Adams Elementary School, Findlay Ohio

Date added: September 30, 2022 Categories: Ohio School

The 1889 Adams School is one of nine public schools built between 1888 and 1889 in response to Findlay's large population growth, which was caused by the Great Gas Boom. The boom began in 1884 when the first natural gas well was successfully drilled and continued when the Great Karg Well, then the largest in the world, was drilled in 1886. Adams School is named for James T. Adams, a prominent Findlay businessman and public servant during the Gas Boom era. Of the original nine Gas Boom era schools in Findlay, the Adams School is one of only four remaining.

The famous Karg gas well was completed, attracting the world's attention to Findlay because of its great size and launching the Gas Boom that greatly expanded Findlay's economy in 1886. The Peerless Refining Company began operating in 1887. "On New Years Day, 1885, Findlay was a small, pleasant, but undistinguished village of 4,633; on New Years Day, 1900, it was a small city of 17,000, a city which for a few brief moments basked in the national spotlight, which, [sic] found itself transformed overnight by a well-a gas well."

The Adams School bears the name of James T. Adams, a prominent public servant and president of the Adams Brothers Company. The Adams Brothers Company, located on West Main Cross Street, was one of Findlay's successful industries for many years. The company manufactured bridge and structural ironwork, gas and oil well supplies, boilers, steam pumps, portable and stationary engines, pumping powers and jacks. Adams served for sixteen years on the city council, was a member of the Findlay public school board for a lengthy time, and was a promoter of "benevolent enterprises."

Between 1888 and 1889, nine new four-room schools, known as the "Gas Boom schools" were built in Findlay, Ohio due to a significant increase in industry and economy that created an increase in student population. In 1887, there were 960 students in the Union School District (now the Findlay Public School District). By the mid-1890s, there were approximately 3,000 students enrolled. These schools served grades one through eight until junior high schools were introduced in Findlay in 1925, at which time they became elementary schools. Because of the rapid and unpredictable limits of the growth in the community, the schools were designed and built with the capability to be expanded. "Although providing only four rooms when constructed, they were built on the eight-room plan." Adams School was one of the few schools that was not eventually doubled in size. The schools were built in two phases, the first five in 1888 and the other four in 1889. (Multiple secondary sources state that the Gas Boom schools were built in 1887 and 1888 and that four schools were built in the first phase and five in the second. Research in local newspapers, however, indicates otherwise.) The schools of each phase had similarities in plan and style, but those of the first phase were distinctly different from those of the second. The first phase of schools were all 2½ story brick buildings of a two-room modified rectangular plan. Of those that were expanded, the plan was enlarged to a modified square that took on a pinwheel configuration.

The Adams School was built in 1889 as part of the second phase of Gas Boom schools. Other schools built at this time include Firmin, McKee and Paxon. Adams and Firmin were designed in the same four room, 1½ story T-plan configuration. Firmin also had similar architectural details including a raised stone foundation with four-light windows, elongated 4/4 double hung windows with the same segmental arch details. corbelled paneled brick walls, and a projecting and centered main entry. Firmin was ultimately enlarged to an 8-room school before it was closed in 1950 and later demolished. McKee's design was based on the same configuration, but the footprint was halved and stacked 2 stories high. Paxon was an anomaly as a one story frame building and it only served as a school for approximately twenty years.

Of the nine Gas Boom school buildings built, Detweiler, Howard, Bigelow, Firmin and McKee have been torn down. Three others are in altered and poor condition. Both Strother and Huber, built in the first phase with Italianate features, were expanded to 8-room schools in ca. 1889. Strother, which closed as a school in 1916, has been greatly modified, with its bell tower removed and roofline changed. It is currently a storehouse for a plumbing company. Huber closed as a school in 1950 and was converted to administrative offices in 1957. It is now vacant and condemned. Paxon, the only frame school, was closed as a school in the early twentieth century and then converted to a house with the addition of a second story.

Hancock County's first public school was a log building constructed in 1827 in the area that would become Findlay, the county seat. Findlay was incorporated as a village in 1838. In 1840, a two story frame school was built. It contained four rooms; one for each of the four sub-districts in the Findlay area. After Ohio's Akron Act of 1847 established graded schools in Ohio, the Union School District was organized in Findlay in 1853. It was not until the construction of the three story Central Building in 1868, however, that graded schools were actually implemented in Findlay. Other public schools serving grades one through eight that were built prior to the Gas Boom schools include Taylor (1876-1877) and Crawford (1881-1882). These schools were designed by Samuel H. Kramer of Findlay and Joseph Fleming of Toledo, respectively; both in the French Second Empire style. The four-room township District No. 9 School was merged with the city school system in 1889 and became called the Gray School. All four of these schools continued in operation along with the Gas Boom era schools until 1916 when the larger scale 16-room Washington and Lincoln Schools were built.

