Home : Quarterly Archives : Volume 27
Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
Source: April 1989 Volume 27 Number 2, Pages 58–66
Readin', 'Ritin', and 'Rithmetic Schools before the Public School Law
The early settlers who settled in Tredyffrin were mostly Welsh yeomen. While they were well aware of the need to educate their children, it was hard for them to set up any formal school system because the population was sparse and the families were scattered.
Early on, William Penn, one of the most accomplished scholars of his time, had pointed out the need for providing education. In his Great Law of 1683, enacted by his authority at the 2d Assembly meeting in Philadelphia, it was decreed "to the end that the poor as well as the rich may be instructed in good commendable learning, Be it enacted that all persons in the province and territories thereof having children, and all 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 twelve years of age; and that, they be taught a useful trade or skill, that the poor may work to live and the rich if they become poor may not want, of which every County Court shall take care. And in case such parent, guardian or overseer shall be found defiant in this respect, shall pay for each child five pounds, except there should appear an incapacity in body or understanding to hinder it."
This was the most comprehensive and strongest compulsory education law ever enacted by any legislative body in America, but Chester County, and the rest of the province, did nothing to enforce it for many years.
Until there were time and money to set up some sort of formal schooling, families taught their children at home, or a neighborhood housewife would take on the task. Reading and memorization of the Scriptures were usually the first lessons taught.
The first common schools were called "pay" schools; the usual fee was three cents a day. Pupils were responsible to provide their own books and slates. Local farmers would supply turkey or goose feathers for pens and it was one of the schoolmaster's jobs to sharpen them. School furnishings were very crude; split log benches, a high wooden desk and stool for the schoolmaster, and, often, oiled paper at the windows to keep out the rain and let in the light. The schools were at first heated by fireplaces; later an iron plate stove was used. Logs were supplied by the pupils' fathers, and chopped into fire wood by the older boys during recess or after school. Ink was made by soaking a few bruised nut galls and rusty nails in a pail of water.
The standard school day was from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. in the spring and fall, and from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the winter, so that the children could get home before dark.
The school year was divided into a fall, winter, and spring term, called quarters, with seventy-seven days in each quarter. The young children went to school in the fall and spring, and the older ones in the winter. Discipline problems were handled with a paddle or the hickory stick.
The teachers were called "schoolmasters", and were usually young bachelors. Often the only requirement for the position was being able to read, cipher and write. Their salary was very meager, eight or ten dollars a month. Sometimes their pay depended upon the number of pupils, two cents per pupil per day attended. The schoolmaster was not only required to teach, but also to maintain the building. He (or she) was often boarded free at a student's home, usually staying at one place for a term. (In denominational schools the schoolmaster was often also the church organist, choirmaster, or sexton in order to pick up a few more cents.) An Act of April 1799 exonerated all teachers and ministers from the payment of taxes.
In the Classical Schools the requirements for teaching were much stiffer -- and the salary a little better -- with the schoolmaster often of the clergy. There were several very good Classical Schools, or Academies, schools of higher learning, in Chester County. The earliest were down in the lower part of the county, conducted by Scotch-Irish Presbyterians to prepare men for the Ministry. The earliest of them were the Faggs Manor School, which opened in 1739, and the New London Academy that opened in 1743. Both schools were known for their famous scholars, among them three signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Secretary of the Continental Congress, Charles Thomson. The Classical Schools were for boys only.
In Tredyffrin a very early common or "pay" school opened in Howellville. It was built in the 1720s or 1730s, and was known as the Davis School because it was on land leased from the Davis family for 999 years, at a rental of one peppercorn a year. The Davis family was one of the most active and outstanding early families in the Great Valley. Llewellyn Davis, of Haverford, purchased 300 acres of land in the Valley from Lewis Walker in 1708. He married Bridget Jones in 1709 and had four children; Elizabeth, Isaac, Sarah and Llewellyn. Isaac Davis married Elizabeth Bartholomew in 1738 and bought out the family interest in the homestead. He became a justice of the peace and active in township affairs. They had six children, and when he died in 1778 his property was divided among his three sons, Benjamin, John, and Thomas.
