History

From the earliest days of Fairview's settlement, of primary importance to its citizens was educating its children. The scope of that education has kept abreast of the national trends and needs.

Farmers and entrepreneurs came as early as 1797 to claim their land in the northwestern part of Pennsylvania. Several men laid out a small village where the mouth of Walnut Creek empties into Lake Erie, claiming it was "the fairest view" to be seen! There, one of those men, Capt. Richard Swan, provided space in his tavern home for schooling where his own children and those of the men who resettled to work the early saw and grist mills, were taught. As other areas around the township were settled, other buildings were used adaptively for teaching lessons to children who lived within a two-mile radius.

According to county histories, the first structure built specifically as a school was a log building, erected in 1804 and located about one-half mile from Swan's tavern. Swan is said to have paid for the building costs and books. The first teacher was John Linn (or Lynn), a Revolutionary War veteran. In 1809 Swan's 16-year-old son, John Joseph, taught school in the village of Girard (now West Girard), then Millcreek and Erie.

In 1810 the first log school was built in the small but growing settlement along the Ridge Road (U.S. Route 20) where it crossed Trout Run. By the third quarter of the 19th Century that settlement was the largest in the township. Once called Sturgeonville, it was incorporated as Fairview Borough in 1868 with a population of about 400. There, two years earlier, a two-story structure called the Union School replaced three other smaller buildings and housed all the children from the borough area. The building burned in 1891 and was rebuilt the same year. It was in that building in 1895 that the first upper level grading system started in Erie County. By 1909 a full four-year high school program was offered and was available to all the children of Fairview Township.

Building small neighborhood schools, with the volunteer labor and financial support of the families whose children would attend, had been the national and local trend through the 1800s. With the new century, a progressive reform movement began that included education. Teachers' credentials improved as did the physical structures in which they taught. By 1905, after the building of South High (which offered grades 1-9) at State Route 98 and Tannery Road, the 12 one-room frame structures outside the borough had been replaced by four larger brick buildings located in the four quadrants of the township.

In the late 1920s, with the incorporation of the Lake Shore Club District, Fairview Township began to change from a mostly agrarian community to one that included industrial and residential development. Recognizing that Fairview was a growing, changing community, in 1927 the two school boards built the first joint school to educate the high school children of the borough and township. It was built on Chestnut Street in the borough and opened late that year with six classrooms and a basement. This new, larger building also enabled the children from the B'nai B'rith Home for Children to attend locally. Their campus was at the west end of the borough and until that year, they had attended the Battles Memorial School in Girard.

Enrichment and extracurricular programs expanded about this same time. The first intramural football team was organized in 1927. Indoor sports were conducted in various buildings until a Depression-era WPA project in 1935 added a gymnasium to the Chestnut Street building. An organized music program began in 1940 and the first marching unit was seen the following year. High school enrollment was about 125. Until this time period the curriculum had only included a college preparatory course of study. A general course was added to meet the needs of more students who by 1941 were required to attend school until they graduated or reached the age of 18.

In 1949 the State Department of Public Instruction (DPI) mandated consolidation of the small school districts to better meet the needs of the upper class students of the post-World War II nuclear age. The Erie County School Board complied and by 1953 planned several mergers around the county, among them, Fairview with Girard. By then Fairview's two districts had consolidated, built an elementary addition onto the Chestnut Street building, added specialized rooms onto the high school wing, and sold the four brick township schools. This left only the two buildings in the borough: the Union School, as an auxiliary building, and the Chestnut Street school. In 1953 progress also touched the face of Fairview, for the graceful old trees lining the streets of the borough were removed to widen U. S. Route 20.

As the postwar boom encroached upon Fairview, many areas were being developed for industrial as well as residential communities. The area of greatest residential growth was in the northeast quadrant and there, in 1958, the modern new Manchester Elementary School was built. Fairview and Girard struggled to remain separate districts and in 1961 the Garwood Junior-Senior High School was built in the borough. At the same time the Chestnut School was converted entirely to elementary students. Soon the Union School was razed and a new post office building was erected on that site.

The State Department of Education was insisting on a comprehensive plan from each district. Fairview's plan, researched and written in 1968, indicated the community was not a closed region; there would be continuing growth. The plan predicted that by the 1983-84 school year there would be 1,700 children attending grades K - 6. It recommended that a third elementary building be erected during the 1970s. Regular updates of the plan resulted in revisions. Enrollment was not growing at the rate projected (the actual student count in February 1984 for K - 6 was 845), and although some renovations and additions continued, the plan for a third elementary building was discarded.

As students progressed through the system the high school enrollment continued to be high and new classrooms were desperately needed. During the mid 1960s the DPI expanded district requirements to a minimum of 4,000 students and pressed for compliance. For a brief period this drew the Northwestern School District (already a merger of the small districts along the northwestern edge of the county) into the proposed jointure with Fairview and Girard, but because of its growing enrollment, Northwestern was allowed to go its own way.

Appeals followed appeals, yet as the fall of 1968 approached, Fairview and Girard prepared its high school students for their last year to stand alone. The two school boards were already reviewing architectural plans for the new joint high school. They chose a school name and colors, bought sports equipment, and hired a football coach.

Because some merger challenges around the state were being granted, the school boards of Fairview and Girard renewed their appeal in early 1969. The boards each voted to dissolve the jointure and still, the state decided for the merger. The boards appealed once more, and in October the state board met with all parties to hear their pleas. The final decision, handed down in January 1970, allowed the two districts to stand alone. Since that time the Fairview and Girard school districts both built new high schools. Fairview High was built in 1973, Garwood was converted to a middle school and the Manchester building eventually was closed and sold. Fairview's newest building, Fairview Elementary, was built in 1996 to replace the aging Chestnut Elementary School. All the buildings, including the Administration Building and the bus garage, now are located on one campus.

As Fairview Township grows and develops, each school administration and school board works to keep pace with the philosophies and trends of education. The Fairview School District has and deserves the reputation of offering a fine educational program for the children of the past as well as of the future.


About the Author

Sabina Shields Freeman holds a B.A. in Journalism from The Ohio State University. She lives in Fairview, PA and has been researching, writing and publishing articles about Fairview and Erie County history since the nation's Bicentennial. Her columns about Fairview, which appeared for 2 ½ years in the Girard (PA) Cosmopolite Herald, were compiled in 1990 for publication in book form titled Twice Around the Township, Fairview History Retold. A second edition which included additional articles and photos, was published in 1997.

Other books by Freeman include Erie History - The Women's Story (co-author) and The Battles Story. In addition, she has co-authored several shorter publications.

Freeman is a frequent contributor to the state historical publication, Pennsylvania Heritage, as well as other local and state-wide publications. Among her works in progress is a biography of Dan Rice, America's most famous circus clown of the 19th Century.

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