Piqua High School, Piqua Ohio

Date added: April 13, 2023 Categories: Ohio School
Looking west at east elevation of main school building (1995)

In 1914 the Ohio General Assembly passed a major law with significant impact upon schools. Under this law, the county replaced the township as the unit of government responsible for public education. The law made a county superintendent and a county school board responsible for all schools in the county, with the exception of exempted cities and villages with a population over 3,000. This law was a clear additional step in the trend toward more centralized local control over public schools.

The Bing Act of 1921 made school attendance compulsory for youth from six to 18 years of age; those of age 16 could be released from school to work if they had completed the seventh grade. Rural districts had to establish high schools or pay tuition and transportation to an already-established high school. The effect of this law was a sudden and permanent increase in school attendance, and established schools, primarily in both large and small cities, found that they drew new students in from outlying towns and rural areas. And in 1923 a state law mandated that each public school student should have at least 100 hours of physical education during the school year. The law did not state how this was to be accomplished; it did not, for example, mandate construction of gymnasiums. By that time, however, physical education had come to be recognized as important, and many modern schools were being built with gymnasiums as part of their design.

The broad trends in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that impacted public schools, and especially public high schools, were these: 1) public schools served an increasingly urban population that worked in non-agricultural jobs and had different educational needs than in earlier times when agriculture was the primary employment; 2) the Ohio legislature, responding to public pressures, passed various laws affecting school finance, organizational structure, curriculum content, and supervisory and decision-making authority, resulting in a formal, highly-structured legislative framework within which local school boards were to operate; 3) there was a move toward centralization of public education responsibilities 'at the county and the city level, with a move away from the more diffuse township system; 4) there was ongoing consolidation of schools at both the elementary and the high school levels. The move was away from one-room schools and small rural high schools toward consolidated township and urban elementary schools, and toward larger urban high schools that drew students not only from the immediate city but also from the surrounding rural areas and small towns; and 5) there was an expansion of the curriculum, especially in high schools, into vocational areas such as manual training, agriculture, and domestic science, along with increased opportunities for physical education and exposure to cultural events such as music and drama.

When Piqua High School was built in 1914, it represented the city of Piqua's response to these broad trends and to the various state laws addressing public education. Public schools in Piqua dated to 1808, when the first school opened its doors. Until 1845 the community's public education efforts were fairly informal, and there appears not to have been more than a single school building at any one time. At various times, school was held in a log schoolhouse, a church, and a former academy building. In 1845, three public elementary schools were built in Piqua, located so that children from any part of the city could easily reach one of the schools; public education in Piqua from this point on was more organized and formal than before, a situation which paralleled what was happening across Ohio at about the same time. Throughout the balance of the 19th century and into the early 20th century, numerous school buildings were built in Piqua to serve the city's elementary school students. Public efforts were supplemented by two Catholic elementary schools, St. Boniface and St. Mary's, which dated from 1855 and 1899, respectively.

Public high school education in Piqua dated to 1856. Prior to that time, several "select," or private, schools taught students at the secondary level, but with construction of the first high school in 1856 Piqua made a permanent commitment to providing free public secondary education to its youth. The first high school stood on the same site currently occupied by the nominated school and was in use until 1884, when it was demolished and replaced by the second Piqua High School. That school was removed in 1912 to make room for the current building, and high school classes were moved to temporary quarters during the third school's construction.

Newspaper items from the period provide an insight into attitudes of the time and help to illustrate how construction of the new school was a response to the trends, concerns and needs of public education early in the 20th century. Prior to passage of the levy to pay for the new school early in 1912, the Piqua Daily Call carried two letters to the editor under the banner "Get in the Line of Progress." The writers cited how the new school would "do something for the betterment of the community," and one focused on the gymnasium that would be part of the new facility. Decrying neglect of the body in favor of educating only the mind, this writer illustrated the growing interest in physical education in public schools which would be formalized and mandated in the 1923 state law. The other writer pointed out the inadequacy of the 1884 building for "a growing city like Piqua." He encouraged a favorable vote on the levy so the city citizens could build "a lasting monument for higher education in our city." This last comment is of interest because at that time high school, for most young people, marked the end of formal education. Relatively few went on to college, so for cities such as Piqua the high school represented the pinnacle of educational achievement.

