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 Olney Friends School - History, 1874-1909
Original Friends Boarding School at Barnesville, Ohio

See previous entry: Olney Friends School - History, 1837-1874

The Friends (Quakers) who emigrated to Ohio in the days of the pioneers were farmers. So it was natural that the new "Friends Boarding School," as it was named, should be situated on a farm.

Barnesville was specified as a location for the new school because it was "the most central and easy of access for Friends of the different quarters."

The site selected by the committee was "composed of the corners of four farms, all owned by Friends, a short distance south of Stillwater Meeting house, containing about forty-two and one-half acres, and costing $4,462.23.

Barclay Stratton and Wilson Hall were appointed solicitors, and funds were raised to the amount of $43,862.34. The majority of the Friends who furnished these funds were engaged in agricultural pursuits. This was a period in the development of the country when prices of all products of the soil were low and it required strenuous efforts to produce sufficient income from the land to provide the necessities of life, and some made sacrifices and endured privations that their payments might be made. This addition to their burdens was assumed as a duty, as a special opportunity to do their part in making the establishment of the school possible. All the Friends who helped in any way with the construction of the building, both men and women, did so not alone for the small amount of money it was possible to pay but that the building might be a reality.

Construction of Olney

The construction of the Boarding School building in the country nearly two miles from a railroad and equally distant from any improved road, near a small town where there were few skilled workmen, with the primitive equipment used in construction work at that time and the necessity of its early completion, made its construction a gigantic task. Today the entire work could be awarded to a competent contractor under the supervision of a competent architect and the completed building ready for occupancy, would be delivered to the committee. Such a procedure was not possible in those days. Economy also must be exercised and every dollar possible must be saved -- so materials were purchased and men employed directly. But this plan of erection imposed upon the superintendent and his assistants an immense amount of responsibility and work.

The Committee appointed Francis Davis, a member of Stillwater Monthly Meeting, and living near Barnesville, as superintendent of construction. They purchased a tract of timber on the John Bundy, later the Lindley P. Bailey farm, and other timber was donated by James Stoat. The first logs were cut and hauled to the saw mill on New Year's Day, 1875. The mill was in charge of Moses Edgar.

The first who came to help the superintendent was a young man by the name of William D. Edgerton, who lived a few miles from Barnesville, and was a member of Ridge Monthly Meeting. His duties commenced with the hauling of the first load of lumber brought from the saw mill to the school site; this was before a spade of earth had been moved or any other work done. At first, he used his father's team. later the Committee purchased horses for his use. He continued this work during the winter of 1875. This was heavy work for man and horses and many of the neighboring Friends helped when needed.

All work on the building was done by manpower or horse power. The excavation of the basement and the leveling of the grounds was done by a machine propelled by three horses and called an excavator. This work was all done by William D. Edgerton. The superintendent recognizing his skill as a horseman, capacity and willingness to assume responsibility, placed him in charge of the department of transportation.

Materials were procured as near the site as possible. Stone came from the most conveniently located local quarries. Sand was obtained near the public roads out the ridge. Most other materials came in carload lots to Barnesville and were hauled to the building, the power being two- and four-horse teams. Friends helped when the work was too heavy for the limited transportation system.

The bricks were made on the grounds, the soil was removed by plow and scraper, and the clay loosened by plow and hauled in one-horse dump carts to the mixer -- a home-made machine operated by one horse. Water for mixing was hauled from the creek west of the building in a tank attached to a one-horse cart. Tommy Moore (Thomas G. Moore) of Barnesville, drove the horse and was known as the "water boy." In later life he was for many years the popular Post Master of Barnesville. He stated that his close association with Friends in the early days had been a help to him all through life. The bricks were molded by hand and carried, three in a mold, to the drying field by boys. The kiln was located north of the building. Daniel Glasgo had charge of this work. Coal for burning the bricks -- thousands of bushels -- came from local mines and south of Barnesville in what was known as the "leather wood" district. Again the transportation system was unequal to such a gigantic task and the neighboring Friends helped. The grounds used for making, drying and burning, are now used for the playing of ball and tennis. Numerous boys were employed in brick making and other work about the building.

Aaron Frame, a member of Stillwater Monthly Meeting -- whose farm adjoined that of the school -- had charge of the carpenter work. He was ably assisted by Alfred Brantingham from Salem. and a member of Salem Monthly Meeting. William Hoyle, a member of Stillwater Monthly Meeting, and residing in Barnesville, superintended the making and erection of the stairs. They were manufactured at the planing mill of Davis & Starbuck, in Barnesville, the senior member of which was Francis Davis. This firm also furnished the mill work.

Joseph W. Doudna, a member of Ridge Monthly Meeting, was employed as a carpenter most of the time during the erection of the building. C. H. Mock (Kol Mock) had charge of the stone work. The selection of these men to have charge of the various departments of the work, was wisely done. They not only had exceptional executive ability but they were in each instance skilled workmen in their respective lines, having no superiors and few if any equals in the section from whence they came. The iron columns in the various rooms were molded by Watt Brothers of Barnesville, later known as The Watt Mining Car Wheel Co.

