The arrival of April

means a new season for

the Richland Heritage

Museum Foundation’s

three magnificent museums—

the Heritage House

Mansion, the Carnegie

Museum and the oneroom

McsBurg Schoolhouse.

Education has always

been important to the

good folks of Richland

County. By the time the

county was officially

formed in 1841, four “subscription”

schools already

existed. They followed the

first known “out-of-thehome”

school that was

housed in one end of a log

tavern in the now-extinct

village of Watertown in

1822. Watertown was located

west of Olney, on

the banks of the Fox River,

and was in the running for

county seat before it lost

out to the upstart village

of Olney.

Subscription schools

were called such because a

tax-supported public

school system was still off

in the future and interested

families paid a teacher

directly – often bartering

goods such as garden produce,

meat or firewood in

exchange for educating

their children. Many of

these early schools were

located in a home or


One of those first four

schools in the county was

known as the McsBurg

School, and was believed

to be in the Richard

Phillips neighborhood

four miles north of Olney.

When it was named Mcs-

Burg is not recorded, but

the name is said to have

come from the family

name of McWilliams.

We know one of the first

buildings to serve as the

school was a log structure

located four miles northeast

of Olney on land donated

on Jan. 29, 1861, by

Adam and Margaret

Bushong. This building

was later replaced by a 20’

by 32’ frame building with

white weather-board siding,

built in 1874-75 at the

intersection of North Silver

Road and East Tank

Farm Lane. It is this

building that is now

“teaching” once again – as

a museum in Olney that is

open to the public.

This old schoolhouse

has been around in its

143-year lifetime. Following

the school’s closure at

the end of the 1943-44

term due to low enrollment

and the county-wide

consolidation, the ground

and building were purchased

by John and Viola

Kowa in 1947 for use as a

summer cabin. It served

that purpose until 1964,

when the building was donated

by the Kowas to the

Olney Garden Club, which

restored the building and

had it moved to the Olney

City Park for public display.

In 2015, the Garden

Club deeded the building

to the Richland Heritage

Museum Foundation.

Under its new ownership,

the Foundation performed

a second renovation and

moved the building from

the city park to a vacant

lot next to the Heritage

House Mansion on

Kitchell Street. The museum

is now open to the

public on Sunday afternoons,

from 1:30 to 4:00,

and by appointment.

As you step inside the

refurbished school, you

will see 22 student desks,

a teacher’s desk and chair,

a recitation bench, and

stove and bookcase – the

standard furnishings for a

rural school in the early

20th century. Add a box

for wood, a water bucket

and dipper, coat hooks on

the wall, a set of wall

maps, pictures of Washington

and Lincoln, an

American flag and a bell

to ring for calling the

pupils to class – and

you’re ready to begin another

school day in the

country. Don’t be tardy

and make sure you behave,

or you just might get

a whippin’ with a hickory


Very early files were destroyed

in the courthouse

fire, but later records

show the largest number

of pupils to attend the

school was 40 in 1913-14

and the smallest number

was eight in 1943-44, the

year it closed its doors.

Early school teachers were

quite often young, with

little training or experience.

They served as janitor,

teacher, guidance

counselor and principal

and had a full day with

recitation periods.

With a state law requiring

rural schools to be located

no more than two

miles apart so students

would not have to walk far

to school, Richland County

once had more than 80

one-room country schools.

At their peak in the late

19th and early 20th centuries,

an estimated

65,000 one-room schools

dotted the Midwestern

countryside, contributing

greatly to the improvement

of life in rural America.

Many area residents

aren’t aware of the existence

and the historic value

of the three “gems” that

comprise the Richland

Heritage Museum Foundation.

This year would

be a great time to bring

the entire family – especially

your young ones – to

Carnegie Museum, Heritage

House and the Mcs-

Burg School. Visit all

three facilities and see

how our ancestors lived,

worked and learned before

the days of electricity,

telephones, TV, computers,

automobiles, school

busses, airplanes and

many other modern conveniences.

The author is a board

member and historian for

the Richland Heritage

Museum Foundation,

which operates three museums

in Olney. Following

winter closure, the

museums will reopen to

the public in April, with

regular hours from 1:30

p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Sunday

afternoons through

October. For more information

or to learn about

special off-hour tours, visit

our website at