Friday, May 2, 2008

Ohio's One Room Schoolhouses

Section 8 Ballville Twp. Sandusky County Ohio
(date unknown)

We still see them. They dot the rural landscape of Northwest Ohio. But today most exist in a state of disrepair, silently crumbling beside a country road, buried in the underbrush. Some have been converted into homes, garages, township storage buildings, and grange halls. Yet their very presence evokes nostalgia for many who view them as symbols of a simpler time. “One-room schoolhouses,” according to educator Fred Schroeder, “are cherished symbols of an all but vanished lifestyle: independent, family-centered, and consciously tied to the soil.”

Uniform in design with bell towers and tall, narrow windows and often constructed of brick, these American icons are in fact third-generation structures built in the 1870s and 1880s and later. Their predecessors were generally made of logs with window openings covered with greased paper, and floors of dirt or puncheon. Others were wood-framed with clapboard siding and cedar shingles.

If the architectural styles of the early one-room schoolhouses varied over time, their geographic location on Ohio’s rural landscape did not. This was spelled out in the Land Ordinance of 1784 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1785. Profits from the sale or leasing of the lands of section 16 in each township of the Northwest Territory were set aside to finance public schools. But sales were slow due to the abundance of land available

Laws establishing township school districts, inspectors, school committees, and a land valuation tax system soon remedied the situation, setting off a building boom of one-room schoolhouses across the state. So that no student would be forced to walk more than a mile, district boundaries were required to be no more than 4 square miles with the schoolhouse located near the geographic center.

Township trustees and their school committees oversaw the maintenance of the buildings, use of supplies, and expenses incurred. They kept track of the names, ages, and number of students in their districts. They hired, fired, and paid teachers as well as arranged for their room and board. All the while, they monitored the teaching abilities, character, and personal conduct of their educators.

The schoolhouse continued to play a central role in the lives of students long after their education ended. It was here that neighborhood dances, elections, prayer services, quilting bees, weddings, political rallies, and militia meetings were held. For decades, they remained at the heart of American rural life. Now long gone from our lives, it is little wonder that the legacy of the rural one-room schoolhouse lives on, forever interwoven into the fabric of our national heritage.