|Photo courtesy of Groveport Heritage Museum|
|Mudsock School, which once stood southeast of Groveport, is typical of the one room schoolhouses that dotted rural Madison Township in the 19th and early 20th centuries.|
Think what the educational landscape was like on the Ohio frontier of the early to mid 19th century – farm work that extended from sun up to sundown (and often beyond), books hard to come by, and few, if any, schools, which made the prospect of attending class just a dream for most.
Slowly, communities around the state in that era worked to fulfill that dream of education, such as the Groveport Madison Local School district, which was born 160 years ago when citizens decided it was time to make public education available to all the children of Groveport and Madison Township. The new district would soon open its doors to a handful of students from the village and township who gathered in a simple brick building – heated by a wood stove and supplied with few materials – on Walnut Street in Groveport.
From those simple beginnings the district has grown into the modern district it is today of around 6,000 students housed in 10 schools throughout the village and township.
Before Groveport Madison
Farms were the dominant way of life in Groveport and Madison Township in the 19th century. The township was noted for its rich soil and abundant creeks, which made it ripe for a booming agricultural economy. Groveport was officially a year old as a town in 1848 following the merger of Wert’s Grove and Rarey’s Port – two small villages that had sat side by side and had roughly formed following the early days of Ohio statehood and grew with the coming of the Ohio and Erie Canal in 1831.
Town life in the 19th century reflected farm life in the township as most people in Groveport had large garden plots and kept their own livestock – such as hogs, chickens, and sheep – as well as horses for transportation. So, in essence, though they were townsfolk, they were still farmers.
The nature of farm work meant long days, for the whole family, of tending the fields, gardens, livestock, and home, so not a lot of time was spared for school.
Plus, at the time there were no free public schools in Groveport and Madison Township. Instead, there were private academies that required tuition payments. These academies operated out of individuals’ homes or one room style school houses scattered throughout the township. Needless to say the hours needed to work the farms and the cost to attend one of these academies led to few students receiving much in the way of formal education.
According to Ohio historian George Knepper, the rise of public schools began in 1821 when the Ohio General Assembly approved legislation to allow locally organized public school districts to levy taxes to construct and operate schools. This step was further entrenched in 1825 when the state legislature required property owners to pay taxes to support the schools.
Public schools began to pop up around the state, usually of the one room school variety in rural areas and small towns where students of all ages learned together. According to Knepper, these schools "varied greatly in quality."
School terms ranged from six weeks to three months, but there could be more than one term in a year. The short terms were no doubt necessitated by the fact students were needed at home to help with farm work most of the year.
Groveport Madison is born
According to historian George Bareis, on March 28, 1848, Groveport voters approved a levy to raise $1,200 to build a 40 by 50 foot, two story brick public schoolhouse on land purchased for $100 from William Rarey on Groveport’s Walnut Street.
Interestingly, the man who made the motion to raise the levy was Dr. Abel Clark, the fellow who just a year earlier at a village public meeting suggested the name "Groveport" when citizens had decided to merge Wert’s Grove and Rarey’s Port. It would seem Clark was a respected, civic minded person of action, who people listened to when he spoke.
After completion of the Walnut Street school, voters elected the district’s first board of education on Feb. 16, 1850, which included William Darnell, C.J. Stevenson, Thomas Hughes, A. Willi, Jacob Andericks, and Jesse Dildine.
The first teachers in the district were J.C. Brown, D. R. Solomon, Margaret Rarey, E. Meason, and E. G. Chambers, who also doubled as the first principal and superintendent.
Bareis notes that the district purchased its first school bell for its new schoolhouse for $8 from G.P. Champe in 1855.
Students would walk, ride horses, or drive a horse and buggy to school. During their noon break, before they could eat their lunch and play games, the kids first had to feed and water their horses at a nearby stable.
The Walnut Street school primarily provided an elementary school level of education. Groveport Madison would not organize a formal high school education program until after the Civil War. This program produced the district’s first high school graduation class in 1871 consisting of three graduates: Flora Rarey, Ida Smith, and Mattie Long.
The Walnut Street school was the main building in the school district until 1884 (when a larger school was built on College Street near what is now Naomi Court) and was complemented by one room schoolhouses, such as the Mudsock School southeast of Groveport, scattered throughout the township.
From those humble 19th century beginnings, the Groveport Madison school district grew and grew over the next 160 years. More school buildings would be built and more children educated…and it all started on a day in the early spring of 1848 when the community decided it was time to provide a free public education for the benefit of all.
(Sources: "Ohio and Its People," by George Knepper; "History of Madison Township Including Canal Winchester and Groveport, Ohio," by George Bareis; and the Groveport Heritage Museum.)