History of the schools in Grandview Heights and Marble Cliff

by Wayne Carlson ©2001 Grandview Heights/Marble Cliff Historical Society

As the 19th century came to a close, development was rapidly proceeding in the area of Columbus between the Olentangy and Scioto Rivers. This area, now known as Grandview Heights, Marble Cliff, and Upper Arlington included parts of three Franklin County townships. The area to the west, north of Fifth Avenue, is Perry Township; to the northeast, Clinton Township; and south of Fifth Avenue is the northernmost portion of Franklin Township. With this new development came the need to educate the children of the families that were moving into this area. These new resident families had the responsibility of establishing the local school districts and building the schools.

In the early days of the region there was a Perry Township school, called Fairview, on the northeast corner of Tremont and Lane Avenue. A Clinton Township school, nicknamed the "Polka Dot School" because of its equal racial mix, stood until about 1913 on Virginia Avenue south of Chambers Road, where it served families of the Sells Circus among others. Preceding this time, a one-room log building served the area in Franklin Township on the corner of Grandview Avenue and Dublin Road. It was constructed around 1850 and was replaced by a brick building in 1872, according to former Marble Cliff resident and school board member P. S. Skeeles, speaking at the dedication of what is now known as Edison Elementary in 1912. He indicated in the same address that the school was called the Walcutt School, named for a prominent area family.

Harding School

In 1895 a new building was constructed on a site at the corner of Fairview and First Avenues. The school was called the Harding School and originally had two rooms on the south side. It was expanded to four rooms sandwiching the tall central tower in 1898. The tower contained a large brass bell, which was melted and used in the war effort after the building was razed in 1930. (The entire building was sold as scrap for $300.)

In 1901, Marble Cliff legally incorporated as a village. After Grandview split away when they incorporated in 1906 as a separate village, the two communities maintained their own school districts until Marble Cliff dissolved their district in 1915. After a year under the Franklin Rural School District, the Marble Cliff schools were transferred by the Franklin County Board of Education to the Grandview Heights School District, where they have remained since.

The Grandview Heights City School District was organized on May 14, 1906. The Columbus newspaper reported that "A special election on May 1, 1906 was held whereby L.D. Bonebrake, C.H. Walcutt, J.E. Hussey, S.M. Orwig and D.S. Field were selected as the first members of the Board of Education." A 1908 publication, The Home Builder, published by the Ohio Realty and Construction Company, focused on the quality of the new suburb of Grandview Heights, and spoke of the Harding School in the following excerpt:

One of the requirements of a desirable suburb is a good public school. When Grandview Heights was incorporated, more than a year ago, it inherited an excellent, new school building. A board of education was chosen, consisting of substantial business men, two of whom had had large experience in matters of educational direction. Under the guidance of this board the school has been brought to a high state of efficiency, and it is planned to improve it still further the coming year. Adequate funds are at hand, since this portion of the tax for the entire corporation is now centered on this school.
The school building is modern, and is conveniently located just north of First avenue, on Fairview, only a few steps from the car line. The cars on this line are among the best in the service of the Columbus Railway and Light Company. The fare is five cents, with transfers to any part of the city, on any of the other lines operated by the Company."

Grandview Elementary (Edison)

In 1911, the need for additional facilities prompted the construction of the Grandview Elementary School (now Edison Elementary) for $50,000. When it was completed, the Harding School became the High School, and the first class of seniors in the district (five girls and two boys) graduated in 1916. The elementary school had a 350 seat auditorium, which was used as a community movie theatre, showing "Paramount Moving Pictures" reels.

Broadview School (Front)

By 1917, even these facilities were inadequate. Enrollment in the district by this time had grown to 529 students. High school enrollment alone had increased 446% in the five-year period from 1913, when there were 17 high school students. For the 1917/18 school year, grades one through three were located in the four room Broadview School (Fifth Avenue School,) near the corner of 5th and Broadview Avenue, grades four through eight in the elementary on Fairview, and the high school classes were in the Harding School. Broadview School (Back) In addition to these students, Miss Mary Boyer privately schooled thirteen children from the district. Miss Boyer would later become one of Arlington's first elementary school teachers. She also conducted after-school foreign language classes for Grandview students, as well as for adult residents. Some parents chose to send their children to schools in the Columbus system, due to inadequate facilities and some necessary limitations to the breadth of the curriculum. In 1918 the district's first two principals, Mr. P.A. McCarty at the high school and Mrs. Ethel Layland at the elementary level were appointed.

