The Schools and Canterbury Township
The Beginning of a New Era
Prior to Beachwood’s incorporation as a village, students in the area attended two one-room schoolhouses. One was located on Kinsman Rd. in the area of Pavilion Mall and the other was on Fairmount Blvd. near Richmond Rd. where the old village hall now sits. From 1915, the date of the Village's inception, until 1927, all students used the one room schoolhouse on Fairmount at Richmond Rd.
Beachwood's one room school house built in 1868 as part of Warrensville Township.
In 1927 Beachwood’s new eight room school house opened on Fairmount Blvd. This building is still used today for kindergarten, pre-school and the administrative offices. From 1930 until 1958 students in grades 9 through 12 attended Shaker Schools.
In 1925 Shaker refused to accept twelve "colored students" from Beachwood. This action fell in line with the type of community the Vans were developing and influencing in Shaker. Beachwood decided to build a new facility on Fairmount Blvd. and close its two older buildings. This building was known as "Beechwood School" and for many years was known as Fairmount Elementary.
Beechwood's new eight room school house built in 1927. The building was built after a vote was taken in November of 1926 to issue bonds for $150,000.00 for the land and construction of the building. There were 66 yes votes and 30 no votes. The architect was Mr. Arthur Barber who lived at 2463 Green Rd.
Beachwood's high school aged students were educated by the Shaker system until the late 1950’s and certain years prior they had the option to commute to Brush High in South Euclid, Cleveland Heights High, or Orange Schools. In 1938 there was a short-lived effort by some residents to close the Beachwood School and have all students attend Shaker. But, it was decided that the school would continue to operate as it had been and high school students would be given the option to attend Shaker or Brush High Schools.
In 1934 Beechwood Schools had one bus driven by Mr. Hendershot, who was also the school's custodian. This picture is taken in front of the Walkers house at 23600 East Baintree. Mr Walker is seeing his daughter, Dorthea, off to school. Take note of the brick road, which still exists today under the asphalt.
Beachwood’s School problems began in the mid-1950’s as new housing developments began attracting more people into the Village. Shaker was also growing and this new influx of students into its school system necessitated a change. In April of 1955 Shaker Schools notified Beachwood Schools that the 1957-58 school year would be the last year they could take any Beachwood students. Many concerned members of the Beachwood community foresaw the problems that awaited Beachwood if the Village did not develop its schools. They formed the Beachwood Voters League in 1955. The group changed its make up just a bit and in April of 1956 was known as the Beachwood Civic League. Original members of this group included Don and Lois Klein, Stanley and Laura Weinberg, Harvey and Shirley Friedman, Sherman and Rodine Holander, Si and Shirley Wachsberger, Leslie and Connie Cowan, Joe and Helen Huber, Max and Betty Balkin, Leo Rattay, Sanford Likover, Bill and Florence Davis and Bernard Dryer. The League would be the primary advocate group behind the development of the school system, and the make-up of whom was elected to both the School Board and the Village Council.
The School Board proposed a bond issue in 1955 to fund construction of a new wing to be added onto the existing Fairmount School. The bond issue called for what would have been the second addition of ten classrooms to its only school. The first addition had been completed in 1952. That 1952 addition had consisted of a library, gym, five classrooms and several offices. The League did not feel another addition was the answer and proposed that land be allocated for the building of other schools in Beachwood. After a long debate School Board President C.Allen Hurt recommended that the bond issue be put on hold and a citizens advisory group be put together to make recommendations to the board. Hurt said he would allow those recommendations to stand, what ever they ended up being. Hurt had loaded the committee with people who were primarily interested in maintaining the status quo. He therefore felt confident that any progressive measures would be voted down and the original plans for the one school would stand.
After several months of discussion and debate the committee of 13 citizens took a vote on several controversial recommendations none of which the group would endorse. The committee accepted Si Wachsberger's proposal to hold an election for two separate bond issues. The first called for a $275,000.00 allocation to build ten additional classrooms onto the existing school and the second called for $125,000.00 to buy land to accommodate the building of two future schools. Hurt was displeased with the result but went along with the recommendation as he had promised.
