Early Schools in North Central Ohio
North Central Ohio Biographies



The schools of North Central Ohio rank high in the educational world. Centralization and consolidation of the rural schools have made commendable progress, especially in the last fifteen years. Splendid schools are the rule in every one of the counties of North Central Ohio; one room schools have been replaced by centralized schools in which instruction is specialized, the work done comparing favorably with that of the city schools which are among the best in the entire state. And the influence of the colleges of North Central Ohio has gone out into all the world as we shall see when their history and achievements are taken up in detail.

It is inspiring to delve into the history of education in this section of the state for the early day settlers in this part of Ohio had a zeal for education unsurpassed in any other part of the state. These early settlers in emphasizing the importance of education exemplified the spirit that has increased in power through the generations.

"Wherever half a dozen families settled near each other, and from one to five miles was called near in early days, these people first established a school and place of worship," says one writer in speaking of these early day schools. "So deeply rooted and firmly established in their hearts was the fundamental idea that the common school is the hope of the republic that every opportunity was improved. Early schools were taught years before the settlers were able to build school houses and before any public money could be obtained for this purpose; these were subscription schools."

Clearing had scarcely been made in the forest and the log cabins erected until the children were called together for instruction in the fundamentals; reading, writing and arithmetic and along with them the principles of Christian living.

In the settlement at Columbia, Lorain County, Mrs. Bela Bronson taught a school in 1808, not a great while after the settlers had arrived there. Julia Johnson taught the first school in Eaton Township and another of the early schools was at Ridgeville. Even in the stirring days of 1812 with war in progress, the settlers on the Ohio frontier were not unmindful of the importance of school. In the settlement at Wooster were about a dozen children. Their parents were willing to pay for their instruction and when finally a young lawyer, Carlos Mather, settled in the village and found there was not much legal business to occupy his time, he was induced to open a school in the blockhouse which was on North Market Street opposite the site of the Public Library. He was a Yale man and in addition to being well educated, he was cultured and refined, and kind hearted. We are told that he left a lasting impression, not only upon his pupils but upon all in the settlement and there was much regret when, after he had taught for a couple of years he returned to his home in the East. Among the other early day teachers in Wooster were Cyrus Spink, Samuel Whitehead and the Rev. Thomas Hand, the latter about 1817 taking charge of the Wooster Female Seminary on South Market Street. Among the young women who attended this seminary were Nancy and Harriet Beall, daughters of General Beall; Joseph Eichar's daughters, Eleanor and Nancy; Colonel John Sloane's daughters, Hannah and Mary; and Jane Thomson, sister of Dr. Edward Thomson who became the first president of Ohio Wesleyan University and later a Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Eliza Wolf, who during the War of 1812 was custodian of military stores at Mansfield, conducted a school in one of the blockhouses on the square. It is believed that this was the first school in Mansfield. Among the other early day teachers in Mansfield were John Mull, John Lowery, James Russell, Alexander Kearn and Judge James Stewart, the latter's daughter, Cecelia, years later became the wife of the statesman, John Sherman. One of the pupils of the future Judge Stewart in his school teaching days in the village of Mansfield was a very pretty girl, Miss Loughridge, who came into Mansfield from her home in the woods a mile or more from Mansfield. The friendship of the teacher and his very charming pupil ripened into love and they were married.

As early as the summer of 1814, Miss Elizabeth Rice taught a school in a log cabin near the site of Perrysville, Ashland County. Among the other of the early school teachers in Ashland County were Asa Brown, in 1816, a mile north of Perrysville; Mrs. Patrick Elliott, in her cabin home in Clearcreek Township, summer of 1817; Robert Nelson that winter in Clearcreek; Rev. John Hazard, 1818, Crouse District, Montgomery Township; John G. Mosier, 1818, in Perry Township; L. Parker, Lake Township about the same time; Sage Kellogg, winter of 1819-20, Montgomery Township. The first school in Ashland is said to have been taught by a Mr. Williamson in 1821-22.

Mention is made of a school in Wadsworth Township, Medina County, in 1816, Harriet Warner conducting it in her father's log house. The following year Sarah Tillitson taught sixteen scholars who came from Brunswick and Liverpool townships. The first school in Granger Township, Medina County, was in the winter of 1819-20, William Paul conducting a school of seventeen scholars.

Diadema Churchill taught the first school in Lodi in 1817. It is recorded that in 1818 there were in Medina County thirty seven school houses with 620 pupils attending. About this time Larkin A. Williams conducted the first school in Avon Township, Lorain County, and Mrs. Canfield conducted the first school in Wakeman, Huron County. She had six pupils and received a dollar a week in produce and boarded herself. The first school house was erected a couple of years later on the Canfield farm. About this time Elyria had its first school house, a log structure across from the east branch of the Black River.

Near Peru, Huron County, in 1820, Henry Adams had a school of sixteen pupils and this same year the Rev. Schuh conducted a school in Mt. Zion Church near Lucas, Richland County. Rev. Schuh was a fine German scholar and his school was in the nature of an academy, instruction being given in the higher branches as well as in elementary studies.

