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Sunday, November 11, 2007

HUX 523: Historic Sites -- Schoolhouse

School Daze

Reflections on a visitation to the

Little Red Schoolhouse


Eric S. Williams

HUX 523-Essay 2

Dr. Harshman

October 16th, 2002

Located on a nondescript little street on the East side of the City of Wooster sits the Wayne County Historical Society. Nestled on a grassy lot with tall trees marking the back perimeter of the lot, one small red-brick building sits near the back corner of the lot. This is an old 1800’s era one-room schoolhouse affectionately referred to as the “Little Red Schoolhouse” by the local populace. From a distance, with its white bell-tower and dual portals, the schoolhouse gives an impression of being a church. While it is debatable what, if any, spiritual learning went on inside this structure in its heyday, there is little doubt of the academic learning that was fostered within the hallowed halls of this little, out-of-the-way schoolhouse.

This schoolhouse was originally built in 1873 and was one of five one-room schoolhouses located in Wooster Township at that time. This particular schoolhouse was “Number 3” and its original location was on McCoy Road just off of State Route 250 on the South side of Wooster (Pilarczyk). The name of the original architect and construction company has been lost over time according to Anne Pilarczyk, Public Relations Coordinator for the Wayne County Historical Society. The school functioned as a one-room schoolhouse until 1939 when it was finally closed in a project to consolidate all five of the township schools into a single elementary school (Pilarczyk). This was due in large part to the advent of busing, which allowed children from all over the township to be bused to the new consolidated elementary school.

In a personal interview with Anne Pilarczyk, a wealth of information concerning the fate of the schoolhouse after its closing in 1939 was made available. Pilarczyk states that “Number 3” sat empty for a few years after its closing until it was eventually used for storage by the county. Likely, Pilarczyk adds, most, if not all, the desks and books and the like were removed for transport and use in the new school. Pilarczyk states that it is unknown what exactly was stored at the site (likely school records), but its function remained the same until it was scheduled for demolition in the late 1960’s to make room for a new elementary school on the site of the old schoolhouse. Pilarczyk states that an area teacher began a crusade to rescue the old schoolhouse from demolition, and plans were put into action to try and save the structure.

Unfortunately, neither Anne Pilarczyk nor her secretary Julie Chisnell could recall the name of the teacher who began the drive to save the schoolhouse. What is known is that various fundraisers and grants were created to preserve the site, but the county was still determined to build on the location of old “Number 3”. The Wayne County Historical Society received approval to zone their lot for the inclusion of the schoolhouse if it could be moved there (Pilarczyk). The Triway Board of Education agreed to give the building to the Wayne County Historical Society if arrangements could be made. Local architect/engineer J.R. Webster in conjunction with the D.C. Curry (construction) Company implemented an innovative plan in which the entire structure would be dismantled beam by beam and brick by brick. The Amish building crew of the D.C. Curry Company would then transport all the materials to the Historical Society and rebuild the schoolhouse in the exact fashion in which it was dismantled. J.R. Webster drew detailed schematics and labeled every piece, including detailed information on where each piece goes and how to reconstruct it (Pilarczyk). Unfortunately, funding for the project ran out after the schoolhouse was dismantled and moved. The raw materials were stored on the Historical Society grounds for a few years until enough money was raised to reconstruct the building (Pilarczyk). Eventually the money was raised and the schoolhouse was rebuilt in August of 1973, just in time for its 100th birthday. A dedication ceremony was held commemorating its reconstruction and its inclusion on the state historic register (Pilarczyk). The very same Amish crew that dismantled the facility rebuilt it (Pilarczyk). A large sandstone plate created for the commemoration ceremony sits on the Little Red Schoolhouse front porch and includes both the architect’ and the construction company’s name.