In addition to the strife associated with the school situation, City Council President Henry Hopwood, a resident of the southern part of the Village and an ally of Hurt’s, also took action to slow the advancement of the progressive ideas that seemed immanent in Beachwood. In Aug. of 1955 Hopwood created a committee to look into merging the Village of Beachwood with Shaker Heights. Hopwood had the support of the Cuyahoga County School Board that saw the annexation as a final solution to the problem of transporting Beachwood High School students to the different area schools. Hopwood’s committee recommended a charter amendment that would ease the process for annexation. However this change to the charter would have to be voted on by Beachwood citizens.
The month of November 1955 turned out to be a critical time in the short history of the Village. The citizens were faced with votes on the charter and the two School bond issues. The results were confusing as the charter passed (944-315) and the first bond issue for the school addition failed in a close race (701-625). But, the second bond issue calling for the purchase of land to build new elementary schools passed convincingly (1078-286). Curiously, C. W. Hurt, who had been appointed in 1949, chose to resign and moved out of the Village.
The Continuing Battle
Early in 1956 both the school question and the question of annexation came to the forefront. In January a group of citizens who lived south of Fairmount Blvd. filed a petition with the Cuyahoga County Board of Education. They wanted their children to be allowed to attend the Shaker Schools. At that time Shaker schools were viewed as one of the finest educational systems in the area. The Beachwood Board also passed a resolution requesting a popular vote for another bond issue. The issue called for two identical schools, known as Hilltop and Bryden, to be built on the land voters approved to purchase. It was the School Board's opinion that progress must be made on the two school buildings if a move to the Shaker system was possible (or immanent.) then the leaders of the Shaker community heard about Beachwood's intentions, they reiterated the fact that they were no longer going to accept Beachwood students.
In 1957 the Cuyahoga County Board of Education made a strange decision. They decided that the Beachwood school district was to remain separate from the Shaker district. It is unknown why their original intentions were altered but it has been speculated that Beachwood now had a completed plan, calling for the full development of its school system. In May of 1958 a levy passed which would produce the funds for
the two schools to be built. Because Beachwood had a small tax base and the number of residents were limited; one large bond issue could not be placed on the ballot to do everything they needed at once. The state had established formulas that limited the amount of dollars a community could vote ask for in a single bond levy. This was the reason they needed to have so many separate bond issues. An easy way to see this would be to look at the high school. There were four bond issues and/or sections of the school before the basic needs of a school building came together.
The Annexation Question
As the school question was slowly being worked out, the southern Beachwood residents were still calling for annexation into Shaker. These residents, who called themselves the "South Beachwood Association," presented a petition for annexation to Shaker in August of 1956. The group claimed that it represented the best interests of everyone south of Fairmount, but it would become obvious later that they had only the interests of a few in mind.
The land in question was primarily undeveloped and Shaker saw the opportunity for development. Shaker had remained distant from Beachwood's internal problems in the past because its own school system could not handle the growth. But Shaker City Council realized this was too good to pass up and quickly accepted the Association's petition. It has been said that Shaker really wanted to acquire Beachwood for a variety of reasons, one included a place to put their trash. In fact, on many occasions Shaker and Beachwood talked about building a modern incinerator to burn trash in Beachwood.
There is also another angle to the story as to why the southerners wanted to break away and form this new township. The Village of Beachwood had a lot of restructured debit. Keep in mind that in 1940 the village restructured its 1.8 million-dollar debit remaining from the Van Sweringen improvements they had made in the 1920’s. If the south broke away they would leave the debt with the northerners. Additionally, when the Van Sweringens filed bankruptcy one of the first rules made by the referee was that no taxes paid on the property would be paid to the communities until the land was sold. At this point much of the land in the south had yet to be sold by the Van Sweringen Company or the Sheriff, therefore, the taxes that were paid were accumulating in a fund. If this southern land which is where most of Beachwood’s "Van" land was ended up in the new southern township the northerners would have no income from what was due them and still have the debt. If this were to happen Beachwood’s northern section would not have a chance to survive nor would its neighbors be ready to acquire them.
Beachwood's leaders, including Village solicitor Mr. Walter Kelly, realized that the petition and Shaker's acceptance of it were inappropriate and took action to check the annexation. Kelly told the group that its actions did not coincide with the Village Charter and Shaker Heights was reminded that its acceptance of the petition did not meet its own Charter requirements. E. Colin Baldwin, President of the Shaker School System said he had told C. Allen Hurt of Beachwood that Shaker Schools could not handle an influx of students anything close to the size of Beachwood. Hurt was the President of the Beachwood School Board and a member of the southern group. While Shaker City hall accepted the petition and endorsed it, they asked the county commissioners to review it.