Resourcefulness of early day teachers in this section of Ohio is illustrated by an incident of Joseph Dana, one of the pioneer teachers in New Haven Township, Huron County. No paper was available nor anything else on which the pupils could write, so he had them trace letters in sand on smooth boards and the instruction went forward in a gratifying manner. Years ago an aged Mansfield man, the late Charles H. King, told me of school teaching experiences in the late '30s. A teacher certificate issued to him in 1837 set forth that he was found to be qualified to teach reading, writing and arithmetic as far as the double rule of three and that his moral character was good. He began to teach at the age of sixteen years. The inside measurement of the log school house was 24 feet 6 inches by 19 feet 6 inches and 8 feet in height. He had an enrollment of seventy nine during the term commencing on the first Monday in November and his salary for twenty four days a month, also every alternate Saturday, was $16. He boarded around at the homes of the scholars. He wrote all the copies, made and mended all the goose quill pens and did the janitor work, but he had the boys carry in the wood and sometimes at noon the girls swept the school room. The smaller scholars were able to attend only when the weather was pleasant, the larger scholars came after the weather got bad as they had to do the fall work first.

"That winter I had thirteen different arithmetics in the school," Mr. King told me. "Some of them had been published in the preceding century and probably had been used by my pupils' grandfathers. The most recent one was The Western Calculator, published in 1818. I don't think that it had been revised. From 25 to 80 per cent of the financial problems were in English money; there were some excellent rules for reducing United States money to English. At that time each scholar in arithmetic was in a class by himself and worked ahead as fast as he could. In my third year as a teacher, I got rid of all the old arithmetics and had that winter but one kind, a new one.

"In 1840, I was determined to have a blackboard for my school. I had never seen one but had read of them. Those to whom I mentioned my plan ridiculed the idea but I was still determined to have a blackboard. I got hold of a rough board and carried it nearly a mile to be planed and painted and then placed it in the school room. It was a wonderful help to me and the usefulness of a blackboard in school was soon recognized. In two years every school house in that part of the country had a blackboard."

Pupils of seventy five or a hundred years ago were drilled in spelling more thoroughly, perhaps, than scholars are today when there is such a multiplicity of subjects in which instruction is given. Pioneer reminiscences tell of the rivalry in the daily spelling; it was a great honor to stand at the head of the class and a still greater honor to win an inter school spelling contest, with the best spellers in each school competing. Frequently the parents and other grownups had a part in these "spell downs."

That there are still some schools in North Central Ohio in which spelling receives special attention, is shown by the fact that the winner in the national spelling competition at Washington, D. C., in June, 1927, with the best spellers from every section of the United States represented, was thirteen year old Dean Lewis of the Congress, Wayne County, school, the award being $1,000. Another signal honor came to this same village school in May of the following year when Pauline Gray, representing the Congress school, received second honors in the national spelling bee at Washington. Their teacher in the Congress High School was Wayne Essick, a graduate of Ashland College.

There are signs that greater attention is to be given to spelling in the schools of Ohio, not only in the grades, but in the high school. In December, 1930, at the request of the State Department of Education, in cooperation with the National Psychological Corporation, 261,000 pupils in the schools of the state from the fourth grade through the high school were given an English test to discover grammatical weaknesses and spelling errors most common.

In our consideration of the early day schools of North Central Ohio, we must speak of the influence of the early day academies, which flourished until the adoption in Ohio of the public school system. It is said that at least 200 of them were established in this state of which quite a number were in North Central Ohio. Some of these will be mentioned in other chapters for, as one writer has said: "without them and the influence of the graduates they sent out, the establishment of a state system of education would have been long delayed; they did excellent work and furnished superior advantages for those days."

It was out of his experience as principal of Worthington Academy to which he came in 1817, the year before he was made the first bishop of Ohio of the Protestant Episcopal Church, that Philander Chase, impressed with the opportunities for religious work in his new field, determined to establish in the rapidly growing State of Ohio a training school for Episcopal clergymen His purpose was to educate "sons of the soil" who could not afford to attend schools in the East. Though he received from his associates in the church little or no encouragement, he devoted himself unceasingly to the accomplishment of his great undertaking, journeying to England where he secured $30,000, and on his return to Ohio purchasing 8,000 acres of land in the forests of Knox County east of Mt. Vernon, where he founded Kenyon College. The act incorporating the theological seminary was passed December 29, 1824, the corner stone of Old Kenyon was laid June 9, 1827, and the following year the school was moved from Worthington. It is inspiring to read not only of Bishop Chase's abundant labors in securing the money for the founding of Kenyon but also his indefatigable efforts to establish the institution on a substantial foundation. We read that the sawmill and grist mill contributed materially to the success of Kenyon in the early days; that in 1830 there were 125 acres in corn, 120 in wheat, besides fields of rye and oats; 700 acres were fenced with more than 76,000 rails which the college caused to be split; extensive pastures of timothy and clover; there were fifty oxen and many cows. There were carpenter shops, printers, shoemakers, blacksmith shops, a college store, an inn for visitors; all these enterprises along with feeding, housing and instruction of the students, and over them all the bishop had active supervision, continuing until 1831 when he resigned.

