This article appeared in The Dayton Journal on August 14, 1935
Another Link in Unbroken Chain of 135 Years of Education in Dayton Soon Will Be Forged
Log Building and Hewed Slab Benches of Early Days of Dayton’s School History Are Recalled.
By Carl Wise
When students have returned to school this fall another link in an unbroken chain of 135 years of educational history in Dayton will be forged.
The present year will see approximately 33,000 students throughout the city enter 54 modern equipped schools to further pursuits in elementary and high school educations.
This picture of the public schools system contrasts colorfully when set beside the time-dimmed picture of Dayton’s first school, opened in the fall of 1799 with a small class of pupils in a log blockhouse originally built to repel Indian attacks, which then stood where Main and Monument streets now intersect.
Never Without School.
Since that time Dayton never has been without a school, and the intervening years have inscribed indelibly in the community’s history the successful, steady growth of this seed of education planted by pioneer forefathers.
Meager beginnings marked Dayton’s first educational effort.
A visit to the lower room of the blockhouse, which served as a school in 1799 would have revealed to the visitor a few industrious children seated on low block stools and hewed slab benches, reciting simple lessons in spelling, reading and arithmetic to Dayton’s first schoolmaster, Benjamin Van Cleve. In the center of the room other children, each holding a pointed stick, would be seen bending over a long, narrow table, the surface covered with a smooth layer of sand in which the pupils would trace letters of the alphabet from hand-made charts in front of them. Early students learned the A B C’s without slates, pencils or paper.
Discomfort was an accepted part of pioneer school life. Oiled paper, stretched across the window frames, emitted but scant light into the school room, and lesson hours were long, being from 9 o’clock in the morning to 6 o’clock at night, with a two-hour noon recess. The first school term lasted from September 1 to the latter part of March, with a two-month vacation to allow the teacher sufficient time to harvest corn and fulfill his appointed legislative duties.
With schools on the increase and Dayton a thriving town of 400 souls by 1806, a law was passed in that year providing for election of a board of five members to control and manage schools to the best interests of the community.
Among the early schools, the Dayton academy, a two-story brick building, was completed in 1810 at the corner of Third and St. Clair streets.
The academy from 1816 to 1820 was the center of an innovation in education, known as the Lancasterian method, which swept the country. Dayton was an up-to-date seat of learning. This method, which professed to reduce educational expenses greatly by a simplified plan which enabled one supervisor to administer lessons to a class of 500 pupils, was introduced in America by its namesake, Joseph Lancaster, an Englishman.
A new building to accommodate the large classes expected was erected north of the academy, but the larges enrollment reached only 131 students, and the new principle was never tested fully.
In 1833 a new academy was constructed at Fourth and Wilkinson streets incorporating for the first time a manual labor division.
The Cooper Female academy in West First street, established in 1845, was responsible for the education of many of Dayton’s nineteenth century daughters.
Previous to 1831, schools had been partly supported by taxation, but it was not until then that the school system was organized formally. The First district school was opened December 5, 1831, in a school room in Jefferson street near First, with public money appropriated for its support.
Until 1838 taxation supported schools in rented rooms. In that year a schoolhouse tax was proposed and passed by vote, which resulted in the erection of a school in the eastern and a school in the western part of the city.
From that time on schools were given increasing public encouragement. A need for higher education was felt in 1850, and the academy property at Fourth and Wilkinson streets, which had been presented to the board of education, was converted into Dayton’s first high school, which was known as Old Central high school. Dayton’s first high school graduation class in 1854 had two members.
The academy building was removed in 1857 and replaced at the same site by the first high school constructed by public funds. The new school was called Central high school.
Steele high school followed in 1889 to supplant Central high, and in 1907 Stivers high school was opened.
Dayton’s education development soared to new heights in the years following 1921, chiefly through an eight-million-dollar program which eliminated existing deficiencies in the city’s education facilities.
It is a far cry from the single room in the log blockhouse of 1799 with its few pupils to the present-day $14,000,000 school system that will provide education for 33,000 students this year, but that in a span of 135 years tells the story of the growth and progress of Dayton.