The Poland Historical Society is continuing its mission of preserving and sharing Poland's rich history. Working out of the Little Red Schoolhouse on U.S. 224, the society has been providing historical presentations and has launched a successful outreach program with a traveling display.
In a timeline presented by trustee Dave Smith, the Little Red Schoolhouse was originally built to serve as Poland Center School in 1858.
"Its location is the actual center of Poland Township," Smith said.
Photos by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Poland Historical Society President Ed Virostek examines the typical desk a student at the Little Red Schoolhouse would have used in class in the 1800s. Next to the desk is the type of dress the school teacher would have worn.
The school continued to serve students until it was closed in 1915. Between that time and 1979, the building served many different purposes including as a church and government office.
In 1979, the Poland Township Historical Society was formed to preserve the school and promote Poland's rich historical heritage.
"It was mainly to preserve the school," Smith said.
Two years after its formation, the society entered into a 99-year lease with the Poland Board of Education for the property and building.
In 1983, the society received a grant to restore the building and the following year it was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places. In 1987, the bell tower was installed and the schoolhouse was dedicated and opened to the community. That year also saw work on an addition that would aid in housing historic documents and artifacts.
"When we did the restoration work, we even tried to match the plaster mix for the walls to the original mix," said Smith.
Since its opening to the public, the society has received many donations that are relevant to Poland's historic past. One recent box of records that was opened for review were a series of diaries.
"The diaries were donated by the Bishop family," Smith said. "We are just now getting around to them."
The diaries belonged to Henry Turhand Kirtland, who was the second son of Turhand Kirtland, one of the founders of Poland. He was born on Nov. 16, 1795 in Wallingford, Conn., then moved with his family at age eight to Poland. He died at age 79 in 1874 and was buried in Riverside Cemetery.
Henry was involved in farming, business and banking. In most of the diaries, he listed his holdings inside the front covers. The diaries contain near-daily weather and road reports for Poland. There was not a lot of national or world news in them, but were accounts of visiting area communities like Boardman and "the Grove" or "Joseph Smith's."
The diaries have been well preserved over the years, even with Henry's small handwriting skills. Smith said once they have been examined, they will be recorded into the society's list of artifacts, joining other special Poland items such as books written by Ethel Hull Miller.
"We have an original copy of the book White Saddle," Smith said. "It was required reading in Poland schools in the 1930s and 1940s."
Smith said the story is about a pony she owned that was black and white, with the white resembling a saddle painted in the horse.
The society also has a second book written by Miller titled. "Quail Wood." The story is about a home built on Clingan Road around World War II. That book includes photos of the construction and the fact that White Saddle was buried in the front yard.
Information found in the diaries and books are being researched and presented to the community through the traveling showcase and the society's new lecture series. The next one will take place on Aug. 21 and will be presented by Smith and a few others. It will focus on the history of the Little Red Schoolhouse from its beginning to the present day.
Another interesting piece of history was discovered by society Trustee Ted Heinneman. He was on a trip and stopped in Oberlin, Ohio, to see some heritage homes that were tied to the underground railroad.
"There was a map there prepared by some authority on the underground railroad and trails through Ohio," Heinneman said. "Poland was listed on that map."
Society President Ed Virostek said the search is still on for more proof of Poland's role in the underground railroad. He said someone may have a letter or document that will offer proof, but for now, the society has the mission of recording and preserving history.
"When we first got involved it was all about saving the Little Red Schoolhouse," he said. "Now we are starting to invest in properly preserving records."
That includes researching those records as well, specifically photographs. The present traveling display is at First Place Bank this month and features early photographs of the school and children. It also includes early yearbooks that were donated.
"When people found out that we were collecting items we started getting more and more records," Virostek said. "What we would like to see more of are family histories on Poland's early families."
In the meantime, the community is invited to check out the traveling display at First Place Bank, or visit the Little Red Schoolhouse. The society will hold a free open house from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12. The historic presentation, "The Little Red Schoolhouse, Past and Present," will take place at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 21 at the schoolhouse on U.S. 224.
"The public is invited to attend the program at 7:30 p.m. to hear about the building's early years as a school, various uses over the years, renovation, and current use," Smith said.