A museum — within a public school

“This is a school?”

”This is a museum!”

When someone reads that phrase, they might immediately conjure up images of a school in Los Angeles, New York City or possibly even Paris.

However, those words came from Matt Shelton, principal of McClain High School in Greenfield, when he responded to a question asking how people react when they walk into the school for the first time.

McClain High School contains more than 120 paintings, 37 sculptures, a dozen photographs, drinking fountains with Rookwood pottery backgrounds, several large murals, and four Latin-inscribed Moravian panels on the exterior of the high school.

Shelton said the school was donated to the village by Edward and Lulu McClain. He said the McClains were originally looking for the school to be constructed on a budget of $80,000 in 1912, but it ended up costing about $250,000 in 1915, which is when the school was dedicated.

When the school was dedicated, the governor of Ohio was present to give a speech and the founder of the Columbus Dispatch attended the dedication to take photographs.

According to the Greenfield Historical Society, in later years the McClains expanded the original building with a vocational building including a natatorium as well as land for athletic fields.

Shelton said that Lulu McClain played a big part in getting the school to its high level of quality. He said she had connections in the art industry and that is how she brought in murals, paintings, pictures and busts.

Shelton said one of the highest profile pieces of artwork the school has is “Ginevra,” an original sculpture donated to the school by William G. Moler, a former superintendent of schools in Greenfield in the 1920s.

A wide, winding marble stepway that students are not supposed to walk on until after graduation is another highlight.

“The kids are unbelievable about respecting it,” Shelton said. “They do not go on those steps. I mean, I could be standing on them and say, ‘Come here. I want to show you something.’ And then the kids will freeze and say like, ‘Mr. Shelton, I can’t walk up there.’ It’s like ingrained. It’s a tradition.”

He said another noteworthy piece of artwork is a statue of Athena which is located on the first-floor corridor. Shelton said the piece of artwork was purchased by C.R. Patterson, the only Black automobile manufacturer in the United States whose business was located in Greenfield. Before producing automobiles, Patterson made buggies.

Patterson donated the statue to the school, according to Shelton.

“It’s really neat, the community support behind the school. It’s the heart of the community,” Shelton said. “It sits in the middle of the town and it’s locally funded. So, when you have a locally funded museum of a school, it’s just a really neat thing, and as an alumnus myself, there’s just a lot of pride.

“I guess we’re appreciative of the gift that Mr. McClain gave and of the continued support from the community over the last 106 years.”

McClain High School was dedicated in September 1915, and soon after the first students filed into its hallways and classrooms.

In his speech during the 2015 centennial celebration of the school, former superintendent Terry Fouch said the McClains “had the vision of a great institution designed to train the heart and head and hand of the youth of the community, and through them and its civic activities, to touch the lives of every man and woman in this community.”

Current Greenfield Superintendent Quincey Gray said, “Edward Lee McClain, an outstanding leader and innovator, gave such a wonderful gift to our community that so many people have worked diligently to maintain. It is only fitting to pause and recognize him for his contribution that has stood the test of time.”

Salt Magazine