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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Lebanon Was Home To National Normal University

Dallas Bogan on 7 September 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Ohio's educational system was second to none during the first 100 years of its formation. One school that stood out as one of the finest institutions in the State, as well as in the country, was the National Normal University, located in Lebanon, Ohio.
Toward the middle of the Nineteenth Century it was acknowledged by the teachers of Southwestern Ohio that a school of higher academic learning should be pursued.
And so this subject was debated by the Ohio State Teachers' Association in one of their meetings held in Cincinnati. The teachers of Montgomery, Preble and Warren Counties were most fervent in this quest.
A meeting was held in Dayton, and still another conference was held at Miami University from June 16 to August 15, 1855, for this purpose. An estimated 350 teachers attended, and it was during this period that the Southwestern State Normal School Association was organized.
Because of its locality, that being near Cincinnati and Dayton, and its availability of housing, Lebanon was chosen as the site for the new school.
Alfred Holbrook, a native of Darby, Conn., then superintendent of public schools in Salem, Ohio, was selected as Principal. Within this man was recognized a natural gift of training and temperament that would meet the demands of teacher and principal. Although not considered a man of physical strength, he was endowed with a strong will and excellent inventive faculties.
He accepted the appointment with an attitude that the present educational system needed improvement.
The Trustees of the Lebanon Academy transferred their building and lot to the Normal School Trustees with an agreement to furnish 80 pupils for four years until the school was on solid ground. (The Lebanon Academy building, built in 1844, is located on New Street.)
New seats and other necessities were needed before the Academy could be reopened. Money from the Trustees was expected for these added expenses, but, because of an adjournment by the board, Mr. Holbrook paid the expenses himself so the school could be opened on schedule.
The first session of the Southwestern Normal School was taken up on November 24, 1855. Attending were about 90 pupils from Lebanon, and four or five from other neighborhoods. The board employed three teachers the first year, along with Principal Holbrook and his wife, Melissa.
An agent first handled the finances, but it was later turned over to Principal Holbrook, who sustained a debt for many years.
The school grew year by year under the Principal. It was disclosed that during the fourth year, the assembly room of the Academy building could not accommodate all the enrolled students.
Village council was therefore contacted. Immediate permission was given to lease the municipal building named Washington Hall, which was located on the corner of Silver and Mechanic streets.
The Hall was used as a college chapel and auditorium and, although with a raise in rent, permission was later given to Principal Holbrook for the use of the entire facility.
As outside enrollment increased, a need for housing was imperative. The Principal made a decision to develop a dormitory- type housing system suited for the more distant students.
Soon, at reasonable rates, unoccupied dwellings, moderately furnished apartments, and sleeping rooms were supplied for the non-resident pupils.
Alfred Holbrook's interests were in the students attaining a superior education, whether of wealthy or of meager substance. He would allow the poor students to pay for a full quarter, by one means or another, and then return home and attend a local school for a spell in order to save for an additional quarter.
During the school's fifth year (1859-60), summer vacations were eliminated. This action called for four eleven week terms and a short five week academic-type session. Tuition was increased from $8.33 to $10.00 for the eleven week period.
The Civil War caused total enrollment to drop from 375 students, in 1861, to 272.
Advancing to the tenth year (1865-66), enrollment increased to 612. From the eleventh to the fifteenth year (1866-70), enrollment increased to 930, with thirteen States and one Territory being represented.
Because of its sudden rise in popularity, the name was changed, in 1870, from Southwestern Normal School to National Normal School.
A letter from W.P. Rogers was written in 1868 which expressed concern that the school adopt a name more in affiliation with a university. Hon. James Scott read this letter during the alumni meeting of 1881, and with a motion, the institution was thereafter to be known as the National Normal University. The school at this time enrolled nearly 2,000 students.
The school was managed the first eleven years under a fixed code of laws, which was adopted at the beginning of every session. The students voted on this system, and they in turn pledged themselves to uphold the said laws. As new scholars enrolled, they were expected to endorse the student body in all earnestness.
As admittance increased, continued obedience to the laws became lax, and, because of no further need, the system was dropped.
For about a half-an-hour each day, beginning at 8:30 a.m., chapel or general exercises were implemented. All the students, as well as faculty, assembled and general or varied subjects were discussed.
Religious practices were strictly voluntary. The choir normally sang Scripture reading, prayer, and two pieces of music. These exercises generally took about fifteen minutes.
From the schools beginning all students were pledged to regular attendance, the roll being called every morning; afterward, twice a week; then once a week, with only a small portion being called on one morning, and eventually dropped.
Principal Holbrook enthusiastically encouraged self- boarding as a means of cutting expenses. Table luxuries and posh housing were insignificant due to his practices.
Board rates for over forty years were $1.50 per week, and it was as low as $1.25 per week if the student paid four weeks in advance. The more expensive boarding houses usually leveled charges not exceeding $3.00 per week.
In the middle 1870's, general tuition was $1.00 per week, payable eleven weeks in advance. Room rent on the premises ranged from forty to sixty cents per week per student, two per room, minus fuel and lights.
