The first classes were conducted by John Cunningham in the log courthouse in the 1830s. The idea of a subscription school — where the wealthy would pay a private teacher — had been deemed unnecessary when a school system began to organize.
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. The typical size was 25 feet wide by 40 feet deep, with windows on the long side.
By the early 1900s, there were more than 100 schools dotting the map.
“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.
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 is chief surveyor for Kohli and Kaliher Associates of Lima.
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.”
About one-third of the county’s rural schoolhouses survive in some form, many expanded and encased in a modern shell. 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.”
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.”
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.
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.
A union school was opened in the Methodist Episcopal church basement in 1856 and continued there until Lima’s first school building — the West building, so named for its western location — was built in 1858. The East building came 13 years later. The buildings housed pupils from first grade through graduation.
After that, it was Lincoln School that was built in 1882, followed by Irving in 1888. A series of schools followed, and by 1908, Lima boasted 16 school buildings it had erected to educate its youngsters.
In 1917, the district built a second high school, South, to join its already existing high school, Central, which was built in 1905. As a result, students were given the option of attending the nearest high school to their home to complete their education. It was in their own neighborhoods that most Lima children could attend school — elementary through high school — and receive their formal education.
Following that construction phase, time stood still for the school buildings. Like the rest of the country, Lima schools limped through the Depression. The Works Progress Administration helped build Lima Stadium in 1936. It was renamed Spartan Stadium in 2014.
In 1938, district lines were redrawn after citizens petitioned for such an action. Prior to that, there had been as many as 22 village and rural school districts in Allen County, with up to 14 of them being high schools. The families of the few students attending there raised all operating costs for each building.
In 1945, Lima officials requested The Ohio State University’s Bureau of Educational Research study the existing schools and determine building needs for the district. That group proposed the school system build new schools to accommodate its increased enrollment and handle its dilapidated existing buildings.
Rejected by the voters at the first request of $3.7 million, the school system finally got the nod of approval by district residents in 1947 to begin a building project.
At about that same time, the Lima League of Cooperation and Improvement made a stand about the need for Black teachers in the school system. Blacks were vocal that they would not support a bond issue if Blacks were not hired as teachers. The issue failed, and Joyce Garrett was hired as the first Black full-time teacher. By the 1970s, there were 55 Black teachers employed, including Garfield principal Malcolm McCoy.
In the early 1950s, an aggressive building program was undertaken. The result was the construction of six new elementary schools and a high school. Lima Senior High School opened in 1955. Crosstown rivals South Tigers and the Central Dragons were now Lima Senior Spartans.
A fire at Central in 1966 led officials to pivot to building two new junior high schools.
By 1967, Dr. Earl McGovern was at the helm of the city schools. He was aided in keeping the new buildings in shape by Gerald Fell, who came to the district with a background as a teacher and later an administrator.
In 1999, a $103 million building project was approved by Lima voters. That saw the renovation or replacement of all the district’s buildings, with the state picking up 90 percent of the tab. The new schools were named on a patriotic theme.
Father Edward J. Murphy was appointed the first resident pastor at St. Rose in 1861. He sold lots from a land donation to benefit the finances of the parish — and start a parochial school. That was in 1865. St. Rose grew to include a three-story brick structure next to the church on North West Street in 1888, followed shortly by a three-year high school course. The first graduating class in 1898 had six people.
During the Great Depression, St. Rose athletic teams were combined with those of Lima’s other two Catholic high schools, St. John and St. Gerard, to compete as Lima Catholic Central more than 20 years before the formation of Lima Central Catholic High School.
When the first wave of Baby Boomers hit Lima’s three Catholic schools in 1950 (St. Charles parish was established in 1953) enrollment at St. Rose swelled to 674, including 178 in the high school. On Aug. 10, 1952, the News wrote, “Construction of a two-story brick building to meet the urgent need for additional classroom space for St. Rose Catholic School, is expected to be under way within 30 days …” The old grade school just to the south would be remodeled to provide additional high school space, the News reported. The new grade school opened to 620 pupils Feb. 2, 1954.
On Aug. 3, 1956, the News reported the merger of St. Rose and St. John high schools to form Lima Central Catholic High School, which would have an enrollment of about 350 and use the existing St. Rose High School building. The “combined school later may take in St. Gerard,” the News noted.
In August 1956, the News wrote that the new Catholic high school, which would open that September, was expected to have an enrollment of 350 during its first year “with an additional 200 pupils continuing to attend St. Gerard’s High School.” St. Gerard’s parish had just built a new high school. It would join the following year at the insistence of Bishop George J. Rehring of the Diocese of Toledo.
Lima Central Catholic High School opened on South Cable Road in 1961, the same year the 1888 St. Rose school building on North West Street was demolished.
Monsignor Edward C. Herr, LCC’s first principal, began at Delphos St. John’s. He served there as principal/athletic director for 14 years before overseeing the consolidation of Lima’s three Catholic high schools.
Along the way, he told the News in a Feb. 28, 1971, the priest-educator learned a few things. “Until three or four years ago, I was all for everyone dressing alike; I sent the kids home to get their long hair cut. Now I recognize that we had been meeting the needs of the top students, of the athletes and the 30 or 40 percent of the good kids who don’t create problems. But this other group was being alienated. … We’ve got to recognize the plurality among our students; and we have to recognize that in our city, too.”
The Allen County Council for Retarded Children organized in 1953, a group of concerned parents who wanted the best for their children. The first class was held that year at St. Mark United Methodist Church and grew exponentially.
A fundraising campaign was begun, and voters approved funding for the Robin Rogers School, named for the daughter of Dale Evans and Roy Rogers. The school was dedicated in 1955. It was renamed Marimor in 1963, honoring the first teacher, Mary Iva Moore. Federal law in 1963 created county MR/DD boards. The current location and its workshop date to the 1970s, as does a Conant Road daycamp.
Founded in 1899 as Central Mennonite College, the private school had become known as Bluffton College by the early 1900s. It was once home to a seminary. It became Bluffton University in 2004. The liberal arts college is affiliated with the Mennonite Church USA, but many backgrounds are represented in the student body today.
This college, built and operated by the Lutheran Church, opened in 1893. Students could earn bachelor’s degrees in arts, science, literature and pedagogy. As more seminaries came to be around the state, the need for this school diminished. It was sold in 1908 to the Lima Board of Education, and it became Horace Mann School. It was torn down in 1968 to make room for West Junior High School.
The Ohio State University at Lima
The Ohio State University’s Lima campus opened in 1960, a push to make college more accessible to the Lima area. Robert F. Galvin stepped in and pledged $250,000, which went toward the purchasing of the site for the public school. The Galvin Foundation had its background in the Ohio Steel Foundry.
Rhodes State College
The first classes were held in 1969 for the public Lima Technical Center, a division of Penta Technical College of Perrysburg. Lima Technical College was considered for merger with OSU to save on state costs, but their autonomy was maintained. The school became James A. Rhodes State College in 2002. Its Rhodes State Center of Health Science Education and Innovation project in downtown Lima is continuing.
University of Northwestern Ohio
Lima Business College began in 1920 in downtown Lima, offering secretarial training. It was called Northwestern School of Commerce by the 1930s. It moved several times, with Northwestern College finding a home on Cable Road in the 1970s. Now called University of Northwestern Ohio, the private school has grown to span some 200 acres and include facilities such as the UNOH Event Center and Limaland Motorsports Park.