This first school in Brownhelm Township Ohio was opened by Mrs. Harriet Alverson in her own house in the summer of 1819, an 18 x 22 structure built of log on the brow of the hill called Strut Street School.
Harriet's husband, William Alverson, was born August 18, 1784 in Holland, sailed from Amsterdam with his widowed mother and two brothers when he was ten years old. They settled in Poughkeepsie, New York. When he was a young man, he moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts. At the age of 32 he embarked on an adventure to become one of the founding fathers of Brownhelm Township, Ohio.
Frost had killed off most of the crops in New England in May of 1816, the “Year without Summer”. The result was regional malnutrition, starvation, and epidemic. Spurred on by this natural disaster, in the fall of 1816 William Alverson traveled with Henry Brown and several young men from Massachusetts to northeast Ohio where Brown selected a tract of land, about a mile square, in the northeast corner near the lake shore. Brown and Alverson were accompanied by Peter P. Pease, Charles Whittlesey and William Lincoln. The men helped to erect a cabin for Brown and began improvement of the land, as did Seth Morse and Rensselaer Cooley. Col. Brown, as he was formerly called, returned to Massachusetts leaving his men to make preparations for other families moving out to the township the following year. Morse and Cooley returned to the East for the winter. Alverson, Lincoln, Pease and Whittlesey remained.
Township officers were chosen at the spring election in 1819, held at the home of George Bacon. Calvin Leonard, Levi Shepard and Alva Curtis were elected trustees; Anson Cooper, township clerk; William Alverson, treasurer; Benjamin Bacon and Levi Shepard, justices of the peace.
Some of the young men had arrangements cast that they returned to consummate after they had stuck their stakes. These were the earliest visits to the east. Returning to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, William Alverson married Harriet Fairchild, sister of Grandison Fairchild, born August 2, 1798 in Stockbridge. They married June 8, 1819. Soon after their marriage they went to Brownhelm, Ohio with an oxteam. They were on the way six weeks.
About three years after these first settlers arrived in Brownhelm, Mr. and Mrs. William Alverson were living in a house of their own, a timber framed home built on the crest of a hill on the North Ridge. Logs from the land were shaped into rectangular, hand-hewn posts and beams through the skilled use of axes. Precise mortise and tenon and dovetail joints were hand-carved, which were secured with wooden pegs. The skill in creating this precise joinery and intricately engineered timber frames was the source of great pride and competition among the timber frame artisans; so much so that it became a tradition for craftsmen to inscribe their initials next to the joinery they created. William Alverson carved an "A" next to the joints.
A number of families, comprising the usual large quota of children, had located near the Alversons. So the housewife gathered the children of the neighborhood and opened a school. This first school in town was opened by Mrs. Harriet Alverson in her house in the summer of 1819.
The 18 x 22 foot school house was built of log on the brow of the hill. It was named Strut Street School. An old butternut tree stood near the door. Harriet's brother, Grandison Fairchild, taught the school the first two winters. Male teachers were often preferred in the winter months when the older students, no longer needed in the fields, returned to school and were of a more spirited humor. Fairchild received his tuition in chopping. Labor and produce were the currency employed for the exchange of values. Money was very scarce, and nearly all debts, except the one incurred in the purchase of lands, were paid in labor, its products, and those of the soil.
The site of the school was romantic. School children enjoyed sliding down the hill, wading in the brook, and floating logs down the creek. In winter children would skate upon the frozen stream.
The house was of modest dimensions, eighteen by twenty two, but was still thought by some to be too ambitious a disposition on the part of the people who lived on this road. Hence, the street was nicknamed Strut Street by a man who would have the house twelve feet square - a title it bore for many years. This school house was finished with a stick chimney and a broad fireplace without jambs. A board around the house, resting on pins projecting from the walls, served for desks. Whitewood slabs supported by pins made the seats. Loose boards lying on joists made a loft above, and an excavation beneath the floor, reached by raising a board, was thought by the children to serve as a dungeon for the punishment of offenders. In their childish simplicity, they supposed the excavation was made for the purpose, with malice prepense, but it was an accidental result of making mortar to build the chimney.
Children from every part of the town attended. There was no public school fund in those times and the teacher received his compensation in work in his chopping the next spring day, being distributed among the families according to the number of children attending the school. For years afterwards teachers received their pay in farm produce.
