This neighborhood was located in the area that is known today as the South Main Street and County road #600 South intersection area in Northern Franklin Township, about four miles South of New Castle. The only remaining evidence of this long ago neighbor hood is the remains of the old church water well and pump that is still standing and the foundation of the last church that stood in the area. The cemetery has been plowed over and all evidence of the schools has vanished.
By W. M. Watkins
New Castle Democrat
In our invitation to read a paper on this occasion we were told to write of the Bethel neighborhood. In doing this we confine ourselves to the period of 1844 and 1851' inclusive. The name "Bethel" was given this neighborhood twelve years after the period mentioned in this article. The schoolhouse at the time of our first acquaintance here stood nearby the first old Bethel meeting house and was known as the Walker schoolhouse. This school building was of logs, as were nearly all of the schoolhouses of the county at that time.
To our best information this structure was built about the year 1834, on the land then owned by Richard Walker, located on the north side of the road and near the home of John Walker, who lived a few rods farther west on the south side of the road. From these two families the school house owed it's name. The writer came to this neighborhood with his father, Armstead Watkins, and family, I the year 1844. The heads of families and school patrons then living here were as follows: Caleb Wickersham, Richard Walker, Robert Needham, Jonas Moss, Samuel Templeton, Charles Clanton Sr., Jehu Wickersham, James A. Windsor, Joseph Hubbard, Gabriel Cosand, Margaret Linnens, Elizabeth D. Carr, Jethro Wickersham, Oliver Wickersham and William Griffen who patronized this school part of the time. In a few years after the date referred to, Samuel Templeton, Jehu Wickersham, Joseph Hubbard and Margaret Linnens moved away and in their places came Alvus Walker, Mahlon B. Pentecost and Abel Wickersham. Only a few years later John Walker left the neighborhood and his placewas taken by George W. Watkins, a little latter Abel Wickersham moved away and his place was taken by William P. Walker. Also about this time James Shelley and Harrison Goodman moved to this school district. Perhaps a little earlier than this Daniel Stafford came into this district with his family. There were others who once lived in this district, but only living there a short time, were not patrons of the schools, hence we have omitted their names. Nearly all those names we have mentioned were natives of North Carolina and good people they were. Armstead Watkins, who was a native of Virginia, came to this state or rather territory, in 1814, and to this neighborhood in 1844. Harrison Goodman and probably the Clantons and Templetons, who were from Tennessee, came.
These pioneers from the start recognized the importance of good schools and always as nearly as possible, selected competent teachers. From 1844 to 1854 there were no free schools, the patrons of the schools paying the teachers according to the number of children they sent. Probably no other district had more or better schools than were found at this schoolhouse, winter and summer. Here is a list of the teachers who taught here during this period of which we write. John Eaton, James Robb, Addison Bronson who taught only a short time, took sick and died, and the term was finished by B. F. (Doc) Shelley, Frank Pentecost, W. W. Chesire, W. F. (Frank) Walker, James A. Stafford and John Hedrick. These were the men teachers of the winter school months. The summer schools were taught by lady teachers, of them we remember the following, first a Miss Conwell, whose first name we cannot recall, then came Licinda Bowers, Leah Bogue, Eliza Elliot, Lou Gregory, Jane Walker and Roy Peed. In this we have used the maiden names of the teachers, Lucinda Bowers was married afterwards to Joseph McDowell, Eliza Elliot to W. N. Craft, Nancy Irene Walker to Calvin Cannaday, Lou Gregory to John R. Peed and Roy Ann Peed to Lemuel Redding.
The Bethel church structure from which we get the name for our subject, was erected in the year 1856, the contract being let to Robert B. Burr. He took the contract so low that he lost on the job all of his own work and $17 besides which he paid from his own pocket. The money to pay for this building was raised by subscription, the principle contributors being Robert Needham, Armstead Watkins, M. B. Pentecost, Washington Watkins, all members of the denomination known as the Christian church. Others not belonging to this denomination who contributed liberally were Alvus Walker, James A. Windsor. Alvus Walker in addition to his cash donation, contributed most of the timber for the frame. There were others who contributed small amounts, but not living in this immediate vicinity were Josiah Needham, Thomas Wisehart, George Thorton and William Clift. The house was placed nearby to the West side of the old log schoolhouse. The first services of this and other denominations were conducted in the schoolhouse and the church organization was effected before the erection of the church building. The first ordained elders were Armstead Watkins, Robert Needham and Mahlon B. Pentecost. Of the many ministers who preached here during our residence in the neighborhood we can recall the names of Elijah Martindale, John Okane, John Brown, Isaac Lowe, Robert Edmondson, Seth S. Bennet, Charles Blackman and James L. Pearson of the Christian denomination. And Rev. Harvey of the Baptist church, we cannot recall his first name. There were other ministers who preached but only occasionally, not regular pastors.
