PORTAGE PATHWAYS: Final chapter for Hiram High School in 1964

By Roger J. Di Paolo | Record-Courier Editor Published:

The handwriting was on the wall for Hiram High School.

With an enrollment of only 116 students in a district with a limited tax base, a decision by the State Board of Education to revoke its charter 50 years ago not only doomed the high school but set the stage for the end of the Hiram district itself.

News of the impending demise of the district was shared by Superintendent Lee Grimsley at a meeting of the Portage County Board of Education in April 1964 that included a review of a state inspection report of the high school.

The findings were grim as far as Hiram High was concerned. The report recommended that the State Board of Education revoke its charter. There seemed to be little hope for an appeal.

"It is not a question of whether we should consolidate the Hiram school but rather where and when the consolidation would be best," Grimsley said.

The state report termed the high school "quite unsatisfactory," he said, outlining deficiencies in six specific areas.

The high school building itself was termed "inadequate," with the upper classes infringing on the classroom space for the elementary grades. Some teachers were not certified in their areas of instruction. Some units of basic instruction were lacking, notably American history.

The tax base of the Hiram area, historically dependent on Hiram College to the exclusion of commerical and industrial development, was less than the $5 million state minimum, the report noted.

The inspector even faulted the contents of the high school library, noting the presence of books on its shelves that should have been thrown away years earlier.

Hiram High School, like many of the schools in Portage County, dated to the early 20th Century when rural districts were abandoning one-room schoolhouses in favor of consolidation based on township or village boundaries. There were 166 schoolhouses serving rural students in 1900.

Centralization of the schools gained momentum in 1914, when the county school board was established and a county superintendent was chosen to oversee education in rural areas.

The Hiram building was erected in 1913-14 at a cost of $69,000 -- the equivalent of $1.6 million today. Schools in Aurora, Mantua Township and Nelson also were erected that year.

Even with consolidation, Portage County had 23 separate rural districts -- most having their own high school -- 75 years ago.

The coming of World War II, which saw a change in demographics for many areas and insistence by the state that school districts be able to sustain themselves, would change that. State inspections focusing on school facilities and curriculum offerings resulted in the loss of charters for districts that failed to meet minimum standards.

That's what occurred in Hiram in 1964. The only solution for districts that were unable to remain independent was to team up with larger neighbors.

"Hiram High School is on the move. But no one seems to know where it's going," Record-Courier reporter Bill Oliver wrote following Grimsley's report to the county board.

The logical choice, according to Hiram Board of Education president Edward Rosser, was consolidation with the James A. Garfield or Crestwood districts, which themselves had been created from smaller rural districts following World War II.

A small delegation of Hiram district residents at the county board meeting asked if there were other options. The possibility that the state would grant a one-year extension seemed unlikely; that meant the abolition of the district just two months in the future.

"I suppose both districts (Garfield and Crestwood) would be glad to receive your students so that they might use your high school building for other classes," Grimsley told the residents.

The question of consolidation was put to a vote, and 563 ballots were cast by voters in the Hiram district. The final tally was 407 votes to transfer to Crestwood and 151 to go with Garfield. One vote to "stay in Hiram" was recorded.

The decision to consolidate with Crestwood increased that district's enrollment by about 500 pupils. A few parents applied for their students to transfer to the Garfield area.

The Class of 1964 was the last to graduate from Hiram High School. The Hiram district, formed in 1914, was dissolved on July 1, 1964.

The Hiram facility continued to serve elementary school students until the Crestwood district opened a combined elementary school in 2002. It was sold in 2004, fell into a state of disrepair and was razed in 2010 after being vacant for several years.

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