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A look at the history of the schools in Joppa is a look at the history of the village itself.
The earliest found recording is from 1853-55 when — as recorded by George W. May in History of Massac County — Mrs. Jesse Jones’ parents came to Joppa on a trading boat there was no church or school closer than Macedonia. Upon their arrival, the Joneses built a log structure that served as a community center, schoolhouse and church house for almost 50 years. This was the first Oak Grove School. Current Joppa resident Ethel Harville said it was located a few hundred yards east of the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad tracks on the southside of the Grand Chain blacktop. It was 1855 when the free school law was enacted.
In his reminisces, Jesse H. Jones recorded it this way: “Men of the community with children concluded they must have a school so they went out, hewed logs and organized Oak Grove.”
Oak Grove School, District Number 3 — a log structure with two little windows on the sides and a small door in the end — was the only gathering place in a 12-mile radius.
A Bird’s Eye View of the Ohio River for the Last 80 Years is a collection of Jones’ reminisces, which were published in the early-1940s Republican Herald newspaper, about growing up in Joppa. Known in the area as “Uncle Jesse,” he was Joppa’s oldest resident when he died on Oct. 5, 1944 at 91 years, 9 months and 2 days.
Jones was born Jan. 3, 1853 in McCracken County. He was 8 when his father moved the family across the river, settling in the Joppa area. Jones was 10 when he first went to Aikins School, which was at least 2 miles from his house. “I graduated in one day at the school,” he recorded. After the teacher said Jones was unteachable because he didn’t know B from A, Jones’ mother taught him until he went to Oak Grove School.
Jones records that while he was being home schooled, the schoolhouse burned down and “the next term was taught in an old deserted dwelling house that stood in an old field called ‘Lilly Field,’ just north of the old Tewilldger place on the river. My brand new schoolhouse was to be a very interesting place for me for several years to come. The house was just such a house as the old Oak Grove Schoolhouse in this Joppa district.”
While residents were busy creating Joppa, it was 1871 when the village got its name — until then it was a steamboat landing known as Copeland’s Landing. In 1871 Jesse Baccus set up and sawmill and gristmill on the river bluff with more buildings soon added. Shortly after, A.J. “Jack” Kuykendall sold his land to Baccus and helped him layout the site — smaller than a city block — Joppa for its similarity to the biblical Joppa. The village was incorporated in 1901, becoming an important river-to-rail transfer point.
Harville’s research shows that school districts were designated in 1887 with Joppa’s first school board being elected that April. On May 21, 1887, a $400 bond issue was passed a site selected for a new schoolhouse — the site was Bunch Knob. Rosebower was built that summer.
According to Jones: “When the building was old enough to retire, the school’s directors decided to build near town where most children were now living.” They purchased a small lot outside the city limits and built a one-story framed house they named Rosebower, which still served as the area’s community center, school and church. Just over 13 terms later, on Jan. 14, 1901, Rosebower burned shortly after the janitor and teacher left for the day.
That spring, school resumed 15-miles away in Belknap while a new schoolhouse was being constructed — a large two-room house with another one-room house on the south side of the front yard.
“Very soon after building the last house, the railroad came,” Jones records. That growth in 1916 brought Joppa Grade School. This first brick schoolhouse served 10 grades until the mid-1920s when the high school was finalized. The two-room school house was sold and the one-room schoolhouse “was moved to West Joppa and became a colored schoolhouse. Not long after this, the town extended its boundary line, bought more land and built a high school.”
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