Ann Pilarczyk states that the Little Red Schoolhouse was a bit of a prototype for its time due to the Gothic architectural influences noteworthy in the structure. Functionally speaking, the schoolhouse was pretty typical of its time, serving both academic and civic interests in the years it was used as a schoolhouse. It was a public schoolhouse meaning the children’s education was financed by the State of Ohio and it catered to the education of boys and girls from First through the Eighth Grades (Pilarczyk). Ann states that at various times the schoolhouse also had a proto-kindrgarten, but the decision to teach a kindergarten class was based on the teacher’s skill and desire to teach one. Typically, an Eighth Grade education was more than sufficient and rarely achieved by public school students at the time. Pilarczyk mentions that “achieving an Eighth Grade education was outstanding at the time, and the idea of education beyond and Eighth Grade level was a moot point”. Furthermore, being a rural school district meant that the majority of boys who attended classes were oft absent during the Spring planting season or Fall harvesting season. Pilarczyk states that when the boys would leave to work on their family farms, they would return and simply pick up their schooling where they had left off.

When asked why this specific building was preserved, Ann Pilarczyk states that the value of the site is immense to both the community and the schools of the area. The Historical Society lends the use of the building out for a number of different civic purposes including exhibitions, weddings, meetings, and seminars. Further, the school is still used by local educators for the purpose of field trips, taking elementary students of all ages throughout the county on a trip to relive the past through the schoolhouse. Inasmuch, the schoolhouse attempts to re-create the conditions and atmosphere of a schoolhouse of 1873. By this definition, the Little Red Schoolhouse is a representative site. As stated by Alderson and Low’s Interpretation of Historic Sites, the purpose of a representative site is help the visitor better “understand a period of history or a way of life” (Alderson and Low 12).

In what ways does the Little Red Schoolhouse present itself as a ‘representative historic site’? To begin, the physical structure itself is 100% authentic. The windows, walls, and porch all remain intact from its earlier days. The only exterior difference is the lack of the original coatroom that had decayed while the structure was used for storage for some 30 plus years. Regardless, the exterior is quite striking with dual portals for entry to the schoolhouse interior. Simple painted wood columns support the roof of the front porch and a original bellworks still function and can be rung from within. There is a stone tablet recessed on the front façade of the building. The tablet is round with four points, giving it the look of a Celtic cross. The tablet has the date of the school’s completion engraved on the round tablet. The true magic of the location, however, lies within the structure proper.

The interior is a vast, single room. The original slate blackboards run the length of the back wall. There are numerous period-accurate bookcases, texts, desks, and furnishings throughout the interior. The floor is hardwood and is interrupted near the back wall by two short steps which create a sort of stage along the back wall. This is where the teacher’s desk sits and the lecturing takes place. Six of the original gaslight fixtures line the walls between large, gothic-arched windows. The fixtures are original to the site but have been electrified for the modern times. There is also one hanging chandelier with four light fixtures suspended from the ceiling by the front doors. Where one might guess the second chandelier would hang, there are three recessed lights – the marking of the modern age. And while the original furnishings and the like were removed when the building was closed in 1939, the Historical Society has gone to great lengths to create a period accurate/period representational structure.

There are two rows of tightly packed wooden desks pushed along the left wall. During my tour of the structure, Julie Chisnell mentions that the reason the facility looks as it does (as you will see in the pictures) is that is was used that previous weekend for a square dance exhibition (hence the steel-folding chairs and open space in the center of the room in the photos). When used for academic purposes by the local schools, Chisnell mentions that it only take about thirty minutes to prepare the place for the school’s tour. Along the forward wall between the two doors is a large glass cabinet with an old Ohio State flag. Along the right wall are two glass and wood bookcases with period accurate cyclopedias, grammar texts, arithmetic texts, and numerous other schoolbooks and an old typewriter from 1881. There is also an old adding machine under the central window on that same side with simple white card that indicates what the adding machine is, who donated it, and the age of the object in large type, black print. Beside the adding machine is a glass top display case which features period accurate inkwells, quills, telegraph keys, gold point pen cases. Again, a white index card in this case accompanies every object with printed information indicating what the object is and who donated it.

