We often have an image of the early settlers of central Ohio as being people of a hearty breed, versatile in training and strong in both body and spirit -- and relatively lacking in formal education.
While many pioneers had spent little time in schoolhouses, it was not true of all of them. The belief most of them shared was that their children should have some sort of formal education.
This was clear even before Ohio became a state; the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 had set forth education as a right to the settlers of the new territory. Ohio's first constitution reiterated that pledge.
The problem came when one man tried to figure out how to fund this education. That would take a while.
Many residents of central Ohio were not willing to wait. An early history describes their concern: "The early settlers encouraged private schools and instruction. ... The schools were supported by tuition fees, the teacher agreeing with a number of families that for a fee of one, two or three dollars for each child instructed, he would teach school a certain length of time."
Surveyor Lucas Sullivant established the village of Franklinton in 1797 on land he owned on the west bank of the Scioto River near its junction with the Olentangy River, then called Whetstone Creek.
Sullivant was a man of boundless energy and enthusiasm. He took a number of steps to encourage settlement in his new town. He gave away lots on Gift Street to people who would settle in Franklinton. He gave land for the first church in town, as well as the first jail. He would go on to build the first bridge across the Scioto. And he would build the first school in the area:
"At a very early date, not exactly known, Lucas Sullivant built a round log schoolhouse which was about fifteen or sixteen feet square with puncheon floor, rough slab benches supported at either end by a pair of hickory pins inserted into augur holes; battened doors with wooden hinges and latch raised with a string; a clapboard roof with weight poles, and a fireplace and stick chimney. ... This building was located about a square and a half north of the Old Courthouse (at the northwest corner of West Broad Street and state Route 315) and was probably built before or about the year 1806."
It was on the west side of the north-south road passing through the middle of town.
Joseph Sullivant, son of the town's founder, later remembered that first school. He said his experience with school began in this "cabin with its slabs for seats polished by use and big chimney with downward drafts, with fleas inside and hogs under the floors, no grammar, no geography, but a teacher who ruled with a rod."
While many of the early teachers were men, the first two teachers in Franklinton of whom we have any record were both women.
"Miss Sarah Reed, afterwards long and favorably known as an instructor and Christian worker, was one of the early teachers. She is said to have assisted (the Rev.) Doctor Hoge in organizing the first Sunday school of the town. Miss Mary Wait, whose parents came to Franklinton in 1803, taught school there at a very early date."
Other "subscription schools" followed: "At a very early day, William Lusk, an Irish school master who came here from Massachusetts, settled in Franklinton and taught a subscription school. In 1818 or 1819, he established an academy."
In 1821, he described local education: "There are in Franklinton a common school and an academy; in the latter are taught English grammar, geography, bookkeeping (double and single entry), mensuration, geometry, trigonometry, (plane and spherical), surveying, navigation, algebra and astronomy."
By the time Lusk wrote his account in 1821, the new capital city of Columbus had been established across the river from Franklinton for more than nine years. There had been private schools in existence in the new town for much of that time.
In 1814, a school was opened in the log Presbyterian church on Spring Street. In Zion Chapel, which was a hewed log house on East Town Street near High Street, William T. Martin ran a school in 1816-17. And in 1820, Lucas Sullivant and 20 others organized the Columbus Academy on Third Street.
In 1825, the Guilford Law saw the beginning of funded public schools in Ohio. That is another story, but in 1827, the Columbus Academy, having moved to Fourth Street, was acquired and served as a public school until 1836. The school -- unrelated to the private school of the same name that still operates in Gahanna -- then became a blacksmith shop and later a feed store, becoming the first example in Columbus of adaptive reuse of a public-school building.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.