The Jefferson School snake tale

Jonathan McKay - Contributing columnist

In Clinton County, townships and their one-room schools once scattered the landscape. Among them were Mount Pleasant, Martinsville, Pansy, Kingman, Jefferson, and many more.

Some have been long forgotten, but some live on in the hearts of many of their alumni. There is a special group that keeps one school alive — the Jefferson School.

Jefferson School has long been closed and was decommissioned on a Sunday afternoon in July 2002. Nearly 100 people showed up that sunny July day and paid homage to a school that meant so much to a community.

Velma Chaney was a member of the class of 1924 and she held the distinction that day: The oldest living alumnus of Jefferson High School said in her speech, “We loved this place. We really did. When I think of all the schools anywhere, Jefferson had the best teachers anybody could ever want to go to school with.”

Jefferson School was opened in 1922 as a high school that brought together students from Midland and Westboro. The building housed high school students until the fall of 1959, when the building brought in grades 1-8. Then in 1960, the Jefferson Board of Education was disbanded and consolidated with Blanchester.

The building went on to house grades K-3 until the time of its closing.

This is the written history of the school, but as we all know, there is always more to a school than just its written history: There are classroom antics, sports stories, and hallway chatter. Those stories must never fade away even though the school has.

In February and March of 1955, Jefferson Township was under siege — there were rumors of a large snake that was slithering through the township.

The snake needed to be found, so Mrs. Ren Cleland’s 6sixth-grade class went on the hunt for the serpent to prove or disprove its existence.

The “snake committee” as it was dubbed was made up of Alice Snead, Susie Newkirk, Nicky Nichols, Karen Murphy, Estel McPherson, and Mike Osborn. This all came about when Estel said he recalled a truck carrying reptiles and he thought it must have been for a circus or some type of show. His father, Roosevelt McPherson, and his older brother, Earl, were traveling along Route 68 and they saw a large snake about two miles south of Westboro.

Ray Brown, a neighbor, was riding a horse and saw the snake when the horse became skittish and ran. This all happened between Feb. 24 and 25th.

The school became filled with stories about the snake, according to records at the Clinton County History Center. Superintendent Michael Disko said, “All we heard were snake stories,” in an interview given to the Wilmington News Journal.

This is when the sixth-grade class stepped in, and with Estel’s help, actually found it!

The snake was dead.

Mike Osborn, according to accounts, picked the snake up and put it into a sack. Alice Snead and Susie Newkirk were dared by the boys to touch it and, not wanting to back down from a dare, they did.

The question now was, what to do with it?

Alice was not believed at her home when she told her family about the snake, so she took it home with her and showed the family. Vernon Blankenship was at her home visiting with her father, Brice Snead, when she walked in the door with the sack. The snake was measured by the two men and Alice. It stretched out to be seven feet long.

The next day the snake went to school and even rode on the school bus. The snake story had been proven and made its rounds around the school. The last stop for the snake was a proper burial in Nicky Nichols’ back yard. Nicky was the son of the county superintendent, so it only seemed right to do so.

The snake was a python, and they can grow up to 20 feet long. It had markings of yellow and black on it, which is typical for that type of snake. Jefferson School was known for many things — a state final four basketball team, producing great students that went on to do some fascinating things, and it is one of our most remembered county schools.

But the little-known story about Mrs. Ren Cleland’s sixth-grade class finding a python should be remembered as one of the greatest stories.

Jonathan McKay is a Clinton County native and a current member of Wilmington City Council.

Jonathan McKay

Contributing columnist