This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on July 4, 1976
Unneeded blockhouse used for first school
By George Crout
The Indians did not like to see so many settlers arriving in Dayton, one day they surrounded the lob cabin where Mary Van Cleve lived. Mary pulled up a trap door in the floor of the cabin, slid out under it to run for help at Newcom’s Tavern. The men went back with her and chased the Indians away. It was feared that the Indians might attach the settlement, so for protection a blockhouse was built.
Since the Indians did not make the attack, the people wanted to put the large blockhouse to some use. As there was no schoolhouse in Dayton, they decided that it would make one. This became Dayton’s first schoolhouse.
When the school opened in 1799, Benjamin Van Cleve was hired as the schoolmaster. Van Cleve kept a diary, which is the first history record of Dayton. In his diary he wrote: “On the first of September I commenced teaching a small school.”
SCHOOLMASTER VAN CLEVE found most of his pupils had no books, he taught the alphabet and how to spell words from charts which he made himself. The children sat on benches which were made by splitting a log in two and putting legs on it. A bench with longer legs was made for use as a desk.
In the center of Van Cleve’s classroom was a big slab table which was filled with sand. The children learned to write by tracing letters out with the sharp end of a stick. Paper was scarce and too expensive for pupils to buy.
After Van Cleve left the classroom for other work, Cornelius Westfall opened a school on Main St., which was likely in the front room of a log cabin. Early Ohio schoolmasters often lived in the back part of the cabin they used for their classroom
The Dayton Academy, built in 1807 was in the first building which was put up for school use. Daniel Cooper gave the land and the people donated money for the school. It was for boys only, and parents had to pay the cost of the schooling.
As more people came to Dayton, there were more boys wanting to go to school. In 1833 a new building was erected for the academy.
Instead of going to school, girls stayed home and helped mother in the kitchen and took care of the younger children. In early days it was thought that girls did not need an education. Daniel Cooper felt that the girls should have a chance to go to school, so he built a school for girls in 1845 which was called the Cooper Academy.
These first schools were all private schools. Parents of children who attended had to pay paid a fee. This was called tuition. There was only one thing wrong with this plan. Poor children did not get to go to school.
Free, Public Schools
In 1836 many people in Dayton began to talk about education. They decided that a free public school system should be started. They felt that all children should have an equal chance to go to school.
But a period of hard times came to Dayton and the whole nation. It was a depression. No money could be found for schools.
It was not until 1842 that there was money enough to think about starting free schools. A Board of Education was elected. They opened four schools that year, two in rented buildings and two in school buildings.
Four principals were hired to run the schools, and 16 teachers were selected to teach the pupils. The principals also taught in those days, for he was the principal teacher. During that first year 327 pupils enrolled in the schools.
TESTBOOKS WERE CHOSED by the Board of Education, with the help of the teachers. McGuffey’s Readers were picked for the reading classes. They also chose spelling, English, geography and history books.
Each board member visited the homes of the parents in his neighborhood. He took the names of all the children living in each chime. He asked the parents to send their children to school. There was no law then making boys and girls go to school as there is now. The board member also decided if the parents could pay 50 cents a month to help pay the expenses of running the school. If a parent could not pay the money, the children could go to school free.
At first the public schools went only to the eighth grade. On the Board of Education was an important leader of Dayton. He thought that there should be a high school, a place where students could take advanced work. This man, Robert Steele, was made chairman of a committee to study setting up such as school. All agreed that such a school was needed. Students were to be admitted to the school after they passed an examination. They were asked to pay a tuition fee of $1 a month the attend the school. The first high school opened Apr. 15, 1850. It had three teachers, one of whom acted as the principal. There were 66 students enrolled for classes.
Schools for Today
Now, almost 45,000 pupils attend Dayton public schools each day. Most like to go to school. There are so many interesting things to do. Books have not only good stories in them, but information that will be needed as pupils grow up.
School in Dayton is more than books. It is all kinds of learning. Teachers show many films, for films are picture that tell some things better than words can tell. There are film strips for study. The tape recorder and the record player are often used. Some lessons are taught by television.
