A memory of an iconic structure shared by many in Putnam County is likely the image of small brick buildings that dot the countryside sitting beside the field crops. In decades past, these countryside neighbors of agriculture were the foundation of rural education in the form of one-room schools. These little red brick or white frame one-room schools used to dot the landscape every two miles, which was the range of their school district. Citizens within the two-mile school district elected their school board, who then in turn selected the teachers and handled the tax levies and maintenance of the school building.

Lone schoolteachers taught students of varying ages in grades one through eight in the same room. Some of the subjects taught within the county included Reading, Arithmetic, Spelling, Geography, Hygiene, History, Agriculture, and Language. Total students could range from fifteen to forty, with one teacher, Dolly Welsh of the Belmore School, saying in an interview that she averaged around thirty students.

However, this was not as chaotic or counterproductive as it would seem. Large groups of pupils did indeed share the same space, but the teacher would start class by announcing which grade and which subject would be the focus at a time. Meanwhile, the other students would have lessons of their own to work on. Mary Weaver Haughn, former student of the Weaver School of Blanchard Township District 5, enjoyed her experience with sharing a classroom with upper classmen. She said, “There was never a dull moment, if we were caught up with our lessons, we had the privilege of listening to other classes recite.” Early access to higher-level subjects could serve as educational stimulation and a foundation for better understanding for when the student reached those subjects themselves.

The school was not just a place of education, but also a place of communal gathering. On special occasions, including holidays, schools would hold programs and socials. These events outside the normal confines of education were also not without their share of humorous stories. Elmer Diller, former student at Beech Tree School of Riley Township District 7, recalled an incident from the 1920s where a group of boys plotted against another who hoped to purchase a lunch prepared by a girl to whom he held affections. After school programs, older girls would auction off lunches during the social, and for one lunch in particular on that day the pooled money of the mischievous cabal drove the price up to around $10 or $12 for the unfortunate love struck youth. For the time it was a lot of money, but the money did go to a good cause in the upkeep and expenses of the school.

Presently, these one-room schoolhouses are well past the time of their intended use. The few that do remain have been put to a secondary use as storage sheds, or surprisingly been converted into homes, or lastly still continue to fulfill an educational role in a different way. The Bridenbaugh District No. 3 Schoolhouse still exists as a well-preserved example of a typical one-room school of the rural Midwest, and because of that it was posted to the National Register of Historic Places on April 28, 2005. The old schoolhouse is located at the junction of County Road 6 and Township Road M6, north of Pandora in Riley Township, Putnam County, OH. If your interest about these red schoolhouses has been piqued, it is definitely worth driving by and taking look at a preserved piece of Putnam County’s educational past.