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GAIL WHITE Coitsville woman keeps book open on old school



Published: Wed, June 27, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Dorothy Morse of Coitsville has spent 25 years snapping the whip to preserve an educational icon.

Dorothy's crusade began in 1976 as communities across the country were forming coalitions to celebrate the nation's bicentennial.

Coitsville decided that the main project for their bicentennial committee would be to help the William Holmes McGuffey Historical Society buy the McGuffey home site.

The 73-acre boyhood home site of William Holmes McGuffey, author of the famous McGuffey Readers, is in Coitsville Township on McGuffey Road, just east of state Route 616.

"There was a promise by the Ohio Historical Society to build an Educator's Hall of Fame at the location," Dorothy said, "with outdoor classroom areas."

Sought support: The Coitsville Bicentennial Commission, with Dorothy as president, sought funds from friends and neighbors and sent more than 4,000 letters to local businesses asking for support.

"We had to scratch for everything we wanted done," Dorothy said, referring to all the fund-raising activities.

On Sept. 19, 1977, the $60,000 mortgage for the property was burned.

"I remember the day we burned the mortgage very well," Dorothy recalled. "My granddaughter was born on that day. I was late to the burning because I just had to see my granddaughter."

With the deed for the property clear, Dorothy was looking forward to the development of the Educator's Hall of Fame with all the learning activities for children that she had dreamed of.

Old schoolhouse: While waiting for that dream to progress, the McGuffey Historical Society, of which Dorothy had become a trustee, became interested in an old one-room schoolhouse in Poland Township.

"We are not certain if William McGuffey taught in this schoolhouse," Dorothy conceded. "But we do know that McGuffey Readers were used in it."

Dorothy's dream expanded.

"That schoolhouse fit right in to the plan to create an Educator's Hall of Fame," Dorothy said. At 71, the excitement is still in her voice, as if she had just made the discovery.

"The school could sit on the home site, in front of a rising knoll" she said, smiling and picturing it in her mind. "Just like Winslow Homer's 'Snap the Whip.'"

The painting, bought by the Butler Institute of American Art, depicts a one-room schoolhouse with children playing the popular line-snapping game.

Moved to barn: In 1982, the McGuffey Historical Society dismantled the schoolhouse. Dorothy's husband, Clarence, used equipment from his excavating company to move the school, piece by piece, to a barn on the home site.

The one-room schoolhouse remained in that barn until 1997.

That year, the McGuffey Historical Society donated the 73-acre home site to Mill Creek Metroparks, to be used as a nature preserve.

As the barn was scheduled to be torn down, Dorothy, still holding onto her dream, requested the school pieces stored inside.

Once again, the schoolhouse was moved, this time to the garage behind Dorothy's house. The old wood and beams sit there today.

"Everyone seems to have forgotten," Dorothy said with dismay.

But Dorothy has not. Her crusade continues.

An Educator's Hall of Fame was never built. Yet, Dorothy still yearns to see children participating in a summer outdoor classroom setting.

Donated land: She has donated a plot of land at U.S. Route 422 and Begalla Road in Coitsville. The Coitsville Historical Society has already moved to the site the Coitsville-McGuffey Pavilion, formerly on the McGuffey home site.

Dorothy hopes that by the 2003 Ohio Bicentennial the schoolhouse will be erected on the donated property and children will be joyfully learning in summer outdoor classrooms.

Perhaps they will even play a game of snap the whip.

gwhite@vindy.com




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