The schools that make up the main Greenfield Exempted Village Schools campus, particularly the McClain High School, have long been a source of great pride in the community. This is a condensed history of how the campus came to be through the last 107 years, all starting with the high school.
The information is largely from “McClain High School: A Century of Tradition,” a book created, compiled and published by the Greenfield Historical Society and celebrating the centennial of MHS in 2015.
On May 20, 1914, Greenfield businesses were urged to close up for a time in the afternoon so that all could celebrate the laying of the cornerstone of what was to become McClain High School. A photo from those festivities depicts a densely-packed crowd gathered for the event. It is the very cornerstone into which a time capsule was placed, then removed a century later as the school district and the town prepared to celebrate and rededicate the high school in 2015.
For that initial dedication ceremony in 1914, it wasn’t just the townspeople that turned up, but also people like Ohio’s governor, James M. Cox, who said, “I am proud that Edward Lee McClain is a son of Ohio. I am proud that he has carved out a career of great usefulness here in this community. I am proud … that he has the unselfishness to dedicate to the community a temple to civilization in the nature of a high school building, which will live and endure, my friends, for the long course and span of more than one hundred years.”
F.R. Harris, who served as principal of the Greenfield High School and the new McClain High School and eventually would become superintendent in 1923, wrote in the October 1915 issue of The Dragon yearbook, “Mr. McClain has waved his wand. As if by magic, a beautiful temple of learning has risen from the ground. In brick and steel and stone, the workmen have wrought the wonderful conception of a master workman … A century hence, though beaten by storm and wind and rain, it will have gained added beauty …”
On Sept. 1, 1915, the completed high school was opened so the public could see what had been more than a year in the making since the first cornerstone was laid. And since then, it has endured. It has been renovated and maintained with care, despite the Ohio School Facilities Commission recommending the structure to be razed many years ago under it’s two-thirds rule which states that a school district must build new if the cost of renovation of its existing building exceeds two-thirds of the cost of a new building.
However, the school district and the citizenry fought for McClain to be preserved, and in the end, it has been. Needed upgrades and maintenance have kept the building equipped to continue its purpose, even in today’s times so seemingly far from what times called for a century ago.
The giving of Edward and Lulu McClain did not stop with the high school, though it is the most robust legacy. In continuing the giving to Greenfield and its children, as well as future generations, McClain said he would build a new vocational building if the village would build an elementary building. In 1922, following the passage of a bond issue to support the cost, the Old Central School, “decrepit and in need of costly repair,” was demolished and a new elementary school built. Today, that school is the Greenfield Middle School.
William B. Ittner, who designed the high school, returned to Greenfield to design both the new elementary and the vocational buildings keeping similar style and structure as the high school.
The vocational building was completed in 1924, and “met the needs of work and play.” Not only was there space and equipment for things like agricultural studies, woodworking, metal work, bookkeeping, a print shop, and banking rooms, but also the cafeteria and the natatorium.
Everything — including the landscaping, a pergola, the courtyard and fountain — was completed in time for the 1924-25 school year. The estimated cost at the time for the three buildings — the high school, elementary and vocational — was around $950,000.
An excerpt within the historical society’s book from the 1928 booklet titled “The Complete School at Greenfield, Ohio” describes the product of McClain’s vision. “The three buildings, each with its own individuality but with fundamental similarities, form an ensemble altogether varied, unified, refreshing.”
Following the completion of the elementary and vocational buildings, yet another project was begun. McClain purchased the city blocks to the north of the growing school campus and work began on a playground and athletic fields. Several years later, a bus garage and field house were constructed.
Though current needs have far outgrown the space’s design intentions, the bus garage/field house has remained in continuous use, and for the purposes for which it was built.
This building was the final piece of the plan for Greenfield Schools as imagined by McClain and Ittner more than two decades previously. Just eight months before the completion of the bus garage, that final piece, McClain passed away.
While McClain did not get to see the whole of his campus idea fully manifested, everything that he has provided for this community lives on, and has remained used in the manner for which it was conceived and given.
According to the historical society’s book, Harris, in his “Hometown Chronicles,” had this to say: that Greenfield in the 1920s “presents a spectacle of a school which has risen above its material limitations … It has effected an organization ideally adapted to its community and in accord with the best educational thought of the day. Eighteen adjacent rural districts, embracing considerably more than a hundred square miles of territory, have seen fit to unite their destinies with those of Greenfield and the whole constitutes today one of the most interesting and unique school systems in America.”
The campus has continued to grow through the years with the addition of the Duncan McArthur Primary building in 1960; Memorial Bell Tower in 1964, which was a gift from Harris; the new gym in 1974; a new vocational building on the corner of Fifth and Lafayette streets in 1982, as well as pool and colonnade renovations; a new field house in 1987; the Imagination Kingdom playground in 1993; and in 2001 renovation of the high school and the addition of a wing on the empty corner bordering the new gym and old vocational building as well as the renovation of the McArthur building, which included the addition of a second floor.
Alas, the jewel of Greenfield remains, more than 20 years after the community and school board fought to keep the beloved treasure, and largely as it was when the students first filed into its hallways more than a century ago.
Today sees a current project of expanding the new gym lobby and the locker rooms above it, as well as the cleaning of the limestone on the exterior of the high school and middle school. There are also plans in the works for the development of athletic fields north of the campus and a new bus garage to help better meet the needs of today.
“Edward Lee McClain had such a mind for innovation,” superintendent Quincey Gray said. “He had the foresight to not only build a school that would enrich education in the 1900s, but one that would continue to support the education of students today. Our community is fortunate to have received such a gift.”
The community and the school district administration are committed to preserving the gift that was given by the McClains so long ago. The campus has grown and changed as needed through the years so it can continue to serve its intended purpose for the students who are educated therein and continue to serve McClain’s stated purpose when the high school was dedicated more than a century ago; “as promising the most good to the greatest number for the longest time.”
The book, “McClain High School: A Century of Tradition,” can be purchased from the Greenfield Historical Society’s website at greenfieldhistoricalsociety.org.
The historical society is open every Thursday afternoon from 1-4 p.m. at Travellers Rest on the east end of Greenfield.
Angela Shepherd is a correspondent for the Greenfield School District.