Norwalk Academy was another early established institution which contributed materially to the educational progress of our state. Among its students were Rutherford B. Hayes, who became president of the United States; General James B. McPherson, Civil War commander, who was killed in the fighting before Atlanta; and Charles Foster, who became governor of Ohio and secretary of the treasury in President Benjamin Harrison's cabinet. A catalogue of the academy March 17, 1829, gives the names of eighty three young men and sixty young women, total 143, who had been under instruction there. The principal at that time was John Kennan and the assistants, Nathan G. Sherman and Levina Lindsley. Platt Benedict, founder of Norwalk, was president of the academy and the trustees, besides Benedict, were Timothy Baker, Henry Buckingham, Everett Bradley, Thaddeus B. Sturges, William Gallop and Obadiah Jenny. Announcement was made that the next quarter would begin Thursday, April 30, next.

The statesman, John Sherman, in his Recollections tells of his school days in Mt. Vernon from 1831 to 1835. He was eight years old when, in the spring of 1831, he journeyed fifty miles by stage coach from Lancaster to the home of his father's cousin, John Sherman, at Mt. Vernon. He says the schools were admirably conducted by teachers of marked ability, among them, some who became distinguished in business and professional life. He tells of a fight he had one time with a school mate, A. Banning Norton, future editor, judge and historian. Young Norton wore his fingernails very long and when John pommeled him he retaliated by scratching the future statesman's face. When the folks at home asked him how his face became so badly scratched John replied that he had fallen on a splintery log. Sherman confesses that in his school days at Mt. Vernon he was sometimes punished with ferule and switch. One of his teachers, a small man, was called "Bounty" Lord. While playing on the commons one evening, young Sherman and three other boys found a dead sheep which they carried into the school room and placed on Lord's seat. "I wrote a Latin couplet purporting that this was a very worthy sacrifice to a very poor Lord and placed it on the head of the sheep," says Sherman. "My handwriting disclosed my part in the case and the result was discharge of the culprits from school; but poor Lord lost his place, because of his inability to govern his unruly pupils."

Sherman mentions another of his teachers, Matthew H. Mitchell, very severe, but impartial, and though the boys did not like him they respected his power.

Sherman gives other incidents of his school days at Mt. Vernon. During a freshet in Owl Creek, he fell into the flood when a temporary foot bridge onto which he had ventured, despite warnings, gave way. "How I escaped I hardly know," says Sherman, "but it was by the assistance of others. Uncle John said I was punished by the Almighty for violating the Sabbath. Ever after that I was careful about Sunday sport."

Sherman regarded as well spent the four years he was in school at Mt. Vernon. He could translate Latin fairly well, went through the primary studies and had some comprehension of algebra, geometry and kindred studies. Returning to Lancaster, he entered the academy of Mark and Matthew Howe.

The Huron Institute, which had a career of fifty seven years, was started in 1832 and the following year marked the beginning of an institution whose influence has been world wide, Oberlin College, the first American college to open its doors to all students regardless of creed, race or sex, and first to give women the degree of A. B.

It was in 1832 while the Rev. John J. Shipherd was pastor of the Elyria Presbyterian Church, that he and a former missionary, Philo P. Stewart, discussed ways and means for establishing a collegiate school in a community which they should establish in an unbroken forest in Lorain County. Love to man was the vital principle of the colony and along with text book was to be inculcated economy, industry, self denial. Manual labor was to have an important part in the life of the colony, the Christian families being pledged "to plainest living and highest thinking." After months of prayerful consideration, the way opening up before them, the two founders in November, 1832, met under the historic elm, still standing at the southeast corner of the campus, and consecrated the land for a Christian town and collegiate institute. Impressed with the life and works of John Frederic Oberlin, Alsatian pastor philanthropist, Shipherd and Steward decided to name the community and school after him. The extent to which the founders of Oberlin carried into effect the principle of self denial seems almost incredible today. Rev. Shipherd would never accept more than $400 a year although he had a wife and half a dozen growing boys. In obedience to a vision of still further service after Oberlin had been firmly established, he went up into Michigan and laid the foundation of Olivet College. The following spring he died at the age of forty four. Oberlin annals tell also of the largeness of heart of the other founder, P. P. Stewart. The students, one morning had finished their meal of graham bread, thin gravy and salt, when Brother Stewart said: "Can we not substitute parched corn for our graham diet and thus save something with which to feed God's lambs?" Much to his disappointment, the students did not favor the plan.

The enrollment at the opening of the school in December, 1833, was forty four, students being in attendance from seven states. Oberlin College is making great preparations for its centennial celebration in 1933. Its wonderful growth will be told elsewhere in this history, also the progress of Kenyon College, further mention of academies and public schools in connection with the various localities, and the founding and growth of Wooster College, Ashland College and other educational institutions of North Central Ohio.

History of North Central Ohio
Embracing Richland, Ashland, Wayne,
Medina, Lorin, Huron and Knox Counties
BY: William A. Duff
Historical Publishing Company
Topeka-Indianapolis 1931

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