There were just four other costituent members — Gilbert Sexton and his wife, Deborah, and William Adams and his mother, Eleanor Jackson Adams. Present at the organizational meeting were two Congregational pastors — Rev. William Williams and Rev. Alan Coe. The latter had a long and valuable connection with the Firelands, which I’ve written of in the past.
The little congregation grew quickly, and in 1823 moved into the village of Milan. Their meeting place was a schoolhouse on the lot where the town hall stands and here they soon voted to assume the Presbyterian form of government rather than the Congregational. After meeting for a time in another schoolhouse on West Church Street, it was decided to construct a church home in 1836.
This original church was an imposing Greek Revival building, but became one of the victims of the great fire of 1888 in Milan. It stood on the site of the present church and appropriately enough, it faced Church Street. Most of the “leg work” of church construction fell to Rev. Everton Judson, the pastor, in conjunction with Milan businessman Needham Standart. Rev. Judson had come to Milan in 1829 and remained there as pastor until his death in 1848.
In 1831, soon after his arrival in Milan, Rev. Judson conceived a plan for an institution of higher learning, and presented it to the Presbytery. He envisioned a “Manual Labor School” to train young men for college. At that time Ohio did not have the K-12 system, and a young person desiring higher education needed more training after the eighth grade to qualify for college. Note that this was not to be a coeducational school. That radical move was originated by Oberlin College a few years later.
Rev. Judson’s idea came to fruition in a three-story brick building about where the main entrance to the cemetery is now. Broad Street was opened as a very “broad street” to be an entrance to the school grounds from South Main. The school opened in 1832, but did not last long as a manual labor school. Most such schools were not a manual success, but Milan’s was an educational success for 25 years or more. Rev. Judson’s creation was known as the Huron Institute due to its then being located in Huron County, before Erie County was formed.
In 1858, it was leased for a Normal School to train teachers, and continued for several years after that. After standing empty for some years, it was razed in 1910. A plaque just inside the cemetery entrance reminds us of the school’s existence. I have read that a Milan citizen built a new home with bricks from the razed building, but I have never verified this. If so, some of the ancient bricks from 1831 still survive.
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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at Colonial Flower and Gift Shoppe at 7 W. Main St. in downtown Norwalk. These preserve my earlier columns in permanent book form.
Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.