The next decade saw some of the most dramatic growth in Grandview history. The following is a quote from the October, 1920 issue of the Norwester, which was the local news publication of the time:

"...we need a new building and more equipment. The school has an increase of 20% over last year's enrollment. We feel like a boy who has outgrown the capacity of his knee breeches. You know there's a limit to crowding. Before long the question arises what will we do next."

Mary Boyer C.A.Waltz

Some of the overcrowdedness was reduced when the Village of Upper Arlington was allowed by the Franklin County Board of Education to establish a separate school district, which they did in August, 1918. They built a temporary four-room building with funds provided by King and Ben Thompson at the corner of Arlington Avenue and Tremont Road, using the remains of one of the barracks that were part of Camp Willis. Called the Barracks School for that reason, it contained grades one through three in one room, four through six in another, and seven through nine in a third. The fourth room was a larger common space used for school activities. They opened this school in October, taking 56 children out of the crowded Grandview schools, and immediately planned a more permanent building, which opened as the Waltham Road School in September, 1919. Although they had a separate school board, Upper Arlington shared the services of Superintendent C. A. Waltz, who was replaced in August by M. M. Williams. He served until 1923 when G. E. Roudebush replaced him. Grandview's longest serving Superintendent, W. C. Rohleder, was appointed in 1927 and he served until he retired in 1957. The Upper Arlington high school students in grades ten through twelve completed their studies in Grandview, and Arlington added a class each year after 1918 as their ninth graders advanced. Until the high school in Grandview was completed in 1923, the Grandview basketball team played on the court at the new Arlington school.

In 1918 President Wilson proposed that every school age child in America should have a garden of his or her own to be responsible for. The Grandview and Marble Cliff communities responded by developing a community children garden plot at the corner of Arlington and First Avenues. Each child in the district old enough to care for it was allocated a small section for a personal garden. That same year, the children also responded to a call from Washington to sell War Bonds, and they exceeded beyond everybody's expectations in this venture.

Grandview High School

In 1919, there were a total of 86 students in the high school; this number grew to 130 in 1920, and 141 in 1921, with 15 seniors and 725 students enrolled in the district overall. This prompted the board to ask for a levy to fund a new combination high school and junior high school. The plans for this building were presented to the public for review and input in January of 1922. Response to the proposal was good, and the levy passed in November.

One of the distinguishing features of the new high school plans was the inclusion of a combination gymnasium and auditorium, which included a stage and movable chairs. According to an article in the February, 1922 Norwester:

[the building] is designed to meet all the needs of the child's school life. In addition to the provision for the regular curricular activities, the physical welfare of the child is cared for through the gymnasium, locker and shower rooms. Physical education is not a coming thing; it is already here. With the completion of the building, gymnasium periods will be as much a part of the work in school as English or mathematics.

The design was also cognizant of a growing trend to utilize the buildings all year around by making it available for community use in off-hours and during the summer months. Controllable access routes and independent heating units we planned so that public spaces could be accommodated without impacting the remaining parts of the facility.

Construction began immediately, and the school opened on September 17, 1923. It was formally dedicated on March 7, 1924. In 1924, one of the rooms on the second floor was used to house the new Grandview Public Library, which later moved to a building on First Avenue. The cost of the high school was $290,000, and it added $12,000 to the annual operating budget of the district. The school, built by the L.L. LaVeque Company contained 22 rooms and was designed to accommodate 600 students. The school board also was interested in preserving the expandability of the school campus, so between 1922 and 1924 they acquired the property to the north of the high school, which is now used as the athletic fields.

To overcome the lack of telephones in the Grandview and Arlington schools, and to allow for necessary communications between the buildings, a group of enterprising high school students designed and built a wireless system and served as operators for the schools ("... as long as they maintained their good academic standing"). A similar model was put in place in the junior high, where students were "hired" as librarians to run the new 140-volume junior high library.

