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August 18, 2023

Back to School Through Time

By Jessica Layman, Local History and Genealogy Librarian

As you gear up for the first weeks of the school year, remember that there’s some things all kids in Hamilton County have in common, no matter how old they are or when they went to school.

Schools across Hamilton County have different schedules, textbooks, mascots, and locations. That was the case in the past as well. When the county was first being settled after Native American removal, one-room schoolhouses were built in several areas of each township. These would serve all grades in the same building. Students would have to walk and always bring their own lunch. The first separate high schools were built just after the Civil War, some private, some public. Not everyone went to high school. Most students who went to high school or beyond wanted to be teachers or ministers.

These small schools continued until the mid 1900s, when schools began to consolidate and have more centralized locations. Until consolidation, class sizes were often small even in places like Carmel and Fishers, which only began to grow rapidly during suburbanization in the 1950s. Because of cars and buses, it was easier to get to school, and you could go to a school that was further away.

Something important to think about is that not all students were included in some of these schools. In Noblesville, from 1869 to 1890, there was a separate Colored School for Black children. While the high school was not segregated, education was not always equal in Hamilton County. It was also harder for Black teachers to be employed in Hamilton County schools, where the majority of students were white.

At one time, there were around 11 public high schools in Hamilton County. Today, there are six, plus six private high schools.

Are you curious just how similar your school experience is to students attending in the 1800 and 1900s? Let’s see!

Picture Day

Sometime at the beginning of the school year, you’ll have picture day. Sometimes, class pictures are the only way we know what a school looked like that’s no longer here! Before the 1900s, we didn’t have many yearbooks, but class pictures were still used as a way to keep records of who attended school. Check out some examples below!

4th grade classroom at a Noblesville School in 1934. Courtesy of Donna Needham, Hamilton County Bicentennial Collection at HEPL.


Westfield Town School, early 1900s. Courtesy of Westfield Washington Historical Society, Hamilton County Bicentennial Collection at HEPL.


Jackson Township School Number 5, 1893. Courtesy of Maizie Glover, (Indiana Historical Society, Black Hamilton County #1 Photographs. Documents and Papers, ca 1849-2020 Collection). Hamilton County Bicentennial Collection at HEPL.


Noblesville 3rd Ward Grade School, circa 1942. Courtesy of Teri Woodard, Hamilton County Bicentennial Collection at HEPL.


Getting to School

Earlier, we mentioned that sometimes students had to walk to school. This could be up to two miles! As time passed, roads and means of transportation improved. Today, you probably either take the school bus or drive with your parents. Check out what kids in the past did below!

Fall Creek Township School Number 5 Bus, Courtesy of Larry Reynolds, Hamilton County Bicentennial Collection at HEPL.


Horse-drawn Fall Creek Township school wagon, Courtesy of Larry Reynolds, Hamilton County Bicentennial Collection at HEPL.


What You’re Learning

Everyone has to learn their ABCs and 123s in school – but what else did students in the past learn about? Some things are the same, but some are different. Check out these examples!

7th and 8th grade boys sorting seed corn at a rural Wayne Township School. Courtesy of Dottie Young, Hamilton County Bicentennial Collection at HEPL.


A 5th grade report card for Maggie Smith at the Noblesville Colored School. Courtesy of Dana Hughes (Indiana Historical Society, Black Hamilton County #1 Photographs, Documents and Papers, ca. 1849-2020 Collection) Hamilton County Bicentennial Collection at HEPL.



As the school year gets going, you might join a sport or club. Both football and basketball have a long history in Hamilton County schools, although a game might look pretty different than one does today! Do these teams look like yours?

The 1941 Walnut Grove High School Wolves won the softball championship. Courtesy of the Walnut Grove Museum, Hamilton County Bicentennial Collection at HEPL.


The Aroma Owls, a non-school recreational football team. Aroma is in White River Township. Courtesy of Bob Gordon, Hamilton County Bicentennial Collection at HEPL.


Have fun and learn lots!

Hopefully this has shown you that even though things can be very different for students across Hamilton County, there’s lots that’s still the same! Here in the Crossroads Discovery Center, we have many resources for studying what school was like in the past, including maps, record books, yearbooks, and more! Be sure to stop by to check it out.

Resource List

The following Indiana Room books mention local schools:

Noblesville by Nancy A. Massey


Carmel by Terri Horvath

A Brief History of Noblesville by Paula Dunn and Nancy A. Massey

History of Hamilton County Schools by Michael L. Huddleston

Celebrating Hamilton County, Indiana: 200 Years of Change