Grand old school still serves community

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(Images courtesy of the Groveport Heritage Museum)

This is the original architect’s drawing of Groveport School. The plan for the school originally called for a more ornate building and included a grand stairway at the main entrance.

Groveport School as it appeared in 1926, a building that is both beautiful and functional. The final design was softened resulting in the existing building which presents a simple, welcoming elegance.
Grade school children play on the playground of Groveport School in the mid-1920s.
The 350 seat Groveport School gym as it looked in 1923. The wood gym floor was recently restored.
The 800 seat Groveport School auditorium, restored through a citizens’ group and school district effort in 2002, as it looks today.
The manual arts classroom in 1926.

The Groveport Madison Local School District is 160-years-old this year and for more than half of those years Groveport School (now Groveport Elementary) has served the district and the community.

Communities are made up of diverse elements which include various commercial and cultural interests as well as different religious faiths. The public institution in which most members of a community share a common experience is the public school.

A school embodies the shared collective memory of a community. There is a linear timeline one can follow as a child sits in the same classroom or plays ball on the same field as their parents and grandparents once did. Groveport School is one such building that provides a tangible link between the members of the community.

Origins

In the early 19th century during the fledgling years of the village of Groveport and Madison Township, parents who wanted to send their children to school had to pay to have them attend one of the private academies sprinkled throughout the area.

These academies – such as Richardson’s Academy, Rarey’s Academy, and the Margaret Chandler School – were either of the one room schoolhouse design or situated in private homes.

By 1848 the citizens of the village and township decided it was time to provide a public education for all their children and voted to create the Groveport Madison school district. The first school building to serve all grade levels was built at Walnut and Elm streets at a cost of $1,650.

The area continued to grow and formally established a high school program in 1867. In 1884 a new 12 grade school was built on College Street near what is now Naomi Court at a cost of $10,000. This building would serve the community until 1923.

A growing school district

In the early years of the 20th century Groveport and Madison Township continued to grow steadily in population, helped in part by the improvements in transportation – including the electric interurban traction line railroad and the advent of automobiles and buses – that enabled people who lived in small towns and rural areas to more easily commute to jobs around central Ohio.

On Aug. 8, 1921, with enrollment on the rise, school board members W.H. Hanstein, G.W. Woerlein, Pearl Watkins, Daniel Schleppi, and Clarence Stevenson presented a bond issue to the district, which the voters approved, to build a new $225,000, three story red brick school on Groveport’s east Main Street to house all 12 grades, as well as an elementary school at Edwards’ Station on Alum Creek Drive at Williams Road. (In an architectural curiosity, Edwards Elementary was designed as a smaller version of Groveport School.)

The move came at a time in Ohio’s history when there was an effort to consolidate rural schools and eliminate the one room schools scattered throughout the countryside. The idea was to improve efficiency in operating expenses and elevate the quality of education.

Bond issue campaign literature from 1921 noted the new "Groveport School" would enable the district to close down the six one room schoolhouses it was operating in the township. It also stated the bond issue would cost the owner of "$1,000 property $3.82 a year, or 32 cents a month for the first year" with gradual decreases in future years.

In urging voters to support the bond issue, supporters wrote, "The children in our district are entitled to as good educational advantages as any others in the state. Under present conditions our boys and girls do not have a square deal."

Architecture

Groveport School, which opened in 1924 and housed all 12 grades until the mid-1950s when a new high school was built next door, was constructed on land that was once pasture land owned by the Rarey family and where the famous horse Cruiser used to romp.

The school features interior golden glazed brick walls as well as a separate gymnasium and auditorium, which is unique for school buildings of its era that often combined the gym and auditorium into one room. Older residents recall how loud the gym could be when it was packed with fans during basketball games. The auditorium is noted for its fine acoustics.

Ten acres of playing fields and playground ring the structure. A grand courtyard sweeps out to meet Main Street and features a recently restored stone fountain as its centerpiece.

The original classroom design for Groveport School included manual arts, agriculture laboratory, machine shop, home economics, cafeteria, and storage, locker rooms on the first floor. The second floor housed grades 1-8 while the third floor held the high school classrooms.

At one time the stairs were painted red and the handrails black in honor of the school district’s colors.

Education giants

Groveport School has been the home to many fine educators, but the two who stand out the most are Paul "Pete" Glendening and Lucinda Doersam.

Glendening served Groveport Madison from 1922 to 1969 as a teacher, coach, and principal. During his tenure he taught a variety of subjects and coached boys football, basketball, and baseball; as well as girls basketball and softball at all grade levels. Glendening Elementary, built in 1971, is named in his honor.

Doersam worked for Groveport Madison as a teacher, coach, principal and acting superintendent from 1917 to 1956. No subject seemed to be beyond her reach as she taught English, French, history, math, and biology. She is noted as one of the district’s most successful girls basketball coaches as her teams dominated the old Franklin County League in the 1920s.

Both Doersam and Glendening are remembered fondly by their former students who recall the educators’ fairness, knowledge, and understanding which helped to shape good students and successful adults.

Memories

Carla (Rarey) Cramer attended Groveport Elementary in the late 1950s and early 1960s and has fond memories of the school.

"I remember sitting in a square on the tiled kindergarten room floor, the alphabet tiles are still there; and the ‘block room’ for the kindergarten, which is now the office area," said Cramer. "We also used to fly up and down the stairs at top speed and swing around the corners while holding onto the railing. We could look down through the gaps in the stairwell railings as we used it."

She also recalled the large wooden storage areas within each classroom that had a rolling door that could come down to cover it and the brightly painted windows at Christmas time.

"I also liked watching performances in the auditorium, especially the noon time movies on winter days during recess," said Cramer.


Place in the community

Groveport School, complemented by its neighbor Groveport Town Hall, has long been a gathering point for the community.

Besides providing a home for education, Groveport School has been a social center for both community and school functions including farmers’ exhibits, dances, lyceum courses, plays, athletics, and concerts.

Groveport School, now Groveport Elementary, remains a thriving and active place educationally. It is an architectural jewel nestled in downtown Groveport that is a functioning reminder of Groveport and Madison Township’s past as well as a beacon of promise for the future. Above all, it remains a symbol of the area’s desire to provide a solid public education to its citizenry.

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