“THE SCHOOLS have from the beginning been the special pride of the town, and Wellington has always given its youth the best advantages for obtaining an education, which the circumstances of the people would permit, and now she sustains one of the best high schools to be found in the State” (The Wellington Enterprise, 6-5-1889, pg. 1).
On the very first page of the earliest surviving issue of The Wellington Enterprise–dated September 19, 1867–is an article about the new Union School house. It calls the construction of the school “prominent among the improvements on foot in Wellington” and describes in detail the proposed dimensions and amenities of the building. Stone was coming from “the Berea quarries” and local manufacturers Kirk, Bennett & Co. had won the masonry contract for digging the basement. More than 400,000 bricks were expected to comprise the finished structure, topped by a slate-covered mansard roof installed by the Cleveland firm of Towsend & Co.
There had been some controversy over where to locate the school. Two years earlier, the Lorain County News published a dispatch from Wellington correspondent J. B. Lang that revealed, “We understand that a location for the new Union School house has been decided upon, and the lot surveyed and taken possession of, against the wishes of the owner, Mrs. Howk, who we understand threatens to destroy anything they may place upon it. We are sorry that it was necessary to take that course on the part of the school directors, as we learn from conversing with the people, that Mrs. H. has many friends, who will embarrass and trouble the directors, if not entirely defeat their plans. All this will be attended with more or less expense, and have to be paid by those who feel as though they were already paying rent instead of taxes. Besides these reasons, it will create a disagreeable feeling among our citizens, which should, if possible, be avoided” (8-16-1865, pg. 3). “Mrs. H.” may refer to Theadocia Howk, early settler Alanson Howk’s widow; an 1874 map of the village shows that she owned more than forty acres of land that ran north-south from today’s East Herrick Avenue down almost to Pleasant Street, immediately east of the eventual school grounds.
Little more than a decade later, an addition was already in the works. “The contract for building the new wing to the Union School building has been let to Mr. Black, for the sum of $5,795, which includes everything except furniture, furnishing and Kalsomining [i.e. whitewashing]. The contract for brick work is sub-let to Messrs. Bennett & Holmes, and the stone work to Mr. Richard Gibbons. It is to be completed and ready for occupancy Dec. 25th, 1879” (The Wellington Enterprise, 7-17-1879, pg. 3). The wing added four new rooms, each with a large adjoining closet. An 1880 editorial praised, “We do not hesitate to say that these are really the finest school rooms in the State of Ohio” (1-15-1880, pg. 3).
By 1885, a new steam heating system was installed in the school, the twenty-year-old furnaces having worn out from use. For $2,200, the Toledo firm of Shaw, Kendall & Co. put in a state-of-the-art system, which immediately reduced the heating costs of the building by some fifty percent, or $300 per year. Previously, very cold weather had sometimes resulted in the cancellation of classes, because the old furnaces were not capable of maintaining a reasonable temperature in all rooms. But the steam method resulted in “rooms [that] have been kept at a uniform temperature though the whole winter, all the while comfortable…This season there has been no complaint, and we may congratulate ourselves on having as cheap and perfect a system of heating as any school building in this section of the country” (4-1-1885, pg. 4).
The school sat in the center of several acres of green space (see image above) and public traffic across the grounds was an ongoing issue. In 1880, the Board of Education issued a notice that, “Parties living in the vicinity of the Union School grounds, who are accustomed to cross them on their way to and from town, are hereby notified it is unlawful and is strictly forbidden by the Board. Measures will be taken if necessary to enforce this requirement. It is hardly necessary to present a reason for forbidding pedestrians the use of the grounds for foot paths and we hope this notice will put an end to the practice of running over them” (4-22-1880, pg. 3).
It did not. Nine years later, a nearly identical notice was published in the paper. “Persons living on South Courtland street and on Carpenter street are requested not to cross the lawn in front of the school building, but to keep the walk. The path being made by such persons greatly mars the beauty of the lawn, which is not used as a play ground by any of the pupils. Those crossing the school grounds with delivery carts are also asked to keep the walks. It is hoped that no personal request will need to be made to those improperly using the school grounds in front of the building” (1-16-1889, pg. 5).
It was not until the twentieth century that the Union School was incorporated into a greatly expanded facility that served as a township high school. The stately Italianate was gradually swallowed up in 1916, 1938 and 1953 additions, which put an entirely different facade on the structure, as well as enhancements such as an auditorium and gymnasium. In the 1960s, a modern high school building was erected on North Main Street, and the “old high school” was redesignated as McCormick Middle School.
Sadly, the Union School is not long for the world. Plans are underway to construct a new middle school, adjacent to the 1960s high school on North Main Street. My understanding is that the present middle school is due to be demolished within the next few years and its grounds are to be turned into a public park. Having just written a post about the loss of the Opera House, I suppose it goes without saying that I already mourn the loss of yet another monument to Wellington’s past.