Editor’s note: For many years, local historian Jean Wallis provided a feature to The Times-Gazette called “Highland Guideposts.” She is updating and resubmitting some of those articles from time to time, including this one.
Several years ago, the Octagonal School Building in Sinking Spring got a face lift. It was already sporting a new roof and plans were in the making for other improvements, as well. The building is located in the center of the village on the town square that was set aside for a courthouse, when Jacob Hiestand platted the town in 1815.
The historic building is the only one of its kind in the state of Ohio. Built in 1831, it was the first school in the township after it was divided into districts and replaced the log school, the first in the village. Sinking Spring was always known as District #1.
A tax was levied upon the district to pay for the building and the treasurer was instructed to collect the tax. “The History of Ross and Highland County” tells us, “He called for this purpose on a well-to-do German farmer, who refused to pay the tax, alleging that he was not going to give anything toward the building of such an ugly-looking smokehouse as that.”
The next day his son, being in town on horseback, left the horse hitched in the street, “which the treasurer quietly took possession of and locked up in a barn, then directed the boy to tell his father that he could have the horse when he paid the tax, and not before.”
Being human, the old gentleman was about as mad as men often get to be; but finding that the treasurer had both the law and public opinion on his side, he yielded with as good a grace as possible, and paid the tax. His children afterwards were among the most constant in their attendance at school.
For the next 13 years, students attended school in the Octagonal building. Heat was provided by a stove set in the center of the room with seats in a circle. Later the chimney was located on the north side of the building with the school bell in the center and yes, the bell still rings.
As the years went by, the laws began to change requiring schoolhouses to be owned by the district and the octagonal building was becoming crowded, as the population increased.
In 1844, on land provided by Sanford Williams, a two-story brick building was erected on the east side of Main Street and just outside the town plat in the northern extremity of the village. For the next two decades this building would serve the citizens of the area as a school.
In the last half of the 19th century there were four buildings located on the village square. The octagonal school building, the two-story town hall, on the southeast corner was the Huggins shoe shop and on the northeast corner a blacksmith shop. Finley Black, Sinking Spring’s pioneer photographer, captured on glass all of these buildings, leaving their image to posterity.
In the late 1800’s during the summer months, occasional select schools, designed, frequently, for advanced scholars were held in the village and again the octagonal building served its original purpose. The teachers were Samuel Reynolds and Sarah Rebecca Easton. Later both migrated to Kansas, where Reynolds practiced medicine in Rush Center, Kansas and Easton became a journalist in Kansas City, Kansas.
During the Civil War the octagonal building was headquarters for the home guards and guns were hung on wooden pegs. Over the years the building has been used for council, township trustees, civic meetings and in the teens and twenties was again used as a school. For many years it was used as a voting place for South Brushcreek and Sinking Spring.
Within its walls was tried the case of Butler versus the common man, with local attorneys arguing the case. One of the attorneys was H.N. Easton, a native son and a major in the Civil War.
In 1975 the Brushcreek bicentennial committee received a grant from Bird and Son, Inc. of East Walpole, Mass., one of the nation’s oldest manufacturing firms, founded in 1795 and interested in preserving historic buildings. The school was one of 115 landmarks selected out of 800 applications.
The grant required that the money received be used on the exterior of the building. The brick was cleaned and pointed up. A new chimney was built and the roof replaced with asphalt shingles, since then a new roof has been added and the interior of the building has been refurbished.
The grounds around the building were landscaped and a flag pole was erected. The bell from the Olive Branch Universalist Church was given to the bicentennial committee by the remaining trustees of the church and was erected in front of the building. This was done by the girls 4-H club Smokey Blazers outdoor cookery with Mrs. Vickie Knauff as their advisor.
It is interesting to note that a firm founded the same year that John Wilcoxen made the first settlement in Highland County, 1795, would 180 years later award a grant to a building located one block from that original settlement.