Near the stage is an old, pot-bellied stove that would have been typical of the one-room schoolhouse (Pilarczyk). The stove has a stack exiting into the wall and is able to be opened and closed. The stove is not used as a furnace in the basement now heats the structure. Regardless, it does add to the overall theme of the schoolhouse and its accurate installation is yet another positive sign of a successful representative historic site.

On the stage proper is another bookcase in the corner with a large bust of Abraham Lincoln upon it. There are science, physiology, and McGuffy Readers inside the case and a large, beautifully crafted piano sits just before and slightly askew of the bookcase. The piano, according to Chisnell, still works and can be used by visitors. Furthermore, the piano is regularly tuned and maintained (Chisnell). Above the piano is a pencil drawing of the Triway area elementary school that was built in the 1930’s which was ultimately responsible for the closing of old “Number 3” (Chisnell). In the center of the stage is the schoolmaster’s desk with the schoolmaster’s bell, a wooden pencil box and a large Beacon Phonetic Chart that can be opened and suspended from pegs on the slate blackboards. Beside the schoolmaster’s desk are an old lectern, a music stand and a wooden chair, and a very old pump organ that no longer works (Chisnell). At the present time, the Historical Society can neither find nor afford a repair company to try and restore the pump organ to working order.

The blackboard has sentences written across it to simulate the look of a grammar lesson and there is a very large and yellowed ‘Self-explaining Music Chart’ on the left side of the blackboard near the pump organ. Finally, behind the lectern is a small wooden stool with the ever-popular dunce cap placed upon it. Above the blackboard are a portrait of George Washington and a modern age projector screen.

The left wall is basically barren so that the Historical Society can push the wooden desks to one side of the room. Fortunately, the sparse décor allows for one to better see and appreciate the tall, gothic-arched windows and beautiful brass wall sconces. The only other area of interest would be the basement, however it is off limits to visitors and is simply used for storage. Chisnell mentions that the original facility did not have a basement and hence there is no reason to tour it. Upon a closer look, one can see where the original stone foundation ends and the new textile-block cellar begins.

The displays used within the structure are simple, yet effective. They state in clear terms what the object is and its age. The large black type allows for easy reading and each tag lies behind the object it describes in the glass cases. In the case of bookshelves, simple white, large type labels have been attached to the front of the shelf lip and corresponds to whatever object lies on the shelf directly above it. Some additional information would be useful for some of the larger objects such as the pump organ and the schoolmaster’s desk. Typically, there is nothing else that describes the object's purpose or use other than a simple description.

The structure itself is in excellent shape. Professional construction companies and architects were retained for the moving of the facility as well as the upkeep of the place. The basement is waterproof and the roof had been recently replaced, showing the dedication of the preservationist’s to the upkeep and maintenance of the facility. This upkeep cannot be trivialized. The Little Red Schoolhouse is one of the most popular attractions in Wooster for students and tourists alike. Ann Pilarczyk states that this past year the Historical Society had put together a symposium on the history, use, and features of the one-room schoolhouse. This event drew visitors from all over the state. Further, the schoolhouse is continually used by the local schoolchildren on tours. Pilarczyk states the value of the schoolhouse for such a purpose is to allow children to experience history first-hand. It allows these children to better understand what life in a one-room schoolhouse was like and it further allows them to make a connection with what life for students was like for their grandparents or great-grandparents. These same children are struck by the interesting parallels between their educational experiences and those of their ancestors. Pilarczyk states that “paralleling lives makes an impression on school children visitors. It shows the children that history was created by real people in their own area; that kids just like them were essentially learning much the same way as what they learn today”. When asked what adults can learn or take from their experiences at the Little Red Schoolhouse, Pilarczyk says that “they have seen what we have done to preserve this building and they learn the value of preserving buildings in general”.

