It sits on Broadway and Buchtel as silent witness to a time when children did ‘rithmetic on slates, practiced writing with nibs carefully whittled for them by their teachers and learned morality along with their reading from McGuffey Readers.
Built in 1840 on land donated by General Simon Perkins, the Old Stone School is the oldest public school building in Akron. It was used for primary classes during the day. At night, it was a community center for town meetings and political, religious and literary gatherings.
That may sound traditional by today’s standards, but in some ways what was happening in Akron educationally at the time was revolutionary.
The idea of public education was still new. Mothers typically taught their children at home and the schools that did exist functioned independently. Some families who could afford tuition enrolled their children in private schools or arranged for apprenticeships. Although Ohio began collecting a half mil property tax in 1825 to fund the establishment of “common schools,” children weren’t required to attend until 1921.
The citizens of Akron were early believers in public education. Under the Akron School Law of 1847, they created a single school district encompassing the entire city. They decided to create multiple elementary schools and to divide them into separate “grades” based on achievement. They established a school board, elected by the community, to make management decisions and hire the professionals needed to run each school. They planned to add a high school to their system down the road.
Akron’s system became the model for the entire state, and just two years later the Ohio School Law was passed.
By the mid-1880s, the Old Stone School was sold to the railroad. Over the years, its original furnishings were lost.
Three separate preservation efforts have kept the facility alive for historical purposes. The most successful was a collaborative effort between the Summit County Historical Society and the Akron Public Schools in 1967. With funding from a number of community foundations, the building’s exterior and grounds were repaired and new interior furnishings were added to make the museum look like a 19th century school again.
A large blackboard was donated by Zion Lutheran Church whose parochial school used the building from 1876 to 1880. A pot-bellied stove, old cabinets for artifacts and books, an antique dictionary and a water crock with ladle were added to give the one-room schoolhouse an old-time feel.
Two-seater bench desks were constructed by students from Hower Vocational School with materials paid for by local PTAs. Cotton fabric was donated so that students from Goodyear and Perkins Junior High schools could sew authentic-looking dresses and bonnets like those 1840s teachers may have worn.
Today, the Old Stone School is a stop on the history tour that gives Akron’s third graders a glimpse of their city’s past. The Historical Society also has plans for a public open house there this fall.