SHELBY – A modest red brick building sits alongside Ohio 96 just west of Shelby, more than 100 years worth of history lives within its walls.

The one-room Morton Schoolhouse originally played an important role in the early education of pioneer families. These days, it serves as a museum/classroom where students from across north central Ohio learn in a unique, historically accurate teaching environment.

Retired teacher Cathy Biglin currently serves as the schoolmarm of the Morton Schoolhouse, where she is known as Miss Finnegan.

After teaching social studies for 35 years in both Willard and Shelby City Schools, teaching in the one-room schoolhouse was a natural transition for Biglin.

“I was a history major first, that was my first love,” Biglin said. “I think so much about the importance of our children knowing our heritage, and to know what the United States of America really is about.”

The Morton Schoolhouse was originally constructed in 1882, and was restored in 2002 thanks to contributions from the Richland County Foundation and the Shelby Foundation, as well as the Sharon Township trustees. It’s been used as a museum and classroom since 2003.

A typical school day at the one-room schoolhouse involves students learning the new rules of behavior that were standard in the 1800s, and working through old-time reading, writing, arithmetic and spelling lessons. The learning methods may be different than present day, but Biglin noted the courses do match today’s educational standards.

“When they come out here, they can leave and know the differences between education today and education yesterday, and they can compare and contrast,” Biglin said. “They can see the technological changes that have taken place. They are getting the significance of the differences, and one of those big differences is it’s very strict.”

Biglin teaches history lessons using primary sources such as items of memorabilia and old school photos provided by former Morton Schoolhouse students. She also emphasizes how local communities change over time, and how to use informational texts to closer examine a topic.

“By looking at artifacts, you learn about history and the importance of things that are old,” Biglin said. “I always tell them when you go to a museum, don’t run through it.”

Third grade students from Reagan Elementary School in Ashland had no problem falling into the classroom routine of yesteryear. Teacher Caren Carlisle was impressed with her class.

“It’s amazing how they can fall into being students of back then,” Carlisle said. “They’re sitting very prim and proper with their hands up and following directions, but if you give them too much leeway they go back to being kids of today.”

Carlisle noted her class employs a lot of literature-based learning from the “Little House” book series, which connects well with the firsthand experiences at the Morton Schoolhouse.

“It’s nice to actually see the then-and-now of long ago today and all the different things in both the social studies and the literature that we do,” she said. “It kind of brings it home because it makes them see what it was really like.”

A visit to the Morton Schoolhouse is more than just another day in the classroom. Students also have the opportunity to play old-fashioned games and get hands-on experience using classic classroom materials like chalkboards or writing with quills. At the end of the day, students take home a wooden pencil from the museum, a paper booklet of their quill-writing experience, and their own handmade clay marbles.

For Biglin, she hopes students take home valuable lessons as well.

“I want them to know the changes on education through the years that stem from discipline, from work and in the home, and just day-to-day practices,” she said.

For more information about the Morton Schoolhouse, visit or to book a free classroom visit, contact Tom Clabaugh at 419-347-2743 or email

The Education section is brought to you by Ashland Family YMCA.

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