History of the Windham Schools:
A Sociological Perspective

 

The Windham community has an extraordinarily rich heritage with a unique story to tell. In 1942, the small prosperous Village of Windham was transformed into an army camp of skilled workers due to the United States government locating the Ravenna Arsenal (which provided ammunition for WWII) within the township. Because of this fortuitous event, Windham had the greatest growth of any town in the United States between 1940 and 1950 (316 to 3,946 inhabitants, National Geographic Magazine, June, 1951). As can be imagined, the impact on the school system and community was immense, and its effect continues to the present day.

 Beginnings

As all of Northeastern Ohio, Windham was initially part of the Connecticut Western Reserve, and was founded in 1811. The first settlers came from Becket, Massachusetts, where they formed a Land Company which paid $1.46 per acre for 14,845 acres of prime woods and farmland. The original family names include: Seely, Lyman, Jagger, Perkins, Alford, Streator, Higley, Clark, Messenger, Conant, Knigsley, Birchard and Bush, and some of today’s residents are descendants of these first families. The gravestones of these early pioneers can be visited in  the Windham Cemetery . 
These early settlers had a keen appreciation for education and there was hope that the village would eventually become a college town. The first school was established in one of the homes in the winter of 1811/12; the teachers were two sisters who alternated weeks as they gave their services without compensation. According to the Windham Sesquicentennial History Booklet, "The primary aim of the school was to teach children to read in order that they might become God fearing men and women". Twelve to fifteen children attended school this first winter.

 In the fall of 1812, a log cabin was erected to serve as a school building for 20 students who attended from thirteen families in the community. Tuition was charged, consisting of a bushel of wheat per family, which enabled the purchase of over 100 volumes to be part of a library. By 1816, two new log cabin schools were erected in the northern and southern districts of the township. The instructional materials available were slate, slate pencils, and a reader for each child.

During this period, the Village was undergoing many changes including two changes in name. The Village, which was originally named Strongsburg, (in honor of Governor Strong) in 1811, was later changed to Sharon in 1817, and then finally to Windham (in deference to Windham, Connecticut) in 1820. The town was beginning to prosper and now included several businesses as well as numerous farms and community organizations.

By 1824, a library association was formed, and by 1834 Windham had an educational association whose purpose was to "afford better facilities for instruction in the higher branches" (History of Portage County, Ohio 1885, p. 573). In 1835 an academy (private high school) was chartered at the State Legislature level and a new building was erected. The curriculum consisted of the 3 R’s plus classical literature. This academy was considered to be a first class institution with instructors being chosen from eastern colleges. Graduates from this academy were later to pursue professional training as lawyers, ministers and missionaries. Because it was a private school, tuition was charged on a per pupil basis.

By 1853, the academy fell into disuse, as free public education was becoming available for students beyond the elementary level. Another academy was establish in the 1860’s, but this school too, was to last only a few short years. This institution added debating and literary societies to its curriculum, and was attended by 25-30 young boys.

Also in the 1860’s, the township was redistricted and two new elementary school buildings were built. Windham’s elementary teachers now were paid by state funds, and the schools were connected to a rudimentary state system of education. For this period in history, Windham’s schools and library were considered exemplary, particularly when compared to other communities of similar size and distance from an urban center.

 

 

 By the mid-1860’s, Windham was a small prosperous community with numerous agricultural and dairy farms. With the coming of the Erie Railroad (which stopped in Windham on its route from New York to Chicago), there was strong impetus to diversify, and local businesses now included a cheese factory, curing house, maple syrup farm and flour mill (Portage Heritage, p. 494).

Another event in the 1860’s was the coming of the Civil War. Having a patriotic citizenry, 117 enlistments out of a total population of 813 fought in the War. In 1866 a soldier’s monument was erected, which still stands today.

The Windham Public School building was completed in 1883. This building served as both an Elementary School for the District, and later, as a High School for the township. The first High School class graduated in 1883. Although no written records are left concerning the curriculum and early years in the building, a few statistics remain. In 1884, revenue for the Windham Schools was $2,885; expenditures were $1,940 for maintenance and supplies with the remainder going towards salaries. Teachers and principals were paid between $24.00 and $36.00 per month. Enrollment was 92 boys and 78 girls.

By 1893, the Village was beginning to modernize. The first oil streetlights were installed at this time, and by 1910 electricity was introduced to the Village. Telephone service began in 1905, with Windham having its own telephone company. It was because of this early history that telephone service beyond the town was considered to be long distance, a situation that has changed little to the present day.

 Centralization went into effect in 1907 and all the children from the township now came to the Windham Public School. A horse-drawn vehicle (known as the "kid-wagon") transported the children who lived too far to walk. By 1911, it was written in the Windham Centennial Celebration booklet that:

No schools are better supplied with school fixtures, charts, maps, globes and those things that make for good about a well equipped school. It has a large and useful library of over 600 volumes of first class works. The building is well equipped with fire escapes. The school is divided into three departments, primary, grammar and high school.

The High School curriculum included Civics, History, Latin, German, American History, English Literature, Geometry and Algebra.  By 1914 an addition was built to the school, and in 1915 Windham applied for a charter to become a high school for the township. This was granted, and many students from surrounding areas were sent to Windham to be educated at the secondary level. Since obtaining a high school education was uncommon at that time, it can be inferred that the townspeople valued higher education and the District was able to attract a high caliber faculty.
 
 

The New Idea Club (1906) was a women's literary society devoted to the discussion of books, ideas, and current events.
 
Through the 1920’s and 1930’s, the school population remained stable and academic standards were very high. The curriculum was considered rigorous, with Latin, Chemistry, Mathematics, Literature and History being taught at the secondary level. In the 12th grade, students were expected to read Chaucer and Homer’s Odyssey. The school had a strong athletics program, which included a winning football team. Both Art and Music were taught, with shared with other communities.
 
Windham High School, 1936

Supt. G. F. Warman, 1936
 

In 1927, due to an increasing school population, a new high school was constructed across from the Windham Public School Building. A different type of school organization became effective (called the six-six plan). Under this plan, the upper six grades were included in the High School, which gave 7th and 8th grade students the opportunity to take vocational subjects. By 1933, the high school staff included eleven teachers and one principal, serving a school district population of 300.

In the fall of 1940, the Federal Government purchased 20,000 acres in Windham and surrounding townships in order to build the Ravenna Ordinance Plant, an arsenal designed to serve the needs of the country during WW II. This event was to change the very nature of this rural, educationally progressive community.

 
 
 
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