Salem Township was among the first townships in the county to establish its own local high school. The 1887 one-room schools in Kingscreek, Couchman and Kennard decided to consolidate their upper grades into a Salem Township High School. In 1891 they opened a large brick three-room, one-story school building. A photo does exist of that one-story building but is in too poor quality to reprint in the newspaper. It still exists in the northeast section of the unincorporated village of what we now call “Kings Creek.” (The spelling of this village still lives in controversy on county road signs and church names. Is it Kings Creek or Kingscreek? It depends on who you ask and which sign you believe.)
By 1908 attendance had grown and the township remodeled that building, making it two stories with eight large rooms. This is the “Then” High School in Kings Creek, Ohio shown in the photo. In 1915, it was decided to also consolidate all elementary schools in the township into the High School building and build a new separate High School/Junior High structure on the north side of school property. At that time the township had 14 wagons, which transported more than 300 of the 465 students. In the 1950’s a third, modern, one story, gymnasium-cafeteria-vocational building was constructed in between the High School/Junior High Building and the Elementary. In 1961-62 school year Salem Local Schools united with West Liberty Schools, maintaining and using all its buildings for several years. In 1985 the West Liberty-Salem School District built a comprehensive school complex along U.S. Highway 68 just south of West Liberty, a complex that is still being used and was improved in 2016.
Many personal first-hand experiences from second grade through the junior year in high school could be shared with readers from these aforementioned buildings. “Then” school building used huge iron framed, outside, two story, stair steps for fire escapes, not visible in “Then” photograph. Those fire escape steps were often used to go to recess, so as to not disrupt the other classrooms with the noise of children going out to play. All the steps, including the oil treated, wooden, inside stair steps, provided good physical exercise for third, fourth, fifth and sixth grade students who move from the first level to the second floor several times each day. All the rooms had high ceilings (making even more stairs between floors), tall windows that opened for cool breezes in the warm weather and steam radiators for warm heat in the winter. (Those radiators made a good place to dry your wet gloves after playing in the snow.)
Each room had its own cloak room to hang up your coats and remove your boots if you wore them. That is also where you stored your packed lunch if you brought one. If you could afford to eat in the cafeteria and liked home cooked food, you could look forward to a freshly cooked nutritionally balanced meal at lunch time and an afternoon treat of white or chocolate milk. (I think that was the government’s way of supporting dairy prices by giving the schools milk, at a reduced price.) There was a sick room with a cot where a student could lay down until feeling better or taken home by the janitor, if a parent did not have transportation to pick them up. Enough of reminiscing.
Building’s exterior looks much the same
From the outside, the “Now” building looks much the same. It still has well maintained iron fire escapes on three sides of the building, not visible in this “Now” photo. The bell tower and dormers are gone, and the windows have been reduced in size, no doubt for energy conservation. Two of the three buildings once known as Salem Local Schools are still being used for new purposes. Only the 1915 high school building was torn down in 1990, but the “Now” 1891/1908 remodel still looks good in 2016.
This solidly constructed building at 1411 Kennard Kingscreek Road continues to serve our community by providing comfortable, spacious, housing for Mark Hackworth, senior pastor of Westville Renewed Strength non-denominational church, his wife, Jami, son Conner Smith, a sophomore at WL-S, and several young men working hard to become contributing members of our society. I met two polite, well-mannered tenants named Jared and Quinten who shared with me their appreciation for the opportunities offered them living with the Hackworth family.
The classrooms of the school building remain the same as originally built with the blackboards still lining many inside walls and some cloak rooms turned into bathrooms. Partitions divide up some of the large classrooms into smaller private living spaces and other classrooms are used for storage. Conveniently a large folding door connecting two of the upstairs classrooms serve as an attractive divider between their big modern eat in kitchen and their family’s living room/great-room.
The 1950’s gymnasium-cafeteria-vocational building provides ideal space for several businesses that rent space for their operation of individual skill services such as CMT Welding, Woodruff Auto Repair. Other various working skills are taught out of this second building. The skill services also provide the young men, who share the 1908 school building’s living space, with a means of learning several different skills needed in today’s workforce. The young adults are introduced to a healthy, contributing, lifestyle and are ultimately encouraged to seek independent employment in the community at-large, and to realize their own personal worth.
Hackworth’s Renewed Strength Church ironically holds services in the former Westville school building, another solidly built structure in our county. They help operate, in yet another re-purposed building on Dellinger Road in Urbana, the Stepping Stones food bank along with Life Net Christian Services, Lifenet Ministries and Renewed Spirit Counseling Service. “Then” as “Now” people in our community are continuing to help each other build for a better Champaign County and even using some of our treasured old buildings in which to conduct their work.
Submitted by the Champaign County Historical Society.