A century-old schoolhouse in Northern Portage County has secured a lasting place in history.
The National Park Service in Washington D.C. has named the Mantua Center School in Mantua Township to the National Register of Historic Places, affirming the structure's historical significance and its eligibility for federal funding supporting its preservation.
Members of the Mantua Historical Society and the Mantua Restoration Society pushed for the school's addition to the register. The building is the third in the vicinity to make the national list following the civic center and township hall located on S.R. 82. It was approved for inclusion on the National Register on Sept. 4.
Township residents have big plans for the neo-classical building and are excited at the prospect of seeing the school used for generations to comes.
"That building is at the absolute heart of the township, and now it can be a source of township identity and civic activity for another 100 years," said Carole Pollard, secretary for the non-profit Mantua Restoration Society, which focuses on the preservation of the township's historic properties.
The former school, located at 11741 Mantua Center Road, opened in 1914 in the wake of the infamous Collinwood school fire of 1908 in present-day Cleveland that claimed the lives of 172 children.
That horrific incident led to leaps in fire safety for school buildings, which the Mantua Center School reflects, National Register Chief Paul Loether said.
The Mantua Center School was designed around a thick, fire-retardant concrete endoskeleton with an exterior of heavy masonry bricks -- a major change from the wood-framed Collinwood school.
Loether said the building is also one of the "better, intact" examples of a school transitioning away from the one-room schoolhouse.
The school introduced flushable indoor toilets, which gained popularity with the advent of new technologies and a blossoming understanding of disease in the 1900s.
"Old timers will remember that instead of going to the bathroom at home, which were outhouses then, they'd wait until they got to (Mantua Center School) to use the indoor plumbing," Pollard said.
The structure's seven classrooms were designed to allow light flow. Basement rooms extend slightly above the surface of the ground to let in sunlight.
"All of those were going along with modern education at the time," Loether said.
The building saw power thanks to a rural electrification program launched between the 1920s and '30s. In the late '40s, the school went from serving twelve grades to capping off at grade 8. A one-story annex was built in 1964 to accommodate a growing school-age population.
Following an evaluation from the Ohio School Facilities Commission in the 1990s, Pollard said, the state pushed the township to invest more than $2.5 million to bring the building up to even newer, more stringent codes -- which wasn't a feasible investment.
The school closed a decade ago when a new, consolidated facility was constructed by the Crestwood School District. The vacant school was acquired by township trustees in 2004 through a lease-purchase agreement with a New York bank. The building itself was worth about $350,000 at the time, but several hundred thousand more has been invested in the building over the last decade. Much of those funds have come from grants, donations and portions of estate and property taxes allocated to township coffers, Pollard said.
The Mantua Restoration Society is now focused on refurbishing the building further to open it for local functions. Anyone wanting to donate to the structure's preservation is asked to mail checks to Lynn Harvey, treasurer of the Mantua Restoration Society, at P.O. Box 665, Mantua, OH, 44255-0665.
"This is a beautiful building," Pollard said. "Our historic buildings should lift our hearts -- that one does. That's why it's important to preserve it."
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