Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 35
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: April 1997 Volume 35 Number 2, Pages 55–66
Public Schools of Easttown and Tredyffrin Townships - Part I
The citizens of Easttown and Tredyffrin townships are fortunate indeed to be able to have serving their community a school system of the quality of the Tredyffrin/Easttown Schools. They are fortunate in that they are served by a great school system providing their children with a superior education. For the past five decades, the T/E School Board has, with the support of an affluent and highly educated citizenry, been able to ensure that the schools of the community continue to provide that superior education to the children of the community. In the past decade, the Tredyffrin/Easttown Schools have won awards and national recognition for the quality of the the education they provide - quality recognized among the colleges and universities to which the seniors of our high school have applied for admission.
It is interesting to note that our communities of Easttown and Tredyffrin have been served by some fifty different school houses at different times during the 290-odd years of their existence as incorporated townships. While there are and have been several fine and useful private schools active in Easttown and Tredyffrin, the public schools, since the passage of the Common School Act of 1834, have been the backbone of the educational system in Pennsylvania. This article will focus on the past and present public schools and leave the private schools of our community to another writer.
The roots of our educational system lie in the traditions which the first Europeans who came across the wide Atlantic in search of homes in the New World brought
with them. Both the Swedes and the Dutch who first settled in the Delaware Valley in the 1630s were deeply religious and possessed strong educational traditions and institutions at home which in both nations originated in the intellectual awakenings of the Reformation. Both nations were leaders of the Protestant Reformation, Sweden as a Lutheran nation and the Netherlands as a member of the Reformed party.
The Swedish colonists were required by the Swedish Crown to support at all times as many schoolmasters as ministers in their settlements, but due to the nature of Swedish settlement, the few ministers, such as the Rev. John Campanius Holm and the Rev. Reorus Torkillus, who resided on the Delaware, restricted their activity to the vicinity of the Swedish forts. Those colonists who lived at some distance from the forts were only occasionally served by them.
The Dutch, who were great rivals of the Swedes, lived in smaller settlements and were not as scattered as the Swedes. The first mention of a schoolmaster was in 1657 when Evert Pietersen arrived at Fort Amstel from Holland to open a school for the children of the community. The City of Amsterdam, directors of the Dutch colony, agreed to build a schoolhouse at the Fort Amstel settlement, but no records of the period refer to such a building. It is quite likely that the children of Fort Amstel, just as did the children of the Swedish colony, studied in the community church during the week when no services were being held.
Under the English, who seized the colonies on the Delaware in 1644, little about the educational arrangement seems to have changed. Few English colonists ventured into the area from England or New York. Therefore, there would probably have been few English children to teach in their own school. There is a case in the records of the Upland Court in which one Edward Draughton brought suit against Duncan Williams for the sum of 200 guilders for teaching the defendent's children to read for one year – a suit which Draughton won.
William Penn, who received his grant of Pennsylvania and the already estab lished colony on the Delaware in 1682, was a strong advocate of a system of education. He wrote in Article Twelve of his Frame of Government, "That the Governor and Provincial Council shall erect and order all public schools, and encourage and reward the authors of useful sciences and laudable inventions in the said province." [Colonial Records, Vol. I, page 34]
The Second Frame of Government or Great Law adopted by the Assembly in March, 1683 states, "To the End that Poor as well as Rich may be instructed in good and commendable learning, Which is to be preferred before wealth, Be it &c, that all persons in this Province and territories thereof, having Children, and
all the Guardians and Trustees of Orphans, shall cause such to be instructed in Reading and Writing; so that they may be able to read the Scriptures; and to write by the time they attain to twelve years of age, and that they then be taught some useful trade or Skill, that the poor may work to Live & the rich if they become Poor, may not want, of which every County Court shall take Care, And in Case such parents, guardian or Overseer shall be found deficient in this respect Every parent, guardian or Overseer shall pay for every Child five pounds, except there should appear an incapacity in body or understanding to hinder it." [Colonial Records, Vol. I, page 91]
Despite the good intentions and strong advocacy by the Founder, little was done to provide a system of education for the instruction of the children of Pennsylvania. In 1683, Governor Penn and his Provincial Council appointed Enoch Flower to be schoolmaster in Philadelphia, but Flower's school was short-lived, closing in 1689. [Fletcher, page 478] In 1689, William Penn himself authorized the opening of a school that has since become known as the William Penn Charter School.
