Hannaford on School Architecture

The Legacy of Samuel Hannaford Main Page

Copyright © 2006 Betty Ann Smiddy 

Source: History of Schools in Cincinnati, Isaac Martin (R379.77199/qC571 Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County.)

From a strictly critical point of view there is little to be said regarding the architecture of the school buildings of Cincinnati. It was not until some time about 1835 that the school buildings became in appearance in any way distinctive. From that time up to the latter part of 1858 or 1859, there were erected several school-houses arranged upon a simple plan of four rooms per story-two rooms front and two rooms rear-divided by a central entrance hall, with two staircases. One side was for boys, the other for girls.

These buildings were two or three stories in height, as the necessities of the district demanded; thus a two- story house contained eight rooms, a three-story house twelve rooms. The arrangement was very simple and economical of construction, and for an ordinary Public School house can not be improved upon. Each room was on a corner, insuring light and air from two directions, and thorough cross ventilation. The dimensions of the rooms might be varied as necessary, without in any way altering the general scheme. In their external appearance these houses were of the classical style, but very simple, without ornamentation, in good proportion, and they had the merit of declaring their purpose-they looked like school-houses.

Some time about 1858 there came a demand for larger houses. At this time Mr. John McCammon was appointed Superintendent of School Buildings by the Board of Education, and, having an elementary knowledge of architectural drawing, was called upon to prepare the necessary drawings, etc., for the proposed new school-houses. At that time the Board of Education, either from a lack of a proper conception of the value of professional services in connection with its representative buildings, and also the educational advantages of good architecture-or from absolute poverty-established a precedent that has been followed substantially to the present time, and the remuneration that has been doled out for architectural service has been niggardly in the extreme, and it is but fair to say that up to within a few years past the several buildings erected have been utterly devoid of architectural merit.

The first building erected under Mr. McCammon’s superintendency was the Fifth District School-house, situated on the north side of Third Street, between Elm and Plum Streets. For many years thereafter, or until the year 1880, the same general style was maintained. The buildings contain few conveniences, and in their interior and exterior appearances are extremely plain. They are devoid of any suggestions of art or beauty-not a feature that warms the feelings or begets a knowledge or appreciation of beauty.  These buildings are, however, well and honestly constructed-they keep out the weather and thus afford an opportunity of keeping school.

Previous, however, to this period of the total eclipse of art in our educational system, two high school buildings had been erected, which were creditable examples of architecture, around which the memories of their pupils still fondly cling.

The Hughes High School, situated on the south side of Fifth Street, opposite Mound Street, was built from the designs of Mr. John B. Earnshaw, and completed in the year 1853.  It was a pleasing structure, in the Gothic style, and was a creditable architectural effort. It is, however, a sad fact to record that its beauties were completely marred a few years ago by the erection of an addition to its front, filling the entire space of the lot to the street line. It is impossible to conceive of a more homely facade that the addition, and the memories of the original building are fast fading away.

Woodward Hugh School building, completed in the year 1854, was erected from the designs of Mr. John R. Hamilton, an architect of marked ability. An Englishman by birth and education, he adopted the Gothic style. The design was true and pure in its details and consistently carried out. It was an unfortunate occurrence, however, that terra cotta was used instead of stone for the many architectural features of the design. Mr. Hamilton had traveled extensively in Italy, and knew of its almost universal use in Northern Italy, and strongly urged its adoption. Unfortunately, however, its manufacture was then an untried process here, and within a few years it began to disintegrate in the walls of the structure, and it became necessary to cut it out and replace it with stone. This unfortunate state of affairs brought the building into disrepute. Nevertheless, as an architectural design, it was eminently satisfactory.

It will be seen that the two High School buildings were erected under liberal auspices and with some regard to the educational advantages of good architecture.

For the last few years the Public School buildings have been creditable specimens of architectural effort. Perhaps it may be complained of as being rather monotonous, but this is the almost inevitable result of one-man effort. Critically considered, they are in the main designed in that phase of “Romanesque” rendered so popular throughout the country by the work of Mr. R. H. Richardson, of Boston, of which the building of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce is a fine exponent.

In the school buildings referred to this feeling is plainly discernible in the high, steep-pitch roof, the constant repetition of circular towers, in place and out of place; the almost constant use of circular head windows, and the heavy, deeply-recessed, arched doorways, as well as in the use of the peculiar carvings introduced, wherein the surface is crowded to the utmost with heavy interlacing foliage-nearly always lacking in refinement and often semi-barbarous. Of all well-defined styles of architecture or their variants, there is not one so ill-adapted to the demands of school architecture as the one under consideration and it is only by doing violence to the very instincts of the style that it can in any way be reconciled or adapted to school-house purposes.

Up to the present “fire-proof” or “slow-burning” construction has not been used, except in connection with staircases and corridors. Our school buildings do not exceed three stories in height, and should never do so; indeed, it is a serious question whether they should ever exceed two stories in height. If more, they should be of fire-proof construction throughout. This is, however, very much more costly in construction, and it is possible that the financial question dominates. Nevertheless, the greater permanency of all constructional parts of a building and lessened repairs, the decreased rate of insurance, and the almost sure safety of the inmates, are items worthy of consideration.

In regard to the ventilation of our school-houses, they are up to the average of their class in efficiency. To secure this result, the expenditure has been liberal. Almost every scheme of ventilation has been tried, and many different professors of the science have been consulted...

It only requires a superficial view of our school-houses and their surroundings to perceive that in many cases the yard or play-ground spaces are very limited. There are doubtless legitimate reasons for this condition of affairs in some cases, but in a majority of examples it is the outcome of downright parsimony.

The variation of the number of square feet per pupil of play-ground space is based upon the total areas of the lots, and not subtracting the areas of the school buildings, is as 12.91 square feet at the Third Intermediate School, to 73.78 square feet at the Whittier School, Price Hill. It is true that there are a few schools with larger areas per pupil, but they are exceptional, being mainly in the suburbs lately annexed to the city of Cincinnati.

If the areas of the school buildings were subtracted, it would in a majority of cases be fully 20-100 less, and this is the true measure to consider. In these lesser spaces scholars are huddled together in a manner that effectually forbids any real, active, healthy play. The comparison of vacant space per house in consideration of its light and air shows a most reprehensible state of affairs. There is no system of artificial ventilation, be it ever so perfect, or ever so well operated, that can make amends for this primal shortcoming. It is a condition of affairs that results in a permanent, never-ceasing evil, a positive health-destroying agency, detrimental to teachers and scholars doomed to spend so large a portion of their school life amid such an unhealthy environment. Magnificent architecture, utilitarian conveniences, scientific ventilation, and comfortable heating may all be provided, and yet the school-house be a failure....

In regard to the architecture of the immediate future, it is safe to predict that classic features will dominate, and greatly to the advantage of the buildings in regard to their beauty and stability. Perhaps there is no class of building that is subjected to rougher usage or more severely tried in their constructional parts school-houses, hence the advantage of forms that tend to strength and permanency, and these forms are found in larger measure and more harmonious affiliation in the classic style than in others. With post and lintel construction in proper proportion of strength to load, a condition of perfect rest or equilibrium may be obtained, but with the arch this is rarely the case, and the observation and experience of the world fully indorses (sic) the Hindoo (sic) proverb-“The arch never sleeps.”                                             

                                                                                  signed....    Samuel Hannaford    

Subscription forms were a common way to finance a college education.  A parent could purchase a form and use it for a son or daughter. Sons attended Farmer’s College and daughters could attend, across the street, the Ohio Female College.

    Copyright © 2006 Betty Ann Smiddy