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Records of the Oberlin Community (Group 31)
Records of the Oberlin Community, 1834-1994

RG 31, the files of the Oberlin Community, contains 20 separate file units pertaining to organizations within the City of Oberlin. Six of these file groups hold records of significant architectural value.

[72] Records of First and Second Congregational Church, 1834-1993, 26.15 l.f.

Historical Note

The development of First and Second Congregational Churches reflect the nature of the development of Oberlin itself. Long the largest church in the Western Reserve, the First Congregational Church of Oberlin (now First Church in Oberlin) was completed in 1845. Designed with a Greek Revival edifice by Boston architect Richard Bond, it was intended to fulfill specifications set by the church’s evangelical leader, Charles Grandison Finney. Each aspect of the design plans was voted upon and approved by the Church Building Committee. Financial realities and frugality determined the final appearance of First Church, its size smaller than originally planned and the circular seating plan requested by Finney dismissed entirely. Fourteen months and nearly $12,000 after groundbreaking, the church was completed through donated labor and materials. By 1860, it had grown to over 1500 members plus college students. The large size of the congregation led to the voluntary withdrawal of 103 members, who then established Second Congregational Church. The two congregations continued to meet together for Sunday School, with services for Second Congregational Church held first in the college chapel, then later in its own meeting house, completed in 1870. In 1920, the two congregations reunited and took the name First Church in Oberlin. Heavily involved in the progressive reform and missionary movements long associated with Oberlin, First Church has been from its start a source of moral and ideological influence within the community.

Scope and Content

The records of First and Second Congregational Church trace the building history of the two structures from 1836 to 1979. Contained within this group are copies of the original deeds of 1836; outlines for the building needs for the church after reunification in 1920; and a large number of mortgage papers, reports, bills and maintenance information from throughout the last two centuries. Of special interest are plans for the renovation of the James Brand House; reports of a property line dispute with Oberlin College; and letters from the architect Charles S. Schneider, 1925, proposing the movement and radical remodeling of First Church. Eight sketches of floor plans and sewer connections, as well as three survey blue prints are also present. Subsequent alterations or changes to the property (First Church in Oberlin) over the next five decades, are documented here and there.

[73] Records of Miscellaneous Churches, 3 l.f.

Scope and Content

The records contained in this group attest to Oberlin’s religious diversity. Within this collection is information about six different churches, including architectural information for four. Sacred Heart Church, Mt. Zion Baptist Church, and Rust Methodist Church are all represented by illustrated histories and news clippings. Information about First United Methodist is more in-depth. Deeds, scrapbooks, ledgers, and letters describe the church’s history from the 1860s through the next 100 years. Of special interest are the board of trustee minutes beginning in 1869; a 1927 map with the proposed placement of the church; and the minutes of the Church Building Committee containing letters from the architect Gene Zaugg, contracts, estimates, and donor information for a building project in the 1960s.

[74] Miscellaneous Records, 6 l.f.

Scope and Content

The records of miscellaneous organizations in Oberlin and surrounding areas are contained in this record group. Here one can find information on Westwood Cemetery, including maps and the minutes of the Oberlin Cemetery Association, 1861-1912. The College Archives holds the 1864 map of Westwood Cemetery, measuring 51" x 42", designed and laid out by H.B. Allen. The minutes of the Oberlin Housing Committee, 1958, are present and contain ordinances, reports, and survey data for this group which sought to establish minimum housing standards for Oberlin’s residential areas. A large number of items deal with Oberlin’s churches. Christ Episcopal Church, East Oberlin Community Church, First Baptist Church, the Assembly of God, Christ Temple Church, and the Christian and Missionary Alliance are all well represented by church generated histories and news clippings. The group also contains Mortgage Ledgers for the Village of Oberlin dating from the 1880s, a 1963 report on Dutch Elm disease submitted to the Oberlin City Council by the Tree Committee, and Lorain County Regional Planning Commission reports from 1956-1967.

[75] Records of Oberlin City, 1858-1990, 41 l.f.

Administrative History

The Village of Oberlin was established in 1833 as an ideal settlement governed by religious and secular constructs. It was incorporated as a village in 1846, and until the 1890s, village positions were determined by a town caucus, with all members of the community gathering together to make nominations and to cast votes at one time. This system, which allowed minors and non-citizens to vote and made voting more than once a possibility, was abandoned at the suggestion of the village council in 1897. From the early 1920s until the mid-1950s, the Village of Oberlin was governed by a five-member village council, each member serving two-year terms. A village manager was responsible for administering the local government. In 1951, Oberlin became a city. A charter passed in 1956 outlined the role of the city manager, strengthened the Civil Service Commission, created an administrative board for Allen Memorial Hospital, made elections non-partisan, and put as much responsibility in the hands of the City Council as possible. Oberlin is currently governed by a seven-member council which appoints the majority of government administrators and upper level civil servants. Provisions advanced by a charter review committee were adopted by the electorate in the fall of 1994.