One summer day the teacher placed her chair on the table, removed a board from the floor above, lifted the children up one by one and kept school up stairs - the excuse being that Colonel Brown's bull had been seen loose around the street that day and he might be wild.
In 1824 the "Yellow School House" was built a few feet west of the log one. This yellow school house was an elegant one in its day, painted throughout and plastered. It was no ordinary school house, but a genuine academy furnished with unusual apparatus globes and wall maps, and pantograph and tables for map drawing and painting. This was the first attempt in the county, and indeed in a much wider region, at a school of anything more than a local character. It prospered for two or three years, attracting young ladies in the summer from all the older settlements within a distance of twenty miles - Milan, Norwalk, Florence, Elyria, Shelfield etc. The first summer the house was without heat. In cool, wet weather the boys kept up an outdoor fire, and between the damp plastering within and the rain without some of the children took the ague and shook the summer through. In the fall a stove was bought - probably the first that was ever brought into town - a diminutive box stove eighteen inches in length, but a wonder to the children of the woods who had never seen a stove. Over that children shivered two or three winters until it was succeeded by a larger stove cast in plates but utterly destitute of clamping rods to hold it together. No man in the community knew that such a thing was necessary, and it was no rare occurrence for a long stick to thrust out the end plate and occasionally the whole fabric collapsed at once. But such annoyances were but trifles and the Brownhelm school maintained a character above that of other schools in the country around. There was no other school in town the first dozen years or more. After three or four years it ceased to be anything but a local school. The old yellow school house eventually went off in a blaze.
In the summer of 1830, Rev Hervey Lyon opened an academy in a small house built for the purpose. This was kept up two years and attended by small number of pupils, a few of whom commenced Latin and Greek in preparation for college. This was the first classical school in the county and gave place to the Elyria high school established in 1832. This school enjoyed two years of great prosperity until the school at Oberlin was opened in 1834, which at once took the lead and has maintained it. Harriet's brother, Grandison Fairchild, was active in the founding of Oberlin College. Her nephew, James, was president of Oberlin for a quarter of a century.
In the early part of 1899 the brick school was built on North Ridge Road. The original red brick school was square in plan with four evenly spaced brick pilasters along the front, back and sides. Ventilation and daylight were introduced into the interior by tall, narrow, double hung windows. The building had a steeply pitched hip roof. In 1905, an addition was constructed on the west side of the 1889 building. The less steeply pitched hip roof was added at this time, featuring a deep overhang with carved wood bracked supports. Roof dormers and a cupola were added with this addition. In 1922, the Brownhelm School was renovated and further enlarged. The renovation included a new red brick Neo classical/Georgian Revival front facade. The round top glass transom and stonework detailing gave importance to the main entrance. The rear flat roofed brick and masonry addition added a large combination auditorium and gymnasium.
While local legend has it that school boys had the exquisite pleasure of rolling the old school house down the hill following the opening of the Yellow School House, research suggests that Strut Street School survives to this day. The Alversons added a west addition onto the home, and future generations added an east addition and porches, transforming the tiny cabin into the sprawling four bedroom home it is today.
The Alversons had six children:
- Emily Louisa- born April 30, 1820 in Brownhelm, Ohio; died September 2, 1882 in Lee, Massachusetts
- Mary Lucinia - born September 24, 1821; died April 18, 1840 in Stockbridge, Massachusetts
- Daniel Fairchild - born February 19, 1823; died December 5, 1893 in Canandaigun, New York (On June 15, 1848 Daniel Fairchild Alverson married Sarah Cowdery (1822-1906) in Rochester, Monroe Co., New York. Sarah was the daughter of the celebrated frontier printer and editor, Benjamin Franklin Cowdery (1790-1867).)
- Elizabeth Elvira - born February 8, 1825; died April 1895 in Brownhelm, Ohio
- Frederick William - born December 14, 1829; died August 1894 in Canadaigun, New York
- Julia Harriet - born March 17, 1834, Stockbridge, Massachusetts; died March 8, 1861 in Lee, Massachusetts
In 1830 the Alversons returned to Stockbridge, Massachusetts where they lived until the the death of Mr. Alverson on February 2, 1847 in Stockbridge. Harriet Fairchild Alverson married a second husband on December 2, 1856, Elisha Benham. Harriet Fairchild Alverson Benham died September 30, 1885 in West Haven, Connecticut.