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Recollections From A One Room School House In Pike County

James Capaldi
Flickr Creative Commons

A century ago across the rural countryside in Ohio, there were hundreds of one room school - public schools in tiny buildings – where students of all grades learned in the same room. Now, some of those old schools are museums, or homes or abandoned altogether in the weeds.

Several years ago, WYSO’s Neenah Ellis travelled around the United States in search of active one room schools. And along the way, she met a teacher from Pike County, Ohio who taught during the Great Depression.

In Pike County, Ohio, not far from the Ohio River, if you drive the back roads, you'll find abandoned school buildings in Buck Hollow, Boswell Run, Omega, Stockdale, Beech Grove, Pinetop, Hay, Hollow Yankee Hill and on the outskirts of the village of Beaver, population 464.

I went to Beaver one Memorial Day to the cemetery where folks had gathered in a light rain. And after the service, I met Vernon Hinds, who was 86 years old. And we got to talking. It turned out that he attended a one room school just down the road. It was called the Rapp School because it was on Rapp family land.

When the rain cleared up, we went to see it. The outside is weathered gray; it's being used for storage on a farm.

"I'm really impressed," said Vernon. "Look how straight the ridge line is. That old schoolhouse was built good when it was built.Eight years there I learned everything I know."

I asked Vernon if he remembered when Mabel Adams came to the school.

"Oh yeah," he said. "She's a good teacher. She was reading, writing, arithmetic and she stressed writing. And if you see her writing, you can see she done a good job. Of course my writing looks like hers. She really stressed it."

"I had some beautiful writers, beautiful writers. They'll tell you that today. If I could turn my age around, you know where I'd be? In the school room. I love teaching," said Mabel Adams, age 93.

Mabel was well-known in Pike County. She taught at the Rapp School in the 1930s during the Depression, which hit hard in this part of Appalachia and Ohio.

"They brought their lunch, some not much," she said. "But every Monday morning, Ruth Brandy brought me - and it was delicious, I'll never forget - her mom would bake from scratch pink and white cake.

And one little girl that lived across the road with her, little Alvie Cordel, was just a frail little girl. I'll never forget she said 'I love you.' And she said, 'I want you to come over and eat with us. And I said, Oh, honey, I can't do that'. And she said, 'Grandma said you could.' She lived with her grandparents so Mrs. Cordel came over and she said, 'I want you to come over' and Abby said, 'I have something I want to show you.' And so I went in.

You know, they had fixed a meal like you couldn't believe, chicken and noodles and they had all baked a pile. And she said, 'Come in here. I want to show you something.' And I went in on the lace curtain living room with this big cocoon.

And she said, 'You know, there's something in that that's gonna come out some day.'

And she said, 'When it comes out, will you come over and see it?' I said, 'I surely will.' [It was] most beautiful moth. Mrs. Cordel came over and got me. She said, 'Are you to come over and see?' I had already put her little hand in mine. It was so frail. You don't forget those things"

Mabel Adams was just 18 when she taught school near Beaver, Ohio. She lived there her entire life carrying that love for her students with her until she died at age 94.

Copyright 2021 WYSO. To see more, visit WYSO.

Neenah Ellis is the general manager at WYSO. She began her radio career in high school, working at her parents’ commercial radio station in Valparaiso, Indiana. She came to WYSO in 2009 after 30 years as a radio documentary producer in Washington, D.C. She’ s been a producer for “ All Things Considered” at NPR and has won three Peabody Awards, broadcasting’ s highest honor, for her work. She is also the author of “ If I Live to be 100: Lessons from the Centenarians,” which is based on her radio series about people 100 years of age.