All material was taken into the building by means of a car operated on a small inclined railroad, the tracks entering at the west corridor doors on the first floor, and the inclination was arranged so that the car would reach the top of the building just west of the eastern wall. The power for this inclined railroad was two horses working tandem in the basement corridor, a rope with pulleys transmitting the power to the car. Some of the roof timbers were long and heavy but all were taken up without accident. It was the custom for the boy to detach the rope, turn ihe horses around, and attach again to regulate the speed of the descending car. One of the boys, wanting to get to the ground in a hurry, pushed the car onto the incline and jumped on before the rope had been secured to the horses. The car descended at a great speed, stopping at the end of the track, but the boy did not stop there -- he landed in a large box of mortar. He was not injured but the mortar probably saved his life.

The method of building required an adequate accounting system. Ever mindful of the word "economy," lhe work was undertaken by the superintendent and his assistants; but. as the work progressed, the burden became too heavy, and a call went out for help. Wilson Hall, a thoroughly competent man, a member of Middleten Monthly Meeting, left his family, his farm, and his other business interests, and came. He remained for months, receiving for his valuable service and the sacrifice he made, little more than his board and a place to sleep. Asa Garretson, a member of Stillwater Monthly Meeting and residing in Barnesville, was treasurer of the Committee, and one of his numerous duties was that of "paymaster." Every two weeks on Seventh-day (Saturday), a few minutes before twelve o'clock, he would arrive at the building on horseback with the pay envelopes of all the employees in his saddle bags.

During the first two months of 1875, the well was dug and a building erected which was eventually to be a laundry. The isolated location of the school made it necessary to furnish meals to many of the workmen. Those living in Barnesville needed only the noonday meal, while others, more particularly the older men who wished to avoid the long walk and slept in temporary buildings on the grounds, needed all their meals. About the first of Third Month (March), Francis and Mary Davis left their home and moved to this building, reserving one small room on the first floor for their personal use, and started what was known as "the boarding house." It was not an ideal building for this purpose. The first floor was used for a dining room, the basement for cooking and a small dining room, while the second floor furnished sleeping quarters for the girls. Mary Davis had charge of this work, bringing from her home her assistant, Ella Denny (Brown). In a short time Rebecca Edgerton (Gibbons), sister o[ William D. Edgerton, came to help; followed by Annie Gibbons (Spencer), Lucinda Gibbons and Elizabeth Gibbons (Winder), all of whom were members of Ridge Monthly Meeting. Their co-operation, untiring assistance and loyalty, made possible the success of this branch of the work. The insufficient space, the necessity of working on two floors, the serving of large numbers in a short time and the required punctuality of meals made the work more arduous than it otherwise- would have been. At twelve o'clock a bell rang; the men immediately left their work, formed in line in the yard, the older first, then younger men and boys. The door was opened, and they went in and took their accustomed places. There was a period of silence, followed by serving and eating, in somewhat of a hurried manner so that they might finish and give their places to others. Sometimes as many as one hundred and twenty were served with the noonday meal. It is needless to say that this department also needed an accounting system; every penny expended for supplies or wages and every meal must be accounted for. The care of this and much of the accounting was done by Mary Davis in addition to her other cares and responsibilities. After weeks and months of overwork and strain, her health gave way and she never fully recovered, yet she never regretted the sacrifice she made.

The greatest sacrifice was the death of John Hall who, in hauling materials to the building, became over-heated, caught cold -- which developed into pneumonia -- and he died, leaving a large family. The mother assumed the double duty without complaint at the great sacrifice she had made, but it, no doubt, shortened her days. Two of the children, Miriam P. Dewees and Eliza D. Smith, in later years were connected with the school in the capacities of nurse and matron.

Opening the School

With the building scarcely completed, school opened on the third of First Month (January 3), 1876, with an enrollment of forty-five pupils. "On the day preceding the opening of school," we read in the Historian's Report, "about three hundred people from the vicinity of Barnesville and other places, came to look over the house; but, it being the First-day (Sunday) of the week, the few inmates did not think it proper to open it .... The general outside appearance at this time gave little indication of a readiness for school. Grading not done, rubbish strewn about ... gave an uninviting, unfinished aspect to the scene .... Within, affairs were nearing a comfortable condition although the plastering was not entirely dry and the stairways were not completed. Misgivings were in the minds of some who feared the decision to begin school with things in so crude a condition was hasty, but high enthusiasm prevailed with cthers, and the school seemed an assured reality."

The superintendents were Barclay and Hanna Stratton who had also served at Mount Pleasant, and who gave ten years of their lives to Olney (1876 to 1881 and 1886 to 1890). Barclay Stratton was a large, well-built man, generous hearted, full of friendliness and a genial humor that always met with a response in the hearts of his boys and girls, and brought out the best they had in them. Of Hanna Stratton. it is said, "She was indeed a mother in Israel and a true and practical sympathizer in every time of trouble." In disposition shy and unobtrusive, Olney's children did not learn to know her as quickly as they did her husband but as they grew acquainted, they could appreciate her deep love for them as shown in her sympathetic ministrations in their time of need. We quote from a poem written by Benjamin Whitson, a teacher, when the Strattons left Olney at the close of their second term of service as superintendents in 1890:

"And farewell, ye faithful guardians,
Who for twenty sessions past,
Round each inmate of this place,
A bulwark of defense have cast.

