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A Bluffton school history primer

In five minutes or more - actually this story stops in 1933

We naturally take for granted that there was always a school system in our community. But, have you ever wondered how it was first organized? Where were the buildings? What became of them? How did we end with two buildings, now an elementary and middle school on Jackson Street and a high school on Jackson and College Avenue.

We’ll provide the long answer to these questions, and it will take at least one additional column to complete the story.

Let’s call this part 1, which begins in the 1830s and continues to1933. Our sources are copies of the Bluffton News, school board records, high school yearbooks and the book, Town and the Fork of the Rileys.

The first schools in our community were held in homes. This began before there was any serious settlement in Bluffton in the early 1830s.

Later, by 1844 the children of Shannon attended school in a little round log school house located a short distance east of what is now the Little Riley Creek bridge on Grove Street near the northeast corner of Grove and Kibler.

In 1844 this building burned and was immediately replaced by a hewn log house on the same site. This stood until 1852 when it, too, was destroyed by fire. The main object of the school was to teach children to read, write and “figure.” Thus, the term “reading, writing and arithmetic” carries a real meaning.

Classes in English, French and German It is very interesting to learn that during this era each family adhered to their own language, and consequently sometimes the teacher taught pupils in three languages: English, German and French.

Teachers were never without knowledge of two language – English and German.

This notion blows holes in today’s often-heard-argument that schools must be taught in English. That was not the case in these early Bluffton days, as European settlers, speaking many dialects, moved here.

This early school district was known as subdivision No. 1 of Richland Township.

The district was later divided by a vote of people (men were the only persons allowed to vote at this time) and the northern half, which was Bluffton, erected a frame building at the intersection of what is now Riley Street and Lawn Avenue.

In 1861 the township board of education, under the Akron Law, made Bluffton and its immediate vicinity into the Bluffton Special School District. This law improved the requirements taught in schools.

A two-story frame building was erected on Jackson Street where the grade school now stands. This building accommodated students for 14 years, when another building became necessary due to the growth of Bluffton.

1875 school building on Jackson Street

1875 election resulted in a brick building On April 5, 1875, “between the hours of 2 o’clock P.M. and 6 o’clock P.M. a special election was held at the school house,” and that “then and there the qualified electors (men only) of the Bluffton School District proceed to vote on the proposition: “Shall $10,000.00 taxes be levied upon the property of said School District for the purpose of erecting a School House on the site now owned by said Board?”

The proposition passed 138 to 14. That vote tells us today that a larger building was very necessary to handle the growing youth population in Bluffton.

As a result a brick building on Jackson Street was erected as a cost of $10,225. This building stood until 1954, and some Icon viewers remember attending that school.

1875 building enlarged in 1898 As Bluffton continued to grow, largely due to the oil boom, which brought people to northwestern Ohio, in 1898, that brick building on Jackson Street was enlarged thanks to a vote of 284 in favor and 97 against (men only voted).

The addition issued bonds not to exceed $6,000. With this addition, all of Bluffton students from first to high school continued to be in the same building.

On Oct. 1, 1877, the Board of Education of the Bluffton Special School District authorized “the establishment of a High School Grade,” with a three year’s course of study.

The course offered the following subjects: Analysis, Algebra, Higher Arithmetic, Physical Geography, Rhetoric, History, Geometry, natural Philosophy, English Literature, Latin, Physiology, Political Science and Astronomy.

Then, on April 7, 1904, the high school expanded from three years to four.

1911 high school - corner Jackson and College

1911 high school building

• Click here for several photos of the 1911 building And, Bluffton continued to grow. As it grew, there became a need for a separate high school building. In 1911 of a bond issue for $35,000 went before the voters (men only). It carried 274 for to 129 against. Ground was broken in the following July.

But, and this appears to be a repeating story, it became necessary for $10,000 in additional funds to complete and equip the high school building.

On March 15, 1912, this levy was put before the male voters and it passed 229 for, to 152 against.

Click here to read about the 1910 edit on smoking

And, in 1921, the high school became the Joint High School of Bluffton Village and Richland Township, under the charter name of Bluffton-Richland High School.

Since 1912, Bluffton High School has been continuously recognized by, and on the Approved List of Secondary Schools of the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.

