In 1892, Plain City opened its new school building on West Main Street. Built for a cost of $30,000 (just over $806,000 in today’s dollars), it was an impressive three-story building of brick and stone with rooms for each grade from first through high school. The third floor was a gymnasium, and the basement held boys’ and girls’ lockerrooms and lunch rooms. There was no library, music room or kitchen, but the building was a considerable step up from the four-room “Union Schools” the village had previously used.
Although the third floor was condemned by the 1920s, the old building served the community into the 1930s. Its shortcomings became increasingly obvious over the years, but by the time serious consideration was given to building a new school, the country was in the early years of the Great Depression, and money was hard to come by. In 1933, the board was forced to close the school at the end of April rather than May, as there was no money to keep it open the additional month.
By the mid-1930s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s public works programs were in full swing, and the building of a new school was exactly the sort of project for which the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works (better known as the WPA) was created. A special election held in August of 1936 passed a bond issue which, along with WPA funds, would enable the district to erect a new building. The class of 1936 was the last to graduate from the old school.
In the spring of 1937 the old building was razed and construction started on the new school on the same site. The workmen on the project were all from Plain City or the surrounding area. Students had their classes in churches, the Armory, storerooms, wherever space could be found around town.
By November of 1937, the new school was nearing completion, and it was decided to give students an extended Thanksgiving holiday. On Dec. 6, the doors of the new building were opened, and students could enjoy their new facilities. The building featured many classic Art Deco touches which can still be seen, particularly around the main entrance. Total cost for the building was $165,000, or in today’s dollars, about $2.8 million.
The formal dedication of the building had to wait until all inspections were completed and the federal government gave its approval. On Sunday, March 6, 1938, the school board formally presented the new structure to the community in a ceremony held in the school auditorium. A number of local organizations presented gifts to the school. The Alumni Association gave a new auditorium piano, the Plain City Library Club gave a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and the Plain City chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution gave a flag. The guest of honor at the ceremony was Howard C. Black, the only living member of the Board of Education when the old 1892 school was built.
For many of us old-timers, the 1938 building is The School. We can tell you which teachers were in which classroom, talk about the movies that were shown in the gym during lunch hour (not to mention the dance classes that were held there in junior high), and reminisce about the second floor cafeteria, the cooks and, of course, the food. No pizza for lunch. How did we survive?
In 1951 voters passed a bond issue for the building of an addition to the west side of the building. This provided six elementary classrooms on the first floor and improved home economics and science classrooms on the second floor. The school library was able to move to a larger space on the southwest corner of the second floor and kitchen facilities were expanded. A new building behind the school housed industrial arts and vocational agriculture space. I can remember in the first grade picking up our chairs and marching down the hall to our new room in the addition. Our own bathroom. Our own water fountain and sink. New lockers. What more could you ask for?
In 1955 the Plain City School became part of the new consolidated Jonathan Alder School District and in 1957 the high school students moved to the new building south of town on U.S. Route 42. The Plain City School remained the home of elementary and junior high classes, and finally just elementary students, until it was replaced by a new elementary school on South Chillicothe Street in 2011.
For over 70 years the West Main Street school building served the students of Plain City, providing education, entertainment, and memories galore.
I would like to thank Lynn Baldwin here for all the research she did on Plain City schools for our book, “Moments in Time: The Plain City Story,“ from which I borrowed freely for this article.
Rosemary Anderson is the vice president of the Plain City Historical Society.
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU