The Harlem Schools Memorial in the Community Park in Center Village was dedicated last Saturday morning during a brief ceremony as part of the annual Harlem Days Celebration.
Harlem Township had an independent school system from 1814 to 1952 when it joined the Big Walnut Local School District. In 2015, the only evidence there ever were schools in Harlem were two of the one-room schools that are still standing; all other buildings had been demolished.
Several members of the community saved parts of the schools that were in existence in 1952, like Richard Pierson, who had the semicircular limestone element that once graced the high school’s entry at his home in Virginia.
Those pieces have been incorporated into a memorial to Harlem’s township schools, including two school bells and gateposts from the 1915 school.
Money for the project was raised through the sale of commemorative bricks and pavers. The project was initiated by the Harlem School Alumni Association in 2014 and was carried through to completion by members of that group and Harlem Township Heritage.
Ceremony emcee Ken Buell said when township school districts were consolidated into the Big Walnut Local School District in 1952 he was just finishing second grade.
“There were 80 to 100 students in first through sixth grade, and grades 7 through high school had another 70 to 100 students,” Buell said. “A lot of young people don’t realize we had schools in the township, but Harlem’s schools were as solvent as any school district around. We thought it would be nice if we could give back some history.”
Phyllis Davidson shared her history of Harlem Township schools, starting when one-room schoolhouses were used – eventually nine sub-districts with one school building in the middle of each square mile of the township. She said most children walked to school through neighbors’ fields.
A brick two-story school building built in Sub-District 6 for the 1871-72 school year served elementary students and a three-year high school. That building developed a crack and was condemned by the state in 1889.
A bond issue to replace the building failed and the state legislature passed emergency legislation to raise funds, but only enough money to build two rooms. Two more rooms and a basement were added later.
Township residents decided in 1919 to build a high school in Center Village that opened for the 1922-23 school year.
“The new high school had no indoor restrooms until 1937,” Davidson said. “The first graduating class in 1923 had two students, and one of those students was from Genoa Township. The last class graduated in 1952 with nine students.
“In 1952 Harlem Schools was added to the Big Walnut Local School District,” Davidson continued. “In the fall of 1953 it became a Big Walnut elementary building, an addition was built in 1957, and the 1975-76 school year was the last time it was used for a school building.”
Harlem High School was subsequently demolished. It sat on the site of the cement plant next to Harlem Park.
At the ceremony was Dean DeLong, who came from Traverse City, Michigan. Dean is the son of former Harlem School Superintendent C.C. DeLong.
Dean stepped to the podium to share a few memories of growing up in Harlem Township.
“It’s great to be home,” DeLong said. “I remember running track, playing baseball, skipping school. We thank the members of this community for doing such a great job of keeping things going.”
Closing the ceremony, Harlem Township Heritage member Vickie Tieche rang a school bell incorporated into the memorial. The bell is from the 1872 school building and was also used in the 1915 building. The bell was stored at Hylen Souders Elementary School, and last year former Big Walnut Superintendent Steve Mazzi returned it to Harlem Township Heritage.
Following the ceremony, Tieche said $7,000 was raised by selling engraved memorial bricks and pavers incorporated into the memorial. Engraved bricks and pavers are still available and can be set into the memorial base. A four- by eight-inch brick is $50; an eight-inch by eight-inch paver is $100.
To purchase a Harlem Schools Memorial brick or paver, contact Vickie Tieche via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 740-965-4535.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093