The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

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April 6, 2013

Platt Spencer of Geneva known as ‘Father of Penmanship’

GENEVA — Platt R. Spencer (1800-1864) is Geneva’s most famous native. Known as the Father of American Penmanship, he developed what became a national standard of handwriting, Spencerian script. The script produces an engraved look by using light upstrokes and strong down stroke lines.

Spencer was born in Catskill Mountains of New York. He began his writing education with a wild turkey father, which served as a pen. In 1806, when he was 6 years old, his father died. His mother gathered the younger children to follow the migration of the older children to the new West. It took 51 days by oxen- drawn wagon to get to the Village of Jefferson in

Ashtabula County.

Formally educated in Conneaut, Spencer lived most of his life in the county. He taught his first handwriting class in Kingsville in 1815 at the age of 15.

 In 1828, he married Persis Warren Duty, a teacher in East Ashtabula. The Spencer family’s farm still stands on North Myers Road. Spencer and his wife had 11 children — six sons and five daughters. The log cabin in which Spencer taught his penmanship students, known as the Jericho Log Seminary, is long gone, but it stood across the street from his home.

His sons helped him teach handwriting, which was popular from 1850 to 1925. Even today there are people who practice the script and they meet every fall at Geneva-on-the-Lake for two weeks of instruction and discussion about the script and its founder’s life.

In the past, students have come from as far away as Italy and Alaska.

Overdue recognition

A memorial association that disbanded a century ago was revived in 2007, thanks to the work of Geneva residents Debbie Caranci and her uncle, Bill Peters, who set out to restore Spencer’s place of honor.

 Initially, the committee planned to pick up where a group of family and residents left off Oct. 25, 1910. That’s when the Platt R. Spencer Memorial Library Association disbanded. Formed after Spencer’s death, the organization’s goal was to establish a library in Geneva. Spencer was a staunch supporter of literacy and operated a small library out of his home.

Between 1893 and 1910 the organization raised $10,000 for a library. In 1908 another group, the Geneva Library Board, received $10,000 from Andrew Carnegie for a new Geneva library in exchange for imposing a levy that raised $1,000 annually for library support.

Peters, Caranci’s uncle, researched the story of Geneva’s Carnegie Library (now home to Western County Court) and is dedicated to restoring it. He actually worked at the court for many years.

He said Carnegie’s gift was sufficient to build the library, but not to fill it. The library board asked the Spencer Memorial group for help.

The $10,000 raised toward a memorial was transferred to the library board but the Spencer name was lost in the process. The library was named Geneva Free Library.

The only building in town to honor Spencer was the East Geneva Rural School on Route 20 which was built in 1924 and dedicated formally as Platt R. Spencer Elementary School on May 4, 1938.

Years passed and in early 2007, the district’s old elementary schools gave way to plans to build a new elementary school on Austin Road.

Spencer All Classes Reunion Committee member Charlotte Hunt presented the board with a special Spencerian gift for the new school: a handwritten letter from Spencerian master penman Michael Sull, who teaches the Spencerian Saga writing workshop every summer at the Lakehouse Inn in Geneva-on-the-Lake.

In the letter, Sull thanked the board for recognizing and honoring Spencer’s many historical and educational achievements in the Geneva area.

The committee recently presented the board with another piece of parchment: a 400-signature petition urging the administrators to name the school solely for Spencer.

In November 2007, the board voted to name the school Geneva-Platt R. Spencer Elementary School.

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