Historical Marker #2198 in Murray commemorates the one-room schoolhouse that teacher Joseph Spillman Waters established in Calloway County.
In 1838, the Kentucky General Assembly created the state's first system of free public education. However, power to establish the schools were placed in the hands of the counties; with most counties being underfunded, they moved slowly in setting up free public schools. In those days, most children were either taught at home or were sent to tuition-based private academies and schools. The Civil War further damaged Kentucky's fragile public school system.
It was not until after 1900 that an organized county school system in Kentucky actually emerged. The schools that were established were often simple, single room structures that children attended when parents did not need them for other duties in homes and on farms. One-room schools served an eclectic student body. Student ages varied, as well as levels of learning. Good teachers were difficult to find and harder to keep. However, certain communities were blessed with competent, dedicated, and dependable teachers.
Joseph Spillman Waters was born in 1822 in Rockingham County, North Carolina, but moved to Calloway County, Kentucky, in the late 1850s. Waters recognized the importance of educating Kentucky's youth and was key in the establishment of the schoolhouse near New Concord that was eventually named for him. Waters is listed in 1870 census as a forty-eight year old teacher, with wife Martha and their eight children. Waters taught at the school until 1896, and died two years later. He is buried in the Murray City Cemetery.
The Waters Schoolhouse—like so many other late-nineteenth century Kentucky schools—was a small structure with only one room; yet, within its walls generations of students learned important academic and life lessons. After it closed in 1936, Waters Schoolhouse was eventually moved to Murray, Kentucky, where it was restored in 2002. Today, the Waters Schoolhouse stands as a reminder of how far Kentucky has come from the days of the one-room school house to the large schools, colleges, and universities students attend today.