I was driving through what felt like Nowhere, Ohio. A vast, empty space. Farms with a few, low buildings scattered here and there.
I came up to the one crossroads in the unincorporated town of Irwin and saw this: a gigantic, abandoned building. Far bigger than anything else around. I grabbed my camera and took a snap. I drove off, not sure what to make of it.
I had to find out what that building was. How could it have ever made sense for such a tiny community to have such a big building? When had it been abandoned and why?
Discovering what the building was pretty easy: it was a schoolhouse, built in 1906 and abandoned in 1939. But that just made it odder: a hundred years ago, Irwin was probably even smaller than it is now! There were no signs that it had been a bigger town. There can’t have been that many schoolchildren in town. Where did they come from?
I remembered my recent research into the neon Wonder Bread sign in Columbus and how it had been placed there to overlook a railroad. Perhaps this was the same: perhaps there had once been a railroad connecting Irwin to bigger towns. So I pulled up some old maps, including this one of Union County in 1898 (source):
Irwin was on a direct train line to county seat, Marysville. The railroad continued south west and connected with Mechanicsburg, another sizeable town. Although Wikipedia describes it as a village, over a hundred years ago it was a sizeable town, as this postcard from 1906 shows (source):
From the mid-nineteenth century, Marysville was a burgeoning industrial centre. In 1868, Civil War veteran Orlando Scott founded an agriculture company there which would eventually become Scott’s Miracle-Gro.
So, we have a lot of pieces of the puzzle. But how do they fit together? If we make a few educated guesses, maybe by 1906 there was enough of a population commuting to Marysville and Mechanicsburg who had enough money to build the grand schoolhouse in Irwin. Maybe by 1939 a combination of the decline of the railroads with the growth of Marysville and Mechanicsburg meant the population shifted, making the schoolhouse in Irwin redundant.
Even though it’s long gone, if you look at a satellite map of the area, you can still see where the railroad used to run. I point it out with white arrows in this map (source):
For now, this will remain one of life’s half-solved mysteries. If any readers know any more about the abandoned schoolhouse in Irwin, I’d love to hear from you!
Abandoned Schoolhouse from 1906
Address: Intersection of the 161, 4 and Post Road, Irwin OH
Hours: Visible 24/7