The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

April 22, 2012

The institute on the knoll

New Lyme Institute graduates made their mark on world

Staff Writer

— Its alumni include one of the first female judges in the United States, a scholar who worked on the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, a famous Lincoln impersonator and numerous prominent attorneys, educators and lecturers.

The New Lyme Institute even came close to becoming the Kent State main campus of Ashtabula County. In 1910, the institute was a candidate for the Ohio State Normal College, a preparatory school for teachers. Politics and inducements prevailed, however, and the institute lost out to Kent, where the normal college would be nurtured into a university.

Also known as the New Lyme Seminary, Northern Ohio Collegiate and Business Institute and the Deming School, the original section of the 117-year-old institution succumbed to fire in 1995. Driving through the sleepy crossroads where the school once stood, it difficult to imagine that 300 scholars once lived and studied here.

The school was the creation of Judge William S. Deming, a prominent New Lyme Township citizen who donated the land and $3,000 in matching funds to kick start the institution in 1878. Citizens convinced of the need for quality education in their community matched Deming’s contribution.

When the Northern Ohio Collegiate and Business Institute was dedicated on Aug. 21, 1879, it included a recitation hall, boys dormitory and ladies hall. The institute enrolled more students than it had dormitory space to accommodate, and residents of the community opened their homes to the scholars. It was the pride of New Lyme.

“When the first commencement exercises were held, the hearts of New Lyme citizens glowed with triumph and pride over the completion of what eventually proved to be a famous school,” noted Monia Large in her 1924 history of Ashtabula County.

A fire consumed the ladies hall several years after the school opened, and the institute alumni raised $20,000 to erect Tucker Memorial Hall, “affording comfort and pleasure to young ladies attending the school.” The hall honored Jacob Tuckerman, who was the institute’s first president.

Tuckerman was highly esteemed — he earned $1,000 a year and was provided a new house for his residence.

A native of Connecticut, Tuckerman came to Ohio in 1836 and  studied at Kingsville Academy and Oberlin. He was a county schools superintendent and principal of Orwell Academy.

Tuckerman became institute president in 1882 and remained in that position 15 years. His associate was M.L. Hubbard, principal of the commercial department and a teacher of expression. A strong faculty further helped establish the institute’s reputation for providing quality education.

Summer school

The institute also was the home of the Christy Summer School of Pedagogy, which got its start with a generous gift from the estate of James Christy.

Christy’s instructions were to use his fortune for educational purposes in Ashtabula County. Both Grand River Institute and New Lyme applied for the money, about $27,000. The decision was left to the County Teachers’ Institute, which convened Aug. 9, 1888, and voted to create the summer school at New Lyme.

A 1924 history notes that “the buildings of New Lyme Institute were located in picturesque and highly elevated spot, facing Lebanon Creek, and a semicircle of stately maples, and the campus is one of rare beauty.”

Beauty was not enough to ensure the school’s success, however.

The institute began to wither after the failed attempt to bring the normal school to New Lyme. When Judge W.S. Deming died, he left $25,000, some land and six houses to the institute. The houses were in “Newtown,” one of Ashtabula County’s ghost towns. The cash established an endowment, but it was insufficient to maintain the institute in the ensuing years.

When Ohio’s legislature mandated that each township provide a centralized school or pay the expense of sending its students to one in another township, the institute’s trustees turned over its assets to the township. The New Lyme Institute thus became the Deming School in 1923.

The four-room building offered grades one through 11; students who wanted a “12th-grade education” had to go to Ashtabula.

Space was a constant issue at the building as centralization brought in additional students. The Works Progress Administration came to the rescue in the 1930s. A gymnasium and classroom annex was added to the west side of the original building at a cost of $50,000. The annex was first used during the 1939-40 school year.

By 1955 the school had an enrollment of 369 students who lived in New Lyme and Cherry Valley townships. Anticipating continued growth, the school board added another six rooms to Deming School. But efforts to consolidate the myriad school districts in the county were under way, and Deming became part of the Pymatuning Valley Local Schools. The last class to graduate from Deming was 1961.

Construction of new schools in the PV district brought about the end of Deming School in 1973. The community purchased the building in 1974. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

The community soon realized that the huge building was too large of an obligation for a small township and returned it to the school system. Another group was organized and attempted to save the building from private acquisition, but when it went on the auction block, Transportation Brokerage System purchased the building. It was eventually purchased by New Lyme resident Ray Kampf.

The old building caught on fire the morning of Oct. 7, 1995. Only the gymnasium and annex remained by the time firefighters completed their work.

Although it has been nearly 40 years since students attended Deming, annual reunions are still held for alumni who come back to New Lyme Township to reminisce.

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