1933 addition to the high school

Depending upon when you attended Bluffton High School, the building on the corner of Main and College is either the “old” section or the “new” section. The dividing line between old and new falls in the mid-1980s.

In the 1980s, a building constructed in 1911 was razed and a new addition was built in its place. That new addition connects to another addition, constructed in 1933.

And, for decades and decades, we’ve never given much thought to what the 1933 addition meant to the community.

Here’s a description of that addition, from the dedication of the “new Bluffton-Richland High School” held the week of Nov 6-12, 1933.

If you can transport yourself to some 88 school years past, you might gain appreciation to what the community experienced in 1933 when its new high school was opened.

Here goes: The present Bluffton-Richland High School occupies a lot with a 152 foot frontage on South Main Street, 162 foot frontage on South Jackson Street and 346.5 feet on West College Avenue.

The new addition is of fireproof construction and contains features that make the school one of the most modern in the state.

The library on the first floor is planned to meet not only the needs of the school, but for the use of the school district and community.

It is a complete unit in itself. On entering the library vestibule, one is ushed into the room containing the librarian’s charging desk.

Off from this and directly to the front of the desk is the newspaper and magazine alcove, while the reading room opens off to the left, and the stack room to the rear of the librarian’s charging desk.

Also opening off from the library to the librarian’s right is the library study hall seating 80 students.

This arrangement is one of the newer features in school design, is unique in itself and quite practicable in that it permits free access of pupils to the reading room, yet always under the supervision of the librarian, while at the same time permitting the general public to use the library freely without interfering with the work of the school.

Both the reading room and the library-study have built in shelving of beautiful oak, adequate for library service of five thousand volumes each.

The two science rooms furnish adequate laboratory facilities for general science, biology, chemistry and physics.

Each room has built-in cabinets for the proper storage of laboratory apparatus and supplies.

These cabinets are all likewise finished in oak to match the trim of the building.

The general­­­­­­­ shop provides the opportunity for boys to find themselves by doing exploratory work in sheet-metal, auto mechanics, woodworking, electrical work, blueprint making, etc. Provisions have been made for the installation of printing as soon as possible.

Adjacent to the general shop is the farm shop, where opportunity is given for shop projects growing out of the work of the farm and as carried out under the provision of the Smith-Hughes Vocational Agriculture department. The recitation and laboratory room for this department is located adjacent to the farm shop.

On the first floor underneath the gymnasium are the locker rooms, showers, team and visiting team rooms, for both boys and girls.

These features together with the gymnasium on the floor above provide adequate facilities for a wholesome program of health and physical education, intra-mural and inter-scholastic athletes.

However, the gymnasium serves for more than physical education purposes for it is provided with a stage and chairs, which make it an admirable auditorium with a seating capacity of approximately 1,400 people and provides adequate space for community gatherings.

Adjacent to the gymnasium is the service kitchen and serving room, making possible social functions for the community.

Next the serving room is the cafeteria equipped with tables and chairs to accommodate at one time 80 to 90 people. This provides a splendid place for serving warm lunches to students, or refreshments to smaller school and community functions.

However, not only does this cafeteria serve as a lunch room, used only occasionally, or for one hour during the noon period.

Simply by closing the doors to the serving room, the cafeteria immediately becomes available for an additional study hall or home room.

Thus it renders not only a community purpose but an economical arrangement for better school room utilization.

The home economics unit on the third floor consisting of seven unit kitchens providing space for four girls each provides a cooking laboratory facility for a class of 28 girls. Each unit is equipped with a kitchen cabinet, sink, table and stove, each accessible with the fewest steps possible.

Adjacent to the cooking laboratory is the sewing room equipped with 14 birth top sewing tables, sewing machines fitting platform and triple plate mirror. Fitting room, storage space and cabinets for display of articles are provided also.

The Bluffton-Richland High School building is now one of the most modern and efficient buildings of secondary school purposed found anywhere and has incorporated in it much of what is modern, but providing innovations in school construction.

We’ll stop at this point and continue the school system’s growth in future columns.

And, this story of the beginnings of the Bluffton school system is today part of forgotten Bluffton.


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