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100 Years Ago

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The earliest school buildings were usually a crude log cabin built by the whole community with a fireplace in one corner and a window in the other to provide proper air circulation. The first school in the county was established in Hardin, Ohio, in 1816 and was taught by Mr. Robert Gibson. Until a permanent building was constructed, students were taught the three ‘R’s - reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic in individual homes. Cephas Carey brought in the first teacher for his children and soon other families were hiring teachers. The teacher normally lived with the family or in some cases in a house provided by the hiring family.

As with many pioneer communities, school was first regarded as a luxury and not a necessity. Pioneer families were more concerned with survival and had very little free time to devote to ‘book learning’. The first school sessions usually lasted about four months as the students were expected to work on the farm the rest of the year. The first schools were not free, but were supported in part by public monies or a charitable community supporter. When this fund was exhausted, teachers had to collect the balance from the parents of the pupils or not receive full pay for their labor. In Port Jefferson, early wages ranged from $16 to $18 per month for 26, 8-hour days.

Sidney’s first school met in the temporary courthouse on Ohio Avenue built in 1822. The teacher was Mr. J. C. Calhoun. The text books were the New Testament, the U.S. Spelling Book and Dayboll’s Arithmetic. In those days, pens and paper were very difficult to come by. The pens were made by the teacher out of quills. The paper was made at the mills but came to the schools unruled and the lines had to be drawn in by hand.

A home-made ink recipe published in 1805: "Brown...boiled-down walnut or butternut hulls that have been mashed first. Add vinegar and salt to boiling water to ‘set’. Black...add indigo or lampblack (soot). Blue...powdered Indigo. 2 parts, 1 part madder, 1 part bran. Mix with water, let stand then strain it well.

It is believed that nearly 70 one-room schools existed at one time in Shelby County, Ohio. These schools had a teacher who taught all students in grades one through eight. Since the students walked or road horseback to school, buildings had to be within three to five miles traveling distance to accommodate all the children in the rural area. Few students attended school beyond the one room school and graduation from the eighth grade was considered sufficient for most occupations. In 1841, four free schools were established in the community. A ward school was built in each of the four wards before 1900 with each school taking the name of the ward.

A resolution on the Port Jefferson school record dated February 2, 1843: "Mr. G___, we have come to the conclusion that we have fulfilled our part in furnishing the wood for the school and if you cannot, with the help of the large scholars, cut it up, or induce the householders so to do by word sent them by the scholars, we shall disband the school. We have done what we think is our duty to induce them so to do; further we want you to be more exact to your appointed hours as complaints are entered against you in that particular."

The first ‘graded school’ came with the establishment of the Union School in Sidney in 1856. A $12,000 tax was approved and the three story brick building constructed. Initially, the lower two floors were divided into four classrooms each. Later the third floor was also divided into four classrooms and used as the high school. The building cost $18,000 to construct. Today, Central School is on this site.

After purchasing land from the Presbyterian Church and paying for moving bodies from the old graveyard to Graceland Cemetery, Sidney started construction on a new high school. Completed at a cost of $100,000, the building was ready for students by September, 1913.

Written by William Holmes McGuffey, the McGuffey Eclectic Reader was first issued as a frontier schoolbook in 1836. By 1860, they were the most widely used textbooks in the country. They were published by Cincinnati’s Truman and Smith, and their popularity was greatest in the Midwest and South. All-time sales for the books range from 60 million to 100 million, putting the little readers in the same best-seller class as the Bible and the Guineas Book of World Records. Many of today’s children’s classic rhymes got their start in these books from "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star", (a lesson that first appeared in the 1848 edition of the Second Reader) to "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

The author based his own theories about what and how frontier children needed to learn on his own experience growing up in the Ohio territory. McGuffey believed that proper speaking was as important as reading and writing. After spending the early years of his career teaching in the ‘common’ schools on the Ohio frontier, McGuffey knew firsthand the distorted English spoken by the German and Irish immigrants who made up half of Ohio’s population. Interestingly, strangers could often barely understand each other!

'Pioneer' segment written in October, 1997 by Sherrie Casad-Lodge


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