At the same time, "... parents were anxious that their small children be spared the long walk and dangers of crossing at Grandview, Broadview and Fairview..." and school officials recognized a need for additional space for these elementary students as well. Plans proceeded to acquire land "at the bottom of the Northwest Boulevard hill" at First Avenue and Oxley Road. This location was chosen because of its centrality to the eastern side of the community and because of a park (currently Pierce Field) across the street. When the High School was completed, a temporary building used during the construction (called "the portable") was moved to this new site. This two room "portable" opened in February of 1924 (the opening was delayed because of a lack of sewer service at the site) and housed 26 kids in grades one and two, and 21 kids in grades three and four. The next year, the upper grades transferred to the Grandview Elementary School on Fairview Avenue. The board was again pressed to provide additional facilities, and the plans were presented in October for a new elementary school on this property.

A proposed $175,000 levy to build the new elementary school was defeated in the November, 1924 elections, and the district was forced to go to half-day sessions in grades one to three. School officials and community members felt that there was a significant amount of misunderstanding, and in fact misinformation, concerning the use of the funds from the levy. Clarification was made through a widespread public relations campaign, and the issue was again placed on the ballot in November of 1925. R.L. Stevenson School This time it passed. The levy provided $140,000 for construction of the building and $35,000 to purchase additional property on the western side of the city. Groundbreaking took place on January 7, 1926 for the new school, which the children recommended to be called Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary School.

The delay caused by the failure of the levy actually proved beneficial. The number of rooms was increased from the eight specified in the original plan to twelve because of additional need, but the cost for a building with these twelve rooms went down by $8000 because of timing of the bids. The design was also modified to allow for expansion of an additional four rooms on each end of the building, and it opened in the fall of 1926 with Mrs. Margaret Bush as principal (she retired in 1938.) The portable was sold, and again placed on wheels and moved intact to a new location. Evelyn Hughes and Anne Rhodes were 6th grade students at Stevenson in 1931 when they wrote about the history of the school. According to these girls:

The boys and girls [in the portable] watched them as they took the first shovel of dirt out of the ground. It was for the new building. They watched daily as the building rose higher and higher into the air. When it was finally finished there was a great cheer.

The rapid growth continued in Grandview and Marble Cliff. By the beginning of the 1925 school year enrollment in the district rose to 782; by June it was at 944, with 337 in the high school. Enrollment in the elementary schools alone was up by 88 students from the previous year. In the 1926 school year, there was a 44% increase on the east side alone, and by the 1927/28 school year total enrollment grew to 1218 in the district.

August, 1925 saw a discussion beginning in the community regarding the need for a kindergarten to serve the young children, which was becoming a trend throughout the United States. The First Community Church took the leadership in this area and established the first such classes in Grandview for the 1925/26 school year. The Community Pre-School classes were held in the basement of their building on the corner of Lincoln Road (formerly Paul Avenue) and First Avenue.

Our Lady of Victory School

Several area private and parochial schools also played a role in the overall educational system in Grandview and Marble Cliff. The railroad and the street car line made downtown relatively accessible, and as more well-to-do families chose to build in the area, some sent their children to private and church-related schools in Columbus. Some founders of Columbus Academy, for instance, were residents of this area. Our Lady of Victory Academy opened September 22, 1922 with 51 girls at the church on Roxbury. Classes were originally held in the convent, and were taught by three Sisters of Charity of Nazereth, Kentucky. The children of St. Margaret of Cortona first began attending OLV in 1948, when Monsignor Thomas A. Nolan, pastor of Our Lady of Victory Church, welcomed them to the parish school.

By 1923, a 7th grade was added to the elementary classes that already existed, and enrollment was 70 students. Enrollment was not limited to Catholic families but was open to all families in the area. A new school building, which housed a new co-ed high school was added in 1930, and by 1936 total enrollment had grown to 328 students. The Academy was co-ed until about 1945, when the boys' program was discontinued because of a lack of athletic facilities. The high school closed in 1963 and the elementary school closed in 1977. In 1947, St. Christopher Church, which serves residents east of Ashland Avenue, was founded and its school opened in 1948. The parishes of St. Margaret, Our Lady of Victory and St. Christopher combined enrollments under the name of Trinity School. Starting with the 1979-80 school year, all the grades have been located at the former St. Christopher School, 1381 Ida Ave at Ida Avenue and Grandview Avenue. Residents of this area since the 1950s have sent their high school age students to Bishop Watterson High School and later to Bishop Ready High School.

