The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

November 22, 2012

Ruins of ’Bula’s first high school found during demolition of Ball Gym

Old grads mourned Division Street School like those mourning old Ashtabula High today

Star Beacon

ASHTABULA — Just like today, former students and teachers who once walked the halls of a school become sentimentally “up in arms” when their school becomes history.

Wreckers clearing the area, tumbling down walls and crushing floors, see a steady stream of on-lookers. Recently, while demolishing Ball Gym at old Ashtabula High School, at the corner of Station Avenue and West 44th Street,  workers discovered the ruins of another building.

“Underneath the gym floor was a foundation,” said Ben Pintabona, project manager. “We did some research and we found out there was a school there at one time.”

That school was Division Street School (West 44th Street was called Division Street back then) and it was Ashtabula’s first high school. Built in 1885, construction costs totaled $33,281, records show.

The school boasted a school bell which was known for its melodious tone, according to an article in the July 1, 1954 Star Beacon.

The bell was cast in 1862.

In 1902, high school students were moved to Park Junior High School and Division Street School became a school for grades 1-8.

The growing population of the city created a need for what’s now known as (and just has been demolished) old Ashtabula High School to be built in 1917.

With the advent of the junior high school, Division was reduced to an elementary school for grades 1-6. Later, Division housed kindergarten students, and an art department, as well.

Ashtabula resident Bob Howe said his mother went to Division School in 1932, and it was one of the first schools in the Western Reserve.

The last class to use the school was the Class of 1952. For two years after that, the building housed only art classes and a special education class.

“Both the interior and exterior was deteriorating rapidly, and A.W. Lewis, clerk of the Ashtabula City Board of Education, said it would take $5,000 to prevent further decay,” according to the Feb. 1, 1954 Star Beacon.

E.I. Gephart, schools superintendent, added the roof had begun to leak, which would necessitate even further major repairs, the Star Beacon article said.

In 1952, Division School students were transferred to the new Station School.

JoAnn David Styles of Ashtabula remembers Division School, too.

In 1954, when the school was razed to make room for a new gymnasium (Ball Gym) for Ashtabula High School, Styles’ parents bought some of the sandstone and built a grotto which still stands in her backyard, she said.

Today, demolition crews are crushing the foundation of Division School and it will be used as “high-grade structural fill,” Pintabona said.

The demolition of old Ashtabula High School is on schedule, with only a slight delay because of the discovery of Division Street School, Pintabona said.

Workers are leaving bricks by the back gate near the playground for residents to take as souvenirs of their high school days.

In 1954, workers sending Division School to the academic boneyard allowed sentimental residents to take lumber and other materials as keepsakes or for use on a home project.

According to a July 13, 1954 Star Beacon article, a Miss Harriet Tillotson, 94 W. 44th St., who attended the first high school and later taught in the Division School, is “still actively interested in education” and “bemoans the passing of the landmark building.”

The article also noted, “she is at the same time interested in just what the new building will look like.”