The new Piqua High School was occupied on September 8, 1914. The Piqua Daily Call of the previous day ran a long, admiring article about the school. Headlines and sub-heads described the "handsome new quarters" and stated, "New Structure Correctly Regarded As a Model of Its Kind in State." The article described the school as "one of the most complete buildings in the state" and noted that the domestic science and manual training departments, which had been dropped during the two-year construction period, would be re-instituted. The article went on to say that nearly all the old students were expected back in school and that many students from the surrounding area would now attend the Piqua school. There were brief backgrounds of several new teachers hired to head the manual training, physical education, and "household arts" departments, as well as the music department. Not only was Piqua to benefit from a new high school building, but the school board had ensured that its programs were the most current and up-to-date.

Over a period of a little more than 110 years, Piqua was served by a total of 33 school buildings, the earliest dating from 1845 and the most recent from the late 1950s. Of these, five were Catholic elementary schools, 25 were public elementary schools, and three, as already noted, were high schools. The total number of school buildings in use at any given time never exceeded a maximum of about ten or twelve, and many of the schools were replacements of earlier buildings.

The Piqua city school district today has nine public elementary and junior high school buildings built between 1890 and 1956, as well as the current Piqua High School, which replaced the 1914 school and was opened in 1981 outside the historic boundaries of the city. In addition, there are two Catholic elementary schools, St. Boniface and St. Mary's, built in 1957 and 1958, respectively.

Architects Harvard and Merriam of Columbus, Ohio prepared Piqua High School's plans, with a construction budget of $170,000. Construction began in the fall of 1912 and was completed in the summer of 1914. The new school had 49 rooms and a 1,000-seat auditorium and opened on September 8 of that year. The first graduation ceremony was held at the school in June of the following year. In 1949 construction began on a three-story addition for the trades department; the influence of two world wars and the Depression had only increased calls for extensive vocational training. Completed in 1951, this addition housed machine, wood, and agriculture shops and had a music room on the third floor. It was built of brick similar to that in the original building and was placed symmetrically along the west wall of the original gymnasium. In 1965 the southern addition was completed. This had a ground-level lunchroom and classrooms and a library on the upper floors. Designed in a Miesian-inspired composition typical of the 1960s, this addition gave an asymmetrical aspect to the school complex but nonetheless employed a buff-colored brick and a stone trim similar to that in the original building.

Building Description

Piqua High School consists of an original school and two additions. These form a large educational complex located in a residential area of Piqua just west of the main downtown core. The original 1914 building faces east. It is three stories high and houses classrooms around the perimeter of a large auditorium. Corridors form a U shape around the auditorium, with a two-story gymnasium located west of the auditorium. In 1951 an addition was placed to the rear (west) and housed an agricultural shop/garage, wood and metal shops, and classroom space devoted to mechanical or practical training, as well as a music room. Then in 1965 the complex took its current form when a south addition was added; it housed lunch facilities, a library, and classrooms.

The original school was built of buff-colored brick. Its trim elements are made of smooth- grained limestone which has a warm gray color, except in the cornice area, where terra cotta in a color similar to that of the limestone has been employed. The additions were built of brick very similar in color and texture to that in the original building, and the 1965 addition employs some limestone trim elements. The designs of the additions clearly are products of their times, but they are sited and are attached to the original building in a way that causes minimal disruption to its character. To some extent the additions may even be considered compatible in massing, form, color, texture, and detailing; thus there is an architectural and visual cohesion to the complex despite the long period over which it was built and the size of the later additions.