In May 1928, the Grandview Heights School District ran out of money. As a result, the district made a decision to close the schools early that year. A local community group, the Civic Improvement Association made public charges that district officials were guilty of mismanagement, particularly of the capital budget. Board President C.H. Silbernagel and other officials responded with a public statement in the May 18, 1928 Community News. Reasons for the money shortage were attributed to the phenomenal growth of the community and the student population, and opportune investments in the property north of the high school. In August, the board voted to put a 5-mil levy on the November ballot to recover the debt. The need for this levy was dropped when the Franklin County Commission voted to turn a windfall tax surplus of $30,000 over to Grandview schools to bail them out.

Although the slope of the growth curve decreased, families continued to move to Grandview Heights and Marble Cliff, and additional facilities were added. In 1930, the designed expansion wings on the North and South ends of Stevenson were added, increasing the number of classrooms in the building to 20 for a total of 40 elementary classrooms throughout the district. The same year, a new addition was added to the west side of the Elementary School and it was renamed as the Thomas A. Edison Elementary School.

The mid- to late-thirties saw enrollment leveling off, and in fact decreasing somewhat. For example, the total number of students in the district fell from 1320 in 1936 to 1239 in 1938. During this period, federal WPA projects provided funds for renovating and maintaining buildings and grounds, and were used to construct the tennis courts and a ticket building/concession stand at the athletic fields in 1936. The government also promised that if the district were able to provide a payment of $3000, they would provide additional funds (totaling approximately $28,000) to construct a stadium on that site. School officials turned to the community, and a successful fund-raising effort guaranteed the down payment. However, as construction was scheduled to begin, officials in Washington sent a letter requiring an increased payment. Dedicated to the success of this effort, the "stadium boosters" fundraising effort continued, and the 1250 seat stadium was completed and dedicated on October 7, 1938. The Bobcats easily defeated Westerville 25-7 in the inaugural game that night. Representatives from schools throughout the state came to tour the stadium facility during the dedication, which was seen as one of the finest combination facilities of its size around.

In 1957 additional classrooms were added to the South end of the Edison building, and a new gymnasium was added to the High School. The old gym was renovated and is now used only as the auditorium, and the shower rooms now house the board offices. Also in 1957, the board purchased property to the south of Edison to build a playground. It is now the main parking lot of Edison, as the playground was moved to the east side when the district successfully requested the closure of Fairview Avenue in 1995.

The school district decided to include kindergarten services as part of the public schools, and a revolutionary building was constructed on the site of the old Harding School across Fairview from the Edison building. It opened February 6, 1950 with significant media attention from the Columbus and Ohio press. Called the Kindergarten Annex, it was an award-winning design that incorporated furniture and facilities that were built to the needs of the kindergarten student. Door handles were lower, furniture was smaller, lockers were kid-sized, etc. It also had a fully equipped kitchen, which was used for both lunches and morning snacks, and everything was done in "cheerful" colors and styles that were attractive to kids of this age. A large fireplace was located in the hall at the main entrance, which provided a pleasant atmosphere for the 100 students that attended the half-day sessions taught by Mrs. Bloom and Mrs. Castaneda. In 1971, classrooms were added at Stevenson School to accommodate additional kindergarten classes for families on the east side of the district.

Kindergarten Annex
Kindergarten Annex Classroom

Also in 1971, a wing of classrooms was added to the south side of the Edison building, and an addition to the high school was created to hold the new industrial arts program. In 1993, with support from the community and the Bobcat Boosters organization, the High School track was upgraded to become one of the best all-weather tracks of its kind in the conference. In 1994, many of the buildings were modified to become more energy efficient through a unique federal lending program. In 1995 a bond issue passed that allowed for renovations to all of the buildings in the Grandview Heights district, additional technology resources for the academic programs, and a new multipurpose facility located at the Edison/middle school complex. This facility houses a gymnasium which can be divided in two, offices and a cafeteria which can be used as a performance and meeting room.