John Davis married Ann Morton, daughter of John Morton, signer of the Declaration of Independence. In the Revolution he became a Captain, and in 1776 raised a company which served until the end of the war. His commission was signed by John Jay, and his Oath of Allegiance taken before General Lord Stirling. He took part in the battles of the Brandywine, Paoli, Germantown, Monmouth, Stony Point, and Yorktown, and was also with Wayne in South Carolina and Georgia, and a member of the Order of the Cincinnati. In 1800 he was appointed Brigadier General of the First Brigade of Militia of Chester and Delaware Counties. He died in 1827. John and Ann Davis had a son John, who lived at the homestead, and a son Isaac, who, after studying under the Rev. William Latta and the Rev. James Jones, Presbyterian ministers, went to the University of Pennsylvania and became a doctor. He practiced for a short time in Delaware County until he received an appointment from President Madison to be surgeon of the Sixth Regiment of the U.S. Infantry. He died in 1814.
The school was located on Swedesford Road, not far from the Howellville Inn, and was occupied by British soldiers for three days in September 1777 when they were encamped in Tredyffrin before their occupation of the city of Philadelphia.
The first Howellville or Davis School was replaced in 1810 by a small stone building. Mary Neely, whose father attended this school, recalled in an article that appeared in a local paper in 1904 that the school was small, about 30 feet by 40 feet, with five windows and one door. The door was made of oak, with a wooden latch worked by a string that passed through a hole in the door and hung on the outside -- the proverbial latch string. Just inside the door stood an old chair with a wooden bucket and a tin cup hanging on a peg above it. Two boys would take this bucket to the pump at the inn each morning and fill it with water. The boys also carried wood to heat the school in from the yard, and were often rewarded with the ashes, which they would take home and use to make lye for soap.
Among the early teachers there were Aaron Morris, Dr. Patricus Lee, a young physician from Ireland, and Dr. J. P. Wickersham.
In 1856 the second school was replaced by a larger two-story building. Advertisements for bids for the new building were published in the West Chester American Republican of September 9, 1856. The school burned down in 1922.
Another early.school was mentioned in the old Haverford Friends Meeting minutes. It was called Richard Harrison's School. In the minutes of the Monthly Meeting in 1731 it was reported that a committee had been appointed to aid the Valley Friends in setting up a site for a meeting house in the Valley, and that the Friends had been meeting in the valley at Richard Harrison's school.
In an article in the July 1938 issue of the Quarterly [Vol.1, No.4], a Valley Friends School near the first meeting house is mentioned, but I could not find anything to substantiate this reference in either the Haverford School Library or the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College.
Gilbert Wayne, an uncle of Anthony Wayne, conducted an early Classical School in Paoli, along what is now Route 252 south of the present Route 30. I could find no definite dates for the school, but we do know that Anthony Wayne attended it in 1756. In that year Gilbert Wayne wrote, in a not very complimentary letter to the boy's father, who was in the Provincial Service at the time, "What he [the future general] may be best qualified for I know not. He may perhaps be a soldier. He has already distracted the brains of two-thirds of the boys under my charge by rehearsals of battles, seiges, &c."
The school is shown on some early maps.
The Eagle School is also an early school. It is located to the north of the present Strafford railroad station on Old Eagle School Road in Tredyffrin, and is a fine example of our early school buildings. Since the club visited there last fall and was given a complete report and tour of the property by Marie Sutcliffe (see the October 1988 issue of the Quarterly [Vol. XXVI, No. 4]) I will be very brief here.
The land for the school was donated by a wealthy German named Jacob Sharraden, and a log school was built here in 1768. it was superseded by the present stone building two decades later, in 1788. The building was somewhat smaller than the present building, and faced Old Eagle School Road [as shown in the picture on the preceding page]. In 1842 the building was enlarged to its present dimensions.
Also well known is the Diamond Rock School, out along Yellow Springs Road at the foot of Diamond Rock Hill.
The land for it was donated by George Beaver. He was interested in the education of the young, and he and his neighbors got together and made plans for the school. THey made it eight-sided because they thought that an octagonal building was more functional than a square one, and made for less costly construction, more comfortable heating, with a stove in the center, and better lighting. A list of the original subscribers is now posted on one of the walls inside the school. Neighbors who were unable to subscribe money donated materials or labor.
The school opened in September 1818. The final cost of its construction was $260.93!
Some of the older children walked two or three miles to go to the school. The teaching here was perhaps above average; the curriculum included not only reading, writing, and mathematics (including surveying), but also at times grammar, spelling, history, geography and, for the girls, needlework.
