Historic Tours Part Of Ohio Convention

When the Ohio Questers’ fall convention is held in Belmont County this week, the members’ itinerary includes tours of historic sites that have received grants from the organization.

Questers, founded in 1944, is a nonprofit international organization with more than 900 chapters in the United States and Canada. “Its purpose is to educate by research and study of antiques, promote education in the fields of historical preservation and restoration of existing memorials, historical buildings and landmarks,” officials stated.

Ohio Questers has 19 chapters and approximately 270 active members. Two state meetings are held each year: a council meeting in April and a convention in October.

The National Trail and Wilson Shannon chapters in Belmont County are serving as hosts for the state convention Thursday and Friday, Oct. 11-12. Sessions will be conducted at Epworth Park in Bethesda and at Belmont Hills Country Club, St. Clairsville.

Jeanne Stokebrand, the organization’s international president, will be a guest at the convention. Sally Moser, state president, also will participate in the meeting. The gathering is open to all Questers and their guests.

On Thursday afternoon, Oct. 11, the visiting Questers will take tours of two sites that have received grants from the organization: the Belmont County Victorian Mansion Museum, 532 N. Chestnut St., Barnesville, and the Great Western School, a one-room schoolhouse located along National Road, west of St. Clairsville.

The Questers also will have opportunities to visit Olney Friends School, now in its 175th year, in Barnesville and to tour some of the cottages at Epworth Park Thursday afternoon.

The president’s reception will be held at the Epworth Learning Center in Bethesda from 6-8 p.m. Thursday. Steve Avdakov, a recipient of the International Questers scholarship to Columbia University’s School of Architecture, will give a presentation on Epworth Park.

On Friday, Oct. 12, the action for the convention-goers will shift to Belmont Hills Country Club, where a continental breakfast, harvest sale, business meeting and election of officers will be conducted. The event will conclude with a luncheon and program.

In a nod to the history of Epworth Park, the program will feature “Music of the Chautauqua Era.” The presenters will be Dr. Sarah Mahan-Hays, associate professor of communication studies at Ohio University Eastern and lead singer of the Sarah Hays Band, and Mary Jo Magyar, a pianist who studied music at Baldwin-Wallace University and The Ohio State University.

Chautauqua was a popular movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, combining education with entertainment in the form of lectures, concerts and plays, modeled after the Chautauqua Institute in western New York. The legacy of Chautauqua continues at Epworth Park every summer.

From the host chapters, Brenda Ponzani is co-chair of the Wilson Shannon group and Marian Feisley is co-chair of the National Trail unit.

Serving on the convention committee from the Wilson Shannon chapter are Jane Bryant, Margaret Miller, Marlene Slotwinski and Susan Willerton. National Trail members participating in the convention committee are Sue Dupke, Lois Fosnot, Linda Morgan and Ann Rattine.

The Wilson Shannon Questers chapter supports the restoration of the Victorian Mansion Museum in Barnesville. Officials noted that “gifted craftsmen worked from 1888 through 1893 to create this fine masterpiece of the Romanesque style.”

The mansion’s 26 rooms have been restored with the finest furnishings of the Victorian era. The house’s finely crafted features include carved oak fretwork, butternut and hand-carved wood mantels.

The Great Western School, now owned by Ohio University Eastern, has been a restoration project of the National Trail Questers chapter since 1976. The one-room schoolhouse was built by Clark Construction Co. in 1870. Students attended the school until 1952.

Ann Rattine, a member of the National Trail Questers, serves as the “schoolmarm.” Area students visit the one-room school on the OUE campus in April and May and “spend the day reliving the past,” she said.

By 1975, the vacant schoolhouse had fallen into disrepair. During the U.S. bicentennial observance, the National Trail chapter began the restoration. The building, which is one of very few one-room schools still standing on the National Road, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Additional restoration was done in 2003 with the support of the Questers and the Belmont County Tourism Council.

Currently, Rattine said, “We are in the process of having the bell tower restored. The Belmont County Tourism Council gave us partial funding.”

During previous restoration, the school’s original bell was found in Columbus and was returned and reinstalled atop the school.

Windows in the building also have been restored, with the Belmont County Tourism Council funding the work on three windows and the Ohio Questers restoring another one, she said. A couple of the original hand-blown glass panels remain.

The schoolroom has two tin ceilings, Rattine said, adding, “we don’t know why” one is on top of the other. Most of the floor is original, she said.

The school contains recitation benches, chalk boards, McGuffey Readers, the original teacher’s desk and a potbelly stove. Vintage desks from the Bellaire school system line the classroom.

Two large traveling teacher’s kits, dating from 1882 and 1883, respectively, are on display in the school. The 1882 teacher’s kit has been restored, with funding provided by a grant from the International Questers, Rattine said.

The kits, featuring large sheets of instructional pages attached to a roller, were used in areas without schools by “a teacher who went from home to home or was stationed in one home,” she explained.

Containing instructional material on a variety of subjects including government, history, reading and penmanship, the kits were used to teach children in grades 1-8, she said.

In a corner of the room, a dunce hat has been placed on a stool, where a student would be forced to sit as punishment while wearing the pointed hat. “If you didn’t know your lesson, then you would have to sit wearing the hat for one round (of instruction),” Rattine said.

She explained that the cap’s name evolved from the phrase “Mr. Duns’ hat” in Scotland; Duns was a Scottish man who “thought teachers had to pour information into the heads of students.”

Also on display are a cow’s horn and a replica of a “horn book,” a study guide to be worn around the neck by a student. A horn book had alphabet letters, sounds and the Lord’s Prayer written on the inside layer of a cow’s horn that was affixed to a small, flat piece of wood, she said.

On a windowsill, Rattine has placed “nature items,” such as bark, pine cones, nuts and a bird’s nest, that children might have brought to school to examine. Most of the students walked to school; according to regulations, “a student was not to walk more than two miles,” she added.

Students attended school from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a one-hour break for lunch. “Most of them preferred to eat their lunch in the building, then go outside with their friends to play,” Rattine said. “They lived on farms, so they didn’t get much play time. This was their social time.”

When restoration of the Great Western School began, 89 former students were still alive. “There were 29 whom we were never able to find,” she added.

Many one-room schools were closed in the 1930s and 1940s. “This was the last one-room school to close in Richland Township,” she said. A photograph shows the last class posing with the school’s last teacher, Goldie Skaggs, in 1952. Former students “all had positive words to say about her,” Rattine remarked.

When the National Trail Questers began restoring the building in 1976, “they literally climbed under the bottom of the door and had to shovel out (the debris),” she related. “Then they went to work to restore it.

“Without the National Trail Questers, this school probably would have fallen apart,” Rattine commented. “For its age, I think it’s in pretty good shape.”