The original 1914 school was built to an eclectic design that combined strong influences of the Neo-Classical Revival and Second Renaissance Revival styles; some elements of Beaux-Arts Classicism also are apparent. Such styles, or designs combining their elements, were in vogue early in the 20th century, making Piqua High School an example of the "modern" architecture of that period. Rising from a rusticated ground floor typical of the Second Renaissance Revival, the school's upper walls employ recessed panels, pilasters, and cornice and frieze treatments of classical derivation, an effect further carried out in the window and door treatments. Most of the ornamental effects on the exterior walls are achieved through the use of skillfully-done brickwork.

The original school retains most of its original character-defining elements. The main alteration came when original windows and doors were replaced at some time (about the mid-1970s) with new ones composed of aluminum and glass, with opaque plastic panels above most windows. The 1951 and 1965 additions, while they represented major changes, did not result in extensive loss of original materials or features of the 1914 building. The 1951 addition is a very plain, boxy, utilitarian structure, while the 1965 addition has the continuous band windows and geometric forms typical of the Miesian designs current at the time.

The interior of the original 1914 building has not been significantly altered. By far the most impressive space is the auditorium, which extends from the first floor up through the third. It is oriented on a north-south axis, with the stage area at the south end and the balcony at the north. Designed in a classically-inspired style, with Beaux-Arts design motifs clearly echoed in its paired pilasters and other elements, the auditorium features a deeply coffered ceiling. Arcaded panels on the sidewalls contain silhouettes of historical figures in circular bas-relief plaster garlands. The serpentine form of the balcony's front edge, which is paneled, provides an additional touch of sophistication to the design. The proscenium arch combines a rectangular opening and a curve-cornered paneled surround. First-floor walls consist of recessed panels, within some of which are placed several sets of double doors for ingress and egress.

The balance of the interior is unadorned, consisting of painted plaster walls and ceilings and a combination of varnished and painted woodwork, with no architectural ornamentation other than that in the woodwork. The main entry on the east has several sets of double doors which open both into the auditorium and the east side corridor. The east, south, and west corridors form a U shape around the auditorium, with the gymnasium to the west and the classrooms along the outer side of each corridor; this plan is the same on all three floors.

The 1951 addition's interior was very plain and utilitarian, almost factory-like in design, which was consistent with its purpose: agricultural, mechanical, and craft education. The first floor was a large garage space, while the second floor was an open-plan shop space. The third floor had classroom spaces and a music room, all very plainly finished and with no architectural ornamentation. The 1965 addition had a similarly plain interior and was devoted to lunchroom, library and classroom uses.

Piqua High School, Piqua Ohio Looking west at east elevation of main school building (1995)
Looking west at east elevation of main school building (1995)

Piqua High School, Piqua Ohio Looking south along east elevation from northeast corner (1995)
Looking south along east elevation from northeast corner (1995)

Piqua High School, Piqua Ohio Looking west along north elevation from northeast corner (1995)
Looking west along north elevation from northeast corner (1995)

Piqua High School, Piqua Ohio Looking southeast at north elevation of original school (1995)
Looking southeast at north elevation of original school (1995)

Piqua High School, Piqua Ohio Looking southeast at north elevations of main building (background) and 1951 addition (1995)
Looking southeast at north elevations of main building (background) and 1951 addition (1995)

Piqua High School, Piqua Ohio Looking south along west elevation of 1951 addition (1995)
Looking south along west elevation of 1951 addition (1995)

Piqua High School, Piqua Ohio Looking north at south end and west elevation of 1951 addition (1995)
Looking north at south end and west elevation of 1951 addition (1995)

Piqua High School, Piqua Ohio Looking east 1951 addition on left, original building at left center, 1965 addition at right center and right (1995)
Looking east 1951 addition on left, original building at left center, 1965 addition at right center and right (1995)

Piqua High School, Piqua Ohio Looking northeast along south elevation of 1965 addition (1995)
Looking northeast along south elevation of 1965 addition (1995)

Piqua High School, Piqua Ohio Looking northwest along south elevation of 1965 addition (1995)
Looking northwest along south elevation of 1965 addition (1995)