On May 28, 1715, the General Assembly passed acts authorizing "... all religious societies or assemblies to and congregations of Protestants, within this province, to purchase any lands or tenements for burying grounds, and for erecting houses of worship, schools and hospitals." [Statutes at Large, Vol. Ill, pages 37-38] Despite being later repealed, a similar law was passed on February 6,1731, which confirmed the first law. This law was never considered by the Crown, which had the right to approve or disapprove of laws made by the General Assembly, and therefore became law by the lapse of time.
In colonial Pennsylvania, three methods of education developed during the course of the eighteenth century. Pay or subscription schools, often referred to as "dame schools" in the city, church schools and the apprentice contract. Each form of primary education could be found in both city and country and each had particular characteristics worthy of note.
Pay schools or subscription schools typically were schools which a widow or maiden lady kept in her own home for a fee, either on her own initiative or on that of her neighbors. In the country, a similar arrangement was common among neighbors in a given locality. The schoolmaster in the country was often a man who taught school in the winter, when farm work was light, and worked as a farm hand at other seasons. By 1834, there were approximately 4000 such schools in Pennsylvania. [Klein, History of Pennsylvania, page 238] Church schools were founded by a church in order to educate the young people of the denomination in the precepts of their particular faith and to pass on the values of faith and belief. These schools could be found in both the city and the country. The education
which they provided was usually better than that found in the pay schools. Under an apprentice contract the parents of a young person contracted with a master tradesman, often a neighbor or a relative, to board the youngster with the tradesman in exchange for the young person's labor and a promise on the part of the master to educate and train the youth in that particular trade or profession.
Education in Pennsylvania was dominated by the churches from the founding until the establishment of free public schools in the 1830s. Each religious sect and national ethnic group organized and maintained its own schools for the education of its children as soon as they had settled themselves in their new homes. It was the hope of each national and religious group to be able to establish the language, customs, and faith of their forebearers in Europe.
Most Friends meetings established schools for their children. Anglicans started a church school at the time of the founding of Christ Church in Philadelphia in 1695. The Baptists, too, started a church school at the same time as they founded their churches. Scotch-Irish Presbyterians were very active in the schooling of their youth. Many of their educational institutions survive today as colleges and universities. German Lutherans and Reformed, too, were quite active in the establishment of schools. Most German sectarians held firmly to the belief that a knowledge of the Bible and of the soil were all that was necessary to educate an individual for his life's work.
The form of the one-room, one-teacher school varied from place to place, but its most basic form was that of a small building, made of logs or stone, roofed with clapboards with one or two windows on three walls and a fireplace on the fourth. Inside, benches made of log slabs or thick planks with three or four pins for legs faced the outer walls. Boards fastened to the walls sufficed for writing desks. The teacher's desk stood in the center of the room, or, if the room was heated by a stove, at one end; the stove in place of the teacher's desk in the center.
Books were few and learning was by rote and recitation. Each school had between six to thirty students, aged from five to twelve, and were taught by just one teacher. There were no grades; each pupil learned at his or her own speed, surrounded by others learning at their own speed. Pupils were taught from such tomes as The New England Primer and The Pennsylvania Spelling Book (1754). These were succeeded by Lindley Murray's famous English Grammar (1795) and the even more famous McGuffey's Reader, which became the best-selling American book after the Bible. [Klein, page 241] Few children, however, studied beyond learning their "three r"s" - reading, writing and arithmetic. These were considered the basic rudiments of an education and all that most people needed to know.
As might be expected, the quality of teaching was uneven, some teachers having excellent academic qualifications while others were imposters or degenerates. The best-educated teachers were often found in a city or large town. In the country, teaching was, for a man, an admission of low social status, for their occupation appeared to be an admission of the inability to find a better-paying job. Nevertheless, the schools produced many individuals who became notable leaders in business, society and political life.
