Bishops and Binford Hill School, A Vintage Vignette

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Bishops and Binford Hill School
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
November 24, 2009

A preliminary copy of a book about the history of schools of Madison County was prepared by Berneice Dilworth. It can be found in the Heritage Room of the main library in Huntsville. Regarding Madison’s school history, the book states that “Binford Hill School was located just north of Old Madison Pike near Slaughter Road.” Oddly, the 1950 U.S. Geological Survey map of the Madison Quadrangle shows a school at the site, but it is called Union Hill School on that map. There was another school by that name reported on pre-arsenal lands, so the one in Madison was more likely Binford Hill School. In fact, records from the 1890s have been found that show tuition receipts for the education of the children of Samuel Palmer and refer to the “Binford School House” as being one-half mile west of Indian Creek along the Huntsville-Madison Road.

One acre of the land where the schoolhouse stood was deeded for $5 by Robert E. Camper and his wife Anna Marie Boucher to the State of Alabama “for the repair or construction of a schoolhouse” on December 9, 1910. The school had apparently been in existence earlier with either Camper’s permission or his father’s (Robert I. Camper) to use the site while under Camper ownership. Camper’s act of public service followed his marriage to Marie by only two weeks, when he was 28 and she was 21.

Dilworth described the school as “a one-room building heated by a wood-burning stove. The teacher used a little table for a desk, and the students sat on long slatted church pews with no desk. In one end was an elevated platform that was used for a stage for their programs. No restrooms were provided – a path into the woods sufficed. They obtained water from a spring.” Today’s maps show no spring at the site, but Indian Creek is half a mile east and another smaller creek is half a mile west of the location. That site is along today’s Skyline Road in Skyline Acres, just north of Old Madison Pike and on the west side of Slaughter Road. The family of Fannie Binford may have lived on the hill that gave the school its name. The 1880 census shows Fannie as a widow at age 30 with four children in her household.

The 1880 Binford house was enumerated between neighbors Thomas Canterbury and Laban P. Bishop. In Dilworth’s book it was noted that in 1916 there were about 15 students enrolled in grades one through six. After the 6th grade, the students who continued their education went to Madison Training School (a two-story wooden structure that was the precursor of today’s Madison Elementary School on College Street). Dilworth noted that “they were transported in a wagon with a tent cover for protection from wind and rain. Mr. J. W. Bishop drove the wagon.” Julius Walter Bishop was a grandson of Laban Bishop and namesake of my recently deceased friend Julius Walter Camper. Laban’s son Marion Augustus Bishop was father of Julius, and in 1880 all of them were enumerated in a household beside Fannie Binford. Julius also had a sister named Eva who in 1899 married John James Canterbury, a son of Thomas Canterbury, another neighbor of Fannie’s.

Teachers at Binford Hill School included Fannie Binford, Flora Freeman, Ruth Welch, Bessie Trotman, and a Mrs. Tatum. The Binford Hill School was closed in 1917, with all of the students being transported to Madison Training School on College Street. When papers were filed in 1894 for the incorporation of the Madison Training School, the seven trustees were listed as J. B. Floyd, C. G. Fennel, J. A. Watkins, J. A. Humphrey, A. H. Lewis, S. M. Doolittle, and M. A. Bishop. This same M. A. Bishop was the father of Julius Walter Bishop, so it appears that the Bishop family was one way or another involved in the education of Madison’s children for several generations. The Bishops of Madison had roots in colonial Virginia and came here by way of South Carolina, apparently bringing with them the typical Virginian regard for education.

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