Just the word “Paris” stimulates the mind and imagination. The Eiffel Tower, quaint café’s, wine, festivities. There is this romantic notion about Paris. Paris, before it was Paris, was settled around 250 BC and was popular because it was a meeting place of land and water trade routes. Then came the Romans, who conquered the area in 52 BC and started a settlement called Lutetia, which became a very popular place with baths, temples, theatres and thriving businesses. By the end of the Western Roman Empire in 476, the town’s Latin name was Parisius, which later became Paris in French. I was born and raised in Paris–Paris, Ohio. No Eiffel Tower. But we did have a school with a honky-tonk bar across from it.
According to Portage County Historical Society records, Paris township was organized in the fall of 1820, the first election on the 10th of November held in the schoolhouse erected a year earlier. My fourth great grandfather Justus Wilson was elected trustee; his son, my third great grandfather Austin Wilson was elected a fence viewer, and my fourth great uncle, Luther Wilson, was elected a constable. There were 25 voters. At this meeting, the township was renamed Paris from its previous name of Storrsborough. While maybe somebody’s hopes and dreams were that Paris, Ohio would become like the Paris in France, that never quite materialized. Today, Paris is pretty much the way it was a hundred years ago, but the school is closed.
My second great grandfather, my great grandfather, both my father and mother, and my brothers and me before were educated in Paris before they closed it in the 1970s and moved everybody to a centralized school. This Paris school was built in the 1920’s along with four other township schools. I’m sure they were top of the line when they were built, but by the time I got there, it was a different story. The school was coal-fired heat in the winter from a boiler room in the basement, across from the first-grade classroom. Second grade was a little further down the hall and then that hall led to the cafeteria where we were served each day with pretty bad food. The water there was also terrible, venting a thick sulfur smell and a similar taste to boot. It was cold in the winter and hot in the early summer when our shirts stuck to the back of the chairs.
But all in all, it was a simpler time. We were taught manners and respect. The teachers were Christians, and many of them also taught Sunday school at their respective churches. As kids, we played together during recess and settled our differences without much interference. There was an air of innocence. Teachers taught reading, writing and arithmetic. There wasn’t any talk of gender back then, unless it involved some mention of “cooties.” And we learned to behave because that old principal, Mr. Baldwin, roamed the halls with his paddle in hand, seeking any excuse of misbehavior to apply the board of education to the seat of knowledge. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” And for 150 years in Paris that’s the way it was, until it wasn’t.