Sometimes students leave the classroom and school for a field trip. They go out to see what is being studied. Other times they invite guests to their room to tell about the things that are being studied. Every day is an exciting adventure in school.
For the boys and girls who are born with or develop a handicap, special classes are set up. There are even special schools for groups of handicapped. When a boy or girl can’t go to school at all, a teacher is sent to the home. The local school board wants every child to have an education.
ALL CHILDREN in Montgomery County go to school, but not all go to the public schools. Over one-fifth of the children go to parochial schools. There schools are run by the Catholic parishes. They are under the Archbishop of Cincinnati, but one man in Dayton watches over the schools in the Dayton area.
There are also other groups who maintain their own education programs. The money for the public schools comes from taxes which all the people of Dayton pay. The parents who send their children to private schools pay their taxes like everyone else, but they also must pay tuition to keep their schools open.
Since the public schools are attended by children of many different faiths, no religion is taught in the public schools. All the other subjects studied art about the same in each school system.
Some religious groups have their own schools, while others have classes after school or on week ends when they study about their religion.
Colleges for Tomorrow
Boys and girls living in Dayton and Montgomery County are lucky. When they graduate from high school, there are good colleges to train them for any kind of job
The University of Dayton is the oldest university in the area. It is made up of several colleges. It has a main campus a West campus and an East campus, so it is close to young people living in any section of the county. It started as a small college in 1850, but it is no longer small; it has over 10,000 students.
The University of Dayton is a Catholic university, but anyone may attend.
Miami University is a state university at Oxford, which is not far from Dayton. For many years it sent professors to Dayton to hold classes.
Then Ohio decided to help start a university near Dayton. A large campus was laid out, and buildings were put up in 1965 it became a new state university, called Wright State University. Each year more students go to Wright State.
THE YMCA HAS ALWAYS helped young people. Many jobs in Dayton and other places require special studies So many young people came to study at the YMCA that it decided to call its school the Sinclair college, in honor of David Sinclair who began the first classes in 1887. In 1965 Dayton and the state of Ohio agreed that Sinclair College had done a good job. They decided to make it a state college. The people of Montgomery county voted to help build it a new home in Downtown Dayton. The beautiful new Sinclair College may be the college you may wish to attend.
Another college in downtown Dayton is Miami-Jacob College which was begun in 1860l This college trains young people work in business. Many people after finishing college, return to Miami-Jacobs to take special work in order to learn a certain job. Its name is known all over Ohio.
There are other special colleges in Dayton where young people can study church work and become ministers, priests and sisters.
Libraries for Montgomery County
Dayton’s first schoolmaster, Benjamin Van Cleve, loved to read. On his first trip to the East, he returned with 25 books, which he shared with his friends in Dayton. This was the first collection of books in early Dayton.
Soon the citizens of Dayton wanted a library. They asked the Ohio Legislature for permission to set up a free public library in Dayton. The state gave Dayton this permission in 1805, making it the first library incorporated by the state. At that time there were a few there were a few other libraries in the state but they were operated by small groups of people like library club.
This first Dayton library lasted until 1835, when interest in it declined. Private groups had established libraries in different parts of town, and the cost of belonging was so little that most people who wanted to read, joined one of the groups.
WHEN THE HIGH SCHOOL opened, the Board of Education saw that a school library was needed. A public school library was opened in a room the downtown section, and then moved to the new Central High School building.
For many years the Public School Library and the Public Library shared the same room. As Dayton grew, people decided a separate building was needed for the Public Library. In 1888 a beautiful library was built in Cooper Park.
Each year the collection of books grew, and finally in 1962 a fine new library opened on the corner in front of the old building in Cooper Park.
Today the Dayton and Montgomery County Library has branches in many parts of Dayton and the county.
Four school district libraries, which were started many years ago, continued to operate as separate public libraries. These are in Germantown, Washington Twp., Miamisburg and Oakwood.