Jasper Co. IAGenWeb
Past and Present of Jasper Co.


Past and Present of Jasper County Iowa
B.F. Bowden & Company, Indianapolis, IN, 1912


Mainly through subscriptions raised among the Friends' Society, this institution of learning was founded at Lynnville in 1866. If was continued a number of years, but owing to lack of boarding places the school waned and finally in the course of a few terms closed its doors. In 1871 arrangements were perfected with the public school district by which the building they had erected just outside of town aways, was moved to the village and rented to the district. In 1875 the Friends again took possession of the property, and in the fall of that year an academic course was opened up, with an attendance of about eighty-five students, which number, at the end of the fifth week, had increased to one hundred and thirty. Prof. W. W. Gregg and N. Rosenberger were the teachers at the beginning, and such was the rush of students that the services of Miss Cynthia Macy and Miss Gregg became necessary. After about one year of such prosperity, Professor Gregg left the school. Another principal, from Indiana, taught a while and then the school ceased to be.

The building was a frame structure, two stories high, well adapted for schoolwork. Later the building became a part of the Friends' Church.

By J. H. Fugard

This institution was located at Newton, and occupies an important place in the educational history of Jasper County. It was a private school founded by Prof. Darius Thomas, A. M., in 1856, and was owned and conducted by him fur nearly a third of a century. He then disposed of it to Prof. G. W. Wormley, a former pupil, who removed it to a new location, and changed it into the Newton Normal College.

At first the primary as well as the higher branches were taught. But as the public school system became mare fully developed, the primary branches were dropped, and the academy became an intermediate step between the common school and the college. At that time many colleges had a two-year preparatory course far such students as were not prepared for the regular college studies. And it is to the credit of Hazel Dell that same of its students were able to pass the required examination and enter the freshman year. And this, too, not only in Western colleges, but also in same of the older ones, such as Dartmouth, Harvard and Pennsylvania. At that time commercial colleges and normal schools were but few in number, and none nearby. But this want was here met by courses of study designed to fit young people for business or for teaching. Many received their training here, and several hundred schoolteachers were fitted for their work. More than fifteen hundred students attended the school during Professor Thomas' administration, And, as a large number of them afterwards taught in this county, it can safely be said that, directly and indirectly, several thousand of our young people received its benefits.

I once heard the veteran educator, C. D. Hipsley say that in his experience, as a teacher and principal of the Newton schools and as county superintendent, he had found that the teachers who came from this school were more uniformly successful than those from any other institution.

The school existed at a time when educational advantages were limited in central Iowa, when times were strenuous and money scarce. And its founder made it possible for many young people to prepare for college, or fit themselves for life's work, who would otherwise have lacked the opportunity and the stimulus. A glance at our early history will make this more apparent.

A large proportion of the pioneers were persons of intelligence and character. They were desirous that their children should have the privileges, which they had enjoyed in their former homes. But they were handicapped by lack of means. Money was scarce everywhere, and especially in the West, where people had little to sell, and lacked many of the comforts of life, Some of their efforts to secure better things were very feeble, but were steps in the right direction. And we ought not to despise the day of small things. For to these efforts we are largely indebted for the present more ideal conditions, which are represented by the church and the schoolhouse on the hill and no saloon in the valley. An incident of early days will illustrate this thought. I once read the minutes of a school meeting that was held in 1854 at the home of Doctor Turck, where John Welle now lives in Buena Vista Township, James Wright was secretary and the minutes were quite full and complete. The settlers had gathered to consider the question of having a school in their midst. And it was decided to have one, and to make application for money to hire a teacher. No public funds seem to have been available for schoolhouse purposes, and so they arranged to build one themselves, each man contributing a portion of the material. It was of rough logs with a clapboard roof, and stood just east of what is now the Mt. Zion Cemetery. The needless luxury of a floor was dispensed with for the first year or two.

And this schoolhouse, rude as it seems, was quite an acquisition to the community, and was used for several years, not only for school purposes, but also for preaching services and festive gatherings. And the religious work begun there by a faithful band of Christians, has been carried steadily and successfully forward, and is now the prosperous Mt. Zion Methodist Church.

The door of the old school house had wooden hinges and a wooden latch. And the seats were rough slabs with the bark side down, and with long wooden pegs for legs.

Ah, those blessed old slab benches! My back aches even now as I recall how hard it was for the little folk to balance themselves on them all day long, with nothing to lean against, and not able to reach the floor with our feet. And I remember how I envied the larger scholars who could sit on the bench that was next to the wall.

And yet it was while seated there that some of us learned how to spell "baker" and "shady" and the other hard words of two syllables that came after them in Webster's Elementary Spelling Book. On the cover of the book was an emblematic picture of the Temple of Fame, on the top of the Hill of Know ledge. But the sides of the hill were so steep that no little boy would think of ever trying to reach its summit; unless, perchance, like Darius Green, he could hope to invent some kind of a flying machine.

