MOUNT VERNON -- Even in an area rich in history, the Knox County Agricultural Museum, located at the Knox County Fairgrounds, is a standout gem.
A tour through the facility is a treasure hunt ranging from bizarre antique farm equipment to hand-worn household goods, each one with a story to tell (and which we'll be exploring in future columns).
But one of the many fascinating displays at the museum, which will be open the week of the Knox County Fair, is an entire vintage one-room schoolhouse which was transferred from its original site and rebuilt aside the museum.
The Tiger Valley School was located in Union Township in extreme eastern Knox County. If one were to drive south on Tiger Valley Road, the school once stood on the left side of the road, a short distance past the intersection with Edgar Road. As Union Township was one of the earliest settled areas of Knox County, one can assume classes started there early.
But the school in Tiger Valley was built in 1850, when the entire population of the township was only 1,192 people. This school itself would have serviced 20 to 25 students from nearby farm families.
The origin of the Tiger Valley's name has been lost to history, according to Ag Museum board member David Greer, who graciously took the time to show me the school. Greer wonders if the name isn't a blurring of some now-lost family name applied to the valley in early years. No strong candidates have thus far emerged, though.
The school was in operation for 85 years, finally shutting down in 1935. Eventually, it became overgrown as the woods reclaimed the area around the school, and the building began falling apart. After the formation of the Ag Museum, the property owner, Agnes Harlett, decided to donate the structure for preservation.
Agnes was born a Durbin -- one of the oldest family names in eastern Knox County -- and she and her sisters Rita and Frances had all been students at the one-room schoolhouse themselves, during the facility's later years.
A team of volunteers, led by Guy Van Nostrand Jr., tackled the challenge of tearing the school building apart and keeping track of all the boards so that it could be reassembled at the fairgrounds.
This enormous project took place in 1994. As the schoolhouse was put back together, a few alterations were made: first, a bell tower such as many one-room schools had was added; and second, the front windows were covered so that there would be room for displays inside the building.
Finally, the building's fireplace and chimney in the corner were replaced by a more typical pot-bellied stove located in the center of the room.
From 1994 on, it became a process of filling up the schoolhouse with period artifacts donated by people from all over the county. The artifacts are, of course, not just from Tiger Valley School, but from many of the 142 one-room schoolhouses that once dotted the rural landscape of Knox County, or even from the six two-room schoolhouses from the same period.
The Tiger Valley School will be open for the public to visit and explore throughout the Knox County Fair, which opens this summer on July 21. The Ag Museum also regularly hosts special talks and open houses. Check out www.theagmuseum.org for more details or follow the Knox County Agricultural Museum's page on Facebook.