Who says seniors in high school take the easy way out?
Chelcie Swartwout, Chelsea Adams, Amber Rogers, and Justin Allen, all seniors at Eaton High School, embarked on a journey through Preble County’s history which all began in Randy McKinney’s History of Preble County class.
The Gade House, located in downtown Eaton, has been many businesses and a home to many people over the years, however, these teens believe it’s time for the building to receive the recognition it deserves.
“They started working on trying to get the Gade house recognized with a State Historical Marker, and when they began the process, they called the State Historical Society which actually sent them an application to get it approved as a National Historic site,” said McKinney. However, the Nnational application was sent by mistake, as the students noticed the application was more difficult than anticipated.
“We just gotta think of funding, because it’s really expensive to get that accomplished. It’s up to a six-month wait for approval once we submit it. I was hoping we could get it submitted like next week,” said Swartwout. “And then we need to find someone for maintenance and all that stuff.”
The student’s next move is to begin asking local businesses for financial support.
The owners of the building, Rick Gade and Cathy Gade, contacted McKinney asking for his students to tour the building. “Mr. Gade offered us the opportunity to try to get it to become an Ohio Historical Marker. He offered the whole class, and nobody wanted to do it except us four,” said Allen. “So then we took it on by ourselves.”
The History of Preble County course, offered the first semester of their senior year, came to an end in December, however, the four students wanted to carry on their project into their second semester. “We went to the principal, Mr. Couch, and asked him if we could get into an Independent Study class so we could work on this, and he gave us permission to do that,” said Allen.
The Independent Study class is seen as a “flex” credit, which students can only pass or fail.
“So we weren’t forced to do this,” said Allen.
“I’ll be honest here, I took the class because I’m a senior. I don’t have any other classes to take. It turned out to be a fun experience, obviously we’re still doing it. We took interest in it and I’m pretty proud of us, too. We’ve come this far, why not keep going?,” said Swartwout.
The History of Preble County course taught by McKinney was born five years ago and has been ever-changing since. “I thought it was a shame when I had kids in U.S. History and we would talk about a certain period in history and they had no way of connecting it to local history,” said McKinney. “It’s a self-directed, non-traditional classroom. I will give them things to give them a grade on, in terms of packets and this and that, and we’ll discuss it; but a lot of it is self-driven and self-directed and that is what I was really looking for.” McKinney explains that the four students are exceptional in their desire to take this particular history lesson even further.
“There have been a lot of obstacles, I’ll be honest,” said Swartwout. “Technical issues, snow days, where we have less and less time to get it accomplished.” Adams explains the national application was a significant obstacle for the group, in that once they were told they were completing the wrong application, the group was close to giving up.
Rogers said she had been to the Genealogy room of the Preble County District Library, “They were very helpful. They helped me figure out a ton of stuff that we didn’t know,” she said.
“The Gades have been great because they offered an opportunity, and they’ve turned it into more than an opportunity for these guys and I’ll say this now, I know Rick was kinda skeptical at first whether or not these guys were really willing to take it and do really what he kinda hoped they might be willing to do and has been really happy that they have,” said McKinney.
To the Gades, Swartwout said, “Our goal was to get this done for you guys but at the same time, make sure everything was what you guys wanted. It’s not about us, we’re seniors, we’re going to go to college and stuff, but at the same time, it’s an experience of a lifetime for us we get to do this for you guys.”
“It’s a way to preserve history in Eaton,” said Rick Gade.
Rick Gade, a native of Preble County, finds his passion in restoring older homes in the area. However, this specific building has proved to be far more interesting to him than the rest. “We’ve found a lot of Preble County artifacts,” said Rick Gade. “And a lot Civil War artifacts,” said his son, Ryan Gade.
“They have a very significant history. We’re talking a U.S. President stayed overnight in the home,” said Ryan. The home, located on the second floor of the building, housed William Henry Harrison for an evening.
Rick said the students’ involvement in the project has inspired his desire to make the building a museum.
“I think maybe an old-fashioned General Store and museum would bring, keep the history alive. Some people may be interested in seeing parts of the building where President William Henry Harrison stayed and all the artifacts. Plus some people in the community might want to loan stuff for other people to look at,” said Rick Gade. He also said his appreciation of the history of Preble County has increased since beginning his work with the students.
Since beginning his work on the building, Rick Gade has unearthed various artifacts including a trading card from one Preble County founder, Cornelius Van Ausdal’s trading post. Other artifacts include a flier from Wounded Union Soldiers from 1863, newspapers from the era, and shoes. “I almost don’t have time to work on [the building], I keep finding historical stuff,” said Rick.
“The thing I’ve always heard about, when people find an old shoe in a house it’s usually a single shoe, or boot, or whatever. I’ve always heard that’s for good luck. They would throw one in the attic, or even in an old wall if they were repairing it and they would leave it there. Never two, never the whole pair, just one,” said McKinney. “And we’ve never found both pairs,” said Ryan Gade.
Cathy Gade explains that the group has found artifacts from the years of 1840 to 1870, and nothing further. Also recovered from the home years ago, was the first piano on the Western-side of the Allegheny Mountains, which now can be found in the Preble County Historical Society.
Finding it difficult to categorize his new building, Rick Gade said, “I found a zoning book from 1858 for the City of Eaton, so I’m going by those zoning rules.”
Ryan Gade said he has experienced what could be believed as paranormal activity in the building such as doors becoming locked where there is no key to lock them.
McKinney is confident that the building will be acknowledged by the Ohio Historical Society.
Ways to donate to the project are to be decided.