No more pencils, no more books. Decades after its final bell had tolled, the Old Stone School stood neglected on South Broadway in Akron.
The rodent-infested building was crammed with old automobile parts, broken equipment, miscellaneous tools and stacks of junk. The appearance of the derelict structure in the 1920s did not square with the happy memories that older residents had of the one-room schoolhouse.
“For many years this historic building has stood like a beggar on the roadside silently and pathetically appealing to all who chance to pass its way to ‘save me for what I have been and for the memories associated in the brick and mortar of my fleshless skeleton,’ ” historian John A. Botzum wrote.
Akron’s founder, Gen. Simon Perkins of Warren, had donated the land for use as a school in the 1830s. The original building, a small frame structure on the northeast corner of Broadway and Middlebury Street (now Buchtel Avenue), was known as Portage Township Schoolhouse No. 2. The early village of Middlebury boasted No. 1.
Akron’s population was a mere 1,665 in 1840 when the Broadway site gave way to a new school, 35 feet wide and 38 feet long, built of gray stone. Its 18-inch-thick walls supported oak trusses 32 feet long and 10 feet high. The school faced Middlebury Street and had separate entrances for boys and girls. The plain furnishings included double desks, a blackboard, a potbellied stove and, for problem students, a dunce stool.
Reading, writing and arithmetic were taught there for more than 40 years to hundreds of pupils. In addition to classes, the school served as a place for town meetings, weddings, funerals, church functions and other events.
Famous alumni included U.S. Sen. Charles Dick, Summit County Prosecutor George W. Sieber, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. co-founders F.A. Seiberling and C.W. Seiberling, artist Lucius Hitchcock, philanthropist Blanche Hower and inventor Thomas Edison’s future bride, Mina Miller.
F.A. Seiberling later referred to the school as a “hallowed spot.”
As Akron’s population neared 16,500 in 1880, the little school grew too crowded. Final classes were held in 1883 after the district sold the property to the New York, Pennsylvania & Ohio Railroad for $2,000 (about $65,400 today).
The city purchased the site in 1916 and turned it into a storage room, tool shed and general dumping ground. Its only pupils were mice and spiders.
In 1929, the Summit County Historical Society persuaded the city to turn over the property for use as a future museum. Mayor G. Lloyd Weil and Public Service Director Fred E. Swineford signed the deed over.
“I am supremely happy to know that our appeal has not gone unheard,” Emily Rowe, society president, said in 1929. “It’s fine to know that the old school is to come to us and that it is to be forever saved.”
But it wasn’t easy. The historical society cleaned out the building and held benefits to fix it up, but the Great Depression crushed renovation plans. There was talk of moving the building to Perkins Woods, an idea that was rejected.
In the 1930s, Stephen Gladwin, society president and school alumnus, led another effort to raise funds for the building’s restoration.
“Right about there is where I used to sit and right there is where Mina Miller, who became Thomas Edison’s wife, sat,” Gladwin reminisced during a 1938 visit. “Here’s where the teacher, Miss Taylor, used to have us hang our coats on the old metal pegs, and here’s where the potbellied stove stood.”
Retired Akron firefighter John G. Dietz, another alum, also had colorful memories.
“I played hooky once while attending the Old Stone School,” he once recalled. “A Miss Stevens was the teacher and for punishment she locked me in a small coal shed in the rear of the school. I worked loose a fastening on the door and got out. ”
In conjunction with Summit County’s 100th birthday in 1940, the historical society tried again to raise funds to renovate the school. Led by President Carl H. Pockrandt, the project caught the attention of the White House.
“I have heard with great interest about the restoration of the Old Stone School in celebration of the centenary of Summit County,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote to the society.
“The preservation of these ancient landmarks is a duty which many communities neglect, and local history suffers irreparable loss from such neglect.
“Your society is therefore to be congratulated on performing such a constructive work and one which other communities might well emulate.”
The project was shelved in 1941 upon the U.S. entry in World War II. For two decades, the landmark stood abandoned. The building filled with rubbish and occasionally caught fire when hoboes camped inside.
In the late 1960s, though, the historical society went back to school. Robert Mohler, society president and Akron school board member, announced a $40,000 renovation plan. School architect Paul R. Marcinkoski drew up plans.
Akron Community Trusts pledged $10,000 for the project. The Summit County Historical Society gave $7,939, Ritchie Foundation, $5,000; Firestone Foundation, $3,500; and Akron PTA, $2,609.
Grace Ewald donated old textbooks. Grant Tytes gave an antique dunce stool. James Tarter found the school’s original water crock. Zion Lutheran Church donated a blackboard. Delta Kappa Gamma gave McGuffey Readers, slates and pencils.
The old school looked new when Superintendent Conrad Ott and Akron Mayor John Ballard presided over a ribbon-cutting ceremony in 1968. Ideal for field trips and educational programs, the school provided a valuable lesson in patience and perseverance.
“In looking toward the future, we sometimes lose sight of our heritage,” Ott said. “I’m hoping Old Stone School will help our children focus on contributions of the past. Without appreciation of our heritage, the future loses its perspective.”
Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.