From Fair to Fanfare…to Failure ?

The Scioto Valley is a rich agricultural region, with its wide well-drained level terraces laid down by glacial outwash and topped with glacial dust. For more than 15,000 years it grew great forests (and a few prairies, and native cornfields and earthworks) until they were conquered by settling farmers after 1795.

From the bird’s eye view of Chillicohe in 1889, the fairgrounds in the expanding northwest streetcar suburbs of the town

To celebrate the harvests from this agricultural cornucopia – as well as have sociable gatherings – there have been several renditions of the Ross County Fair though the years. The current post-World War II site off State Route 104 north is only the latest and most permanent.

Farmers, horsemen, and businessmen in 1870 organized the Scioto Valley Agricultural Society.i  They leased about five acresii on the far northwest side of Chillicothe known as Keith’s Grove. That ended in 1900, and the site became a baseball field in 1910, which lasted only five years.

A paste-in of the new high school (mapped from plans) in the October 1930 update of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Chillicothe.

But in 1929 – less than a month after the stock market crash – something far more permanent was started there. The Chillicothe school board bought the site, and in 1930 and 1931 they spent more than $486,000 to build the third high school building for the city.iii

As quoted in the Gazette at the time, it was “sturdy in its construction…will long fill the needs of the city schools…the building was constructed with permanency as one of the aims in view.”iv

8,000 Chillicotheans attended opening day on October 23, 1931. That was more than 40% of the city’s

Now considered to be the second most significant public building in Ross County, the school building was built at a time considered to be the optimum of American construction – using the best of traditional craftsmanship and materials, combined with almost fully modern design and methods. The same thing is not affordable, and practically impossible, 80 years later.

With construction of a 4th high school in 1963vii – a sprawling building along Yoctangee Parkway – the 1931 high school became the city’s junior high, named after renowned high school principal John A. Smith.viii

After becoming Smith Middle School, it was finally vacated in 2007. It was soon completely abandoned with utilities shut off, leaky roofs and gutters and downspouts leaking, and signs warning firefighters to not enter it.

Now referred to as Smith School, the building’s 1930-1931 construction cost comes out to about $7.5 million in today’s money,ix spent while the nation was suffering the Great Depression. Its current estimated replacement value is more than $13 million.x

It now likely less than a month from a decision to demolish…at a lowest public bid of only about $350,000.xi

See and hear more about this threatened landmark in my “Cabin Fever” tour 1-3 or 3-5 p.m. Sunday, March 15th. Tickets on sale now – and there’s a freebie for the first five tickets paid for.

For reservations or sales (cash or check only), stop in or contact the Ross-Chillicothe Convention & Visitors Bureau at 45 East Main – 740 / 702-ROSS (7677) or

Web pages related to the Smith Struggle:

End Notes:

i Medert 2011 (High, Church, etc.): 143.

ii Guesstimation based on 1.5 acre SW parcel, since no acreage listed in auditor’s online data for other two parcels! And assuming that historic acreage excluded the Ringwald / Vine street block.

iii Medert 2011 (High, Church, etc.): 144m.

iv Medert 2011 (High, Church, etc.): 144m.

v Save Our Smith, “Connecting Generations. Remembering the Lessons of Smith School,” privately published booklet, January 2015.

vi As calculated from 1930 census population of 18,340, as listed for Chillicothe, Ohio in Wikipedia, <,_Ohio&gt;, accessed 2 March 2015.

vii Medert 2011 (High, Church, etc.): 145b.

viii August 17, 1977 Chillicothe Gazette opinion piece on the death of John A. Smith.

ix Via “The Inflation Calculator” <;, accessed 2 March 2015.

x Save Our Smith, “Why the Demolition Decision Needs to be Postponed,” attached to petition(?) circulated January 2015. Figure supplied by Schooly Caldwell & Associates, and Moody Nolan, Architects and Planners, both of Columbus, Ohio. Also included in “A Portfolio of Documents Related to a Proposal to Study the Alternatives to the Demolition of Smith School,” privately published binder, January 2015.

xi Chillicothe City Schools Board of Education, presentation by consulting architect Josh Predovich, slide 2, 11 February 2015..and others.

Published by:

Kevin B. Coleman

Pre/historian, architectural historian, re-enactor, guide, reporter, speaker, writer, gardener, craftsperson, husbandman, et al., who can work in stone (flint knapping, flintlock, silicon chip) among other things and who is determined to use my knowledge, wisdom, and personal survival to help the greater good. At least, my cats and dog here in semi-rural Ohio tell me that.

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