An inside look at . . . The Great Western School
Updated: Jun 23, 2021
The curators and docents of our museums are looking forward to re-opening and safely welcoming visitors. In the meantime, a series of blogs written by our tourism partners will tell the story of how they became involved and give you an inside look at these unique places.
Our first blog was written by retired educator Ann Rattine, the 'schoolmarm' of the Great Western Schoolhouse, located on the campus of Ohio University Eastern.
How did I become involved with the Great Western School?
I saw in the newspaper that National Trail #348 was sponsoring an open house at the Great Western School on June 27, 1976 to celebrate the restoration of the building, as well as to observe the American Bicentennial. As I stepped over the threshold that afternoon, I thought that this would be a perfect field trip for my first graders. I spoke to Mrs. Almeta Hoblitzell, National Trail 348‘s driving force behind the restoration of the school, and shared with her my desire to bring the students to the school for an educational field trip. She was so pleased that I was going to take advantage of this resource that every spring for the next several years she helped me clean and straighten up the building. We would display, on the window sills, period artifacts which would be of interest to the students.
During the 1985-86 school year, Ohio University Eastern Professor David Miles asked me to write the script for a documentary about the history of one-room schools in general and the Great Western School in particular. In May, 1986, 25 students from the St. Clairsville-Richland School District participated in reenacting the story of the one-room school in a film which was titled, “Reflections”.
A ‘schoolmarm’ position was created in 1987 with Mrs. Virginia Helms filling that post. In 1992, Mrs. Bonnie Koci took over the reigns. Upon Mrs. Koci’s passing in 2009, OUE officials asked if I would be interested in being the schoolmarm. I have served in that position since then.
What makes the Great Western School unique?
The Great Western School was built in 1870 by the Clark Construction Company. The bricks for the school were hand-kilned from clay taken from the banks of the farm pond located at the bottom of the hill from the building.
According to the book entitled “The Story of Great Western School 1870-1952”, the school was named after the steamship, “Great Western”, which crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a record 15 days on its 1838 maiden voyage. An 1888 Belmont County Atlas shows a platted map of a town called “Great Western” located on the National Road across from the Great Western School. This town never came to fruition. Prior to 1939-40, the building stood above the National Road while presently, the school is positioned below the highway due to changes in the plane of the road.
The school remained in use for 82 years with enrollment fluctuating from as few as nine students to as many as 70. School was not mandatory during this time in history and if a family needed their children to assist at home or on the farm, they were not obliged to be in attendance. At the time of the school’s closing in 1952 there were 13 ‘scholars’ enrolled under the instruction of Mrs. Goldie Skaggs. The Great Western School was the last active one-room school in Richland Township. It was closed due to declining enrollment and the district’s consolidation program.
After its closing and for a period of several years, it was used as a meeting place for the Coon Hunter’s Club as well as a venue for local square dances. It was finally abandoned and fell into disrepair...that is until National Trail #348 took on the task of restoring it as a Bicentennial project in 1976. It has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places and a plaque recognizing the Bicentennial of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 is displayed.
The Quester Chapter continues to maintain the building and provides tours and educational classes throughout the year. Presently, the Great Western School remains the only one-room school building in Belmont County which has not been made into a dwelling, a storage barn or simply collapsed from lack of attention.
National Trail #348 has sponsored “Homecoming Reunions” for the former students and their families, and welcomed guests for the National Pike Wagon Train as well as the “Rubberneck Tour”. Folks on tour buses and tourists who have traveled from all parts of the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia have visited the school. A 150th celebration is being planned for October 10 and 11 of this year.
Why I feel people should visit the Great Western School.
The Great Western School is a unique venue for Belmont County and the surrounding area. School students coming to the Great Western to “spend the day reliving the past” can experience what it must have been like attending a one-room school. They participate in lessons from the McGuffey Readers, do “ciphering” on authentic-looking slate boards from the Ray’s Arithmetic curriculum and join with their classmates in a Spelling Bee. Games such as Jacks, Pick-up-Sticks, Put-and Take, Hold On/Let Go, Tic-Tac-Toe, and Checkers are introduced to the students.
Jump Rope, Tug-of-War, Drop the Handkerchief, Leap Frog, Mother May I, Graces, Marbles and Sack Races are played outside. Students of today are not familiar with many of the aforementioned games. Guests will have the opportunity to hear stories about actual happenings which took place at the school, learn the original purpose of the ‘dunce hat’ and the history of the Pledge of Allegiance. They will also discover unique features and artifacts in this “working museum”. Visitors are welcome and encouraged to “come sit a spell” and spend some time in this historic building