Stewart School Public History Project

I realized that I have not posted to this blog in quite some time, which is due in part to the time I have been devoting to a public history project for my hometown historical society in Stow, Ohio.  Last weekend, the project came to fruition at Stow Historical Society’s Harvest Festival, and I believe that it can be counted a success.

In 2012, Stow Historical Society acquired Stewart School, an original one-room schoolhouse built in the late nineteenth century in Stow.  The only catch was that they had to raise the money to move it a short distance from its then current location to Heritage Reserve Park, where SHS maintains three other historical buildings.  From 2012-2013, SHS raised approximately $40,000 for the move, and the building arrived in its new home in October of 2013.  Restoration work has been ongoing since then (the school had been used as a church for many years and had underwent many changes as a result).

Stewart School, a one-room school from Stow, Ohio dating from the late nineteenth century, in its new location at Heritage Reserve Park in Stow

Stewart School, a one-room school from Stow, Ohio dating from the late nineteenth century, in its new location at Heritage Reserve Park in Stow

I am on the committee for the interior restoration and interpretation of the building and, earlier this year, I wrote an Ohio Humanities grant to fund the production of exhibit panels discussing the history of Stewart School, the history of education in Stow more broadly, and the broader history of the national shift from one-room schools to centralized schools.  SHS received the grant, and the last few months have been a whirlwind of exhibit panel development and fabrication.  Local historians Marilyn Lown and Beth Daugherty provided invaluable local history information that enabled me to write the panels, and graphic designer Anna Bose designed them.

Stewart School Exhibit Panel 1 of 6

Stewart School Exhibit Panel 1 of 6

Although the interior of the schoolhouse is not finished yet, we debuted the panels at this year’s Harvest Festival on October 3 & 4.  Eventually they will be mounted permanently on the walls.  The exhibit for the Harvest Festival also featured an interactive component, posing questions for visitors to answer using Post-It notes.  Unfortunately, Saturday was rainy and quite cold so attendance was low, but Sunday dawned sunny and significantly warmer, so we had over three hundred people visit Stewart School and view the exhibit!  It was wonderful to read the Post-Its and listen to conversations evoked by the schoolhouse.  For example, several people shared that they had attended one-room school or that a family member had attended or taught at a one-room school.  Below I’ve included a selection of some of the other Post-It responses to the question “What does the one-room schoolhouse evoke for you?”

Visitors to the Stewart School exhibit at Stow Historical Society's Harvest Festival, October 4, 2015

Visitors to the Stewart School exhibit at Stow Historical Society’s Harvest Festival, October 4, 2015

Blessed

The brick one-room school where my mother-in-law taught

Lots of eager minds all at different levels growing & learning & developing together

The living room

It was a simpler time when people were more important than things!

History!

Discipline

“Probably haunted”

We were married in this room in 1966! [when it was being used as a church]

Wow I like this school

Teaching done right!!

They [were] tough kids in those days and said the Lord’s prayer

Happy

One of two "blackboards" on which visitors could leave responses to the exhibit

One of two “blackboards” on which visitors could leave responses to the Stewart School exhibit

Although I wish attendance had been better on Saturday, I feel that the exhibit successfully evoked at least the beginnings of a community conversation about education and history.  There is still much more to discuss and share, and I hope that Stewart School will continue to prompt these conversations as restoration and interpretation of the structure proceeds.

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