But poor as were the schoolhouse facilities of those days, a greater educational want was the need of properly trained teachers. At the one just mentioned no school was held the first winter for lack of a teacher. And some of the men who taught in the schools during those years were nearby farmers, who were more noted for their muscle than for their wisdom. And the fact that they were able to control the larger boys may have had something to do with their selection. In the towns the conditions were not much better.

The schools were held in small and over-crowded buildings, and only the rudimentary branches were taught.

Such was the state of affairs when Mr. Thomas, a quiet, unassuming man, came here from the state of Maryland and entered on his life's work, for which he was well fitted, both by nature and by training. He was a graduate of Jefferson College, Pennsylvania, now known as Washington and Jefferson College. Newton was then only a little hamlet, situated on the edge of a wide prairie that rolled away to the eastward like a boundless sea. To the west and north was an almost unbroken forest, miles in extent and coming to within a block or two of the business part of town.

He selected some lots three blocks north of the square where Will Jasper now lives, and with his own hands erected a neat schoolhouse thereon, and hewed a road to it through the dense thickets from which it took its name. It was afterwards enlarged several times, until it was made to accommodate a hundred or more pupils, many of whom roomed in the building.

Having learned in his younger days the now lost art of cabinet making, he was able to make his own furniture; and it was of a kind that did not fall to pieces with the first season's use.

And here he quietly carried on his work for many years, brightening and sweetening the lives of others. There was no pomp or attempt at display. No students were solicited, and no public aid was ever asked for or received. These things seem odd to us, for we have come to believe that great endowments and costly buildings are a necessary part of brain culture. And we can hardly rid our minds of the idea that success only comes to him who most loudly toots his own horn. We forget that modesty is occasionally rewarded, and that the public sometimes discovers and appreciates real merit. The school was well patronized by the town, but the most of the students came from the country. The sturdy boys and bonnie girls came trooping in, glad to avail themselves of the opportunity, which it offered. Only a small portion of them would have been able to go away to a distant school or college. But here, at their very doors, they found an opportunity at a small cost to obtain the instruction, which they desired. And some of them lived near enough to bring a sufficient supply of their mother's cooking to last all the week.

They found no spirit of caste or clannishness to appall them, and soon ceased to be mortified about their plain clothes and were encouraged to do their best. Many of them had to work or teach a part of the year in order to earn enough to attend the rest of the time. And those who felt unable to continue their studies for lack of means often received helpful suggestions from their teacher, and were assured that their tuition could remain unpaid until they were able to meet it. And to their credit, it can be said that none of them ever failed to meet this obligation.

At the present time so many educational institutions number their students by hundreds and by thousands, and we are apt to associate successful instruction with large attendance. We forget that many small schools and colleges are doing a grand work, and that many able men are from institutions that are almost unknown.

In a small school the student is usually brought into closer touch with the teacher, and had ought to learn from him to be a better and brighter man. And this it seems to me is the best part of the teacher's work, to so shape and mould the lives of their pupils that they may become a blessing to others.

Professor Thomas had the faculty of being able to make an impression for good on the character as well as the minds of those who came under his instructions. And this has since been shown by their well-ordered lives. They remember the exemplary life, the words of admonition, and the earnest prayers for their guidance; and somehow these things helped make them better men and better women.

It is pleasant to know that those who had been most benefited by his services did not wait until he was gone to express their appreciation. But many gladly did so during his lifetime. A largely attended reunion was once held at the fair grounds, with a good program, and he was presented with a silver service, suitably engraved, as a token of his pupil's esteem.

On account of failing health, he was compelled to give up his loved work in 1884, and seek relief in a milder climate. He retained a warm interest in the welfare of his former pupils, and kept a record of their whereabouts. And one of his greatest delights was to hear of their success.

He passed away on the 17th of October 1892, at his home in Carthage, Missouri, and his body was laid to rest in the Newton Cemetery, amid the scenes of his earlier years, and among the people that he loved.

Truly he was a high type of manhood, and "Worthy to bear without reproach that grand old name of Gentleman."

In the preparation of the foregoing sketch I am indebted to a number of former students and others who have given me facts and suggestions. After having consented to do it, I shrank from the task, as I felt that it was a subject worthy of some one who could do it better. And having been a pupil, and later an intimate friend of Mr. Thomas, I feared that it might be thought that I had unduly magnified the importance of these matters. Hence, my enquiries of others in regard to their view of it. And I have been surprised at their unanimity of opinion, some having used words of commendation stronger than I have dared to do.

As it was intended for a permanent history, I felt that it should be done by one who was never connected with the school, and preferred that Hon. A. K. Campbell should do it.

He had been familiar with its history, and had been deeply interested in the cause of education, and one of the regents of the State University. But he insisted that I should do it, and furnished me an outline, which I have somewhat closely followed in the foregoing.

A. G. Miller, a former pupil, who has been for many years an efficient police officer in Des Moines and twice chief of the department, makes this suggestion: That the people of this county would do themselves a credit to erect a suitable memorial, either a bronze tablet in the court house, or a monument, in honor of this useful man.

