Earles Chapel: The School Part 1

EARLE’S CHAPEL: The School – Part 1

(an excerpt from the narrative “Earle’s Chapel: A Little History (1840-1990)” written by Bettye Earle Raines showing research supporting her request to have Earle’s Chapel and the Earle’s Chapel Cemetery designated as Texas Historical Sites)

The first settlers in Earle’s Chapel had to clear virtually untouched frontier forest to build their homes and plant their first crops for, according to one early Texas settler, “Raising corn was a matter of life and death…”.  As soon as they had established a tenuous foothold in the new land, however, they addressed the need for their children’s education.  Circuit-riding preachers made it possible to hold more regular services of worship.  The community on Prairie Branch, like others beginning to develop around the County, responded to these needs and opportunities.  Early in 1859,  Elijah Earle and his second wife, Mary Elizabeth Jarratt Tatum (1824 – 1904) “stepped off” four acres of land northwest of the home they had recently built on the new road between old Jacksonville and the Rocky Point Crossing on the Neches River.  Elijah named the site “Earle’s Chapel” and marked his future gravesite by carving his name on a tree.

Later that same year, a log building was erected which served as school, church, and community center.  Earle’s Chapel School was established as a private school with classes for all ages.  Families in the community paid tuition to cover the salary of a schoolmaster.  According to one account passed down, the tuition rate was $1.50 per term for each child.  A probate document involving guardianship of Elijah Earle’s four young step-sons lists one of his expenses as the cost of their education.  According to one source, Adolphus C. Martin was probably the first school master.

Around 1870, the State of Texas and Cherokee County began a program to help pay for public school buildings and the salaries of certified teachers in those communities which would provide a building site.  Although the land had clearly been set aside an used for a school, the property was not formally deeded as such until 1874, quite possibly in response to the new public school program.  On August 6, 1874, Elijah and Mary Elizabeth Earle, for “…the benefits that may accru to our children and to our neighbors by having a building suitable for school and church purposes for all time to come, and for the further consideration of one dollar to us…,” deeded the four previously dedicated acres to William J. George, H.L. Morris, and Elijah Earle, School Trustees for Earle’s Chapel School District #28.  Reflecting its original dual purpose, the deed contained a firm stipulation that “…the school house thereon also to be used as a church house but not to be so used as to interfere with school hours.”