The History of Ashtabula & Harbor High Schools
Darrell E. Hamilton
Ashtabula's now two defunct high schools had a long and glorious history. Ashtabula
had the distinction of being the oldest continuous operating high school in the state. Start-
ed in 1856 in what was the Ashtabula Academy, Ashtabula got its start after the people of
Ashtabula voted to adopt the Union School (graded) System by a vote of 113 to 53.
A short time later, a form of the school board called directors, were elected. Some of the
directors' surnames are still prominent in Ashtabula. The directors elected were as follows:
Henry L. Morrison, Stephen Hall, J. A. Prentice, F. Carlisle, H. Fassett and L. Hall. The first
superintendent and principal of the newly formed school was the Rev. Charles E. Bruce. Rev.
Bruce served those positions until 1861. His wife, Eliza A. Bruce, also taught school with him
for awhile. The first Ashtabula High School had but one teacher, Miss L. A. Harthan.
The school was free to all persons of suitable age residing within the borough limits and
the school district attached thereto for school purposes. Since there were no other high
schools in the area, students living outside the limits of the school district could attend the
newly formed school for a fee of $16 per term in advance. A lot of students did attend Ashta-
bula High School from outside the school district.
Before the formation of a regular school board, no diplomas were issued. When a student
passed all of his or her exams, their education at that level was complete. After the for-
mation of a regular school board, "The Board of Education", the first diplomas were issued
in 1872. The class of 1872 contained five graduates, four girls and one boy. In the early years,
it was not unusual for more girls to be graduated than boys. In 1881, Ashtabula High School
also had five graduates, all girls. Many years would pass before the boys would out number
In 1879, the Harbor Special School District was created. For lack of suitable rooms, the
Harbor Special School District was not very successful in the beginning. Most Harbor
Special School District students who wanted to further their education, attended Ashtabula
On April 6, 1885, Ashtabula voted in favor of a new school building by a vote of 368 to 11.
On September 17, 1886, Ashtabula dedicated its first high school building that cost a grand
total of $33,282.17. The first building built especially for a high school stood where the Ball
Gymnasium now stands. Up until this time, the old Ashtabula Academy building served as
Ashtabula High School.
In 1887, the first class to graduate from the new school contained thirteen graduates,
all girls. One of the girls had to be number thirteen. Being quite superstitious in those days
the girl did not want to be number thirteen. Since there was no way around it, she decided
not to attend graduating ceremonies and have her diploma mailed to her. Apparently bad
luck followed anyway. She became the first member of her class to die. Almost exactly to the
day, a year after graduating, she died.
Ashtabula High School - 1886-1902
In 1890, the Harbor Special School District saw a need for a new building if their school
district was going to be successful. In 1891, a new school building was completed. This was
the first Harbor High School. In 1893, the first Harbor High School graduates received their
diplomas. There were a total of six graduates, three girls and three boys. Because early
school records were either lost or destroyed and local newspapers no longer exist for the
1890's, history of the early Harbor High School is sketchy at best
Harbor High School - 1891-1912
Most Ashtabula citizens think that the first black student to graduate the city high
schools was in the 1940's or 1950's. The first black student to graduate from a county school
came before the turn of the century in 1896.
The beautiful young ladies name was Mamie Turner. Since newspaper and school records
no longer exist and Ashtabula High School never had a yearbook until 1908, I might not have
ever found this fact out if it had not been for my wife's great-grandmother. She, Edna Young,
was also a 1896 graduate of Ashtabula High School. She had saved all the pictures of her
graduating classmates of 1896 and the pictures were eventually passed on to my wife, Sharon.
I have also researched all the census records of the time to verify my facts. With this fact, Ash-
tabula High School was the oldest continuing high school in the state to have graduated a
black student. The Ashtabula class of 1896 contained seventeen graduates, three boys and
fourteen girls. Mamie Turner later was married and moved to Cleveland. She died there at
the age of thirty.
In the same year, 1896, Harbor High School had eight graduates, three boys and five
girls. There were no graduates for Harbor High School in the years of 1894 and 1898.
The smallest class to graduate Ashtabula High School was in 1875 when there were
only two graduates.
After the turn of the century, Ashtabula was a booming city. In 1902, a new school
opened on Park Ave. where the old Academy (first Ashtabula High School) building stood.
However, the first Ashtabula High School was not torn down when a new high school was
built. The School Board sold the building to D. W. Haskell and he had it moved to where the
present Carlisle Building now stands. The old Academy Building, turned into a store front,
stood on Main Street until 1924 when it was razed for the new Carlisle Building.
Ashtabula High School - 1856-1886
Ashtabula High School 1902 - 1915
Even though the east Harbor area was in the Ashtabula City School District, the west
Harbor area Harbor area, (Harbor School District) was growing at an accelerated pace. By
1902, Harbor High School boys would out number the girls seven to six. With the lower
grades bulging at the seams, the people of the Harbor had a new high school built. On Sep-
tember 9, 1912, the present Harbor High School building opened. The first class to graduate
them new Harbor High School building opened. The first class to graduate the new Harbor
High School contained seventeen graduates.
In 1915, the city of Ashtabula would build a new high school. This would make four new
high schools in a period of thirty years. All built during the tenure of elected mayors. On Jan-
uary 3, 1916, the present high school building opened.
After 1916, Ashtabula had the distinction of having one of the best high schools in the
state. Not just in the terms of a new building, but both schools were ranked high academi-
Ashtabula High School would break the hundred mark as 104 were graduated in 1922.
In 1932, Harbor High School would hit the hundred mark as 104 graduated Harbor High
In 1935, Ashtabula had 282 graduates. The next year, the number of graduates was
down due to a new high school on the east side of Ashtabula. 1936 was the first year for grad-
uates for Edgewood High School. Throughout the 1930's and 1940's, the number of students
that graduated at Bula stayed above 200 and at times hovered close to 300 with the excep-
tion of 1945 when only 199 were graduated due mostly to World War II. During the same
period, the number of graduates for Harbor declined from a high of 104 in 1932 to a low of 49
In July of 1954, the old Ashtabula High School that stood where Ball Gymnasium now
stands, was torn down to make room for a new gymnasium. The old high school building had
been used as a junior high and elementary school until 1952 when the students were trans-
ferred to the new Station Ave. Building. The old high school wasss used for storage and art
classes the next two years. Before the building was torn down, the school bell was carefully
taken down and later mounted on the east wall of the Ball Gymnasium. However, that was
not the only thing that was carefully t aken down to be saved. The sandstone headstone
which bore the date of construction (1885) was also saved. The idea at the time was to retain
the headstone as a memorial to the first high school building. Does anyone know what hap-
pened to this headstone?
In 1957, there was another cut in high school graduates at Harbor and Ashtabula High
Schools. This would be the first year for St. John High School graduates.
In 1960, the Ashtabula City Schools and the Harbor School Districts were consolidated.
The Harbor and Ashtabula had been joined together as a community since 1877. With the
merger of the two school districts, new boundaries were drawn for the high schools. Some
students that had Ashtabula, now went to Harbor. When the boundaries were drawn, the
graduating class of Harbor High School almost doubled. In 1965, the combined schools
graduated 509. In 2001, both high schools would only graduate 262.
To June 30, 2001, (the official death date of each high school) there have been 27,761 to
graduate both high school; 18,068 from Ashtabula High School and 9,693 at Harbor High
Ashtabula High School Class Web Sites
Class of 1949
Class of 1965
Class of 1969
Harbor High School Class Web Sites
Have a Ashtabula or Harbor High School web site you like posted here?