Some enterprising student who had special abilities, and a little capital, would rent a dining room and kitchen, hire some woman as cook, and proceed to enroll members of his "boarding club."
From each club member a small amount of money was collected and, after paying the cook, and the grocery bill, all leftover proceeds were prorated among the members. Each "steward" was to maintain the best possible table at the lowest possible cost, and in doing so, he lived board free.
The many subjects taught through the years were: psychology, logic, criticism, mathematics, science, rhetoric and English. School government, linear, perspective, mechanical and architectural drawings, and vocal music were also offered.
Theory and practice of business, commercial arithmetic, and penmanship were presented. An engineering department consisted of mathematics, surveying, railroad engineering, English composition, geography, physiology, natural science, natural philosophy and project drawing.
The writer does not know when the three-story Lyceum building was built. It was a large, impressive brick building located on a lot extending north half a square on East Street to an alley separating it from the Presbyterian Church.
On the southern portion of the square, and fronting on East Street, the new University Hall was constructed. It was built of brick and was as large as the Lyceum. Its completion date was September 1882.
A rather large area separated the two buildings, and a plan was discussed that a third building might connect the Hall with the Lyceum, thus making the structures one combined building.
The new Hall contained on the upper floor a large auditorium with a stage at one end and a balcony on three sides; seating capacity was for 1,400 persons.
A long corridor divided the ground floor space. A large sun-filled room occupied about half this total floor space, which housed the library and its 10,000 books.
Such a huge brick building to be erected for an organization not backed by endowment, or large monetary interests, was an impressive achievement. It stood as a monument to all that education stood for.
A devastating fire broke out in the new building on the evening of January 25, 1883. Great damage was inflicted, the financial loss being very high. The greater part of the walls was still standing, although the chapel and library were destroyed. Assisted by the students, the library books were saved.
As disastrous as the event was, monetary credit was awarded to Principal Holbrook, funds were raised, and the building was reconstructed.
The original plan of erecting a three-story link between the Hall and the Lyceum was now realized. This new addition contained recitation rooms on the first floor, a Commercial Department on the second floor, and the Conservatory of Music on the third floor.
Rebuilding of the Hall and the new addition cost $25,000, the fire insurance covering only one-fifth of this amount.
Although Mr. Holbrook down through the years had been a great educator, he lacked financial shrewdness, the results being continual financial embarrassments to the University.
Because of these monetary strappings, the National Normal University was assigned to George Burr, lawyer of Lebanon, on May 4, 1895, for $75,000. The dormitories and the Academy were bought by private interests, and either torn down or remodeled for various purposes.
A corporation called the "National Normal University Company," which was composed largely of individuals, who desired to keep the school alive, purchased the University building.
Alfred Holbrook, who had recently resigned his position as President, now 80 years of age, was now employed as "salaried" President of the school he had founded. He had been relieved of the financial burden of many a year, and offered himself as a teacher with a new and revitalized energy.
However, because of his increasing feebleness, President Holbrook resigned his position in 1897, just two years later.
In June 1916, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alfred Holbrook was celebrated at Lebanon. Many old Normalites congregated reminiscing about times past.
During this commemoration, an announcement of an endowment fund of $200,000 was made, and it was surmised that the financial woes of the institution were now over.
It was learned that Mrs. Ruth E. Barricklow, of Aurora In., who had made the initial pledge, was to make a one-fourth payment on January 1, 1917, one-fourth on July 1, 1917, and the remaining two-fourths on January 1 and July 1, respectively, in 1918.
This pledge of $200,000 had revitalized the entire community. Other advocates were to raise $300,000, due only if the initial monies were submitted. Pledges of $76,064 were made in accordance to this declaration.
A new light now shone at the end of the tunnel and school was opened the next year, 1917-18. However, Mrs. Barricklow reneged on her pledge that turned the whole affair into a tumultuous turmoil. And so the Trustees could do nothing but close down the institution at the end of the current school year. Debt on the school was placed at approximately $75,000; all property was to be sold and mortgages paid off.
A resolution was passed that favored the merger of National Normal University with that of Wilmington College. The two parties agreed that the former would pass out of existence, and that all its records would be preserved at the latter, with due credit given to all students for work done in Lebanon. (The Warren County Museum has an indexed file of all students who attended the University.)
Final negotiations drew to a close in August 1917. One stipulation was that Wilmington College was not to be held responsible for the debt of NNU.
The property was sold for its outstanding debts, with Solomon Fred purchasing the building and library. The towers were removed and the building renovated. The old Lyceum section was changed into an apartment house, while the new addition was furnished accordingly and leased to the local Board of Education for use as a high school.
A great institutional establishment was demolished in April 1977. Neglect and abuse had reduced the NNU to a mere shadow of its former presence.
A man of educational vision framed the National Normal University. Thousands of men and women, many who gained national prominence, were educated in this most prestigious facility. One wise person wrote: "The passing of the University is the occasion for keen regret not only in Lebanon, but thruout the country."

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This page created 7 September 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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