The current Napoleon Middle School, John L. Johnson auditorium, and Central Elementary School complex sits on the original site of Union School, the fourth school built in Napoleon.
As early as 1837, school was held in a log cabin near Craig’s Tavern. A one-story frame building was built near the present courthouse around 1838. In the 1850’s, another school was built at the rear of the Bitzer block on East Clinton Street, one block east of Perry Street. Another story was added which housed a large bell. This bell, rung by hand, called the children to school and could be heard all over the village. This bell now has a place of honor on the lawn of the Central School. In the fire of 1869 which burned the wooden courthouse and most of the business area, the school also was burned to the ground, with only the bell being saved. For several years, until 1871, school was held in rented rooms.
In 1865, the Board of Education agreed unanimously to purchase a tract of ground lying south of the Methodist Church and joining the canal (the present W. Main Street). This ground belonged to Henry Yeager and was sold for $4,000. A new brick school called the Union School was erected here in1871 at a cost of $40,000. The first graduating class in 1875 had 2 boys and 9 girls.
Several years later, it became apparent that the building was not large enough to accommodate the increasing number of students. Additions and improvements were completed for the school year 1906-07. On the morning of March 10, 1908, a fire broke out in the school building, destroying the third floor and part of the second. The destroyed and damaged sections were repaired and Union School was then used for elementary students.
A new high school was erected in 1921 adjacent to the Union School. In 1935, with WPA funds, a brand new auditorium and gymnasium joined the old Union School with the new building.
In the early 1950’s, due to increased enrollment and the badly deteriorating old Union School, a bond issue was passed to raze the Union building and build a new elementary school. Construction began in 1953. At this time, it was necessary to hold classes for elementary students in the gymnasium with split, half-day sessions. The building was completed in 1955, and the old school bell was moved to a place of honor on the school lawn.
In 1982 the auditorium was renovated and dedicated as the John L. Johnson Auditorium, in honor of the longtime teacher and principal of the high school. Johnson’s resume includes duties of English teacher, Student Council Advisor, Drama Club Advisor, Debate and Speech Club Advisor, coach of varsity tennis, junior high football and basketball, athletic director, principal, assistant superintendent, and superintendent. He retired in August of 1972, with all 38 years of service with the Napoleon City Schools.
The auditorium is a much used addition to the school and community today.
Johnson, John and Lois. “Public Education.” Napoleon School History, c.1, 1976. Property of Henry County Historical Society.
Johnson, John L. “John L. Johnson, April 5, 1913-November 27, 1993.” Resume. Property of Henry County Historical Society.
Patterson, Russ and Mary Fran Meekison. “High School.” Canal Days to Modern Ways Revisited. Napoleon, Ohio 1834-1984. Napoleon: Napoleon 150, 1984.
Napoleon Union School #1/#2. Digital image. Old Ohio Schools. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 June 2012.