Bear School
Bear School
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.

“Teachers 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.

Information 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 Association.

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 museum.”