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The story of our school system

Where was the first school building? What became of it? The answers may surprise you

The Victorian Bluffton school constructed in 1875, enlarged in 1889, razed in 1954.

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 several columns to complete the story.

Let’s call this part 1, which begins in the 1830s and continues to 1921. 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 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 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.

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.

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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