 1968 the presence of Bethlehem Steel and other industries made it the wealthiest township in the county. At this time Westchester had an assessed valuation of $95 million compared to Liberty's $4.75 million. With an assessed valuation of only $3 million, Jackson Township joined the petition after a proposed building addition was denied by the state.
The proposal to consolidate was placed on the ballot in 1962 and 1964 and was defeated both times. The merger was finally approved in 1968, and on January 1, 1969 , the Duneland School Corporation, consisting of Liberty, Jackson, and Westchester Townships along with seven sections of Pine Township, officially came into existence.
The creation of the Duneland School Corporation had an immediate impact on both students and faculty members at Liberty Center. High School students from the entire district were reassigned to Chesterton High School. After consolidation, Liberty Center only served elementary students from the township and junior high school students from Jackson and Liberty Townships.
The late 1960's was a period of educational innovation, and a decision was made at this time to change to an open concept classroom approach at the elementary level and replace the junior high school with a middle school program. As a result, a new elementary school was built just west of the existing building and opened in the fall of 1971. It was also during this year that Liberty Junior High School became Liberty Middle School. Renovations to the middle school in 1971 added a new media center and cafeteria. In 1984 a $7 million building and renovation project was completed at Liberty Middle School. During construction, the old high school building constructed in 1928 was demolished to make room for a new music wing.
In August of 2000 work was completed on the new Chesterton High School located just south of CR 1100 on 11th Street. It was also at this time that the renovation of the old Chesterton High School building located on Morgan Avenue began. In order to serve an expanding enrollment, the Duneland School Board decided to reconfigure grades at the K-8 levels. Under this plan, elementary schools would serve students in grades K-4 and the two existing middle schools would become intermediate schools serving students in grades 5-6. The renovated old high school building would then become the district's only middle school servicing all students in grades 7 and 8. In August of 2001 Liberty Middle School officially became Liberty Intermediate School.
Both Liberty Intermediate and Liberty Elementary Schools continue to strive for educational excellence. Enjoying both financial and policy support from the central administration, school board, and community, each school has had the opportunity to implement programs to prepare students for the future. Today parents, teachers, and students share a value for education, a tradition begun by the township's first settlers.
Randall Eckley was the Media Specialist at Liberty Middle School for 28 years. He is currently retired after serving 10 years as the Director of Media and Technology for Duneland School Corporation.