Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Bicentennial Moment: A Retrospect of Fairport Harbor School History

The first school in Lake County was a log cabin on the state of John Walworth (circa 1800-1806).  Abraham Tappan, who lived at the Walworth home, was the first schoolmaster.  This was the pattern for much of the early nineteenth century pioneer families.  A 1893 Painesville Telegraph obituary mentions Hezekiah Cole who taught in Fairport in 1832.  However, the earliest confirmed date for a Fairport proper school appeared to be 1842.  District School #1 belonging to the County Board of Education / Painesville Township was located on Third Street, east of The First Congregational Church.  Accounts mention it was a one teacher, one iron bell, one stove classroom.  Much of the history of this era of wooden building schools remains difficult to procure.

The first school building constructed in Fairport was a four room brick veneer structure in 1876.  It is the current site of the Village Hall and Fire Department. For the next twenty years, the Third Street School was the primary educational site in the Village.  Community pressure swelled by 1899 to construct a new school in Fairport and a vote led to the 1903 opening of The Plum Street School.  Vine Street became the site of the first high school. It was opened in 1921.  A Board of Education Resolution in 1924 renamed the three schools for famous dead U.S. Presidents.  The High School became known as Harding High.  The old Third Street school was named Garfield.  Plum Street School was renamed McKinley.  The year was 1921.  The stadium, which was originally planned as a garden, was dedicated on October 3, 1931.  A 13-6 win over rival Painesville made the day a success.  It was named R.A. Greig Field in 1946 to honor the long-time Fairport educator and superintendent.  The Public Library, first organized in 1921 was built in 1934 as part of the Civil Works Project.  Kindergarten classes came to the schools in 1935.  Fairport broke away from county affiliation in 1936 and became an exempted school district, which it remains today.  1954 saw the addition of a gymnasium-auditorium to McKinley and a nurse's clinic.  Harding High added a gymnasium, band room and shop area named in honor of Elijah H. Brown.

Fairport Harbor is a small village of approximately 3000 residents.  From its early beginnings education became a building block of the community.  The names, Tappan, Addie Owen Nelson, M.C. Helm, Catherine Mulcrone O'Brien, Evangeline Dann, Helen Kasari combine with the efforts of the Diamond Alkali, Fairport Mardi Gras and other local organizations to provide a rich history of the school system and many significant contributions by its alumni.  A Bicentennial Program highlighting school history is planned for March 22nd, 7pm at the high school auditorium.

Information sources came from-
The Story of Fairport  - Yesterday,Today, Tomorrow   1946 edition
Fairport History Book   1976 edition
Hometown Sketches   1936 edition

Future March Topics:
  • March 8 -- Plum Street School Fire 1910
  • March 15 -- School Sketches - Sports
  • March 22 -- Did you Know ?  - Little Known School History Gems
  • March 29 -- Early School Teacher Profiles - A Potpourri

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