The County commissioners had yet to respond to the problem by March of 1957, but Beachwood had built a solid legal case against the annexation and was feeling confident about the pending decision. It had been widely publicized that the petition did not follow the criteria set forth in the Village Charter and the Association had lost its momentum. On March 25, sensing defeat, the Association submitted a second petition to the Board of Elections requesting the establishment of a new township called Canterbury Township. On the same day, Shaker City Council met and announced that they would need more time to make their decision regarding the annexation, and tabled the matter. The following day, county commissioner John P Curry said that the commission would wash its hands of the matter.
The Board of Elections set April 30th as the date that the southern group would be given the right to vote on establishing the new township. The Association was optimistic because it knew that the landowners in the area would be in favor of a move because of the development potential especially along Chagrin Blvd. As a new township, zoning laws would need to be established and could easily be adapted for developers. Furthermore, the Association knew that Shaker would accept them into the school system because of their small size. A move seemed immanent.
The Northerners were very much against the secession and took the matter to Common Pleas Court. They knew they could not survive on their own. On April 19th
Judge J.P. Corrigan ruled in accordance with the Beachwood solicitor that "Home Rule," the Village Charter must be followed. Unfortunately, the Appeals Court ruled that the southern group could follow the State's general rule. The issue went to the Ohio Supreme Court. In March of 1958 the Supreme Court ruled that the southern group had the right to vote as a group, whether or not to secede. The election was slated for April 1958. Surprisingly, the Association had overestimated its influence in the area and the people of the southern part of Beachwood voted to remain a part of the Village. The vote was 493 against the move and 329 for the move.
Relations with Shaker remained strained throughout the period of the fifties. Back in March of 1957, Shaker had called for a dramatic increase in the cost of Beachwood fire protection. While Beachwood had a volunteer department it was dependent on Shaker for mutual aid fire protection. The two municipalities had, up until then, remained friendly about the agreement. Shaker had always charged $2,000 a year for its fire service. But it now wanted to raise the price to $20,000 a year and the change would go into effect in thirty days. The matter was debated and it was decided that the increase was inordinate and Shaker approved a moderate increase to $5,000.
It took three years, but Beachwood and its schools had weathered a series of crises and had remained intact. Throughout the strife, the citizens of the Village had voted several times to remain united and had shown the resolve and determination to fund the development of a first rate school system. The proudest moment for many of the hard working residents and parents was the ground breaking in 1957 for the high school. According to long time resident and former school board member Connie Cowan this event was held on a cold November morning in the area where the schools’ pool now stands.
School Board Pres. V. Columbi Addresses Group at The High School Ground Breaking.
Students representing every future graduating class marched out of the Fairmount School building in a parade over to the ground breaking. If ever there was a turning point that created Beachwood’s independence for growth and self-control this was it. When the high school opened in 1958 the first class group of students to use the school was the class that would graduate in 1961. The following year the next class joined students already in the building with the goal of using the building for all six upper grades. Keep in mind the middle school was not built until 1969. While the high school ground breaking was a focal point for 1957, the school system was also building Hilltop and Bryden elementary schools. Until they where done in November of 1957 and January 1958 the school board was able to rent 21 classrooms at Fairmount Temple to house the students who would normally attend those schools.
Over the years, the High School was completed and exceeded all expectations. In the 1960’s both Bryden and Hilltop had additions put on them. In 1991, growth necessitated that Bryden add five new classrooms. Today Fairmount Elementary is used for
the pre-school, the kindergarten and is the home for the administrative offices of the School Board. Recently there have been talks of building a new building to replace the Fairmount School.
It should also be noted that Beachwood Schools did not have a Superintendent until the time that the High School was completed. Up until that time, Beachwood school’s administrative management was under the direction of an "Executive Head." The Cuyahoga County Superintendent of Schools appointed this position. It was not until July 1, 1968 that the Beachwood School Systems were allowed to break away from the Cuyahoga County Board of Education. By this time there were only seven districts remaining under the county’s control. They were Bratenahl that is now a part of the Cleveland System, Richmond Heights, Orange, Solon, Cuyahoga Heights, Independence, and Olmsted Falls.
Beachwood has had many milestones in its history. However, no one issue controlled the fate of Beachwood more than the fight for new schools and the defeat of the annexation effort.