LIMA — It was the last day of April and the last day of classes for the school year at Cherry Grove School in Perry Township.
“In keeping with the beautiful custom of the district,” a correspondent for the Lima Times-Democrat wrote in a May 1, 1909, story, “the good people to the number of about 125 gathered at the school house for the day. There were greetings, conversation and good cheer on every hand. The pupils all arrayed in their best attire, were made doubly happy by the presence of their parents and friends, and by the feast of good things in store for them.”
There was a pretty good meal to be had that day at the one-room school on Amherst Road “prepared with a lavish hand by the good ladies of Cherry Grove,” the correspondent wrote, adding, “It is sufficient to say that the repast consisted of all the rich, pure, life-giving food of the farm to which were added the delicacies of the city market.”
Cherry Grove School and the “beautiful custom” the Times-Democrat correspondent so evidently relished are long gone. So, too, are the more than 100 other rural schools that dotted the map of Allen County in 1909. “In 1935, there were 27 one room schools in operation in Allen County, now there are none,” Charles A. Rusler Jr. wrote in the 1976 history of Allen County.
Although the schools are gone, they’re not forgotten. Local author and historian Michael G. Buettner has compiled a history of Allen County’s rural schoolhouses for the Allen County Reporter, a publication of the Allen County Historical Society.
Buettner, chief surveyor for Kohli and Kaliher Associates of Lima, prefers to call them “rural schoolhouses” because “It did not take very long before I would realize that some of the old schoolhouses had more than one room, and several were built with a wooden frame.”
Buettner notes that his father and several other relatives, including his aunt, Lois Evelyn (Buettner) Halliwill, began their educations at the rural Hunsaker School, which was located at the southeast corner of Lincoln Highway and Buettner Road in Marion Township.
“Among her (Halliwill’s) fondest memories of those early years was when her father would hitch a team of horses to a sled so that all the kids ‘could pile on and ride on the bed’ for the one-mile trip to school,” Buettner writes. “She also recalls that during one winter, the teacher gave her oldest brother, Donald, ‘the responsibility of keeping the big round wood burning stove supplied and banked with wood so that an even heat warmed the room.’” Buettner notes that the Hunsaker School today “is hidden within the walls of an expanded commercial site.”
In fact, according to Buettner, about one third of the county’s rural schoolhouses survive in some form, many expanded and encased in a modern shell. Others, like the Niptite School on the east side of state Route 196 between Amherst and Madden roads in Auglaize Township, look substantially as they did when the last pupil bounded out the front door into the sunshine of a spring day a century ago. Still others such as the Billtown School at the northwest corner of state Route 117 and Madden Road, are crumbling ruins, slowly melting back into the countryside.
One of the best-preserved of the schoolhouses, Buettner notes, is the Bucher School at the southeast corner of the intersection of Columbus-Grove-Bluffton and Phillips roads two miles west of Bluffton in Richland Township. “Today it is home to several youth ministries of Ebenezer Mennonite Church, which is located across the road at the northeast corner of that same intersection.”
Although early schoolhouses were constructed of wood, a second generation built in the 1880s and the two decades thereafter often were faced with red brick on a wooden frame. “Based on the dimensions of nearly two dozen brick schoolhouses that remain in place, the typical building measured 25 feet wide by 40 feet deep,” Buettner writes. “In most cases, there were three or four windows at the long side of the structure.”
Not all the rural schoolhouses neatly fit that footprint, however. In Monroe Township, the Monroe Center School at the southeast corner of Hillville and Slabtown roads and the Prairie School at the northeast corner of Slabtown Road and Lincoln Highway both had a second story. The Monroe Center School, complete with bell tower, survives today as part of a private residence.
The Prairie School was the site of an annual agricultural competition among township schools. “A complete program and book of rules of the Corn Show, stock judging and baking contest of the schools of Monroe Township has been issued. The event will be held at the Prairie School one and one-half miles east of West Cairo (now simply Cairo), Friday, Nov. 26,” the Lima Daily News reported on Nov. 23, 1915. The winning school, the story added, would take home a silver cup.
The Diller School a half mile east of Napoleon Road on the south side of Grismore Road in Richland Township was L-shaped and “remains today as part of a private residence, complete with an old water pump in front,” Buettner writes.
In Shawnee Township, the Berryman School, nestled inside the curve where Spencerville Road becomes Shawnee Road, was replaced in the early 20th century by the McBeth School on the opposite side of the curve. The McBeth School was big enough to house eight grades of students. It eventually was cut up into apartments and was demolished in 1995. As for the building it replaced, Buettner notes, “It is believed that the structure of the earlier Berryman School still stands, although now well disguised as an insurance agency.”
Like the Berryman School, many of the rural schoolhouses took their names from nearby landowners or towns while others, like the Prairie School, from nearby physical features. Other names just seem odd.
The Niptite School’s name, for instance, “seems to be derived from a slang term hinting of ‘the oil man’s propensity to imbibe strong spirits,” Buettner writes, adding that what it has to do with Auglaize Township is unclear.
In Marion Township there was a West Camelback School as well as an East Camelback School, both on Piquad Road and both apparently preceded by an Old Camelback School. The name, according to Buettner, “may have something to do with the appearance of the building.” Marion Township also was home to Mud College School on Bloomlock Road. Amanda Township, too, had a Mud College School, this one near the northeast corner of Agerter and Grubb roads.
Two miles west of Lafayette in Jackson Township was a school known, for obvious reasons, as the Red Frame School. Bath Township was home to the Lutz School, the Sugar Creek School, the Blue Lick School, the Boop School — and the Iron-Clad School. The latter, located on the south side of Reservoir Road just west of the Roush Road intersection apparently got its name because its windows and doors were covered with sheet-iron shutters when school was not in session, according to Buettner.
With improved roads and transportation, the rural schools began to disappear in the 1910s when the process of centralization began, Buettner writes. The county’s last rural schoolhouse, the Tileville School on the west side of Cole Street just south of Robb Avenue, reportedly closed in 1940.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.