Scope and Content

This record group contains a vast amount of information reflecting the services and functions of Oberlin city government. It contains files on City Ordinances, 1893-1981; the Planning Commission; Parks; Building Permits; Real Estate Values, 1910-1916; Housing Inspection Records; City and Telephone Directories, 1883-1988; the Tree Committee; the Zoning Board of Appeals; and the Public Utilities Commission. City Council Minutes, 1878-1995, are a trove of information on ordinances and proposals, various municipal committees and plans for improvement. Public utilities, zoning and city streets are discussed. Also in the council minutes are discussions of Allen Memorial Hospital, the Ice Rink, and Westervelt Hall. The issue of historic preservation is given attention in the Historic Preservation Commission records and reports, minutes, and correspondence. A list of Oberlin buildings on the National Register of Historic Places is present, as is information relating to the controversy surrounding the 1990 effort to prevent the demolition of the 1889 Gasholder House. Photos of the Gasholder House and details of early street lights are also present. Not to be overlooked are also the files relating to the Open Space and Conservation Commission, 1975-1980, and the Open Space and Visual Environment Committee, its successor body.

[76] Records of the Oberlin Public Schools, 1838-1970, 4 l.f.

Historical Note

The first primary school classes in Oberlin—attended by more than 20 children—were taught in what was at first a department of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute by Miss Eliza Branch (Mrs. George Clark), just months after the founding of the community. In 1834, control over the school was given to the town and the first Oberlin School District was organized. From the start, the issue of proper facilities was of great concern. A shop in town was the first “school building” until the colonists agreed to raise the $200 needed for a proper structure. A one-room school house went up in 1837 just down the street from First Congregational Church, but its student body quickly outgrew the facility (see the records of the Oberlin Historical and Improvement Organization). By 1842, 224 students aged 4 through 21 were enrolled in primary school. Nearly every empty room and shop in town was used to hold the overflow from the building put up just five years before. Ten years later, in 1851, the two-story Cabinet Hall was constructed on Professor St., just west of Tappan Square, but still there was not enough room for all of the students in this expanding community.

In 1860, the Union School District—which included Russia Township—was organized, and over 800 students of all races attended classes. Ever-increasing enrollment and related financial troubles plagued the school system for the next several decades. Still, the community managed to raise enough money to build new schools, among them the New Union School, built in 1874, and two schools built in 1886-1887 on Prospect St. and on Pleasant St. Additions were added to these buildings in 1910 and in 1911. Following World War I, the school board purchased an army barrack and placed it behind the high school building to be used as a manual training building. In 1923, a new high school was begun on North Main St. The Federal Public Works Administration funded a $75,000 arts building on the south side of the high school in 1936. In 1955, Eastwood Elementary School was built. The next decade saw the “old” high school on North Main become the Oberlin Junior High School (now Langston Middle School), and in 1979, the old structures at Prospect and Pleasant were razed and a new elementary school soon went up at the Prospect site. In 1995, the Oberlin School District covered an area of 47 square miles, including the City of Oberlin and portions of New Russia, Carlisle, Pittsfield, and Amherst townships. Students attend school in four buildings: Eastwood Elementary School (grades K-2), Prospect Elementary School (3-5), Langston Middle School (6-8), and Oberlin High School (9-12).

Scope and Content

This group contains mostly statistical information, as early as 1880, on the number of schools and students, costs, and tax information. An illustrated pamphlet on the Arts and Industries Building, constructed in 1936, is present, as are 21 architects’ plans. These plans include floor plans and an encapsulated rendering, n.d., by the architects Patton and Miller; elevations and floor plans by Tim Bosworth, n.d.; and a rendering of a proposed high school building by Eliel Saarinen, 1941.

[77] Records of the Oberlin Historical and Improvement Organization, 1903-1994, 6.5 l.f.

Historical Note

The Oberlin Historical and Improvement Organization (O.H.I.O.) formed in 1964 with the merger of the Oberlin Village Improvement Society (organized in 1903 by Adelia A. Field Johnston with support from Charles Martin Hall) and the Oberlin Historical Society (established in 1960 as a result of attempts to save the Little Red School House and the James Monroe House from demolition). Governed by an 18-member board of trustees, O.H.I.O.’s purpose is to “maintain and operate the historically significant sites, structures, artifacts, records and reproductions, along with promoting the community center’s charitable and literary activities.…” Presently, O.H.I.O. administers the Burrell-King House, 315 E. College St.; the Jewett House, 73 S. Professor St.; the Little Red School House, 73 ½ S. Professor St.; the James Monroe House, 73 ½ S. Professor St.; and the Oberlin Community Center Building, 80 S. Main St.

Scope and Content

This record group contains documents from the present O.H.I.O. and its predecessor organizations. Oberlin Park Board records, 1911-1915, detail plans for the Oberlin park system, with letters and reports from landscape architect Andrew Auten, progress reports, clippings, and nine hand-drawn and printed maps of park properties. The next large body of documentation dates from the 1960s and details the preservation attempts for the Little Red School House and the James Monroe House. Proposed plans for a memorial to Charles Martin Hall are also present. Information on each of O.H.I.O.’s properties—excluding the Burrell-King House—is comprised of histories, maintenance reports, clippings, deeds, usage descriptions, and pamphlets. Board minutes, 1965-1989, cover all aspects of the use and care of the properties. Particularly useful is the Monroe House documentation, including letters from the architectural firm of Clark and Post, “memories” of the early use and inhabitants of the house, and six floor plans. A large number of black and white and color photographs of O.H.I.O. properties are present, as well as a 1918 image of Main Street Oberlin and views of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Finally, researchers will want to consult a 41-page CAP assessment report (July, 1994), which offers a description and condition of the building sites and each building. Included is an O.H.I.O. Master Plan.

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