Historic Catawba Island school goes up in flames

Nov 28, 2023 | Featured, Around Ottawa County | 0 comments

A Thanksgiving Day fire engulfs the iconic Catawba Island District 2 school building.

Local fire departments received the alarm early on Thanksgiving evening, as many of their volunteer personnel may have just begun enjoying holiday dinners. The historic District 2 school building was ablaze on the corner of E. Porter and Crogan Streets at the north end of Catawba Island.

Firefighters were unable to save the wooden structure. The two-story wood frame building had been home to unoccupied private apartments. It was completely destroyed.

Lost with it was more than 150 years of legacy as one of the community’s original schoolhouses.

One of the earliest references to educating Catawba children can be found in The Hardesty 1874 Ottawa County Atlas. It credits a man named Tinker Smith as founder of the first of our schools in his log home on Gem Beach.

A search by local historian Craig S. Koerpel of the Catawba Island Historical Society found a photo of the historic District 2 schoolhouse before it was consumed by fire on thanksgiving Day.

Later in the first half of the 19th century, Catawba landowners and large families identified a more formal need for schools. They created tax levies, education boards, and two separate school districts with a dividing line at Cemetery Road.

A District 1 building was constructed on Muggy Road. District 2 classes were held at the building lost in the Thanksgiving Day fire.

By the early 1870s, the growth of Catawba’s school-aged population was such that a third school was constructed to serve West Catawba Road’s Peachton Community. It was erected on Cemetery Road where the present township garage now stands. Primary grades and trustee offices shared the ground floor and high school students met on the floor above.

Island residents voted in favor of a new centralized school in 1912. The corner of Schoolhouse and N.W. Catawba Roads was selected for its location. It became the first consolidated school district in Ottawa County and one of the first in Northwest Ohio.

Charred remains of the historic schoolhouse is all that remained last Thursday, Nov. 23 of the historic Catawba Island School.

The three obsolete District school buildings were then sold at auction. The District 1 and 3 structures were lifted and moved by teams of horses to begin new lives with private owners at alternate locations. The District 2 building remained at its original location and spent more than a century there as a private residence, often offering rental accommodations.

Early standards for Island teachers reflected the times.

According to one display the Catawba Island Historical Society’s Union Chapel Museum: “Teachers had to complete all years of schooling available and be licensed by the state with a teaching certificate. They had to be of good character and in good health. They also needed to maintain discipline, be conservative at all times, and teach all subjects and all ages. They had to be unmarried. They had to perform janitorial duties such as attending to the fire in a pot-bellied stove along with maintenance of the wood pile.”

Stop by the Union Chapel Museum to learn more about education and other facets of Catawba history. The Catawba Island Historical Society, which operates the Museum, is currently conducting its annual membership drive. You can learn more about joining at www.catawbaislandhistoricalsociety.com.

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