|This article originally appeared in the "Together Again" All-School Reunion, July 4, 1987 book.|
Central School Saga
By Bob Popp
There were many remarkable things about Central School, which towered over East Fourth Street for 76 years and provided the center of higher education for generation after generation of East Liverpool residents.
Not the least remarkable was the overall cost of the massive structure, pegged at $55,000 in contemporary newspaper accounts. The basic contract for the building, as awarded by the Board of Education, totaled $45,013, but that did not cover "heaters and other extras:'
Some folks today spend more on a luxury car and think nothing of it. But Central School's construction in 1894 and 1895 was a major undertaking for the growing community. A dollar bill was a respectable piece of currency in those days, with pork chops and steak selling at 121/2 cents a pound.
Another remarkable fact about Old Central is that the bell that chimed the hours in the clock atop the tower had served earlier in the belfry of the building that preceded Central. The bell in Central's predecessor, a structure erected in 1851, also sounded fire alarms for the community.
Central School stood on the same site that was occupied by at least two other brick buildings of much more modest dimensions, dating back to 1848. And at least one historical source says the local school system began in 1820 "in a primitive log schoolroom on what was doubtless the site of" Central.
Most of the town took a half-holiday on a September day in 1895 to mark the formal opening of the new school with a flag-raising ceremony after hours of patriotic and civic oratory. Potteries, cooperages and all the other satellites of the ceramic industry closed.
Bands blared in a parade through the business district and the patriotic and secret orders of the day turned out fancifully-uniformed members to swell the line of march. Civil War veterans paraded proudly, although not with the zip they possessed 30 years earlier. Many visiting dignitaries rode along the parade route in shining carriages, acknowledging the cheers of the citizens.
The local newspapers, bitter political rivals, outdid each other in agreeing that it was the proudest day in East Liverpool's history. They declared that there was not another school in the State of Ohio-or in the United States for that matter -with modern appointments to match our new Central School. Superlatives were tossed about with reckless abandon in James Deidrick's "Daily Crisis" and in "The Evening News Review."
The Daily Crisis declared that "it is no idle boast that nowhere in the United States is there a municipality which can point to so magnificent a result attained with an equal expenditure." And The News Review called Central "the pride of the city, the handsomest, most convenient and most thoroughly modern school building in the valley."
The 1851 school building was a two-story structure "that was considered a most imposing edifice by the people of the modest village." But, the local historians noted, "its construction was of such an elastic nature that when rude winds forced their blasts against its sides the swaying of the structure always resulted in a holiday for the scholars, the teacher fearing for their safety during violent storms."
The building accordingly was demolished in the summer of 1869. It was replaced with the so-called Union School, which contained 12 rooms and a large hall "in which all theatrical entertainments and school exhibitions were held for the next six or seven years."
The date of Union School's construction was cut into the stonework over the main entrance of its successor, Central School. Thus, the date "1851" appeared on the west end, causing latter- day speculation and arguments between those unfamiliar with school history. In another seeming contradiction, a big stone over the Cherry Alley entrance called the building the "Common School."
By the summer of 1893, the Board of Education decided that the old Union Building was "completely inadequate." A.M. True, a state building inspector, reinforced the board's decision by condemning the building as unsafe. On Sept. 25, 1893, it hired C.H. Owsley of Youngstown, an architect, to draw plans for a new building.
Before the plans were drawn, the Daily Crisis started a lively editorial campaign urging the school board to provide for a clock in a tower surmounting the structure. It continued the campaign for a year "until the agitation was taken up by the city at large and finally the new clock in the school building was secured," Deidrick wrote, taking credit for what later was to become one of East Liverpool's most famous landmarks.
The school board let a $45,013 contract for the building on March 1,1894 to the firm of Corcoran & Connell of Pittsburgh. Work started immediately on razing the old building. Construction of the Central School began in May 1894.
The building was under roof by winter. On Aug. 26, 1895, the school board accepted the building from contractors.
At the same meeting, the board named Florence V. Updegraff as principal. The teaching staff was comprised of Bertha McVay, Helen MacGregor, Jessie Manley, Anne Bentley, Claribel Preston, Mary A. Smith, Florence A. Jessup, Anna Austin, Isabel Little, Mae E. Bowers, Mrs. Della Hayes, Laura Conkle, Ida Agner, Clara Williams, Clara Beal, Lina Joseph and Anna C. Myers. The school board anticipated an average of 44 pupils per room.
