* The Earlier Record written by Martha Van Koevering is available at the link provided.

History of the Gitchel School

by James Gitchel

August 6, 1958

The following summary is, at best, only a partial history of the Gitchel School. More research is needed to improve and correct the mistakes inherent in this hasty preparation.

I am indebted to the following persons and materials for the information and datum used in compiling this history:

To Mrs. Jacob Schipper, formerly Betty Overzet, and Lily Goodman, formerly Lily Whitcomb. They both were in the class of seven pupils attending the first term held in the new schoolhouse of the new district #6. They would and did set me straight on several points.

To Mr. and Mrs. William Smallegan and Mr. and Mrs. John De Witt who so courteously loaned me books, records, and papers.

And to my brother and sisters who helped me attain a higher degree of accuracy.

To the above named persons, my grateful thanks.

Please allow me not to refer to some of the early efforts toward teaching and education in this community, before district #6 was organized. Because some who later were included in this district at first took a part in Forest Grove District #3, it seem necessary to refer first to the year of 1854.

On Feb. 4, 1854, a meeting was held at the home of S.L. Gitchel by the qualified voters of District #3. It was resolved unanimously that the following named persons act as members of the school board:

Because the Joseph Bender family took such a large part in school activities during the years of 1855 through 1865, I would like to describe as best I can the sites of their homes and sawmill. In these years a road came from the west, passed what I will call the Ter Haar and Poortenga farms, and turned south before reaching what I knew as the Schipper residence. Taking the easiest grade possible, it ran south and southeast across the lowlands to the base of the hills lying southwest of what was the Bender dam, sawmill, and millpond. Then again taking the easiest grade possible, went on south over the hills at a point west of what is now the Sierd Spoelstra residence. Then curving to the east it came out on the Burnips road about half way between the Spoelstra residence and the 1/2 mile road.

Back again to 1854. Mr. Bender build his first house of logs on the north side of the east 1/2 of the northeast 1/4, Sec. 33. The exact site is presently unknown. He built a dam across Otter Creek at a point west of the present bridge on the Jamestown-Burnips road, and between the bridge and the first bend west of the bridge. This dam provided water power for his sawmill and a large pond, where at times, many logs would be floating. I believe that the blacksmith shop mentioned later in this history was a part of the sawmill.

In 1855 his mill was ready. With it lumber was made and on the south side of the creek they built their second home. It was the first house made entirely of lumber in Jamestown Township. It was three stories high with the first story against the hill somewhere near the mill. Here they lived a number of years.

In 1854 or 1855, or both years, Ellenor Bender, their first daughter, attended the log school in Forest Grove, District #3. She boarded at the home of Hiram Lovejoy. Mrs. Bender thought this expense a hardship and----

In 1856 she hired Eliza Gitchel to come to her home and teach the children. The connection by other persons with District #3 continued at least through the years of 1857, 1858, and 1859. However, efforts were made to organize a school district by notifying all families who would be interested, and----

On May 29, 1860, the fathers, mothers, and all their children met in the home of Mr. Bender to consider if all requirements to organize a school district could be met. It is not recorded if all requirements were met, but they considered it a district, and plans were made for a building. They decided to begin teaching at once by using Bender’s blacksmith shop. Miss Amanda Park was teacher.


In about two weeks they moved into the first schoolhouse. It was called Bender’s Schoolhouse. It was a small shanty about 14 feet by 16 feet, and was located 8 or 10 rods south of the Bender home. It was said that the teacher could reach all her pupils with the whip from her position in front. This expression, I believe, was used to emphasize the smallness of the room.

The pupils were--- Charlotte, Isadore, and Minnie Cronkright; Henry and Ellenor Bender; James, Benjamin, and Idella Gitchell; Daniel and William Collison; Elroy and May Ellison; Elizabeth, Maggie, William, and Edward Fleetwood.

Besides the first teacher, Amanda Park, the teachers were Harriet Cory, Emma Abbot, Rachel Gitchel, Sarah Jane Stevens, Mr. Alva Smith, and Alice Winegar. Alice Winegar taught the last term in 1865.

At the close of their terms the teachers would have special exercises and would trim the tiny building with twigs of hemlock or wild flowers. Guests would WALK some distance to listen to these simple exercises.

This was considered a district, but it was discontinued after 1865. There had been five years of school and seven teachers. There is no record of how long each taught.

At about this time there was a road leading south past what was later Gitchel Corners. It turned southwest about where the telephone building is now, and following the easiest grade possible went on to near the foot of the hill which it followed, curving south and then southeast, coming out and turning south on the Burnips road and crossing Otter Creek at or near that point.

In 1866 the mill burned. Mr. Bender rebuilt, this time a steam power mill. He finally sold the property to Fields and Cunningham. They built a house nearby. This house was located over the hill to the west and a little south of what is now the Glenn Gitchel residence, and near the road existing at that time. This house was used later for teaching, as will be described. It was variously called “Bender’s” or “Eaton’s,” according to the name of the occupant. Still later it was bought by K. Klooster and moved north across the sink hole on a corduroy and plank road on to Sec. 27 for a dwelling. It is still there, but with a new house built between it and the road.

The years of 1866, 1867, 1868, 1869, and 1870 now elapsed with no mention of teaching or education in this locality, except that some were still connected with the Forest Grove District.

The house built by Fields and Cunningham was soon sold to Crofoot and Blom. Then it was occupied in succession by different families a short time. The last to occupy the house were Mr. and Mrs. Eaton. Here Mrs. Eaton taught Select School, either in 1871 or 1872 or both years.

