Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 26
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: October 1988 Volume 26 Number 4, Pages 141–144
Old Eagle School
The history of the Old Eagle School, on the road that now bears its name in Strafford, began in 1765. In that year Jacob Sharraden, a German immigrant, bought 150 acres of land in Tredyffrin, just north of the present Strafford railroad station, and set aside a part of this ground for a church and school house. A deed was executed by him to certain individuals of the community as Trustees or Committeemen; it covered the present graveyard, church and school house lot, dedicating it to public use. The deed was apparently read aloud to the public on various occasions, but unfortunately was never recorded, and is now lost.
Over the entrance on the south side of the building, facing Private Way, is a stone bearing the date "1788". This probably marks the date that the existing school house was erected. At that time only eleven states had adopted the U. S. Constitution, and George Washington had not yet assumed the presidency. A log church or meeting house had earlier been erected some years prior to 1788, approximately 10 feet north of the present stone school house. This log building was used as a church until 1805, when it was demolished and the stone school house used for both a school and a church meeting house.
The original school house was smaller than today's building. It initially faced Old Eagle School Road. The original entry way, now walled up, consisted of double doors and was flanked on either side by two windows, one of which (the one on the north side) is now also completely walled up while the other has been narrowed.
Over the old entry way is a stone with the initials "A G" and the date "1794" scratched into it. These are reportedly the initials of Andrew Garden, who was the schoolmaster at the time. He hcd come from Ireland, which may account for the shamrock that is also inscribed adjacent to his initials. (Many of the early schoolmasters were Irish. Another, James Boyle, who was the teacher there in the early 1800s, was known as "Old Erin", which was sometimes corrupted to "Schoolmaster Ehrens".)
The tuition fee to attend the school was three cents a day, or $2.00 for a quarter. In addition, the pupils had to provide their own goose quill pens, using ink made from a bruised nut gall or rusty nails soaked in water, although most of the work was done on slates with a slate stylus. The children sat on logs that had been split, the rounded portion braced with legs. Down the middle of the school was a partition or divider, the boys on one side of the partition and the girls on the other.
In 1836 Pennsylvania adopted the Public School System, and with it the administration of the school house gradually passed from the Trustees or Committeemen to the Tredyffrin Township School District, which assumed complete control in 1854. In 1842 the school was enlarged by about one-third, and you can still see a difference in the color of the stones that were used to extend the building to the south towards Private Way. When the School Board erected a new school at Pechin's Corner [the intersection of Upper Gulph and Old Eagle School roads] in 1872, the Old Eagle School was closed and its key given to the Union Sunday Schcol.
The building was intermittently used by itinerant preachers for the next twenty years. At one point in the 1860s the St. David's Episcopal Church raised funds with the hopes of establishing a mission in the old building. In the early 1870s it was occupied by a Peter Mullen, who claimed that he had "squatter's rights" to the property in exchange for taking care of the graveyard adjacent to the school. (His neighbors protested, and he was arrested, but was acquitted when a charge of forcible entry could not be proved. Later the building was occupied by a person known as "Chicken Lizzie" (her real name was Elizabeth Dickensheet) who, obviously, raised chickens there. During this period the old school house fell into disrepair and became quite dilapidated.
Finally, in 1895, as a result of litigation in the Chester County Court of Common Pleas between a group of members of the community and the Tredyffrin School District, the Court determined that the School District did not own the school house. At the same time, title to the property was established in five Trustees (later expanded to eight) members of the community, to be held by them "for the general use and good of the neighborhood for religious and educational purposes and the repose of the dead". In that same year a subscription was started to obtain funds for the restoration of the Old Eagle School property. The building was restored in 1900, at a cost of $600.
In the adjoining graveyard are some 70 graves, including those of many early settlers of the area -- among them Christian Workiser and his wife Margaretta, the daughter of the Jacob Sharraden who was the donor of the property - as well as several Revolutionary War soldiers who died during the Valley Forge encampment in 1777-78. The graves of these patriots are simply marked by field stones; in 1905 a marker was erected with this inscription: "In unmarked graves / within this ancient school ground / were laid the bones of many soldiers / of the American Revolution / whose names so far as known / are inscribed upon this boulder. / In grateful remembrance of / the common debt due these humble patriots / this memorial /was dedicated Anno Domino MCMV on the / one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence".
The graves of Christian Workiser and his wire Margaretta are located in this cemetery among the graves that are closer to the Old Eagle School Road. A history of these two early settlers has been furnished by Viola Kennedy, a direct descendant.
Christian Workiser (also spelled Workheiser, Workhuer, and Werkheiser, among other variants) was a soldier by profession, he joined the British Army at Aschaffenburg in Germany in 1743 as a lieutenant. Fifteen years later he attained the rank of colonel and came to America in the train of General James Wolfe, under whom he served in Canada against the French. He retired from the service after the death of Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec, having served on his staff. He married Margaretta (probably in her sixteenth year), the daughter of Jacob Sharraden, a French-German of Quebec who had, in 1765, purchased a tract of 150 acres in Tredyffrin from a Sampson Davis and his wife. The tract was near the Spread Eagle Tavern and in the immediate vicinity of what is now known as the Old Eagle School. The ground for the school (and also the graveyard site and probably a site for a Lutheran meeting house), a little over an acre in size, were donated by him.
It is probable that the Sharradens and Workisers arrived in this area at about the same time, the latter settling on a small farm near Howell's Tavern. In 1766 Christian Workiser was listed in the tax records as a freeman and shopkeeper, but in the following year he became a yeoman and freeholder when his father-in-law conveyed to him 147 acres of his 150 acre tract just north of the present Strafford station.
Although Colonel Workiser had been repeatedly and heavily fined for not turning out with the militia during the Revolution, it is believed that he was not a Tory. Perhaps he felt that the oath he had taken upon entering the British Army was in some way binding, and that he simply could not turn his sword against his old companions in arms, or perhaps as a veteran officer of one of the most elite corps in Europe he did not wish to submit to the blundering commands of a new subaltern of the rural district.
Acting Brigadier General Agnew occupied the Workiser premises during the British encampment in Tredyffrin in September 1777, and the Colonel's losses in sheep, fowl, grain, fence rails, harness, etc., as set forth in the official reports, amounted to £126, 14 s. (In his itemized list it is significant that there is no mention of the loss of horses.)
Col. Workiser died in 1786, and was interred in the cemetery adjacent to the Old Eagle School.
His wife Margaretta has been described as a woman of great strength of character. It is related
that during the winter of the British occupation of Philadelphia, she walked all the way from her
home to her brother's house in the city and returned with medicines and other prchibited necessities
concealed in her pockets. She died February 4, 1803, in her 55th year. Her remains, were also laid
to rest in the same cemetery; on her grave is a stone on which is inscribed
(A replica cf the original red stone can be found directly in front of the old one. It was placed there by her descendant, Viola Kennedy.)
Upkeep of the Old Eagle Schcol house and cemetery is dependent upon the support of the community. Both the Strafford Civic Association and the Deepdale Civic Association help, but volunteer labor to cut the grass, trim the hedges, paint, and make minor repairs is needed. Money is also needed for insurance and major repairs. Checks should be payable to the "Trustees of the Old Eagle School", and all contributions qualify as charitable deductions for federal income tax purposes.
Page last updated: 2011-02-23 at 16:50 EST