Not long after the first Welsh and English settlers homesteaded in the Great Valley and upon its hills, they established schools to educate their young. The first schools in Tredyffrin Township were established about or just before the year 1720. The Baptists of the Great Valley organized their church in 1711, and soon built a school and stables across Valley Forge Road from their church. The Presbyterian congregation of Tredyffrin, which had been established in 1714, began a school in their new church building, later building a separate schoolhouse across Swedesford Road. [Fisher, "Two Centuries of Tredyffrin Schools," page 95] These schools continued on their own and became part of the public school system in the middle of the nineteenth century. Both schools were included in an 1869 list of Tredyffrin schools as Tredyffrin Schools Nos. 3 and 9, respectively. [School Rules in 1869, page 36]
The Friends, too, began a school for their young people early. The Valley Friends Meeting was a preparative meeting of the Old Haverford Friends Meeting for the first years of its existence. The Haverford Monthly Meeting appointed a committee in 1731 to assist the Valley Friends in finding a site for a meeting house. It was reported in the minutes of the Monthly Meeting that the Valley Friends had been meeting in the valley in Richard Harrison's schoolhouse. There is some suggestion that the Valley Friends had not begun their school until they had become independent of the Haverford Meeting. The earliest meetinghouse built by the Valley Friends is believed to be a log building which was located on the northeastern section of the present graveyard. The schoolhouse, also of logs, stood on its north side. The Friends School was discontinued in 1871, when the Fairview School was built somewhat farther west on Swedesford Road as part of the Public School System. Its last teachers are remembered as William Beal, Eliza B. Walker and Sallie Eaches. [Bradley, "Early Schools in Tredyffrin Township," page 23]
Soon after the present meetinghouse was built in 1872, some of the parents, desiring a Quaker education for their children, revived the Friends School as a private school. This school continued until 1885 when it was closed for good.
Mildred Bradley,in an article published in the Quarterly in 1938, described a school which stood at the then (1938) site of a sycamore tree on Walker Road, just east of Old Eagle School Road, which she called the "Unnamed School." In the Lewis Walker Family History by Priscilla Walker Streets, there is the mention that Samuel Wells, in 1755, was paid three pounds, four shillings for one-fourth schooling for two children, possibly at this school. "A story goes," says Bradley, "that one day Anthony Wayne, who was passing on horseback, stopped to ask the teacher if there were any Walker children present. There was one, a little girl, who came forward to be picked up and kissed by the general." [Bradley, "Early Schools," page 22]
Another school was established in the vicinity of the present village of Howellville as a neighborhood school. As early as 1730, the Davis family leased part of their land for a term of 999 years at the annual rent of one peppercorn. This school was the predecessor of what was referred to in 1812 as "the schoolhouse near General Davis," or the Davis School, and which was later known as the Howellville School. It and its successors stood on the north side of Swedesford Road between Cassatt and Howellville Roads. The Howellville School and its successors served this community from certainly the 1730s in three different structures until 1923 when the third schoolhouse to occupy the site burned to the ground.
The first Davis School was a small, one-room, one-story, stone structure of about 30 by 40 feet, with five windows whose door faced Swedesford Road. It was this building which the British general Sir Charles Grey used as a headquarters while the British Army under General Sir William Howe camped in Tredyffrin during the march from the site of the Battle of Brandywine to Philadelphia in September of 1777. General Grey led the assult on the camp of the American troops under General Anthony Wayne which is known as the Paoli Massacre.
The school building was replaced in 1810 by a two-story structure which stood until 1856 when it in turn was replaced by a larger two-story schoolhouse. Among the teachers associated with the Davis School in its early years were Joseph Wetherby, Dr. Patricus Lees, Dr. J. P. Wickersham, John Benjamin, Benjamin Davis, Randal Evans, Wesley Eavenson, John Funk, Lizzie McClure, Bell R. Hambleton, Abigail Pugh and others too numerous to mention.
Joseph Wetherby was the son of Whitehead Wetherby, a Justice of the Peace in Easttown. Dr. Patricus Lees was a young Irish physician who arrived in America in 1797, and who practiced medicine while he taught school. Dr. J. P. Wickersham became the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and wrote a history of education in Pennsylvania. Benjamin Davis, noted for his skilled penmanship, was probably a son of General John Davis, who lived nearby.
The well-known Old Eagle School, which still sits on the east side of Old Eagle School Road just north of the tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad at Strafford, was started in 1767. Its founders were a group of German Lutherans who had moved into the neighborhood during the 1750s and 1760s. Jacob Sharraden, a local landowner, gave the land where the schoolhouse was built. It served the Germans and others who lived in the eastern end of Tredyffrin and adjacent areas as a school for their children and as a place for Lutheran services. There is some evidence of a co-operative relationship begun with St. David's Church some few miles away and its missionary priest, Rev. William Currie, who lived in Tredyffrin. It is not likely that the Eagle School was a place for regular Lutheran services, but it did serve as a focal point for those few Germans and others who lived in the neighborhood. Its name, no doubt, was related to the Spread Eagle Inn standing about a mile away on the Lancaster Road, which was kept by a German man named Adam Ramsower.
