Focus on Fostoria - May1105b

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Published on 05/11/05 in the Fostoria Focus
Bricks ‘n glass ‘n schools

By LEONARD SKONECKI Focus Correspondent

The demolition of the old Fostoria High School has elicited considerable interest. Many people got bricks as souvenirs. There was great excitement when four stained glass windows were uncovered.

Accordingly, some history of the building is in order.

Both Rome and Risdon had schools in the period 1832-1854. Risdon’s was located at Summit and Countyline, Rome’s at South and Poplar.

Rome’s first teacher was Freeman Luce of Ashland. His wages and perks were $10 a month pay and free room and board.

The Risdon schoolhouse cost $200 to build and $40 was raised for furniture.

In 1854, Rome and Risdon united to form Fostoria. In 1856, the schools of the former villages were formed into one school district.

In 1874, Fostoria High School handed diplomas to its first graduating class. The expense didn’t break the bank. The class consisted of sisters Lucille and Ida Whitacre. That was it, just the two of them.
The high school was a wood structure then, located on the east side of Main Street between Fremont and High Streets on the lot just north of Governor’s Manor.

Construction began on the high school on High Street in 1877. It was a three-story building with a belfry. At the time, the FHS enrollment was roughly 25 students. For years, it was called Central High.

The school had oak doors. The floors were 1½-inch oak. The central part of the building was a rotunda. The first floor had four rooms, each one 27 by 33 feet.

The second floor had two rooms like the ones on the first floor and a third that was somewhat larger, 28 by 39 feet, called the High School Room.

The third floor was dominated by a large hall, 37 by 80 feet. It had a raised platform and was intended for commencement exercises, plays and other performances.

By 1900, enrollment had increased more than three-fold, to 85, and the school was getting crowded. So it wasn’t long before expansion was the order of the day.

In 1909, wings were added on both the east and west sides of the school. Speaking of bricks, the school board ordered 18,000 bricks to build the wings. The contractor rejected half of them as defective.
Good bricks or bad, the new wings were built. However, enrollment continued to swell — from 85 in 1900 to 125 in 1905 to 200 in 1910 and to 300 in 1915. So expansion was necessary once more.
The original 1877 construction was demolished and a new central section was built. The 1915 renovation did not have a bell tower and it was at that time that local artisan Bradfield Hamilton built the bell monument that stood on the southwest corner of the high school campus for 89 years until it was removed a year ago.

The $64 question is — What about those windows? The windows were probably installed during the 1915 renovation. That’s when an auditorium was added and the windows were part of the auditorium. A gymnasium was also added then.

Some folks have wondered if the glass used in the windows is Fostoria glass. Good question. The answer is possibly, but probably not.

The glass era in Fostoria’s history was actually quite brief when you consider how well-known Fostoria glass remains to this day. However, the first glass factory located here in 1887 and by 1891 they started to relocate as the supply of free natural gas began to dwindle.

By 1900, Fostoria’s glass industry had largely vanished.

According to Mel Murray, author of “History of Fostoria, Ohio Glass” (1972), if the windows were added in 1915, or even in 1909, then it’s very unlikely that the windows could be Fostoria glass.

The old Central High was ready for its students in the fall of 1878. On the evening of Jan. 7, 1879, good old Charles Foster gave the dedication address. He spoke on the history of education in Fostoria.
His remarks appeared several days later in the Fostoria Review.

He talked on the dry stuff — school taxes, for instance. But he also spoke on the schools from childhood memory. Foster was only 5 years old when Rome’s school was established in 1833.

He remembered that those old schools were heated by fireplaces with “stick and mud” chimneys. It was the responsibility of the “big boys” to periodically bring in wood and keep the fire going.

He remembered, too, the antics of his schoolmates. Unruly students are an historical fact.

“At that time Risdon was considered as being more religious than Rome; yet it had its full share of naughty boys, the Caples family furnishing its full quota of this class,” he said.

Foster added that whenever a prank was played on the teacher or another pupil, a Caples was generally the ringleader.

Now it has to be said that the boys of the Caples family were not a bunch of no-account, low-class, misbehavers. Au contraire, they were a bunch of respectable, high-class misbehavers.

Robert Caples was a doctor and local Republican party bigwig. Jacob was a minister. B.L. was active in the Masons. There is a Caples Street in Fostoria.

Gotta’ love those naughty boys sometimes.

Finally, when Foster opened his remarks, he said this: “Having accepted an invitation to address you on this occasion, I have selected the subject of the history of the schools in Fostoria as the one that would probably interest our people more than any other.”

He was probably right back in 1879 at the school’s beginning. He would have been just as right in 2005 at the school’s end.