By Tillie Heavilin,
The primary objective of soil and water conservation districts is education for the protection of natural resources. Closely related is the obligation to also conserve our historical heritage. This article concerns a restoration project in Harrison County.
Ourant School is a one-room school built in 1873 in Nottingham Township. It was closed in 1941. Former students organized a holding company, purchased the building, furnished it and maintained it for two years. Time took its toll on the group membership and the building deteriorated. How could it be saved?
The situation was presented to the Harrison Soil and Water Conservation District board. Supervisors approved the request and forwarded it to the Crossroads Regional Conservation and Development Council, where it was also accepted.
Through RC&D efforts, a grant was received from the GAR fund after the Ourant Association raised the required matching funds through various fund-raising efforts.
Restoration work proceeded after a donated inspection and suggestions by an architect experienced in historic restorations. An Ohio Historical Society representative also offered advice and assisted in having Ourant School placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The building was reset upon the foundation stones. The metal roof and windows were replaced. The chimney was built. The repaired bell was hung in the belfry.
General repairs were necessary before the building was repainted. A drainage system was installed. Harrison County Commissioners provided a block grant for interior repairs, including a new ceiling. When final bills exceeded the budget, RC&D arranged for a loan, which was soon repaid.
Countless hours of in-kind labor and use of tools and equipment by local donors were also involved. The Ohio Arts Council generously contributed funds.
The ultimate dream of teaching heritage classes at Ourant became a reality 14 years ago, when the Harrison Hills School board approved the plan. The Retired Teachers association also favored the idea. Several retired teachers volunteered to teach.
Ourant Association ladies became faithful helpers. The men provided grounds maintenance and fuel supplies. They started the fires in the original Boomer stove and replaced the coal house storage building destroyed in a wind storm.
Each second grade student would attend for one day. Children could wear old-fashioned clothing if desired.
Gathering information to create a 1900s classroom was a challenge. We visited other schools, researched curriculum, collected antiques, historical items and textbooks, and searched for necessary supplies. School officials provided some advice and some starter materials.
The Puskarich Public Library was an excellent source of facts to relate and storybooks to read. McGuffey Reader reprints were secured.
We are still constantly seeking data to improve the school. Much potential learning is included in those few hours. Emphasis is on the three Rs, local history, natural resources and character development. There is also time for fun and games.
The greatest asset is that for one time in 12 years of public education, on this field trip, children can hear a Bible story, pray The Lord’s Prayer and sing Jesus Loves Me. The smiles, favorable comments and memories make it all worthwhile.
Association members presented Ourant School at the first national meeting of RC&D in Memphis, Tenn. It has been chosen as a Crossroads award winning project. Another presentation was at the Ohio Retired Teachers Association Convention in Columbus.
A number of bus tours have also included the school. Visitors are always welcome by appointment. A college scholarship from the Ourant Association is offered each year to a Harrison Hills District senior. Support comes from donations, an old-fashioned cake walk the second Saturday of June and a Fall Festival the last Saturday in September, with kettle-cooked bean soup. Live country music highlights both events.
Who would have guessed that its existence once depended on an idea presented at a Soil and Water Conservation Board meeting? For more information on the Ourant School, contact the Harrison Soil and Water Conservation District Office at 740-942-8837.
(Tillie Heavilin resides in Harrison County on the family farm. She is in her 37th year on the Harrison Soil and Water Conservation board of supervisors. She is also very active with the Ourant School Association as a volunteer and teacher.)