Following the Revolution, the original log schoolhouse was replaced by a stone building; a building just about half its present size. It faced the westward toward the road, and access was through a set of double doors, with the door to the cellar where firewood was stored being underneath a bank leading to the front doors. It was heated by an open fireplace, and the pupils' desks were against the walls as already discussed. The old log building, used as a church, remained until 1805, when it was demolished. In a corner of the property a few of the aged inhabitants of the neighborhood were interred whose grave markers yet remain, as well as a monument to those veterans of the War for Independence who also lie therein.
It was supervised, like all neighborhood schools, by a group of trustees appointed at a general meeting of the people of the neighborhood. This arrangement prevailed until the elected board of school directors of Tredyffrin Township took over the schools after 1834.
The Diamond Rock School was begun in 1818 through the generosity of George Beaver upon whose Diamond Rock Farm the school was erected. It was the first example in Tredyffrin of a truly neighborhood school where people of diverse backgrounds came together to build a school for the children of their locality. Its founders resided in the northern and western part of Tredyffrin, and the adjacent parts of East Whiteland and Charlestown. Its octogonal floor-plan was considered innovative at the time it was built. Several other octogonal schoolhouses survive in nearby communities and elsewhere.
As in other one-room schools, the pupil's desks were against the walls, the teacher's desk was against the wall opposite the door and in the center stood the stove. The Diamond Rock School remained open until 1864, when two new schools, Salem School to the west and Walker's School to the east, were built nearby along Yellow Springs Road.
Carr School, the last school built in Tredyffrin Township before the beginning of the public schools, was erected in 1832. That part of Tredyffrin, now called Mt. Pleasant, was at one time known as the Hill or as Carr's Hill. In 1830 or 1831, several of the local citizens decided to build a school for their community. Children from the village had been obligated until then to travel several miles to attend school at the Old Eagle School, or to a school at Gulph Mills, or to one on Conestoga Road and West Wayne Avenue in Radnor.
At a meeting of local residents held March 14, 1832, James Aikens, James McPherson, Peter Supplee, Zimmerman Supplee, and Mahlon Byerly were chosen as Trustees. Land was purchased from James Carr, his wife and others on May 15, 1832, and the schoolhouse built. The building which they built, and which still stands, faced the south and Upper Gulph Road. It is almost square in shape and roughly twice the size of the Old Eagle School. The southern entrance was later changed to a western one.
At its opening, the Carr School was considered to be quite an improvement over the facilities at the Old Eagle School. Very soon the pupils, who had been studying at the Old Eagle School, were studying at the new Carr School. The Old Eagle School was closed until 1842 when it was enlarged by the Tredyffrin School Directors to its present size and reopened to accommodate an increased number of students. Early teachers at the Carr School include Adam Siter, Louisa Thomas and Richard J. Vincent.
From its inception, the Carr School was also home to religious services. The first revival meetings were held in the schoolhouse in 1850, as well as a Union Sunday School. Old Eagle School, after its closure as a school, was used often as a place of worship, although there were also squatters who moved in and attempted to use the school as a dwelling.
Easttown Township, which is smaller in size than Tredyffrin and has always had smaller population as well, has also had fewer schools. Gilbert Wayne, the uncle of General Anthony Wayne, began keeping school sometime prior to 1753. It is unclear exactly where this school stood. Mildred Fisher, in an article for the Quarterly, writes that,
"Dr. A. W. Baugh told me that Mr. William Wayne, while living at 'Waynesborough,' had informed him that the second Wayne School was a stone building situated on Bear Road a few hundred feet south of the Bear Tavern (which has been the property of the Tredyffrin Country Club for a number of years). This was evidently the School House shown on the Chester County map of 1856. The building seems to have been in Easttown, and the playground partly at least in Tredyffrin. Whether it was the site of the earlier school is not known." [Fisher, "The Wayne School," page 41]
The Breou's Chester County Farm Atlas of 1883 shows a building labelled as a schoolhouse on the north side of what is now called Berwyn-Paoli Road nearly opposite the entrance to the present YMCA. Little information about that property is known.
It is not known how long Gilbert Wayne taught at the school that bore his name. What is known is that this school was carried on as a "pay school" until it was taken into the public school system in 1834. There are references preserved at the Chester County Historical Society which refer to a Paoli School in Easttown as early as 1829. As there was no other school in the area, it was called "Paoli School" until Tredyffrin opened a school in Paoli in 1890, Fisher concludes that this was another name for Wayne School. Teachers at the Wayne School include John Clauges, Jr., and Jon Coldenwood.