"Many a kindly word you've spoken
Unto hearts depressed with sadness,
Many a day of gloom and sorrow
Has by you been turned to gladness.

"Many a word you deemed had perished,
Now is taking deeper root,
May you live to see it budding,
May you live to pluck its fruit.

"May the cause for which you've striven,
Grow and prosper, more and more,
May you reap a plenteous harvest,
For the faithful kept in store."

The teachers were William L. Ashton, William F. Smith, and Martha A. Wilson, assisted by Anna Holloway. The salaries of the teachers were $420.00 for the men, while the women received $310.00, for two terms of twenty weeks each.

The association of teachers and pupils in a boarding school is of necessity closer than in any other type of school, and the teacher's influence upon the developing character of the boys and girls cannot be measured. Martha Wilson is described by one who knew her as "One of the rarest women I have ever seen. It seems to me that no one in Ohio Yearly Meeting has left so strong an impress for good on the meeting as this modest little woman, Martha Wilson. The look of sincere sorrow that came to her face when a pupil was disgraced and she heard of it, meant more to the culprit than a serious lecture from others of the faculty. She had the rare combination of mother, friend and teacher that endeared her to almost all." Martha Wilson died in a few years after leaving the school, but her influence lived on in the hearts and lives of those who called her Teacher Martha.

There were no separate rooms for students -- the sleeping rooms on the third floor occupying the entire ends of the building. These rooms had windows on three sides and the beds were ranged along the walls leaving the center floor space unoccupied. Wash rooms and trunk rooms were in the basement. Each girl had her own basin hung upon its particular nail by the long metal sink. Two rows of lockers were in the end of the wash room. In the next room her trunk stood in its chosen place by the wall. Her little bit of wall space, her locker, and her desk in the school room, were the only places she had to call her own. This arrangement had its obvious disadvantages and inconveniences that students, of later times, might even think hardships. But the boys and girls were happy, and the boys, especially, indulged in pranks and practical jokes that would not be tolerated in more recent days. Visits of bats to the sleeping chamber caused many a troubled evening. Many pillows were put to uses for which pillows were never intended. Sometimes in the morning a hasty descent from the bed chamber to the first floor was made by the way of the banisters.

In the dining room were long tables with boys seated on one side, girls opposite. "Perhaps they are breakfasting on oatmeal and hash prepared by `Aunt Mandy,' the competent director of the kitchen who cooked by `aesthetic rules.' Or, perhaps, the boys are treating the girls to a supper of oyster `soup.' But can these be normal, healthy young people? For we hear no buzz of conversation, no spontaneous laughter! This strange silence is not due to shyness, nor to mental deficiency, but to a rule that prevailed for a few terms." Even this apparently rigid discipline is a marked departure from the early customs when the school was in Mount Pleasant -- where boys and girls dined in separate rooms. Gradually customs have altered. The changes and improvements came slowly.

Some of the rooms were heated by open grates, burning soft coal. A hand elevator in the center of the building was used to carry fuel to the upper floors. Occasionally a hot coal popping out on the carpet caused a small fire, but never any serious conflagration. Rooms that could not be heated by grates because of their size were heated by large stoves. If you should wonder why it was that some of the boys so enjoyed the work of blacking the stoves, you might get an explanation by peeping into the bake room presided over by Maria Kirk and seeing those same boys all washed and clean, helping themselves to such pies as few can make in these days of modern improvements. In 1887, while Barclay and Hanna Stratton were superintendents, hot air furnaces were substituted for the stoves; and in 1903, under Jesse and Susan Edgerton, a steam heating plant was installed.

Lights for about eighteen years were supplied by a gas made from gasoline. Winding up the gas machine, located in the farmhouse, was a daily task. One day when the superintendent was filling the underground tank, two boys of an inquiring turn of mind, took a bit of gasoline on a chip. Retiring to what they supposed to be a safe distance, they ignited it to see what would happen. Alas, they had failed to consider the direction of the wind and the highly vaporous quality of gasoline. Instantly, flames shot skyward from the vent pipe. Two boys were very much frightened by the time the valve in the vent pipe was closed putting out the flames. In 1896, when Joseph and Elizabeth Stratton were superintendents, electric lights were installed.

Water from a cistern was pumped by a "wind engine" into a wooden tank at the top of the building. The water was carried from there by the natural law of gravity, to all parts of the building. Sometimes there was not enough wind for pumping. Therefore horsepower was added in order that the operation might be made continuous. Perhaps you can picture a sleepy boy and old horse patiently endeavoring to help out the water supply. When the boy went to sleep, the horse stopped, and the effect was about the same as when the wind stopped blowing.

See next entry: Olney Friends School - History: Fire and Rebirth -- 1910-1920s

For the table of contents and first entry in this series, please see: Olney Friends School, Barnesville, Ohio

3 diamonds

Source: This entry is adapted from Olney, 1876-1926, a booklet published on the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Olney Friends School in Barnesville, Ohio.

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