VAN WERT – It’s been 21 years since the original one-room Bear School
has been moved from its original site in District 11 of Ridge Township
to the grounds of the Van Wert County Historical Society. Still,
students, particularly third graders, continue to have periodic learning
experiences inside of the old structure.
Joe Steffan, retired
educator, noted that these days the school is most often used as a
hands-on experience for students to learn what school was like in a
one-room school most generally attended by their great grandparents and
relatives of that generation.
The experience is enhanced by the
demonstrating teaching skills of retired teacher Connie Rhoades, now in
her 80’s. Students are marched to the front door of the school where
they give special postures of respect to the teacher, known to them as
“Miss Agnes.” They then split and the boys go on one side and the girls
on the other, as was the fashion of that time, said Steffan.
at the time in 1906 when the school opened were paid $2 a day for their
work or $4 a day if they had to shovel snow,” observed Steffan. “Among
their chores was also that of firing the old furnace and keeping the
building warm for the students to learn.”
The Bear School was
originally a one-room schoolhouse in District 11 in Ridge Township.
Peter Knittle provided the property on which the building was located
and classes were held for the first time in 1904.
The Emerson Blauser family donated the building to the museum. Grace Blauser was the granddaughter of Peter Knittle.
provided by the museum notes that the bell was given to the museum by
Gale Knittle and was originally installed by John Ringwald. It is cast
of bell metal which has a very loud sound and bears a casting date of
1903. Museum officials note that the 1996 moving and restoration project
was made possible by a grant from First Federal Savings and Loan
It is furnished with old desks, a teacher’s desk, a
recitation bench, an organ, the old black stove, books, slates, photos
and other school memorabilia.
In March of 1972, Ralph Gallapoo, in
a talk presented to the Historical Society at the time, said that early
schools were structured about two miles apart so that no child would
have to walk too far. Early one-room schoolhouses sometimes enrolled as
many as 72 students covering grades one through eight under the
supervision of one teacher.
“It’s important for students to learn
how their ancestors had it in school in those days,” said Steffan. “This
is a very important historical learning tool on the grounds of the