The Wayne School was not the only school kept in Easttown Township before the public school system was begun. A developer named Robert McClenachan laid out a town in that part of Easttown lying between Conestoga Road and Lincoln Highway, and from Valley Forge Road to Warren Avenue. McClenachan named his town Glassley and included within its plan a lot for a schoolhouse. The school was called Glassley School, and was situated on the side of the hill on the southeast corner of Highland Avenue and Fairfield Road until 1863, when it burned to the ground.
A replacement was built on the southeast corner of Old Lancaster and Fairfield Roads. This school, also called Glassley School, stood until 1888 when it closed and the pupils transferred to a new school in Berwyn. The second schoolhouse was demolished after it was closed and sold. Teachers at the Old Glassley School include William Coffey, George Lewis, Phineas Kutchins, Jackson Orr, Lizzie Marvin, William Haines, Linneus Fussel, John Lewis and others. Those who taught at the new Glassley School include Lizzie Wood, Sallie J. Embree, Susan Worley, Adoniram J. Latch, Siter, Enoch S. Wells, Ruth A. Worrall, Abbie A. Eyre, Lizzie F. Criley and Hannah Epright.
Glassley School was the first school in Easttown to adopt the Graded Course of Study, in September of 1887. It was adopted then by all the Easttown schools, and a senior class of three was formed which became the first class to graduate in Easttown in 1888, the last year of operation at the school.
As was noted before, William Penn was an advocate of public education and urged the citizens of Pennsylvania to provide a system of schools for the education of the young people of the province. Despite Penn's advocacy, education during the colonial period was largely in the hands of church groups and parents and others who opened and maintained schools in their own neighborhoods. Secondary education was by a system of "academies," which were often run by clergymen as boarding schools, whose major aim was to train young men for the ministry.
The State Constitution of 1776 contains a provision in Section 44 that states, "A school or schools shall be established in each county by the Legislature, for the convenient instruction of youth, with such salaries to the masters paid by the public as may enable them to instruct youth at low prices. And all useful learning shall be duly encouraged and promoted in one or more universities." The State Constitution of 1790, in its original draft, echoed the 1776 Constitution in mandating the establishment of schools in each county. Its final form read, "The Legislature shall, as soon as conveniently may be, provide by law for the establishment of schools throughout the state, in such manner that the poor may be taught gratis." [Borgson, "Free Schooling for the Poor," page 128]
Despite these provisions in the State Constitution, bills brought before the General Assembly to put them into practice always failed or resulted in ineffectual measures which did not truly implement the constitutional mandate. Laws passed in 1802, 1804 and finally in 1809 by the General Assembly required the County Commissioners to collect the names of all children aged from five to twelve years whose parents were unable to pay for their educations at school. These names were forwarded to the township assessors to inform the parents as well as teachers of schools of the eligibility of the poor children to attend a pay school. Payment was made through the overseers of the poor who would disburse moneys collected by a "poor tax."
This measure created no public schools, but enabled children of parents who declared themselves paupers to attend school. The law contained major flaws. For example, parents resented having to declare themselves to be paupers and their children disliked the stigma of being known as poor. Many citizens resented the use of tax moneys to pay for the education of poor children when they had to pay for their own childrens' education from their own pockets. [Klein, page 242]
Every Pennsylvania governor since Thomas McKean had urged the Legislature to establish a public school system. It was not until the governorship of George Wolf that public opinion overcame the fear among the electorate of increased taxation. On April 1, 1834, a law entitled "An Act to Establish a General System of Education by Common Schools," also known as the Common School Law, was enacted. The law set up a local school administration, in which counties and larger towns were designated as "school divisions" and townships, boroughs and wards as "school districts." Citizens in each district, if they decided to participate, elected a local school board. The function of this local school board was to administer the local schools, erecting school buildings, hiring teachers, selecting the curriculum and supplying all necessary equipment, as well as setting the school tax rate. County superintendents of schools would certify the teachers and report on school operations within the county to the secretary of the commonwealth, who was now to be state superintendent of schools. Subsequent attempts by those who opposed public education to modify or abolish provisions of the law failed to weaken its basic intent, which was to create a truly public school system in Pennsylvania.
Voters across the state went to the polls in November of 1834 to decide whether to agree to provide free schooling to all children within their community. Opposition in Chester County was considerable. Of the 44 school districts in the county, only seventeen voted to accept the provisions of the Common School Act. Among these were both Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships.
(to be continued)
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