Guest Author: Joanne Reed Carter
Merrick Hutchinson School in Grand River was built in 1922 and was named in memory of the village’s only resident who, in 1918, had lost his life in World War I.
Merrick’s family home was across the street from the new school. His father James was believed to have been an administrator in the Painesville City district, which encompassed Grand River at the time. The district bordered on the north side of the NYC and B&O railroad tracks and ended in the village’s harbor.
My family lived outside the village closer to Painesville, and it was a long walk to MH for my neighbors and me. My neighbor and oldest friend, Eleanor Sabo, is still my closest friend. We children would walk together, and the older kids would watch over the younger ones.
I loved school, and in my first year, I never missed a day there. Miss Warren was my teacher, and because of my perfect attendance, she came to my home after school was out for summer break and gave me a beautiful sun suit as a reward.
Looking at my first grade picture, in which I was seated on the far left, I was reminded that four of us in it were related. There was my uncle Freddie Guthleben and my cousins Sherman Reed and Francis Stalker. Also in that picture was Nancy Evans, who years later married my step-cousin Bill Ivan.
We were a tightly-knit community of relatives and close friends. The blond boy right behind me in the picture is Don Shula, who went on to become a famous football player and coach; he was featured on the cover of Time in the ‘60s. He died at his home on the morning of May 4, ’20.
In my fifth year at MH, my family moved to the village into a larger home located in “the block” behind the school. By the time I was in eighth grade in 1943, there were six of us Reed siblings attending at the same time: Me, Chuck, Clifford, Bob, Tom and Lola. John, Phillip and Larry “kept the sibling count high” at MH after I was promoted to ninth grade, which was held at Champion Junior High School in Painesville City.
MH was two stories high with four classrooms for the eight grades. First through fourth grades were on the first floor along with the teachers’ room. The four higher grade levels were on the second floor, as was the library. In the ‘30s, there were about 30 pupils in each of the four rooms, making up about 120 total.
The rooms all had closets along the walls for us to put our belongings and store our lunch bags until noon each day. We ate lunch at our desks, which we protected with our handmade place mats. Since my brother Chuck and I were together in the first and second grade room, we were aware of what happened to each of us. One day he couldn’t find his lunch bag, and there was a skimpy bag in its place. Then he noticed there was a poorer boy enjoying the food. Chuck just let him eat it, calling it a mix-up. Then, did I share my lunch with my brother? I don’t remember.
There was a gymnasium across from the lower-floor classrooms. It was equipped with basketball hoops and wooden folding chairs for use by school and community organizations. The students used the gym for exercise classes, instrumental music lessons, and practice sessions for plays and skits. The annual Christmas program was a major event.
Mrs. Copeland volunteered to hold a “charm” class in the gym after school for us girls. I remember my father Charles at that time was a volunteer coach for the basketball team and was also police chief in the village.
The gym was used extensively during World War II when we of all ages were informed and trained about our safety during blackouts or air raids. We gathered there to roll bandages for the war effort, and we learned first aid taught by the Red Cross.
The Coast Guard station was on high alert, and we had a USO-style dance for the guards. My mom Myrtle was one of the volunteers arranging the dance. She let me help a little that evening, but “there was to be no dancing with the guys” because I was too young at age 12. The Coast Guard, being aware of our out-reach, would sometimes do their drills in the road in front of the school. The teachers let us watch them through our windows.
Grand River was a “harbor town” located off Lake Erie, making it very vulnerable during wartime. Some of the local workers were vetted and had to carry special clearance cards. My Grandpa Reed worked on the B&O at that time. I have his card that he carried because the trains serviced deep into the harbor.
We had a large playground area at MH with two sets of equipment – swings, teeter-totters, slides and chinning bars placed at far ends of each other. There was a baseball diamond for both sexes and a football area for boys. An open area was reserved for games like tag, red rover, etc. Girls played jump rope while boys played marbles. The playground’s grass was always well kept for us.
Children in the village all used the grounds after school. It was a gathering place in full view of everyone so watchful eyes were on us to stay safe and prevent trouble.
Grand River had men’s civic club meetings at the school and had a fund-raiser carnival during the summer on the playground. One year the men made a booth for my club to use to sell aprons and make money for them. We decided to let people “gamble” for an apron at 10-cents for a spin of the wheel. Some members of that informal club morphed into an “Old Maids’ Club,” and we still refer to ourselves as old maids even though we are “only” 90.
Three of us “girls,” the Webster twins Lois and Louise plus myself, were part of the “long walk” to MH back in the late ‘30s.What a gift of friendship was enriched those many years ago at the school. We had been born during the Depression when war was looming abroad. The twins’ sister Bernice was one of the older kids who watched over us as we all walked together. We formed unique relationships at MH.
Before the Korean War, Painesville Township formed its own school district named Riverside. It included MH, which had decreasing enrollment resulting in MH accommodating only Grades 1 – 6. All six grades used the second-floor library. Around 1980 enrollment decreased too much to justify the expense of keeping it open, so the remaining Grand River children were bused to Madison Avenue School. My brother John served as that school’s principal for eight years in the ‘80s.
The Riverside district still owned MH until the turn of the century, but it was unused until sports booster groups held bingo fund-raisers there.
Then John Weiss founded Lake Academy, an alternative school for at-risk teens, and used the building from 1998 – ’99,after which he moved the academy to Willoughby.
Several years ago Louise Webster-Hall was working on the Webster genealogy when she came across a picture of Mr. and Mrs. Hutchinson, Merrick’s parents. They had been friends of Lois and Louise’s grandparents. The old Webster farm had been located just south of the village limits, which had been part of the Painesville City School district but was involved in the Grand River community.
Grand River Village bought the property in the early 2000s, vowing to designate it as green space. In ’14, the building was demolished. A park with a pavilion and play equipment is now there for the community.