The Bernstadt School was established in the early 1880s. This school is not to be confused with the East Bernstadt School which was in another section of the county. Eventually this school would be called Lower Colony.
I do not know when the name change happened but I suspect it had happened by 1909 when the Board made major changes in school district numbers.
Using the history quoted at the end of this column I calculate the school’s organization date to be 1882. When the school first opened it was District Number 62. The Commissioner’s Annual Settlements first list District Number 62 in the school year ending June 30, 1883. The teacher for that year was Mary Bruno.
The next year Melchoir Denny became the teacher. He taught there for many years. I do not know when he quit but he was still there in April 1900 when he wrote a history of the school published in Pate’s History of Schools and Churches.
Other teachers at the Bernstadt school were Marie Waegli (Mary Mageli) from 1902-04 and Edward Schalch (Edw. Schalk) from 1905-1909. In the 1885-86 school year the district number changed to 61.
On December 21, 1885, the Bernstadt Colonization Company sold to the Board of Trustees of School District 62 of Bernstadt Ky. for one dollar "on the Vilage [sic] Place at Bernstadt Laurel County situated on the waters of Pine Creek ... near Hotel lot... containing by survey 4 acres."
This deed was signed by President Geo Ehrah and Manager Paul Schenk. (Deed Book I, page 586) In 1886 Mr. Schenk wrote Die Kolonie Bernstadt which contained a brief history of the Bernstadt school. The book was translated in 1939 by S. A. Mory. The next three paragraphs present that translated history.
“School district 62 comprises the western part of the Colony, and includes four families of native American [not Swiss] neighbors. The district received from the Bernstadt Colonization Company four acres of land as a donation, on which a roomy school house was erected. The necessary lumber was sawed gratis by the said company. Windows and doors were presented by a mill in Louisville. The ceiling and stove was presented by the Synod of the Evangelical Protestant Church of U. S. A. who in return received the privilege to hold services.
“The school year runs from beginning of July to end of June. And a minimum of 110 days or half days and six hours during 5 months are required. School attendance in the U.S.A. is not compulsory. But all children are privileged to attend school between their 6th and 21st year. In spite of this lack of compulsion our attendance has improved from year to year. According to last year’s school census we had over 90 children in school age, of which most of the time 70 to 80 attended. Surely a good record for parents, teachers and pupils. We are now in the fourth school year. At present the school is taught by Melchoir Denny (Thoeni), a native of Brienz, Switzerland. He teaches the ordinary elementary subjects of reading, writing and arithmetic in English with help of the German.
“The school accomplishes satisfactory results under the circumstances. All friends and sponsors of the school long for the time when the Colonists shall be able to give financial assistance, to enlarge it, and supply it with necessary equipment.”
According to Deed Book 116, page 305, the Laurel County Board of Education sold the Lower Colony School property to W. F. and Martha Wells for $1 and other good and valuable considerations on June 23, 1951. This deed says the property contained 0.90 of one acre which is dramatically different from the 4 acres originally deeded for the school. This last deed does reference the original deed from the Bernstadt Colonization Company. I do not know if there was a big error in the measurement or if possibly some of the property was sold at another time.
Next week I will present the history written by Mr. Denny.
The Laurel County Historical Society is located at 310 West 3rd Street in the old Health Department Building. We are open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. We will open on other days by appointment. Please contact us far enough in advance to schedule a volunteer to open the library. You may contact the Laurel County Historical Society by calling 606-864-0607 or e-mail us at email@example.com (The first character is a lower case L as in Laurel.)