Before public schools were a part of Lima, many children were educated at home. Some affluent families sent their children to schools in the east. Others attended subscription schools, where parents paid the teacher according to the number of subjects their child took. In a typical 13-week term, a teacher earned $3 for each student taking reading, spelling, writing and arithmetic.
Schoolmasters such as John Ward taught about 25 students in Lima’s old log courthouse in 1832. By 1852, the demand for schools was growing. The Lima Academy flourished as a private school until 1856.
In 1853 the Ohio Legislature passed an act for “the better regulations of schools in cities and towns.” In the spring of 1856, a local election was held to adopt the state legislature’s proposed organization of public schools. With its local passage, public schools – Lima Union Schools – began in September 1856.
First Public School Classes
Lima’s first public school classes were held in the basement of the Methodist Episcopal Church (now Trinity United Methodist Church) at the corner of Market and West streets.
In 1858, the first Lima school building cost $20,000. The three-story, 12-room building, later called the West Building, stood on the square of High, North, Pierce and McDonel streets. In 1860, a four-year high school course was adopted. The first Lima High School commencement was held on June 3, 1864 and district enrollment reached more than 500.
By 1871, the school system had grown too large for one building and the East Building was built on North Pine Street for $46,000. The three-story brick building had 14 rooms, an assembly room, and offices for the principal and superintendent. The high school was held on the upper floors and elementary grades on the lower floor.
With the discovery of oil in the 1880s, Lima grew rapidly. People came from all over. For the Lima Union Schools, it meant more students and the need for more buildings. Enrollment reached 1800, with 30 or more on the faculty.
Lincoln School at Vine and Elizabeth streets was the third public school building built in 1882. It was an eight-room brick building. In 1888, Irving School was added at Grand Avenue and North Elizabeth Streets and 1890 saw the completion of Lowell and Washington Elementary Schools, on West Spring Street and South Pine Street, respectively.
The four-room Whittier School was built on Reese Avenue in 1891 and expanded to six rooms in 1905. Longfellow School was built at the corner of Shawnee and Market Streets in 1892.
In 1897, Emerson School was built on North Jefferson Street and Solar Avenue School, Richardson School and McKinley School followed at the turn of the century. The four-room Whittier School was built on Reese Avenue in 1891 and expanded to six rooms in 1905.
Tornado Destroys East Building
On September 24, 1898, a tornado destroyed the East Building on North Pine Street. Historical accounts recall the damage: “A tornado mushroomed through the sky and struck the East Building. The two thousand pound bell hurled through three floors into the basement. If the storm had occurred on a school day, 300 children would have been crushed. The building was demolished beyond repair.”
After that, high school classes were held in the Holland Building on the southeast corner of Main and High Streets. Elementary classes were held wherever room was available until Garfield School was built at the former East Building site in 1899.