Early district schoolhouses more than just schools

Early district schoolhouses more than just schools

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The earliest schools in Ohio and Wayne County were log structures that sprang up whenever the whim occurred. There were no standards for their placement or construction, and attendance was not required. Many children from the early days were educated by mother at home. These early schools were subscription only, meaning your child could not attend if you could not afford to pay for it, either in cash or trade for goods and/or services.

In the mid-1800s Ohio legislators crafted legislation that would mandate free public education for children. It was decided real property would be taxed at the state level, funds from which would be distributed to school districts according to the number of students being taught.

The legislation also defined what it took to be a teacher. Though early requirements didn’t require a college degree, prospective teachers were required to pass a test demonstrating knowledge in several subjects like reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, government and the teaching practice — all of this and being required to teach one room of students between the age of 5 and 21. It seems almost super-human by today’s standards.

The legislation also defined the school buildings themselves. In rural areas a school would be required to serve four square miles so no student would be required to walk more than one mile to attend school.

In Wayne County there are 16 townships, excluding Wooster, which is Killbuck Township. Each of these townships were divided into school districts, the number of which depended on the size of the township. At or near the center of each district, a schoolhouse was built. In each township there were from six to 12 school districts.

From the early 1850s through the mid-1920s, these district schoolhouses were constructed. Over 150 of these structures were built in Wayne County. They all have a familiar form, so much so that when you see one today, it almost certainly says “schoolhouse” to you.

These schoolhouses were much more than schools. They were the civic centers of the school districts. They were used for various functions when school was not in session. Weddings, receptions, family and social reunions, music recitals, plays, and political rallies were all held at these buildings.

Twenty-seven of the old schools were named for nearby villages such as Burton City, Canaan Center and New Pittsburg. Twenty-two of them were named for people such as Hendricks, Blocher and Elliott. Eleven of the schools were named for hills, presumably the geographic feature they were built upon, such as Golden Hill, Fountain Hill and Mule Hill. Eleven of the schoolhouses had “college” in their name such as Pleasant Hill College, Center College and Harmony College. All of these were in Green Township, which had a particular propensity for using the word “college” in its school names.

Nine of the old schools were named for wooded groves. Examples are Beech Grove, Hickory Grove and Oak Grove. Interestingly, Oak Grove was used by schools in five different districts. Finally, two of the schools were named for mountains, and we all know there are no mountains in Wayne County: Mount Wisdom, perhaps named for the mountainous climb the scholars were undertaking, and Mount Nebo, most likely named for the mountain Moses viewed the “Promise Land” from.

A childhood friend of mine lives in the old schoolhouse named Hazel Dell, Franklin Township #7 district. She has lived there since 1996 and said the old school sits on its original sandstone foundation. One of the walls in a closet is the old chalkboard. The porch and metal roof are original, and some of the old window frames are still visible in the attic.

Wayne County is fortunate to have many of the old schools still around to enjoy. In fact, a third of the old schoolhouses survive to this day. Most are now private residences while a few are lovingly preserved as utility buildings and township garages. This little bit of history is well documented and well preserved in many cases. Take a drive some Sunday and admire these historical gems.

Local historian Mike Franks is the author of “Looking Back,” a monthly feature on Wayne County history.


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