Former Union Schoolhouse
With the Union Schoolhouse building up for sale there has been increased interest in its history. Serendipitously, one of the miscellaneous newspaper clippings collected by Mary E. Morgan turned out to be one of a series written for the Yellow Springs News by late local historian Julie Overton on the history of the building. (The handwritten date is faint, but may be January 3, 1979 .)
Within the article is a mention of the sculpture “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” This piece is now on the walls of the Yellow Springs Community Library, and there was a previous blog post on it here.
It is unknown if “johnny johnstrike” was a strictly local term for the dangerous piece of playground equipment.
Previous posts with information about the Union Schoolhouse building can be found by using “union school” as the term in the search box.
Local History: School Days on Dayton Street
Continuing her historical biography of the Village Building on Dayton Street, local historian Julie Overton conducted interviews for this week’s chapter with Andy Benning, Catherine Dillon, Donna Fulton, Bob Grote and Howard Kahoe. Another chapter in this history will be published next week.
By Julie Overton
Interviews with several village residents have produced information both about the physical facilities of the Union School building on Dayton Street and about activities that went on there during and after school hours.
Although the outside of the building has remained essentially the same since it was opened in 1873, the inside configurations have undergone several changes, some during the time the Dayton Street building was a full-time school. For instance, the original stairway was a double one, one section going up to the middle from the front area, the other section going up to the same point from the back door. Where the two stairs joined was a platform 12 feet wide; this platform area served as the central point for doors to classrooms, and to the upper hallway.
The principal’s office (that’s where you got all the paddling!) was located approximately where the police dispatch office is now housed. The basement was large, and had in addition to two large coal furnaces two other rooms which, although not apparently used very much during the school hours, were used by Yellow Springs groups at various times — the Girl Scouts met in one of those rooms during the late 1930’s, while the other room was used at least for a time as a “sculpting” room.
Accessories mentioned were items such as the coat hooks (not hangers), which were on one wall of each classroom; once all the coats had been hung, the movable blackboard was shifted to the space in front of the coats. There were special shelves for “brown-baggers” to keep their lunches until noon (this was also a chance for kids who didn’t bring a lunch to “borrow” from others).
There were no curtains or “decorations” but the building is recalled as being cheerful. The main exception to the “no decorations” was the sculpture of “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” Donated apparently by the Class of 1922, the large work of art was hung in the front hallway, and was the first thing to catch your eye as you entered. The fondly-remembered piece was taken down, in one piece, about 1951, but vandals apparently broke into the building later and broke several parts of it. There were plans to have it restored by Amos Mazzolini, but due to the latter’s death, the project was never started. “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” however, is still with us, although in storage; many would like to see it restored.
The plot of land on which the school building stood, some 200 by 300 feet in size, was also mentioned in several interviews I conducted with local people. The front yard was for a time graveled and equipped with the normal type of playground structures, such as swings, slides, monkey bars and sandpiles. The piece of equipment “credited” with the most injuries, however, was the “johnny johnstrike,” a sort of metal Maypole, with rings on the end of metal chains to swing around on and get thrown off of because of centrifugal force.
The back yard was remembered largely as the softball field, with home plate being just west of the back entrance. Also gracing the back yard until about 1930 were the two privies; these were the target of Halloween pranks, getting tipped over at least once (the pranksters got caught, but no one could prove anything!).
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Memories of occurrences during school hours abounded during my interviews. Special things which came up during my conversations covered the gamut from the fascinating to the scary. One person remembered the thrill of getting a chance to run down the heavy metal fire escapes from the second floor during fire drills. Another remembered the scary feeling of having to use the newly-installed bathrooms in the basements, the latter a dark and gloomy place to be.
There were of course many teachers during the life of the Union School on Dayton Street, but some who were mentioned (not necessarily in any order) were Marion Oster (taught high school Latin), Harold Little teaching algebra, Mary Fralick presiding over geometry, and in the lower grades people such as Leah (Wolford) Menn, Theresa (Oster) Grote, Florence (Paxton) Gray, Mrs. Thompson, and Max Livingston.
The principals often did “double-duty,” serving as principal when needed, and generally teaching one of the grades. Helping out with the teaching load were students from Antioch College, although these students often taught for only three or four months at a time. Some names which are remembered as student teachers are “Slim” Dawson, Herb Shanks, Tony High, and Wally Edwards.
However, in all of my interviews, the name which came up most frequently was that of Catherine Dillon. She attended the school after attending the Confer school on Fairfield Pike at East Enon Road for the first eight years of her schooling; she went to high school in the Dayton Street building, attended what is now Wittenberg University for two years, went back to teach at the Confer school for four years, and then tried going to business school (she calls that the longest six months of her life!). She started teaching at the Dayton Street school in the fall of 1928, and stayed with the Yellow Springs school system as an elementary school teacher (with her heart with first graders) until she retired in 1963. Thirty-nine years of teaching in the Yellow Springs system must be a record of some kind!
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The Dayton Street school building was finally closed as a teaching institution after Mills Lawn School was opened in 1951, since Bryan High School had already taken a large share of the pupil load. The building was used for about five years by the American Legion, about which I hope to tell you in next week’s column.