In the Beginning
The first settlers in Big Spring Township were the Fanchers, Weatherspoons and Daniels. B. Fancher settled at the Big Spring in 1827, Samuel G. Weatherspoon settled about a half mile south of Big Spring near the Little Wabash River in 1828, and Bazel Daniel settled one half-mile northeast of Big Spring in 1828. In 1831, William Daniel built a cabin near the Fanchers in 1831, and Nathaniel Daniel built a cabin within a half-mile of Big Spring.
The Fanchers and Daniels held squatters' claims and improved about four acres each where they raised corn. Much of their time was spent hunting to feed their families. I would suspect that they also helped Samuel Weatherspoon build the water mill on the Little Wabash River in 1829. At first, Weatherspoon ground corn, but in 1832, he began grinding wheat. Instead of a bolt, he used a water driven sifter to work the wheat. Two years later he added an upright saw to his operation. This was quite an acquisition for this part of the country in the early 1830s. Logs were brought from Eastern Shelby County, Western Cumberland County, and Northern Effingham County. Weatherspoon made the first land entry in Big Spring Township for his mill and farming operation on June 14, 1832. Numerous land entries were made in the immediate area over the next few years.
John Spain, a native of North Carolina, immigrated through Tennessee and settled in Big Spring Township. In 1840, he settled permanently at Big Spring. With foresight for the growing community, Spain established the Big Spring Post Office where he was Postmaster for over 30 years. He also laid out the Spain Cemetery on his land, and used an empty cabin as the first schoolhouse for Big Spring Township. It was known as the Spain School.
There is a legend from this period that tells of one or two run away slaves that made it to Big Spring. They were hiding in an empty cabin close to the Spain Cemetery. Slave hunters, who were on their trail, found the slaves, killed them, and buried them just east of the cemetery. Today, there is a small grave marker placed just east of the cemetery in the traditional place where they are believed buried.
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Schools in the 1830s --->
Not much is known about the Spain School. I estimate that it likely started in the late 1830s. We do know that Thomas Bell and Evan Baker were among the first teachers. I also suspect that it was a private school like many of its day. Because there were so few schools in the area, students wanting to attend would have to walk some distance. Parents of students who lived east of the river would fell large trees across the river for foot traffic to and from the Spain School. I suspect the furniture was of the rudest character, generally what would be split from the body of a tree with an axe. Many early schools would have a rough shelf along one side of the room to serve as a desk, while a split log supported by wooden pegs would serve as a seat.
There was not any tax money for schools until legislation was passed by the Illinois General Assembly on February 15, 1858. This legislation allowed taxes to be collected on a state and local level for the establishment of free public schools throughout Illinois.
Big Spring Township was first laid out to be six miles wide and nine miles long. In 1861, four school districts were established in Big Spring Township. The Spain School was designated as School District No. 3 in Town 10, Range 6. Spain School District included sections 19, 20, 29, 30, 31, 32 of Big Spring Township, and the school was located in the northeast part of the district. The district may have actually been larger because some students walked more than three miles to school.
By this time, the land was being thickly populated with small farms. Surveyed roads were replacing the old trails, and settlers wanted education for their children. By 1870, the number of school districts had increased from four to twelve. Around 1890 Sigel Township was established to the south and several Big Spring school districts found themselves in a new township.
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