The classically-inspired Adams School is a distinctive public building in contrast with the majority of its contemporary Italianate commercial buildings and other public buildings built in Findlay in the late nineteenth century including the first phase of the Gas Boom schools. By 1885, Ohio's educational architecture had some universal characteristics. These included a square block plan with multiple stories and four rooms per floor, entrances on all sides and a centered and accentuated main entry. The 1885 school type described by McCormick was typically the only school building being built in a community, in contrast to one of nine being built in multiple neighborhoods, as was the case in Findlay.

Adams School's four room plan and projecting front entry were in keeping with this type, however it was designed in a very boxy T-plan, instead of a square and it was only 1½ stories tall (although designed with the capability to be expanded to 2½ stories).

In response to post World War II growth in Findlay, when the student population more than doubled, several additional schools were built and/or enlarged in the 1950s and 1960s (per bond issues passed in 1945 and 1955). Of the Gas Boom schools, Huber was converted to administrative offices, Firmin was overhauled, and an addition was added on to Adams in 1957. Washington and Lincoln schools, built in 1916, also were added onto this same year. Whittier and Northview Elementary Schools were built in 1950 and expanded in 1956. Jacobs Elementary was built in 1956. Jacobs, Jefferson(1950) and Northview (again) were enlarged in 1960. The one-story addition to the east side of Adams School is reflective of this later era of growth in Findlay. Although stylistically incompatible, the addition does not obscure the architectural integrity of the 1889 building.

Building Description

The Adams School, a 1½ story T-shaped public school building built in 1888, is an isolated public building in a residential neighborhood within walking distance west of the heart of downtown Findlay, the Hancock County seat. The site, a generous green lawn at the corner of Washington and Marshall Streets, is approximately 160' square with the building oriented to and set back 20' from Washington Street. What was originally a grassy lawn to the rear (north) of the building is now an asphalt-paved parking lot. A 1957 one-story addition is connected to the east side of the building and extends to the rear. Few trees are present on the site. The lot is bounded by an alley on the north and a house to the east.

The Adams School, with both Italianate and Colonial Revival style influences, is symmetrical and as wide as it is tall, creating an overall cubic presence with a steep 12:12 pitched roof. The original building is constructed of load bearing brick walls, three wythes thick, wood and masonry interior partition walls, and wood floor and ceiling joists. The cross-gable-on-hip roof is covered with imbricated slate tiles and the cornices have wood fascia trim, painted white. Each facet of the roof is covered with slate, including the pedimented gable ends. The walls are unpainted red brick laid in a running bond pattern with white mortar. Recessed and corbelled panels detail each bay, framing the windows and doors of each elevation. In addition, brick segmental arches with limestone accents and corbelling articulate the tall, narrow 4/4 double hung wood windows and doors. Much of the original window glass is intact. A smooth limestone watertable separates the brickwork from the coursed Ohio limestone foundation that wraps the perimeter, excluding the entry bay.

A one-story hipped roof entrance vestibule is centered in the south (front) elevation and projects out from the building the full height of the main building. The single door entry is recessed. The entrance door and entrance stairway are constructed of wood and have been altered. A modern black aluminum railing flanks the entrance stairs. The entrance vestibule contains the primary vertical circulation connecting the main floor to the lower level.

The Adams School plan consists of a main level of four classrooms and a hallway, a lower level of ancillary spaces, and an attic space 16' tall at the ridge. At the top of the entrance stairs is a foyer and hallway that organizes two classrooms in the rear and two classrooms on each side of the hallway. Each classroom is entered through a doorway that bears the original door, wood trim, ornate cast iron hinges, and a square glass transom above. The ceiling height in the hallway and in each classroom is approximately 12". The original flooring consists of 2x12 wood floor joists, covered by a wood flooring system that appears to have been replaced later with wider plank wood flooring.

Two sets of stairs flanking the main center stairway lead down to the lower level of the original school building which is approximately four feet below grade. Small four-light segmental arched windows punch through the limestone foundation and span the perimeter of the building at evenly spaced intervals. The ground floor spaces consist of three large rooms, storage spaces, restrooms, and what was later used as a cafeteria kitchen. The original lower level space was later reorganized by the addition of new walls constructed of wood studs and covered with wood paneling.

In 1957, a single-story, blonde brick bearing wall, slab-on-grade, low-slope roof building was added on the east side of the 1888 building to meet the capacity needs of the school system. The only physical connection between the main building and the addition is a small opening in the north wall where a concrete stair was built. The interior walls of the addition consist of painted concrete masonry unit (cmu) construction with glazed cmu wainscoting. Floors throughout the building are the original speckled terrazzo flooring. The plan of the addition includes a single-loaded hallway, a 16' tall gymnasium/assembly hall, restrooms, three classrooms and utilitarian spaces.

The Adams School was used by Findlay Public Schools for grades one through eight until 1925, when junior high schools were built in the community. It then became Adams Elementary School and served in this capacity until 1981. From 1982 to 1996, the building was used by the Blanchard Valley Center for vocational training for the handicapped. The building has been vacant since 1996 and remains in excellent condition.