Blume High School, Wapakoneta Ohio

Date added: January 17, 2023 Categories: Ohio School

Public secondary education in Wapakoneta dated to about 1867, with the first high school class achieving graduation in 1871. High School classes were held on the top floor of the Third Ward (Union) school building for almost 40 years, until growth in the student population and inadequacy of the old building made construction of a new high school essential. The site for the school was donated to the board of education by L.N. Blume, an Auglaize County native who was successful in both mercantile and banking businesses in Wapakoneta and who lived near the school site. Wapakoneta voters willingly passed a bond issue for construction of the school, which cost somewhat over $40,000, and the new building opened in the fall of 1908.

Blume High School (Blume passed away in 1912) was the first school in the city designed as a high school. When it was completed, it was expected that the school would serve the city's educational needs for an indefinite period. However, rapid growth of Wapakoneta's school-age population meant that Blume was becoming overcrowded after just a little over a decade. The school board turned to the voters again, and a $100,000 bond issue passed in November of 1922 by a two-to-one margin. The school board engaged well-known Columbus architect Frank L. Packard, who had made a specialty of schools and other institutional buildings. The new addition, which was built as a public building for school use, was operated in an unusual cooperative arrangement with the local YMCA, which established a library in the front portion of the addition and recreational programs in the gymnasium. The rear block was given over entirely to classrooms.

The construction of the original Blume High School in 1908 and the addition in 1925 represent Wapakoneta's place in and response to the broad trends affecting public education in the early 20th century. Where the high school had been only an adjunct to the elementary school, it occupied two rooms of the Third Ward building and eventually had to occupy a hallway, in 1908 it achieved a new status when it occupied its own building. Wapakoneta citizens acknowledged the importance of secondary education by their support of the bond issues that built both the original school and the addition. High school students, expressing themselves in passages in yearbooks at the time, thanked the community for relieving them of their crowded old quarters, describing the new school as a "palace." One writer noted that the city had supported the new school because it knew that "Wapakoneta would never come up to the standard without accommodation for its young people."

This passage is revealing. Clearly it was a matter not only of community pride, but of economic welfare that Wapakoneta should have good high school facilities. The community saw itself as in competition with other places and felt that it needed a good high school as an essential drawing card for new residents and businesses. Indeed, when the 1925 addition was planned, it was with the idea of attracting students from outlying areas and other communities. The news article reporting on the passage of the 1922 bond issue noted that it passed by a wide margin despite strong local anti-tax sentiment, a measure of the community's commitment to better secondary education facilities.

As early as 1910 the Blume yearbook had a student editorial arguing the need for a library, not only for use by the students but by the community as well, which at the time had no public library. When the 1925 addition went forward, new managing boards were created for both the library and the gymnasium, and news stories at that time argued that the expanded facilities at Blume would increase the school's attractiveness to students from elsewhere; facilities in the addition also included home economics rooms in the classroom portion. The effort and energies that Wapakoneta put into its high school were a measure of the community's aspirations for the future.

At the time Blume High School was built there was considerable debate about how schools should be designed, and much was being published on the subject in books and magazines. Architects and educators debated what they saw as the problems of traditional school design; fire-prone wood construction, lack of adequate stairways and egress, inadequate natural light and ventilation, and lack of facilities for both physical education and for vocational and "domestic arts" classes which were becoming increasingly important. Architects such as William B. Ittner of St. Louis, as well as others, promoted what came to be called the "open plan" school design. Key to this new approach toward school design were fireproof construction; the use of single-loaded corridors with windows along one side; large and well-lit classrooms with glazed doors to admit light from the corridor; and provision of auditorium and gymnasium spaces to supplement traditional classroom education with recreational and non-academic activities. Numerous fireproof, enclosed stairways and adequate restroom facilities also were essential elements, as was adequate ventilation.

The original 1908 Blume school represented traditional 19th-century school design which early 20th-century architects saw as so problematic: classrooms were clustered around a single central stair, and it accommodated traditional educational practices such as gathering students in large "recitation halls" for a portion of their studies. Little accommodation was made for recreational facilities or for non-academic activities. In addition, such a design tended to be inherently unsafe because there was only a single means of egress, and restroom facilities and ventilation usually were inadequate.