The Wayne County Historical Society draws interest in their schoolhouse in a couple of different ways. The exhibits notwithstanding, the Historical Society holds a quarterly exhibition of some sort in one of their many outbuildings. Admission into the facility as well as any exhibition includes access by the student or tourist to ALL the buildings. The typical fee is a very affordable three dollars and the facility is open to the public for walk-in tours from 2:00 till 4:30 Wednesday through Sunday. Larger groups or student tours are typically arranged ahead of time and the majority of school tours visit every building and end in the schoolhouse (Pilarczyk). Visitors, according to Pilarczyk, come from as far as Japan, Guam, France, England, Germany, Italy, and Canada.

Ann Pilarczyk is very much involved in the well being of the schoolhouse. Her information was very helpful in collecting data on this particular site. She states that to her, anything they can do to foster a love of history, to foster the idea of preserving history (whether document or building or etc), is important. These are the roots of the community and needs to be shared with this and future generations. She gets a satisfaction seeing adults who once visited the schoolhouse as a child come back and visit with their own kids, retelling stories of how they were allowed to ring the massive school bell, or how their own teacher made them wear the dunce cap during their visit.

I, myself, visited this site as a child and had fond memories of my visits as an elementary student. Nostalgia played a large role in the selection of this site as a historical structure to write about. The staff is very knowledgeable and very helpful to the passing visitor and any child visiting the site on a field trip. The staff allows the instructor who visits enough leeway to speak on the site as they wish. They also allow the teacher to hold class in the schoolhouse for a day and the staff are as involved as the teacher wishes. The Little Red Schoolhouse offers a unique experience to any visitor. Many might come to reflect on their own one-room schoolhouse experiences. Some simply visit the building as a part of the standard tour. Some bring their own memories of their own childhood visit to their children by having them share in a common experience.

The only deficiency of note is the Historical Society’s policy on photography. There is no photography of the interior of the schoolhouse allowed. The reason for this is because, according to Pilarczyk, others have come and taken pictures for “personal” use only to have the members of the Historical Society see the same images appear on websites or magazines without permission. This was a serious drawback in the completion of this project as photos are needed in the final draft of any essay handed in for HUX 523. Fortunately, my case was unique as I was a graduate student and I was additionally lucky as the gentleman who sits on the Board of Directors for the Historical Society, and who could approve photos to be taken, was a Probate Judge. And, this being an election year and my being a registered voter played well into a favorable outcome and photos were authorized.

The only other deficiency, and one that is of minor note, is that the printed materials for circulation on the schoolhouse are very vague. There is only one small paragraph dedicated to the schoolhouse as the pamphlet is more or less designed to sell all the different buildings and features that the Historical Society has to offer. More dedicated information detailing the actual history of the building, who built it, the names of the teachers and students of note, and pictures of some of the original classes would be helpful to the serious evaluator. But the staff is quite well informed, and these individuals could answer most of the questions any serious evaluator might have.

As far as being a representative site, the Historical Society has done an admirable job in attempting to recreate the feel and mood of an 1873 one-room schoolhouse. All the aged textbooks, the dunce cap, the pot-bellied stove, and the simple wood desks create a unique learning experience for any visitor to the site. Despite the loss of so much of the original furnishings and books, the preservationists have done quite well in attempting to accurately recreate the classic one-room schoolhouse. The schoolhouse, coupled with all the other outbuildings and features inclusive to the Historical society, makes this an invaluable tool for any visitor to learn from and enjoy.

Works Cited

Alderson, William T. and Shirley Payne Low. Interpretation of Historic Sites.

American Association for State and Local History, Nashville, Tennessee 1976.

Chisnell, Julie. Secretary/Receptionist – Wayne County Historical Society. Personal

Interview, October 19th, 2002.

Pilarczyk, Ann. Education and Public Relations Coordinator – Wayne County Historical

Society. Personal Interview, October 11th, 2002.

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