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A glimpse of time from 90 years ago has been discovered by contractors taking down Ravenna's old high school.
Behind the school's cornerstone, laid during a Masonic cornerstone laying ceremony on May 10, 1922, was a metal box containing glimpses to the past of Ravenna, its city government, school district, new high school and Masons.
Superintendent Dennis Honkala said two members of the demolition crew, All Excavating of Youngstown, walked into the nearby board office on Dec. 7 to report that they had found the metal box, about two feet long and several inches high, behind the cornerstone of the building. The cornerstone was one of the historical artifacts the district wanted the contractors to save.
"They said, 'You're never going to believe what we found behind the cornerstone," he said.
The building is being demolished to make way for a new development being facilitated by the Portage County Port Authority, the county's development arm.
No officials at the district, including some who had been there for decades, were aware that the time capsule had been buried, Honkala said, and nobody at City Hall had any recollection of it. There was no mention of a time capsule in newspaper coverage of the school's opening ceremony in August 1923.
"The thing I keep thinking about is that had we not requested that certain artifacts be preserved, this would have been lost in the rubble," Honkala said. "No one ever would have uncovered it."
Honkala said in addition to the cornerstone and arch, the district plans to preserve the steps to the building, bricks that spell out "Ravenna High School" and the block that has the date 1923. Other materials from inside the school, including the district's Hall of Fame, the Manhood and Womanhood awards, and Randy the Raven, have been incorporated into the design of the new high school.
Historians believe the metal box was placed there by the Masons of Unity Lodge No. 12, which still meet at the Masonic Temple on Washington Avenue in Ravenna. Some of the items inside the time capsule refer to the cornerstone ceremony, and other documents refer to the Masons.
"I'm sure if they were there, they were part of it," said David Johns of the Ravenna Masonic Temple, adding that time capsules were very commonly placed by Masons. "They are still doing them today."
Lining the bottom of the box is a thick set of blueprints to the original school building, which opened in August, 1923 with a dedication ceremony. Construction started in 1921 on the building, and took two years.
The blueprints, like most of the contents of the box, were damaged by water, which likely entered through a small hole at the bottom of the box. They are covered by a thin layer of black mold.
Other items inside include copies of the May 4, 1922, Portage County Democrat and the May 8, 1922, Ravenna Republican, the two newspapers at the time; the "Ravenna Directory" (a cloth-bound phone book); and lists of every city official and every teacher and staff member at all five district buildings. The list of school staff is dated May 10, 1922, the same day as the cornerstone ceremony.
"We were just in awe of how well everything was preserved," Honkala said, noting that it was "incredible" that the papers lasted for 90 years.
The box also contains literature on the Unity Lodge and the Grand Lodge of Ohio. That Lodge, which still presides over all Masonic activities in the state, Joyce said, included two Ravennans among its Grand Officers. They were A.B. Fairchild, a funeral director who served as Grand Tyler, and O.P. Sperra, chairman of the committee on foreign correspondence. The Masons, Johns said, left no information on the time capsule or when it was to be opened.
The copy of the Ravenna Republican inside the capsule had a front-page story on the high school and the cornerstone ceremony. The headline proclaimed that the high school would be "All that was promised, and more."
The article describing the building mentioned the gymnasium, cafeteria and auditorium, noting that it seated more than 900 and had a stage "that would compare favorably with those of the best metropolitan show houses."
"It will be a building of which the city may at all times be proud," the article stated.
Board of Education member Joan Seman said said the board plans to ask local historian Wayne Enders if there is any way to remove the mold from the paperwork and preserve it. She noted that the board did not bury a time capsule with the new high school on North Chestnut Street but expressed hope that one would be put together soon.
"I was just awestruck at how fortunate we were that we found this because we wanted to save the arch," she said. "What a wonderful piece of history."
She said she feels a twinge of regret every time she drives past the wreckage of the school building, lamenting that the district had to demolish it because nobody was willing to preserve it.
"I hope the Port Authority will build something that will make Ravenna better," she said.
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