Higginsport School, Higginsport Ohio

Date added: October 8, 2022 Categories: Ohio School

Since it opened in 1880 Higginsport School has been the most prominent visual landmark in this small Ohio River village (1990 pop:300). Its commanding presence in the community is a testament to the important role public school architecture had for over a century in helping provide a suitable environment for educating young girls and boys. Before closing in 1988 Higginsport School was believed to be the oldest operating school in Ohio.

In 1804 the present site of Higginsport was surveyed into lots and the village of White Haven was platted. Growth was modest, so in 1816 the village was replatted by Colonel Robert Higgins and renamed Higginsport. A post office was established in 1830 and by 1880 the population reached 862. Higginsport was a major shipping point for white burley tobacco, having seventeen tobacco warehouses by the end of the century.

The first village school, a crude log structure measuring 20' x 20' and built in either 1807 or 1819, was replaced in 1828 by a newer log building on the public square. By 1845 a brick graded school was erected on Lot 89 and in May 1854 it came under the supervision of Higginsport Village School District. In 1854 there were 1,514 Boards of Education in Ohio, of which 104, including Higginsport, were termed "special districts". One of the unique and often confusing features of Ohio's school system were the special school districts created during the period from 1851-1900. Under the "New School Law" of 1873, four tiers of school districts were recognized in Ohio: city districts of first and second class, the village district, the township district, and the "special district." These special districts, independent of the township and rural school district authorities, were solely responsible to the State School Commissioner.

After the Civil War, plans were made to better accommodate Higginsport's 286 pupils. Following two failed attempts to approve funds for a new school, a third and successful proposal to erect a new school passed on May 15, 1880. According to the county history, the building was modeled after a school in Maysville, Kentucky, although the Higginsport school was considered to be a much handsomer and more commodious structure. Compared to the costs of other schools built in 1880, Higginsport School ranked among the most commodious school buildings erected in Ohio.

A notice for contractor's bids appeared in the leading Brown County paper and specified: Said house will be a two-story brick, freestone widow caps, tin roof, and containing six rooms 26 x 34 feet and lecture hall 34 x 52 feet, and one entrance hall 12 feet in the clear. Each part of the work will be separate [sic] contracts and in making the bids the price of material must be separately stated in the bids.

Identification of an architect or general contractor has not been determined. Disbursements for contract work include: A. C. Sparks, brickwork, $3,100; S. D. Daugherty, free stone work, $1,165; A.J. Parks, carpenter, $3,980; Purnell & Sons, plastering, $558; Cooper Bissett, tin & galvanizing, $800; and L. Schriber [sic] Cast iron work, $240.

The original second-story lecture hall, later divided into two classrooms, was one of the most impressive public spaces in the county, measuring 52' x 33' with a sixteen-foot ceiling. Of the school age population living in Higginsport in 1881 (between ages 6 and 21), 250 pupils attended Higginsport Public School. Seventeen black children living in the village attended a separate rented building.

By 1900 there were over 1,000 special school districts in Ohio, which caused considerable administrative problems and worked against the prevailing trend toward consolidation. After several court rulings and reversals, the Ohio Supreme Court in 1906 declared special districts unconstitutional. In 1914 the special school district status was abolished, all schools were reclassified, and many of the special districts, including Higginsport, were absorbed into county and rural school districts. Counties were divided into administrative divisions containing one or more villages or rural school districts. By 1936 there were 1,729 school districts in Ohio, down from 2,629 districts in 1906. Clearly, the trend was toward fewer and larger districts.

In 1935 Brown County had 15 school districts and one exempted village district (Georgetown). Exclusive of one-room schools, Higginsport was the oldest public school building in the county. In 1922 E. C. Holt was appointed superintendent of Higginsport School, a position he would hold for many years until becoming Superintendent of Ohio Schools. In 1935 the school reported 9 teachers and 292 pupils in grades 1-12. Expenditures for public school buildings in Ohio from 1915-1936 reveal a boom in new construction occurred during the period from 1922-1931. In 1930, a brick gymnasium was added to the rear of the school and in 1932, restrooms and a cafeteria were built onto the gymnasium. In the estimation of one state study of Brown County schools, "The importance of both gymnasium and auditorium facilities in every school which holds promise of being a permanent center cannot be over-emphasized..." Interestingly the school had no running water or indoor toilets but did have a "motion-picture" projector.

In 1952 Higginsport School became a part of the Ripley School District subsumed under the name Ripley-Union-Lewis Schools. Elementary students continued to attend Higginsport School until it closed in 1987. Following a period of neglect, a citizens committee was formed in 1998 to help develop a preservation plan. Ownership has been transferred to the village and plans for preserving the school are moving forward.

Building Description

Located on the north bank of the Ohio River in southwestern Brown County, Ohio, Higginsport is a quiet rural village bisected by U.S. Route 52, the old federal highway linking Cincinnati and Portsmouth. The village has a single caution light.

Higginsport School is sited on a terrace overlooking U.S. Route 52 and the surrounding residential neighborhood. Built in 1880 and enlarged in 1930 and 1932, Higginsport School is a tall, 2½ story, building of brick bearing wall construction distinguished by a three-story central tower. The original school measures approximately 34' x 64' and features a four-over-four classroom plan with central hallway. Facing east, the "I" configuration of the original building and symmetrical fenestration allow for optimum light and ventilation. The school stands on an ashlar limestone foundation.

Stylistically the building exhibits elements of the Italianate and Romanesque Revival styles. The pronounced horizontal sandstone belt and string coursing employed along the lugsills, lintels and water table serve to balance the vertical massing conveyed through the projecting gable ends and central tower. Belt courses are segmented and arched at the window bays. Circular attic windows accented by sandstone trim and brick corbels relieve the projecting gable ends.

The tower is articulated by brick corbelling and slight crenellations. The entrance is distinguished by an arched transom light and sandstone hood with keystone. At the second story above the paired four-over-four window sashes is the inscription "Higginsport School 1880". Although in need of repair the tall six-over-six window lights and sashes remain intact. Windows have been boarded on the first floor on all four elevations. The tin roof specified in the original bid notice remains in place along with four tall corbelled chimneys. Later iron fire escapes are attached to the north elevation.

The interior plan of the original school retains a high degree of integrity. It features four equal-sized large classrooms (26'x34') on each floor bisected by a central hallway. Blackboards and vertical wainscoting remain in place.

Connected to the rear of the original building via a hyphen are a gymnasium and cafeteria. First added in 1930, the gymnasium is a vernacular brick building with a monitor profile roof. Presently most of its window bays are boarded. Immediately east and attached to the gymnasium is a cafeteria and classroom building added in 1932. This simple two-story brick-faced structure features a flat roof and multi-pane steel sash windows. All of its window openings on the first floor have been boarded.

There are no other structures on the school lot. The majority of the school-yard to the front and sides of the school has been covered with asphalt. The south perimeter of the lot is defined by a limestone retaining wall that appears to be original construction. Grassy lawn marks the rear of the school lot.