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The History of Westerville Schools
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League of Women Voters of Westerville Study, 1992

 

The League of Women Voters of Westerville voted to study the financing of the Westerville Schools at its annual meeting in May 1991.  The Education Study Committee (Betsy Guckeyson, Karen Hedden and Mary Kaul) decided to provide the members with a brief history of the school system as background for understanding its local monetary issues.

 

The group met in October with Ray Bertelson, Director of Planning for the Westerville Schools.   During that time, he directed his remarks to the questions provided him by the National League's booklet Know Your Schools.  He indicated that the Westerville Library has an excellent resource book written by Dr. Harold Hancock of Otterbein, called The History of Westerville, should we wish to pursue more information.  [He also mentioned hat the library has an original work by Thomas Jefferson--his handwritten New Testament for legislators.]

 

The actual Westerville School District began m 1855.  However, before that there was education going on, less formalized to be sure, in homes and kitchens.  The first "school began in 1808 in a home near what is now 3C and 161, about at K-Mart, on the Griswold farm.  Mrs. Griswold taught her children and the Phelps children.  The Griswolds and the Phelps, the first settlers, arrived in 1805. The township area, established by the 1787 Northwest Ordinance, was named for a town in Connecticut, from where the Griswolds and Phelps came.  In 1811, classes   were held in the Phelps new barn.

 

The Blendon Township Trustees created six school districts in 1826--(1) Central College, (2) Westerville, (3) an unnamed area, (4) Blendon 4 corners (3C and 161), (5) Cherry Bottoms. (6) Hempstead.  Blendon Township had a one-room log schoolhouse at that time at the Pioneer Cemetery (across from what is now Bob Evans).  Each district was expected to provide a school for its children.

 

The Village of Westerville was founded in 1838 following a donation of 27 acres of land, a small portion of which was for an educational institution and the remainder for town lots to be sold for its support.  The Westerville boundaries were established in 1839, with West Street on the west, Vine Street on the east, Home Street on the north and Park Street on the south.

 

The campus became the Blendon Young Mens Seminary," a Methodist college-prep institution.  Students there heard debates on the evils of war, intemperance and slavery.  This secondary school foundered due to competition from Ohio Wesleyan and later, in 1847, evolved into "Otterbein University," open to men, women and blacks.  It, as well as several churches, became the dominating presence in the area, forcing an ever-reluctant village to build sanitary water supplies and streets, and to keep its community dry.

 

The Westerville School District built its first school on Home Street in 1855 near where the Mann Nursing

Home is now.  Some controversy occurred, but was quickly quieted, when two blacks enrolled in 1859.  As if predicting the times to come, that school lasted 11 years before it was outgrown.

 

In 1866, the district built another school near the site of Emerson -The Union School." It contained one room (two rooms were added in 1879) that served students from Blendon Township, which had six schools by that time, and some from Sharon (Worthington) Township.  High school students came there in addition to some Westerville elementary students (hence the name, Union").  About 172 students were enrolled but actual daily attendance was much less.  With those number of students, they had to rent out spaces elsewhere, upstairs of the now "Calico Cupboard," which was then the City Hall.

 

Until 1882, the high school course of study took two years.  In 1889, it was lengthened to three years; in 1900, four years. The first high school commencement was held in 1876, the second in 1882. After that, at least one person graduated every year with the exception of 1900 when the course of study was extended to four years.

 

Voters defeated a bond issue in 1884.   By 1892, with an enrollment of 245, including 50 students in the high school, the district put another bond issue on the ballot to build more buildings.  It failed.  The issue finally passed in 1896 by eight votes and The Vine Street School" (Emerson) was built-but not without controversy as some people struggled to stop its construction. It had six rooms, seven teachers, and just under 300 students.  There was a major dedication ceremony, with the governor and the superintendent of Columbus schools attending.

 

In 1908, the district added four more rooms to Emerson, as well as a drinking fountain and inside toilets. It was still serving as a high school for extended areas and was recognized as a very important one with quality athletics (especially basketball) and academics. It was a "no frills" education, however-just reading, writing and arithmetic.

