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Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis visited the Ohio University Eastern Campus on Wednesday, Aug. 2, touring the Great Western Schoolhouse, attending a luncheon with select students, and meeting with staff. Nellis, who began his duties as OU's 21st president June 12, has been touring all of the regional campuses in an effort to interact with as many of the university's staff and students as possible.
Dr. John Mattox, founder and curator of the Underground Railroad Museum in Flushing, Ohio and local historian, hosted the tour of the schoolhouse for Nellis and others including OUE Dean Paul Abraham and Executive Dean for Regional Campuses Bill Willan.
"It's a wonderful, historical place to stay in this area," Mattox said. He thanked the Belmont County Tourism Council for grants that helped to fund renovations and improvements at the school house. "We have to thank them for preserving the history of Belmont County and making sure that the museums, the school and other attractions can operate here," Mattox said. He said new Executive dvx Director Barb Ballint was doing a fantastic job and credited Eugene Householder for heading the council for 35 years.
Mattox said the Great Western Schoolhouse was the only one-room schoolhouse remaining in Belmont County. Also known as "the 1870 schoolhouse", it is a one-room facility located west of the Ohio University Eastern Campus' main driveway and is listed on the National Registry for Historic Places. Over 300 children visit the 1870 schoolhouse each spring and take part in spelling and arithmetic exercises using old-fashioned slates and slate-writers.
The Great Western School House was closed in 1952 and by 1976, the empty building was in dire need of repair. With permission from Ohio University, the National Trail Chapter of Questers headed a restoration project. The wooden students' seats were donated by a local school. The flag hanging above the chalkboard is actually the flag that one of the former students kept as memorabilia when the schoolhouse closed in 1952. It was donated back to the schoolhouse in 1976 at the completion of the restoration.
"This was great," Nellis said of the tour. "It's wonderful that we have the preservation of something as important as this as part of our history, not only for this region, but for our nation. When you think of all of our forefathers and mothers whom experienced their education in rooms such as this across the country, it's truly foundational."
Nellis said the school house represented the evolution of education. "The great value of OUE is the small class sizes," he said. "OUE is an important part of our overall system."
Nellis said his tour has included visits to the Ironton, Lancaster, Zanesville, Southern, Pickerington, Chillicothe, and Beaver Creek campuses and the university's medical colleges in Dublin and Cleveland. "We really are Ohio University in the sense of the breadth of that. So it's important."
"We have the term Ohio for Ohio and that represents our mission, not just in Athens or the regional campuses, but across the state," said Abrahams.
"Education, economic development, quality of life, those are all important themes. I really want to hear people's voices before I finalize my plan for the university and this (tour) is specific to my vision," Nellis said. "I do want to elevate the national view of Ohio University. It's recognized nationally as a very, very strong university. I'd like to continue to elevate it to greater levels of visibility."
Nellis's past higher education experience includes serving as the 16th president of Texas Tech University, president of the University of Idaho, provost and senior vice president of Kansas State University and dean of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences at West Virginia University.