Reverting to the schools, we think it not out of place to mention to the best of our frail memory, the names of the boys and girls who attended school here. Who afterwards were them selves teachers. And most of them very capable ones, Robert B. Carr,W. W. Chesher, W. F. Walker, John Needham, Nancy Irene Walker, Nancy Jane Wolf, Richard Shelley, George T. Watkins, John J. Watkins, William M. Watkins, Francis M. Watkins, Marquis D. L. Watkins, Huldah Wickersham, Louisa Wickersham, Mary Annis Wickersham, James A. Stafford, Roy Ann Peed, Sallie Ann Needham and Jemima Needham. Some of these having no other school privileges than furnished by this good country school. There was no place for a teacher not qualified in this schoolhouse, erected nearly eighty years ago. The heads of families here seemed to think that the best teachers of the county were the proper ones and the only proper ones to be employed. These pioneers, many of them lived to be quite old before their demise. Caleb Wickersham died at the age of 93 years. Richard Walker lived to an advanced age of 68 years, he came to the neighborhood from North Carolina in the year 1833. Jehu Wickersham died at Tipton county, Indiana a few years ago at the age of 87 years. Jethro Wickersham is yet living at the ripe age of 90 years. Robert Needham at the time of his death, ten years ago, was in his 94th year. Jonas Moss, James A. Windsor and Gabriel Cosand lived to an advanced age. Of their descendants, the then girls and boys in school, some are yet living past 75 years of age. We mention Robert B. Carr, W. F. Walker and his wife, Sarah H. Carr, Mrs. N. I. Canaday, Irene Walker and John J. Watkins. Some are yet living who have passed their three score and ten and other of our deceased school mates lived until their years were numbered in the seventies.
Prior to the adoption of our present constitution the county business was transacted by three judges called associate judges. From the year 1843 to 1848 Gabriel Cosand served as one of these officials and a quite capable official he was. These old settlers did not seek office, bu two of them, Armstead Watkins and James A. Windsor, were elected to the office of Justice of the Peace in their respective townships. Some of your present day young lawyers would say they were country squires. Daniel Stafford, after moving to the neighborhood, took up the study of medicine and soon attained a high standing in the medical profession. Of the five boys of this school who took up the study and practice of medicine for their life work, and all of who attained high standing in their endeavor, we mention John Needham, George T. Watkins, James A. Stafford, M. S. Watkins and William Stafford. Alver Enas Needham is an honored minister of the Christian church. W. F. Walker and W. M. Watkiins studued and practiced law for several years in Henry county, prior to removing West and both attained fair success in their profession.
In official positions in this little neighborhood furnished some creditable representatives. Will M. Watkins in early manhood was chosen without solicitation on his part was chosen school examiner, an office now known as county school superintendent. For thirty-seven years William Bailey Wickersham served as secretary of the Chicago public library prior to his death five years ago. Joshua Gurney Wickersham removed to California many years ago, settled at the city of rainbow and served a long term as postmaster in that city. W. W. Cheshire, after many successful years of teaching, was elected clerk of the circuit court in Lake county, this state, serving two terms and later was appointed to a prominent position in the patent department at Washington, D. C., where he died only a few years ago. W. F. Walker, at one time, years ago, removed to Wichita, Kan., and during his residence there was elected to the office of mayor. He still resides there, lacking but four months of being 80 years of age. Robert B. Carr was twice elected sheriff of this county and once clerk of the circuit court, removed to Kansas and there chosen a representative to the state legislature. He now resides at Lebanon, state of South Dakota, at the age of 78 years. Certainly a credible showing for one school district. These good old Carolinians and Virginians with the aid of the teachers they employed, taught their boys patriotism and good citizenship. Here is the record made by their sons who in their early manhood or even boyhood heeded the call of their country in the time of their countries distress. What would you expect or how many enlisted could be expected including only the territory of a little more than four sections of land.
Our roll of honor bears the names of Robert B. Carr, Charles Clanton, Winford Needham, Cornelius W. Cosand, Caleb Jones Wickersham, Asberry C. Evans. Three of the sons of Alvus Walker, namely William Franklin, Richard and Albert Dewitt. Armstead Watkins, who died before the war, furnished three boys who assisted in putting down the rebellion. They were Francis Marion, Thorton Toliver and William Morris. Here are twelve names of men growing from childhood to manhood on this small tract of land. What other school district can beat this record. Of these "brave boys" Francis M. Watkins and Thorton T. Watkins gave up their young lives in battle. Caleb Jones Wickersham was discharged at the end of one year's service on account of disability incurred in the line of duty, and died soon after his return home. Probably the greatest sacrifice of these was made by Cornelius W. Conrad, who was compelled to remain nine months in the Andersonville prison, and imprisonment certainly worse than death. Such are the fates of war. We will close this article with a mention of the good citizenship of the sons and daughters of the good old Bethel neighborhood. Of all the names written on teachers' rolls during the period 1844 to 1861, not one of those names was ever written in the books of a penitentiary, a county jail or city calaboose. Not one we assert was ever locked in a prison of any kind excepting the "hell" at Andersonville and that was an honor and not a disgrace.