 

In 1921, spurred on by removal of North Central accreditation because of its poor facilities, the Westerville Citizens for Better Schools," spearheaded a drive for a new high school on State Street.  A totally secondary 7-12 building, "Westerville High School." (Hanby) was constructed in 1923. It served Genoa and Sharon Township high school students as well as students from Central College. Genoa paid a dollar a day tuition for its students.  Students came by trolley from Minerva Park.

 

In 1930, in a joint decision by the Board of Education and the Cornell family, it was agreed to name all of the schools after poets. After voters approved a bond issue in 1929 for an elementary school on Hiawatha, Longfellow opened in 1931. Whittier was built in 1958, Hawthorne in 1959.  In 1958, the League was instrumental in encouraging the building of a new high school.  However, "James Russell Lowell High School" opened in 1960 to complaints about its name.  It was changed to "Westerville High School," with the old Westerville High School then getting its name of "Hanby Junior High School," thus honoring Otterbein's most famous graduate.

 

During the depression, the schools benefited from government aid. They received surplus food and unemployed persons did custodial work. A garage and workshop were constructed in 1934 with labor paid for by the government.  WPA funds assisted in developing land near Otterbein Avenue for an athletic field.

 

1954 saw the establishment of the Ohio Board of Education.  In 1955, Central College petitioned to become a part of the Westerville school system.

 

The aftermath of WWII brought people to small towns and suburbs. Westerville was no exception. It grew at a particularly fast pace, however, during the 1960s and 1970s. Between 1964 and 1972, the average growth rate was 8 %.

 

Huber Ridge, finished in 1964, was the first school to be named by location and development.  Annehurst, in 1969, was so named for the same reasons.  Walnut Springs, 1965, originally called Westerville Junior High School, was later re-named for its location at Walnut and Spring roads.  Blendon Junior High School, 1969, was named for Blendon Township.  (In the late sixties, classmates of two Westerville graduates and Vietnam casualties memorialized them with the garden, flagpole and plaque in front of Westerville South and with the carpeting in its auditorium.]

 

Cherrington (1972) took its name from the street commemorating the owner of the American Issue Publishing Company.  [Earnest Cherrington, famous in Westerville history, came to Westerville in 1909 to produce and publish anti-saloon, anti-alcohol literature. Westerville became the national center of the Anti-Saloon League. At its height, Cherrington employed 200 people, operating his company 24 hours a day. So much literature was published and mailed during those times that Westerville became the smallest community in the nation to have a first class Post Office.]

 

Monumental growth occurred in the early seventies.  Westerville High School was on split sessions- juniors and seniors in the morning, freshmen and sophomores in the afternoon.  Kindergarten classes were held in churches. A bond issue passed and Pointview opened in 1973. Returning to naming schools after authors and poets, Mark Twain and Robert Frost came on line in 1974. Growth continued to drift north. Because Westerville North High School was so named in 1975, Westerville High School on Otterbein became Westerville South High School.

 

In 1976, the State Board of Education gave Sharon Township's Westerville School District land to Columbus in compensation for their taking over the debt-ridden Mifflin schools. At that time, the district lost 2,485 students to Columbus. Since 1942, however, the Westerville City School District has experienced only three years where there has not been an increase in enrollment. It has experienced also many bond issues and operating levies passing and failing, especially since 1974 when the state changed the way voted millage is collected.

 

Three schools were built in 1989 to accommodate an again burgeoning school system-Wilder Elementary, McVay Elementary (McVay donated the land), and Heritage Middle School.  Major renovations and additions were made to North and South High Schools.

 

In 1991-1992, the Westerville School District had 12,390 students.  In 1963, it had 4,000.  It is now the tenth largest school district (out of 612 districts) in Ohio.  The projections indicate that the district, which extends well into Delaware County on the North, as far south as Morse Road,  as far west as 1-71 and Schrock Road, and as far east as the east side of Hoover and Little Turtle, will grow by at least 2,000 more students in ten years.

 

Westerville Voters On Target for Education