Several other interesting schools related events are worth mentioning:

Norma Goss

Senior Norma Goss was the Grandview High School valedictorian for her 1935 graduating class, and gave the commencement address for the June 6th ceremony that year. Norma chose to talk about the relationship between the schools and the community throughout the life of the two entities. The following is her address, transcribed from her own typewritten notes:

Commencement Address
June 6, 1935
Norma Goss

Schools in Grandview have always kept pace with the development of the community. The first school was located at the northwest corner of Walcutt Lane and Dublin Pike, now Grandview Avenue and Dublin Road. The building was a one-room frame, and was set back quite a distance from the road. As the size of the village increased, the frame building was sold for a house, and replaced in 1885 by the Walcutt School. This was a one-room brick building, thirty-six by twenty-two feet. The equipment included forty double seats, two recitation benches, one desk, one chair, one map of Ohio, and one of the United States, a chart of Penmanship, Anatomy, and Physiology. In addition to these articles there was also one large stove. This was the attraction for all the tramps in the neighborhood, who climbed in the windows and slept around the stove during the night. Some of the villagers suspected this, but could find no way to prove their suspicions. However, one night, the prowlers were caught, and sixteen of the village men marched sixteen tramps to the water-works where they were turned over to the Columbus police. One of the advantages of the early school was a half-acre playground with a good well of water, The people were loyal to the school, and the school was well attended. The children walked many miles through the mud and the woods to get to school by nine o'clock, and some were dismissed early so that they could arrive home before dark.

The curriculum of the early school included history, geography, grammar, spelling and writing. There were no grade cards issued, but at the end of each school year, each student received a card from his teacher. No graduation exercises were held. A student attended school until he had learned all the books, then his education vas completed. In one of the elections, held in the school house, school directors were chosen. Through their influence, after much discussion, the school lot on the corner of Grandview and Dublin was sold, and some ground on the east side of Fairview Avenue, between First and Third Avenues, was purchased as a school site. Here a two-story, two-room brick building was constructed in 1893.The teachers of this school came from Columbus by horse end buggy. They cleaned their own rooms, and built their own fires. Five years later the South wing, containing two more rooms was added to the building. At first Graduation Exercises were held in the Methodist Church of Briggsdale, but later from the church at the corner of Fifth Avenue and North Starr Road. After graduation from the eighth grade, the pupils, if they desired to continue their education, attended a High School in Columbus. The first Sunday School of Grandview had its origin in this school building. It is an interesting fact, that when the Harding Building was demolished in 1933, a black snake whip, symbolical of the punishment of the days was found between the partitions. This might indicate that our parents were not always on their best behavior. As an indicator of the growth of the community, the enrollment of the school soon forced the erection of a new building directly across Fairview Avenue. It was built in 1911 and dedicated on October twenty-fifth of the following year. For a while it was the only school necessary, but in a few years it was used in conjunction with the old Harding Building.

In 1916 Grandview graduated its first senior high class of seven. The graduation was held on May the seventh. The members of the class were Ruth Gatch, Katherine Sullivan, Albert G. Bradbury, Lida Thompson, Donald Anderson, Mary Hamilton, and Helen Matthews. Hon. Francis B. Pearson, State Superintendent of Instruction, gave the Commencement Address on "Educational Aims. "Due to the rapid growth of our community, these two schools soon became crowded, and a portable and a private home were used for the primary grades. At this time there were two houses on the west side of Fairview Avenue between the school and Third Avenue, When this property was bought by the school board, those two houses were moved, one to Fairview and the other to Oakland Avenue. In 1915 the High School received the First Grade Charter, as well as recognition by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. In the fall of 1927 the High School on Third Avenue was completed and the following year the ninth graduating class of thirty eight members graduated from the new high school. In 1926 a building was erected at the corner of Oxley Road and First Avenue, to replace the portable which had been moved there. By vote of the students, this building was called the Robert Louis Stevenson School. Four years later eight rooms were added to the Stevenson building, at the same time a west wing was added to the school on Fairview Avenue, and the name Thomas A. Edison was given it. The latest addition to our school system is the new athletic field which was completed and dedicated last fall. It is through the kindness of Grandview residents that our school is able to have such a beautiful field.

During the past fifty years the schools have developed as rapidly as the community. The same support which was given to the first school by Grandview residents has been given to every school. Our school system has developed from a one room school to three large schools, from one teacher to 47, from a graduating class of seven to one of eighty-four.

A splendid spirit of loyal cooperation toward our schools has always been a recorded characteristic in this community and if the same loyal attitude continues Grandview's educational institution is assured a successful future.