Though the 1925 addition certainly was not an example of all the latest ideas in school design, it did incorporate some of the essential elements: the addition was built with two fireproof stairways in both the front portion and the classroom wing, providing substantially greater fire safety than in the 1908 building; the addition provided a gymnasium which the original school did not have, designed also to provide assembly space; there were rooms for non-academic studies such as home economics; the front portion of the addition housed a library and reading room; and the addition had considerably greater window area than the original school, providing large amounts of natural light on the interior. All of these design elements came out of the movement to provide safer and better schools, and all needed to be added to the original 1908 school.

Blume High School reflects not only changing architectural theories about public school buildings, and also changing tastes in architectural styles. During the first decade of the 20th century, when the original school was built, Renaissance-inspired designs were popular for commercial, institutional, and residential architecture; the Blume school's design, while not a "textbook" example of the style, shows strong influences from it. Similarly, the 1925 addition has many elements of the Georgian Revival style, which was widely popular by that period.

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, was a 1947 graduate of Blume High School.

Building Description

Blume High School is located in a residential area southwest of the downtown business district of Wapakoneta, Ohio. The school was built in two parts. The original building, the work of Wapakoneta architect W.M. Runkle, dates from 1908 and is the southern portion. Standing on a high-cut limestone foundation, this portion of the school is built of a tan brick with stone detailing at doors and windows, and a pressed sheet metal cornice. The basement or ground level has shortened one-over-one wood windows, while the first and second floors has taller windows, also with wood one-over-one sash. The building is L-shaped, consisting of a rectangular east portion with a large rectangular west wing. Fire escapes have been added at various locations, where windows have been converted to exit doors. On the interior, the finishes are very plain. Walls are painted plaster with no ornamentation; pressed metal ceilings are used on most first-floor ceilings and on some second-floor ceilings as well. The interior was altered in 1938, probably following construction of the rear classroom wing and for the purpose of improving fire safety. The paired main stairs, which were built of wood, were removed and replaced with a single steel and concrete fireproof stair, and original corridor doors and trim were removed and replaced. The fire escapes probably date from this time as well. The front portion of the school housed classrooms and offices, while both levels of the rear wing were large study/recitation halls, with classrooms on the south side. Both of these large rooms were later infilled with partitioning, but the pressed sheet metal ceilings, though somewhat damaged, were left in place.

To the north is an addition dating from 1923-25, built because the original school reached capacity quickly and lacked library and gymnasium facilities. It was built as a YMCA and library and as classroom space; it has three components. The eastern, or front, portion was devoted to the YMCA and had office space, a library, and a meeting room. Like the original school, it has a low hip roof and is built of brick, though the addition's brick is dark red. The ground floor is at grade and has 3-over-6 wood windows; the first and second floors have 8-over-12 wood windows. Just behind this front portion is a gymnasium with a stage. High windows on the north and south walls provide natural light for the gymnasium, and the roof structure is exposed in the interior. Behind the gymnasium, on an axis perpendicular to that of the original school and the YMCA is the classroom block. Known originally as the "Annex," it joins the original 1908 school at the latter's northwest corner The north wall of the classroom wing is windowless, and the south wall had only a single window on the third floor. On the east and west elevations were large multiple-paned wood windows. Most of the original windows survive on the east elevation, but on the west all windows were replaced in the past with glass block windows; most of them have paired one-over-one residential-style metal windows in their lower portions; the original window openings have not been altered.

The original 1908 school was designed in a restrained Italian Renaissance Revival style, with the raised and accentuated basement, strongly vertical window proportions, and prominent cornice typical of the style. The YMCA addition, in contrast, has characteristics of the Georgian Revival style, which is reflected in its form, roof shape, and window proportions and design. The classroom block is very plain and utilitarian and reflects no style at all. The 1923-25 addition was the work of Columbus architect Frank L. Packard and was one of the last of his projects. Packard passed away in 1923 before completion of the additions to Blume High School.

Blume continued in use as Wapakoneta's high school until 1959 and served as a junior high school until 1989. It was replaced in that year by a new facility outside the downtown area and has been vacant since that time.