Although the dedication was held on Sept. 6, the school was placed in use for the first time on Tuesday, Sept. 3. The dedication date sometimes has been confused with the date of the school's opening.
On Saturday, Aug. 31, a platform was erected to serve as the focal point of the dedication ceremony. S.D. Sanor, the principal, was termed "the proudest man in town" when the building opened. "The building is all that could be asked for and juvenile exclamations of wonder were heard on every hand all day," the Daily Crisis reported. "All the teachers are in their places, the scholars have had a long vacation and everything is in readiness for a season of good work."
Contemporary accounts show the building opened with an enrollment of 850. In the next two days, pupils were transferred from the crowded Sixth St. School, raising the enrollment to nearly 900. Lina Joseph, who had graduated from high school the preceding year and was beginning her first year as a teacher, was responsible for a room crowded with 60 pupils.
The building contained 24 large rooms. There were 18 classrooms, plus two "recitation rooms," the high school library, the superintendent's office, the school board's office and a "book room." The newspapers said the building could accommodate 1,000 students without overcrowding. There were seven other schools in the system, "the handsome buildings of the Jethro School, the Grant St. School, the Sixth St. School, the Third St. School and the East End School, with the suburban buildings of Trentvale and Gardendale."
The Daily Crisis carried a lyric description of the new Central Building and commented that the clock in the 128-foot tower was "brilliantly lighted by electricity." "The entire structure is wired throughout for electric lighting," it added. "It is heated and ventilated by the automatic apparatus in the basement without the necessity for the firemen ever leaving his furnaces."
The program for dedication of the new building was worked out with the cooperation of the Board of Education, which was comprised of Will L. Smith, president, Daniel J. Nellis, secretary, John E. Taylor, George H. Owen, Rev. R.B. Whiteleather and M.E. Golding. Professor George Luckey, who had served as principal in the 1860's, was selected to return to deliver the main address. He had gained fame as an educator in Pittsburgh. The professor promised he would arrive by train from Pittsburgh, despite a heavy work load. The parade was timed to move at 1 p.m. from Broadway and East Fifth St.
On Friday morning, volunteers decorated the speakers' platform in front of the new building, wrapping the fresh lumber with red, white and blue bunting. A heavy rain shower fell shortly after noon, disrupting the lineup of the parade. The march finally began at 2:30 under sunny skies. Led by Willis Davidson, as chief marshal, the procession moved along Fifth St., then north on Jefferson St. to Sixth St., then to the Diamond, to Market St., to Fourth St. to Union St., where it disbanded. Davidson's mounted aides were Howard Moon, John Wyman and Robert VanFossan. They were trailed by a squad of police and 15 men in Manley's Military Band.
The parade finally arrived at the new school at 3. East Fourth St. was jammed with people from curb to curb, including 2,000 pupils who had been released from school throughout the city an hour early to witness the ceremony. Mrs. Enoch Bradshaw, whose home stood at East Fourth St. and Broadway-present site of the Carnegie Public Library-invited women to sit on the lawn to watch the program.
As the ceremony got underway belatedly, the committee chewed its nails, because Professor Luckey had not arrived. The massed school children sang several patriotic songs. Rev. J.M. Hunton of the First Methodist Church gave a prayer. Then, to fill more time, Judge P.C. Young mounted the platform and delivered an oration.
Luckey arrived much later and was hustled from the railroad depot to the school site in a carriage by William Brunt. The noted educator delivered a brief speech in which he joked about "William Brunt, the Chesterfield of the village; Josiah Thompson, the little city's financier, Sanford C. Hill, whose almanacs regulated the United States and New Jersey, John Goodwin, George S. Harker and John Smith."
Hundreds crowded through the building in an "open house," commenting on "the conveniences within for teacher and pupil, the pretty finishings and furniture and the big airy classrooms." Professor Luckey was guest of honor at a reception that night at Brunt's home on Broadway.
And late that night the Daily Crisis reported one of the episodes that would help make Central School and its clock an East Liverpool fixture for all time.
The newspaper said a drunk saw the full moon rising in the eastern sky and - thinking he was observing the new marvel, the school clock- commented to his companion: "George, they've taken the hands off the new school clock!"