[ back ]
School history gets room
School history gets room all for itself
By SUE HOFFMAN
For nearly 20 years, Thomas G. Mattern collected artifacts, photographs, newspaper articles, yearbooks, diplomas, antique textbooks, stories, board of education records, class rings, scrapbooks and other memorabilia spanning the 175-year history of the Chagrin Falls School District.
Now he's spending time nearly every day in the new Tom Mattern Historical Room, which is accessed through the community room at the corner of the district's upper-school campus. The board of education recently dedicated the room in honor of Mr. Mattern, former alumni director and current director emeritus.
Beaming with "Tiger pride" -- there are a few tiger mascots in view -- the 400-square-foot, L-shaped room serves as a museum for the high school's more than 9,000 graduates, as well as community members and all others who have contributed to the district.
From old cheerleading and football uniforms to photographs of classes, teachers, students, teams and dances over the years, the historical room is not a quick visit. It's a place for community members and alumni to relax, research and enjoy, Mr. Mattern said.
"I couldn't be more thrilled about this," said Mr. Mattern, a 1955 alumnus who spent most of his career as a history teacher and coach at Chagrin Falls High School. "It's our permanent home."
One of his favorite "treasures" is the minutes, beautifully penned in calligraphy, of the self-appointed board of education from May 25, 1849, just 16 years after the first settlers arrived in Chagrin Falls. The minutes announced that the next meeting would be held on Tuesday "at first candle light."
Other treasures are pictures of original schoolhouses in the district, the first diploma given in 1879 to one individual, the first commencement program in 1887, an alumni association handwritten book from 1902, all yearbooks since 1911, the first high school newspaper from 1922, the menu from the alumni association banquet in 1890 and much more.
Mr. Mattern said he also is thrilled about the room itself, which was remodeled by 1972 graduate John Tillotson, of Auburn. It was originally a storage room next to the multipurpose room in the Lewis Sands School. The wing that includes the community room, multipurpose room and storage room was preserved when the new middle school was constructed in the late 1990s.
Prior to remodeling, the historical room had a cement floor, concrete-block walls and exposed pipes. While the room now boasts textured drywall and plush carpeting, a small section of brick wall was left uncovered as a reminder of the original Lewis Sands School constructed in 1957.
Mr. Tillotson also chose to paint but not cover the pipes in the room's high ceiling. Near the top, he added a shelf for old footballs and basketballs and a rack to display a selection of uniforms from years gone by.
Transformation of the historical room took place during construction of the district's new performing arts center. The room's remodeling was solely financed by individuals in the alumni association, Mr. Mattern said. Among the largest contributors was actor Tim Conway, of the class of 1952.
Upon entering the room, visitors will see a large bookcase with a number of antique books and photographs. Mr. Tillotson built the shelving, matching the color of the barrister bookcase in the core. The bookcase is entitled the Elsa Jane Carroll Memorial Alumni Library, who was an English teacher at the high school.
"With contributions after her death, the memorial alumni library was formed," Mr. Mattern said. In the bookcase are books written by alumni and teachers. They include: "Ralph L. Quesinberry's Q Factor," 2005, written about the former football coach and physical education teacher by Donald K. Evans, of the class of 1952; "Chagrin Falls, A Memoir," 2003, by Gary Palmer, an alumnus from 1958; and "The Year that Trembled," 1998, by Scott Lax, of the class of 1970.
Since 1990, when he retired from teaching, Mr. Mattern actively searched for objects and stories from the past. His collection formed the basis of his book "History of the Chagrin Falls Schools, 1833 to 1960," and the sequel is a work in progress.
Mr. Mattern found much of the historical room's collection in the nooks and crannies of the original 1914 wing of the intermediate school on Philomethian Street. However, he gives much credit to the many alumni, former teachers and their family members who have found and sent in additional artifacts, scrapbooks and more.
"Once the word got out that we wanted to preserve these wonderful treasures, people came through with many things," he said. "It's been a labor of love, and the things we receive are like Christmas presents."
Mr. Mattern pointed out examples. A retired teacher from Garrettsville purchased at a yard sale and sent in the 1872 reader used by Jessie Church. She was the daughter of Henry Church Jr., the second child born in the village.
There's also a decorative teaspoon, dated 1908, with an engraving of the district's 1885 building, since razed, along with symbols of learning. The inscription reads, "School House Chagrin Falls."
"We bought it on Ebay," Mr. Mattern said, smiling.
He said 18 pages of former teacher Alice Neff's scrapbook from 1929 to the 1950s are displayed in various areas of the room. He also has a United States history textbook published shortly after the Civil War.
One of the room's prized possessions is the contents of the time capsule that was in the cornerstone of the 1914 building, Mr. Mattern said. He knew about the time capsule from a newspaper article written at the time the building was dedicated. When the building was being remodeled in 1989, he told school officials, "When you come to the 1914 block, call me. It was like a Christmas present."
The historical room is "a jewel the community needs to know about," Mr. Tillotson said.
"We're not done," said Mr. Mattern. "We're still dreaming. It's a work in progress."
[ back ]