In 1870 the first meeting was held to organize for District #6. The chairman at this meeting was Mr. Edward Whitcomb and attending were Mr. Joseph Bender, S.L. Gitchel, Mr. Harvey Harshbarger, and Mr. George Kirtland.

A second meeting was held in 1871. The chairman, Mr. Whitcomb, had died but his wife had saved the minutes of the previous meeting. These papers saved the district about $200. Definite plans were now made to build a public school which would be called “Gitchell School” in honor of S.L. Gitchel who was the first postmaster in Jamestown Township.

Finally in 1873 a district was organized. While the erection of a new school building was in progress, Minnie Cronkright taught the first term of the new district in the home of the Eatons.

Minerva (?)owen taught the first term held in the new schoolhouse. This was the second term taught in District #6. This is the same building, with improvements of course, that is here today.

There were seven pupils during that term in 1874. They were: Lily Whitcomb, Betty Overzet, Anna Baer, Mary Rummelt, Anna Rummelt, Henry Cronkright, and Sam Loup.

Two of the pupils attending that first term in the new building were present at the school reunion in 1946. They are now living. They are Mrs. Lily Goodman, formerly Lily Whitcomb, and Mrs. Jacob Schipper, formerly Betty Overzet.

From the year 1873 to 1957 when consolidation was effected, the years number eight-four. There are still five years with the teachers unaccounted for in this summary. But there are forty-four names on record of the teachers during the eight-four years. Mrs. Schipper mentioned the name of Minnie Nagly as one of the teachers. She did not know the date of the term and I found no record of it so I do not know how to enter it, except to mention it here and hope it can be traced.

The teachers’ name are:

  1. Nettie Biddinger,
  2. Belle Hammond,
  3. Corrina Sage,
  4. Gilbert C. Hall,
  5. Alice Wilson,
  6. Emana Taylor,
  7. Minnie Eaton,
  8. Anna Benjamin,
  9. Jane Leonard,
  10. Isabel Singer,
  11. Bernard Vander Heide,
  12. Benjamin Van Duine,
  13. Irene Avery,
  14. A.A. Bower,
  15. Minnie Smith,
  16. Lizzie De Vries,
  17. Gertrude Strowenjans,
  18. Vivian Arnold,
  19. John S. Brower,
  20. Hanna Roost,
  21. Nancy Gitchel,
  22. Minnie Drager,
  23. Alexander Klooster,
  24. Emma Hilderink,
  25. Lawrence De Boer,
  26. Agnet Her Haard,
  27. Marie Dogger,
  28. Dorothy Vander Kolk,
  29. Walter De Kock,
  30. Mrs. Ethel Miller (formerly Ethel Loew),
  31. Mrs. Leona Bond,
  32. Katheryn Janssen,
  33. Jessie De Jonge,
  34. Irene Radseck,
  35. Kenneth Albrecht,
  36. Ada Ruth Coffey,
  37. Catheryn Nyenhuis,
  38. Iris Vande Bunte,
  39. Pauline Hall.

  40. The length of the terms taught by each varied from a few months to nine months. Pauline Hall taught the greatest number of terms- seven consecutive terms. Catheryn Nyenhuis ran a close second with six terms, not consecutive.

On June 7, 1957, School District #6, #7, and #29 voted to consolidate. It is now named the Forest Grove Elementary School District of the Fourth Class #55.

However, teaching was continued through the term 1957-1958 in the Gitchel School. Catheryn Nyenhuis was the teacher for the last term.

On Saturday, August 2, 1958, by auction sale, the schoolhouse and lot were sold to Jack Brower.

Now memories come crowding to me, as I am sure they do to many of you gathered here. The grove of trees across the road (they were left there by Hobart H. Hall for the children to play under), School picnics, the skating pond over the hill to the east, punishments for various misdeeds, many teachers for whom my respect continues to grow, sliding down Schipper’s hill on sleds and bobsleds, walking the top of the board fence that used to bound the schoolyard, russet apples from the orchard across the fence, many schoolmates, the big geography books so convenient to sit behind while eating an apple, and the school entertainments at Christmas time.

Studies? Sure!

All these things went into the years at this school. They were vital. They were a way of life. They WERE life.

by James Gitchel

P.S. Indications are that District #6, during its existence, maintained a high standard of education. Changing conditions and economics dictated the consolidation. It was necessary. A fine new school is being completed in the Forest Grove District.

One purpose of education is to be able to cope with changing conditions.

We wish the best for all concerned in the years to come.

Lily W. Goodman
  • Date of birth: May 13, 1866
  • Date of death: August 9, 1958
  • Place and time of service: August 12, 1958, 1:00 P.M.
  • Ref. Church Clergyman- Rev. Russel David 
  • Place of interment: Sherman Township Cemetery
Mrs. Betty Schipper
  • Date of birth: Dec. 23, 1866
  • Date of death: Nov. 5, 1960
  • Place and time of service: Nov. 8, 1960, 1:30 P.M. Petersen Funeral Home Forest Grove
  • Clergyman: Dr. Jacob Prins
  • Place of Interment: Forest Grove Cemetery

This information was provided by DAVID, BIRGIT, AND HANS MYAARD who wrote:

This document consists of 5 pages of mimeographed text (the blue colored copies we used to get in grade school and jr. high, the stuff you used to sniff if the teacher had just picked it up hot off the press). The exact address for the old Gitchel School, according to the "Historical Driving Tour of Jamestown Township" is 704 24th Ave. The school house has been converted into a private home, but maintains the shape of the old school.

*In a separate messageDavid further commented "My mother briefly taught in this one-room schoolhouse" . His mother was Iris Vande Bunte.