Another student. President Hill M. Bell, of Drake University, writes in appreciative words of the school and its teacher. I value his opinion because he is a successful instructor, and a man of great executive ability, and also as the head of a great university and one of the trustees of the Carnegie Pension Fund he has had almost unequaled opportunity to become acquainted with educators and to weigh their work and worth.

I cannot better close than by giving his letter, in which he expresses his views in a few terse sentences. It is as follows:

DES MOINES, IOWA, June 3, 1911

"My Dear Mr. Fugard:

"In answer to your letter of June 2nd, I will say that I feel that Prof. Darius Thomas exercised a wonderfully good influence upon the early history of Jasper County.

"Hazel Dell Academy will long be remembered as an institution that did a service that was not available from any other of like kind.

"I acknowledge my own debt to Professor Thomas.

"He was an excellent teacher, and was in his day an inspiration to many young men and women.

"Very truly yours,


The Newton Normal College was but the continuation of old Hazel Dell Academy. G. W. Wormley, in a recent article, states that in the fall of 1884 he was a student in the Iowa State College and received a communication from Prof. Darius Thomas, in which letter the latter stated that he would have to give up teaching on account of failing health, and said: "I have chosen you to be my successor; come down and see me; I want to sell out to you." Mr. Wormley graduated that autumn as a civil engineer, a field of work in which he was very much interested. He wrote Professor Thomas that he had nothing with which to purchase his school. To this the Professor replied, "Come down and see me; I can easily manage that part."

Here was an event that was to entirely change the life plans of a young man for the better or worse, who can say? He himself is unable now to tell.

He went, and the result was he returned to complete the few remaining weeks of his college course, the owner of Hazel Dell Academy, the place where he had taken his preparatory work for college.

Professor Thomas had sold his school to Mr. Wormley on time, about the only way he could sell to a student just through college. Professor Wormley has told how Mr. Thomas, after carrying over all the desks, books, records, charts, etc., belonging to the school, came bringing the keys and the old copy of the Psalms and New Testament which he had read at opening exercises for so many years, saying, "This also belongs to you, George. I hope you will not fail to continue its use in the school," and the answer he received seemed to satisfy him.

Grand old man, God bless him. Few nobler ever lived!

The first term opened with an attendance of seventy-five. A pretty big undertaking for a young man only twenty-four years old, but he taught them, unaided by any assistants, and seemingly to their satisfaction.

This young principal must have been rugged to some degree for he slept on a straw tick on the floor in an upstairs room in the academy all winter. In the spring of 1885 Mr. Wormley married Mary Ellen Spencer, daughter of Henry M. Spencer and wife, of Metz.

In 1886 he built an addition to the academy, more than doubling the size of the building. The school gained in attendance and the second year after the addition was finished the enrollment reached one hundred and fifteen. Two assistants were now employed. The school continued to prosper for nine years, until some of the public-spirited citizens said it ought to have a better equipment and a more favorable location. This agitation resulted in the building of the Newton Normal College. This was done on the lot sale plan, through a board of trustees, and was made possible only through the influence of the businessmen of Newton and a number of public-spirited farmers.

Not a dollar of remuneration was ever received by the board of trustees for their services; on the contrary, they contributed personally toward the incidental expenses of their meetings.

On April 27, 1893, the contract was let to Fehleisen & Coutts for twelve thousand, one hundred dollars, not including heating and plumbing. The building was turned over to Professor Wormley in the month of November 1893. The amount received up to this date from lot sales was not sufficient to enable the trustees to settle with the contractors, accordingly they had to secure a loan of three thousand dollars on the college.

This mortgage Professor Wormley assumed. This, with two thousand dollars which he paid for a heating plant to a firm in Oskaloosa, with school furniture, curtains, wells, piano, and the expenses incurred in moving and remodeling the old academy building to be used as a dormitory, put him in debt six thousand, five hundred dollars, all of which he paid eight percent interest upon. He had paid for Hazel Dell and had one thousand dollars in the bank at the close of 1892. This he had spent in purchasing lots, so he was compelled to borrow the entire six thousand, five hundred dollars in order to put the new building in condition to open for school the winter of 1893. This debt he paid off at the end of seven years, partly by tuition, and partly by money raised from the sale of his residence (the old D. T. Miller property) and the academy lots.

The new school was maintained from 1893 to 1906, a period of thirteen years. Much lasting good was accomplished in this period among the students. This institution was in continuous operation for a period of fifty years, beginning in 1856 and ending in 1906. Twenty-eight years of the time the school was under the management of Prof. Darius Thomas and twenty-two years under Prof. G. W. Wormley.

Beginning almost at the opening of the new school - the Normal College - changes were taking place in our public school system, which no one could have foreseen and which no one would wish to prevent had they foreseen. These changes encroached more and more upon the field formerly occupied by the school, until five years ago (1906) Professor Wormley, not satisfied with the outlook, sold out his school and retired to a farm home near Newton. The normal college building is now occupied by a manufacturing plant.

Transcribed by Ernie Braida in July 2003