Adaptive reuse is the renovation and reuse of pre-existing structures for new purposes. It gives new life to buildings such as churches, schoolhouses, and warehouses that are neglected or whose original use is obsolete. Adaptive reuse does not mean the history of these properties should be forgotten. The Eckstein School in the Village of Glendale, Ohio, is one such property.
The Eckstein School operated from 1915 until 1958, serving Glendale’s Black children from Kindergarten through the 8th grade. It symbolizes a time when our schools were segregated, yet also when individuals, groups, and communities wanted to ensure all children received an education and were given the opportunities that that instills.
Primed for adaptive reuse, the historic school sits along the north side of Washington Avenue, in the northwest corner of the Glendale Historic District. Nearly half of Glendale (392 acres) is part of the district, which was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and consists of 439 contributing buildings. Glendale is also the only village in Ohio to be declared a National Historic Landmark.
Settled in the 1850s, Glendale was a railroad commuter town built to escape the bustle of nearby Cincinnati and Hamilton. A Cincinnati civil engineer, R.C. Phillips, designed Glendale’s picturesque meandering streets, laid out according to topography instead of on a rigid grid. Phillips’ planned subdivision was Ohio’s first and one of the earliest in the United States.
Leading up to the Civil War, Glendale was a key location on the Underground Railroad. The community also became a safe place for African-Americans to settle. In 1860, Eleanor Eckstein—the namesake of the school—began teaching Black children in the barn behind her house at 45 East Fountain Avenue.
Due to her actions, Glendale opened its first school for Black children in 1870, known as the “Icehouse School”. In 1879, Glendale’s school board opened a new one-story frame schoolhouse behind the Town Hall.
In 1887, the Ohio Legislature passed the Arnett law, requiring the same educational opportunities for students of all races. Glendale complied by closing the school behind the Town Hall and sending Glendale’s Black children to a school on Congress Avenue.
When the Congress Avenue School became overcrowded, a new separate school for Blacks was established. In 1915, John J. Burchenal, a Procter and Gamble executive and member of the school board, donated the Verdin house at 42 Washington Avenue to provide additional room for Black children, grades 1st through 5th.
In 1917, science equipment was bought for the Eckstein School and the school’s set-up reconfigured. Additions were made to what had been the original Verdin house but, even today, it is possible to see aspects of the home. A large room was also added in 1918, and a gymnasium in 1928. It was at this time that stucco was applied to the exterior of the school, and it is the gymnasium that provides the striking Mission Revival-style look of the school.
Over time, more teachers and grades were added to the school until it eventually taught students up through the 8th grade.
In 1958, the school was closed following a lawsuit filed by the NAACP, which closely coincided with the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision to end segregation.
The Eckstein School holds a unique place in Glendale’s history, and has ties to significant events in Ohio and United States history.
As the Eckstein School moves into its next chapter, let’s never forget the history within, and represented by, its walls.
Faran, Angeline Loveland
1955 Glendale, Ohio 1855-1955. McDonald Printing Company, Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio.