Kathy Carrier is trying to figure out how to celebrate a 100th birthday. She's just not sure what would be the best kind of celebration for a 100-year-old schoolhouse.
“I was thinking maybe a bronze plaque or a display at the state fair,” she said. It's very clear there is no lack of enthusiasm for marking the centenary of Pleasant Township No. 7, the last one-room schoolhouse built in Allen County.
Since hers is the only schoolhouse in the township without a name, Carrier intends to mark the milestone by giving it one.
“I'm going to name it after my favorite teacher, Jean A. Hahn,” she said.
Carrier said Hahn, who taught seventh and eighth grades at St. John the Baptist School in Fort Wayne, had a great influence on her life and her love of history.
“I had her and so did my children,” she said.
Carrier bought the brick school building at Conners and Yoder roads after being smitten by it during her daily walks.
“I would walk to this corner and look at it,” Carrier said. “I just felt a connection to it.”
At the time she began dreaming about the Greek revival-style building, there were artists living there.
“I always told them that if they were considering selling to let me know,” she said.
That day came in early 2010 when the owner told Carrier that the schoolhouse was going on the market.
Her dream became reality.
She bought the 1918 schoolhouse and turned it into a sewing shop called Threads. Only the first floor of the building was finished, but Carrier had a vision for the attic, which became a workroom for the memory-quilt business she operated the next three years.
Now the schoolhouse is home to her nephew and his family, and children again play on the warm hardwood floors and bask in the sun coming through the tall windows.
The history of education in Indiana depended heavily on the system of one-room schoolhouses that was developed in the first half of the 1800s.
Deb Eidson, whose work on the 100th anniversary celebration of Monroeville High School led her to extensive research on the schools in Allen County, explains some of the history of Indiana's schools.
“The Indiana General Assembly passed an act in 1824 to encourage the development of public schools,” she said.
The first generation of one-room schoolhouses was built of logs. Later, buildings were wood framed. By 1882, the third generation of schoolhouses was built of brick and cost $1,500 each.
There were 180 one-room schoolhouses in 20 townships of Allen County at the turn of the 20th century, Eidson said. Fifty-four still stand.
Schoolhouses were constructed on about a quarter-acre and were carefully planned to be as healthful as possible for the children. Requirements for the buildings included elevated ground, a convenient water supply, proper sanitation and adequate heating, ventilation and lighting.
A cornerstone is embedded in the basement floor of Pleasant Township No. 7, noting the details of the building's design and construction. Fort Wayne architects Mahurin and Mahurin designed the building, and Michael Kinder was the builder.
The brick schoolhouse replaced a schoolhouse on the property that was deeded to an early settler, Samuel Cary, in 1836. Carrier said there were subsequent owners but no record of who might have sold or donated the property to the school district.
One of the unique features of this particular schoolhouse is the color of the brick. According to Eidson, they are varying shades of red and green and were fired in a kiln about a mile from the school.
By the time the school was built in 1918, one-room schoolhouses in Indiana had a limited life span. An 1897 state law called for the consolidation of the one-room ungraded schools in favor of multigrade schools that drew students from a larger geographic area.
During the heyday of the one-room schools, Carrier said schools were constructed on a grid two miles apart. “That way no child had to walk farther than a mile to school.”
In 1913, the mandatory age for education was extended to 16, several years beyond the one-room school structure of grades 1-8.
However, Pleasant Township No. 7 continued to operate until 1931.
In 1943, Milo and Mary Clark bought the abandoned schoolhouse for $1,580. Carrier notes that the date of the sale, Oct. 11, is also her birthday.
“We love it here,” said Kristin Day, the wife of Carrier's nephew. They have lived in the schoolhouse for three years and enjoy the spaciousness and sturdiness of it. During a particularly strong summer storm, she said her husband quelled her concerns about high winds coming across the open fields surrounding the house.
“He told me this place wouldn't go anywhere in a storm!” Day said.
Previous owners constructed a modern kitchen, bathroom and bedroom on the main level. The attic, which became the quilters' workroom after Carrier bought it, is finished with natural wood and skylights to provide warmth and ample light.
“I love the history behind this building,” Carrier said.
She especially enjoys being able to preserve a piece of the heritage of the area. A lifelong resident of Allen County, Carrier said that with Eidson's help, she has researched the history of the property and the building. Laying out a typewritten abstract of title, she points out previous owners, historical notes leading up to the incorporation of Fort Wayne, and a copy of a surveyor's certificate dated 1936.
She has collected clippings from 1918 newspapers soliciting bids for the construction of the schoolhouse, and has an early undated photo of the building.
Carrier hasn't set a date for the re-dedication of the schoolhouse, but she knows that it will honor both the building and a person of importance in her education.
“I can't think of any better way to mark the 100th birthday of the schoolhouse and to honor Jean Hahn,” Carrier said.