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1890s school manual reflects former days

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is another article on Findlay area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier.

 

By R.L. HEMINGER

 

A look backward with regard to the times is always interesting and especially with regard to the schools of other days. A manual published by the Findlay school system for the school year. 1897-98, provides an absorbing picture of Findlay’s educational provisions for its youth, just before the turn of the century.

The late Earl Wall had made available to George K. Barrett a copy of the old manual some months before he passed away last spring (1970). It contained some 90 pages of material, dealing with the local school system, and evidently was published annually in those times. Mr. Barrett was a member of the Findlay Board of Education for four years, ending at the close of 1969.

The board of education in those days was composed of 16 members, two from each of the eight wards in the city. The members were R.C. Lovering, George T. Boyd, J.J. Kwis, Anthony Dietsch, W.J. Willis, Dr. M.J. Ewing, Dr. E.C. Miller, S.L. McKelvy, G.T. Hill, Emerson Priddy, W.A.B. Dalzell, E.W. Funk, T.F. Gillespie, Samuel Heibeck, Waldo Taylor and Harry Tarbox.

Mr. Dalzell was president of the board, Mr. Gillespie, clerk, and Dr. Miller treasurer. President Dalzell was secretary-treasurer of the Dalzell, Gilmore and Leighton Co., Findlay’s largest glass factory.

John W. Zeller was superintendent of instruction, John F. Smith was principal of the high school and Ebenezer Wilson was truant officer.

In the president’s annual report, Mr. Dalzell spoke especially of the crowded conditions of the high school, then located on the top floor of the Central building on East Sandusky Street.

“It would be hard to conceive a more unfit building or site for school purposes than the high school building, located between two railroad freight yards, with never-ceasing noise such as locomotive bells ringing, whistling and escaping steam,” said President Dalzell. So small was the high school room that the pupils had to be seated on a basis of two in a single seat, he went on to say. There was no cloak room space for winter wearing apparel, which had to be left within the single room. It was often damp.

On the lower floors of the Central, elementary grades were located. There were four floors in all in the building.

(In 1900, the new high school building was constructed on West Main Cross Street at Cory Street.)

The local schools had a bonded debt of $142,000, the president told the board in his report. This came from the number of new schools that had to be constructed hurriedly in the late 1800s as a consequence of the gas boom, which brought a great increase in school enrollment in Findlay. Nine new school buildings had to be built within only two years in the city, so great was the influx of new pupils. Six hundred entered in a single year as new students.

In his report, Superintendent Zeller gave figures as to enrollment back over the preceding seven years. In 1896-1897 there were 3,723 pupils enrolled in the Findlay Public Schools. (Today — 1970 — there are in the neighborhood of 9,000 pupils.)

The 3,723 in 1896-97, compared with 3,227 back in 1889-1890, an increase of nearly 500. Of the 3,723, a total of 3,492 were in the grades and 231 in the high school.

The effect of the start of the collapse of the natural gas boom was beginning to be noticeable in the seven-year enrollment data. The peak enrollment in the 1890s was in 1892-93 when the number of pupils rose to 3,849 in Findlay, or 126 more than four years later. But the 3,723 in 1896 was a couple thousand above what the enrollment was before the discovery of gas.

Superintendent Zeller in his report figured that the school enrollment in 1896 could be interpreted as meaning the city of Findlay had a population of 20,600.

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