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An old-school learning tool

Pleasant Hill School House Museum adds 1800s charts to its memorabilia

SOMETHING ‘NEW’ FOR THE MUSEUM — Although it’s a mystery where they came from, the Complete School Charts, copyright date 1882, and McGuffey’s Reading Charts have a new home at the Pleasant Hill School House Museum at 3125 state Route 213, Steubenville. The learning tools of olden days were discovered several years ago at the museum with volunteers exploring options that included restoring them, a too-costly pursuit. Ultimately, Nelson Fine Art and Gifts in Steubenville was approached and did reproductions that were laminated and are on display, hanging in the original box in which they were found. Connie Crawford, center, museum recording secretary, stands in front of the display with Madeline Stutzman, right, holding son Hugo. Stutzman is in charge of the graphics department at Nelson Fine Art and Gifts, the Nelson family business, and was involved in making reproductions of the chart. Her sister, Gemma Nelson, left, did the laminating. -- Janice Kiaski

STEUBENVILLE — As summer begins to melt and back-to-school bashes are on planning calendars, the old Pleasant Hill School House Historical Museum appropriately has a reminder of what would have been an educational staple in the classroom of long ago.

The Complete School Charts, copyright date 1882, and McGuffey’s Reading Charts have found a home in the restored one-room school house located at 3125 state Route 213 with the 50-plus original pages tucked away in a new storage box for safekeeping.

But reproduced and laminated ones — a twists-and-turns project that took about three years to pull off — are out in plain view, hanging from a dowel in the original box that rests upright on a display table in the museum classroom. The front of the box is a slate chalkboard.

Visitors attending remaining summer open houses in August and September and future events now have the opportunity to see, touch and appreciate some education-of-yesteryear learning materials.

Where they came from, however, remains a mystery, according to retired teacher Connie Crawford, who serves as the museum association’s recording secretary.

“We don’t know where it came from or who donated it. It was just discovered,” Crawford said during a recent interview at the museum.

“They came like manna from heaven is what Gloria had said,” Crawford commented, referring to Gloria Renda, who is on the museum’s board and served 11 years at the helm of the museum restoration project that began in February 2008 when a group of interested people — many of them retired teachers — started discussing preservation of the building. The school house was built in 1836 and last used as a school in 1952.

Volunteers just happened to notice the box in early 2018 if not earlier, she speculated.

“It was sitting in the back corner of the museum. Right back there,” Crawford points.

“We opened it up and said, ‘Oh my goodness,'” Crawford said of their reaction to seeing the teaching charts that included a set of “The Complete School Charts” by Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor and Co. of New York and Chicago.

The index of its contents lists an introduction with pages for phonics, penmanship, drawing, arithmetic, geography, U.S. History and U.S. Civil Government, the later constituting pages XXIX – XXXII, Roman numerals for pages 29-32.

The charts come with “general remarks,” outlining their purpose and how to best use them. Those remarks from the 1800s read:

“In preparing these charts, the Publishers have had in view two things: first, to furnish assistance to teachers and text-books in several subjects which stand in special need of class illustration; and, second, to provide an outline of instruction in some branches not usually taught in our common schools.

“Every chart is designed to be used. There is nothing intended merely for show. Teachers should have well prepared manuals upon every subject here presented. The more, the better. Pupils should also be taught not only to consult their own textbooks on these subjects, but also to read all they can find bearing upon the subject of study. It is hoped that these charts will prove an incentive and guide to thorough study and careful reading.

“It is suggested that in addition to the use of the charts in connection with regular class exercises, a definite time of at least fifteen minutes daily be set apart for instruction on the charts. This may be divided into two or more exercises and different branches be taken up on alternate days, so that every subject can be covered at least twice each week.”

Getting the charts restored was the initial school of thought among museum volunteers.

“They were falling apart,” Crawford said of their condition which would prohibit them from being handled and looked at by museum visitors.

“They were fraying around the edges,” she said. It would be no fast process to have them restored, since it likely would be expensive, but inquiries were made all the same.

Crawford said Renda had been to a one-room schoolhouse at Belmont County that had had charts refurbished with the aid of donations from several chapters of Questers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the study, conservation and preservation of historical objects.

In April 2018, Crawford and Renda arranged to take the charts in the box — about 50 pounds — to a conservation laboratory service in Oberlin, Ohio. “Gloria and I took it up in her car because it wouldn’t fit in mine, Crawford said of their road trip with a purpose. “It’s a big place that does restorations, and we paid almost $300 to have them just look at it.”

“They wanted between $10,000 and $15,000 to restore it,” she said. “We knew we couldn’t afford to do that.”

Rather than unload them — “They were heavy in that box, all these charts,” Crawford said — the two took them to Nelson’s Fine Art and Gifts in the former Lincoln School building in Steubenville to pursue other possibilities.

That meant reproducing pages and laminating them on an as-finances-are-available basis.

“Originally we didn’t have the money to do the whole set. We were just going to get a few pages and did like 20 pages and then they were ready to do the whole set, and then COVID happened so we waited since we weren’t having visitors even coming through,” Crawford said of the process.

The museum ended up getting COVID money through the CARES Act.

“Two weeks after they brought them to us, the building flooded,”commented Madeline Stutzman, who is in charge of the graphics department at Nelson’s Fine Art and Gifts, the Nelson family business. They fortunately didn’t sustain serious water damage, however, and “survived pretty well, so that was good.”

Stutzman explained her role in the process.

“I went in, and we took pictures of all of them. The original charts were two different sizes. There was a short set (the McGuffey’s Reading Charts) and a long set and so I made them all the same size. We printed out and laminated them and gave them back. That was pretty much it. It took us a while,” she said of the three-year project.

She was assisted by her sister, Gemma Nelson, who did the laminating.

“By the time we were all done, we did 53 altogether, 53 charts. They are double sided in the original set but Connie and Gloria wanted them to be single,” she said, estimating the dimensions of a page as being 2-feet-by-3-feet.

Another part of the project was making a new box for the originals.

“We made a new box for the originals so that they could hang the duplicates in the original box and use them with kids,” explained Stutzman, who commented on what a unique project it was.

“I’ve archived and replicated stuff before but nothing this rare,” she said. “This was a pretty big exciting project. If you go online looking for these, you can’t really find any. They are hard to come by. It’s pretty cool that the Pleasant Hill School House had a full set of them. Compared to like everybody else, it’s pretty impressive.

“It was a really cool project to work on,” she added. “You don’t get that every day.”

Crawford said a set of the charts comparable to what the museum has was selling online for about $2,000.

The new addition was on display for the first time at the June installment of the summer open house series, but regrettably there were no visitors. The August and September open houses are on the second Sunday of the month from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

The museum welcomes members and donations, which are tax-deductible. “All donations are used to help us continue to make renovations and allow the museum to stay open to the public to share our history with the entire community.”

There are varying levels of membership support available: Student, $5; alumni, $5; family, $10; friend, $20; principal, $50; superintendent, $100; and lifetime, $150. Checks can be made payable to the Pleasant Hill School House Historical Museum and mailed to Lara Finney, 151 Lovers Lane, Steubenville OH 43953.

The museum’s board of directors includes: Ryan Finney, president; John Finney, vice president; Crawford, recording secretary; Karen Lundquist, corresponding secretary; Lara Finney, treasurer; and board members Deborah Hendricks, Avis Henry, Kay Kempler, Kasey Kuntz, Dave Nicholson, Renda and Joyce Zimmerman.

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