Historic Structures

Milford Elementary School, Cleveland Ohio

Date added: December 29, 2017 Categories: Ohio School

Between 1900 and 1910, Cleveland's population almost doubled, from 381,768 to 560,663. Likewise, enrollment in the public schools saw a comparable increase, growing by 47 percent between the 1899-1900 and 1908-09 school years, from 57,288 to 84,227 pupils. Faced with a need for some 60 new classrooms a year to house the increase in school population, the Cleveland Board of Education engaged in a large-scale building program under the direction of architect Frank S. Barnum. Between 1895 and 1914, as superintendent of buildings for the school board, Barnum planned 86 new school buildings. Among these was Milford School on the city's West Side.

In his annual report for the school year ended August 31, 1900, Superintendent Lewis H. Jones reported the need for 10 new buildings, noting, "We are in very great need of an eight room building for the relief of Denison, Sackett, and Gilbert [schools]." Among the accommodations "imperatively needed," he wrote a year later, was "a building of not less than 12 rooms to take the place of the present Ray School and to relieve Denison, Sackett and Gilbert [schools]." Those school buildings were located in the southwest section of Cleveland, in an area heavily settled by Czechs between 1880 and the start of World War I.

On April 8, 1901, the Board of Education authorized the school director to purchase land fronting on Milford, Dupont, and Evans streets. (Shortly thereafter, Evans Street was renamed "Eichorn"; Milford was renamed West 46th and Dupont was renamed West 47th in 1905, when the city adopted a uniform system of numbered streets.) On June 10, 1901, the school board resolved to build a 12-room brick school building on the property in accordance with plans and specifications on file in the office of the superintendent of buildings, Frank S. Barnum, and by early August various construction contracts had been authorized.

For Milford, Barnum employed a plan widely used for Cleveland elementary schools during the late 1890s. It featured, in Barnum's own words, "large interior corridors, or rotundas, necessitated by the peculiar arrangement of rooms about the same, for the purpose of lighting all rooms on two sides - the left and rear." Occupying the half story, or attic - "space otherwise wasted in roof" - was a large assembly room. By 1904, Barnum had largely abandoned this plan in favor of flat-roofed schools with classrooms lighted from one side only, with the assembly room located on the ground floor.

During the inaugural school year of 1902-03, 677 pupils were registered at Milford School. Continued population growth caused the Board of Education to authorize the director of schools to purchase additional land for construction of an annex to Milford School, and in September 1907, the board authorized the director of schools to execute contracts for construction of a 12-room annex. According to building permit records, work on the annex commenced on October 16, 1907, and was completed on August 21, 1908. The addition gave Milford School a total of 24 classrooms, enough to accommodate 1,040 pupils.

Milford School provided instruction for grades kindergarten through 8, serving children living in an irregularly bounded district between Storer Avenue and the city limits, and between West 36th and West 54th streets. Even with the enlarged school building, continued population growth and, later, the city's wartime industrial boom pressed Milford to its limits. Two "anterooms" on the third floor of the original building were pressed into service as classrooms, and three other classrooms were added in the basement. By 1919, four so-called "portable" classrooms - small woodframe buildings heated by coal stoves - occupied the schoolyard on the north side of the building.

With the onset of the Depression, school registration declined. School directories show that by 1939 five classrooms stood unused. In 1950-51, Milford School housed 604 children in grades K to 6; in 1960-61, 696 children; in 1970-71, 744 children. In 1961, Milford School was in the news when the Milford P.T.A. questioned the wisdom of continuing to use the third-floor auditorium, deeming it a fire hazard; however, inspectors found no safety threat and the assembly room continued in use. In 1965, an unused classroom on the first floor of the original building was remodeled for use as a library, a gift of the Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund.

By the 1980s, highway construction, court-ordered school desegregation, and flight to the suburbs had resulted in declining neighborhood population and, consequently, declining enrollment at Milford. In 1980-81, Milford School housed just 432 children in grades kindergarten and 4 to 6. In June 1984, despite parent protest, the school board voted to close Milford, along with two other Barnum-designed buildings, Chesterfield and Hazeldell schools, arguing that they were unsafe and that repairs would be too costly.

In two footnotes to the history of Milford School, in 1914 the school board granted permission to the Bohemian Sunday Schools of the West Side to use rooms in Milford School for the purpose of teaching the Czech language. However, a 1928 resolution to change the name of the school to Thomas G. Masaryk School, in honor of the founder and president of the Czechoslovak Republic, was defeated - a sign that the ethnic make-up of the Milford School neighborhood already had begun to change. Today, the area is home to a large Appalachian population and a growing number of Hispanics.