The teacher sat at a high desk across from the door. The students sat on benches around the stove, facing the outside walls, the youngest closest to the stove. As at the Davis School and other early schools, water was brought to the school in a large bucket by some of the boys, and the work was done for the most part on slates as paper was expensive and the pens and ink poor. In addition to hard work, though, there was also socializing, and spelling bees and debates would often enliven a Friday afternoon, with even a picnic out on the lawn in warm weather.
The school closed in 1864 when two new schools were built nearby, the Walker School to the east and the Salem School to the west.
In 1831 a school was built across the road from the Baptist Church of the Great Valley. It was known as the Baptist School, though it had no connection other than its location, with the church across the road. It closed in 1860, and the building is no longer standing.
Mary Whitworth Barbee
The Presbyterian School was located approximately two miles from Paoli, on Swedesford Road across the road from the Great Valley Presbyterian Church. It took its name from the fact that it was near to the church; but as was the case with the Baptist School, the school was never in anyway affiliated with the church.
We know that the school was in operation before the Public School Law from claims filed by the schoolmaster for reimbursement from the County for instructing pauper children. One such claim, now in the collections of the Chester County Historical Society in West Chester, indicates that in 1826, a L. G. Pearce was the teacher at the school, and the cost of tuition was three cents a day.
Some eighty or eighty-five years later my mother--- she was then Miss Reba Criswell -- taught at the school. It was then officially known as Tredyffrin Public School #3. (The school is currently a private residence, but even with the renovation that has taken place the legend "Tredyffrin Public School No. 3, 1836" is still visible on the western side of the building, which was probably the front entrance then.) Even today people come up to me and say, "Your mother was my teacher back when I went to school!"
I have in my possession two pictures that were given to me by Ida Matthews Hardesty; one is of my mother's class in 1909, and the other is her class in 1913.
John Matthews (Ida Hardesty Matthews' brother) has identified most of the students in the 1909 picture: in the back row, Leon Kirkner, Jack Wilson, David Wilson, Miss Reba Criswell; in the front row, Sara York, Sara Dallam, Bessie Isinger, Ada Holland, Emily Wilson (later Mrs. William [or Pat] Nassau), Williams, Viola Dallam, and Lydie Matthews. Others in the school at the time, but not in the picture, were the Abernathys, the Hawkinses, and the Haineses.
Similarly, David Wilson has identified the pupils in the 1913 picture: in the back row, Sara Dallam, Leon Kirkner, Lydie Matthews, Bessie Isinger, Jack Wilson; in the middle row, Stella Marron, David Wilson, Viola Dallam, Miss Reba Criswell, Ethel Marron, Reba Marron, Robert Matthews, ?, Clarence Marron; in the front row, Kathryn Rossiter, Emily Isinger, Joseph Isinger, Raymond Rambo, and Lloyd Marron.
When my mother was teaching she was paid $50.00 a month. (Wally Weaver found this out for me at the Chester County Historical Society.)
The school was closed in 1926 when it was replaced by the new Paoli Grammar School on Central Avenue. My father, a real estate agent, took me to visit the old one-room school house when it was sold in the 1930s. It is now a lovely private residence.
[Note: Most of the material for this paper came from a booklet entitled "The Old Carr School", published by the Sunday School of Mt. Pleasant.]
On the north side of Upper Gulph Road in Tredyffrin Township, a few hundred feet east of its intersection with the old Radnor Road and about one mile north of the Wayne station, stands a small one-story building. Its form suggests at once a primitive school house, but a small, well-filled graveyard in the rear assures the visitor that the purpose of the building was two-fold. This was the old Carr School, now better known as Mt. Pleasant Chapel.
Tradition says that this was the successor in the original work at the old Eagle School, which for half a century had been the center for the educational and religious training of the pioneers. When the old Eagle School became too small to meet the increasing needs of the neighborhood, the Carr School House was erected, and the Eagle School soon became dilapidated until 1843, when it was enlarged and used once again.
The first meeting for the express purpose of appointing trustees to purchase a lot or piece of land for school purposes was held at the home of James Carr on March 14, 1832. On May 15, 1832 a deed for the present land, containing about one-third of an acre, was executed to the trustees by three separate owners, each giving a small portion of their land where they "cornered together".
The building erected on this land faced the south and was almost square, and its dimensions were about double the size of the then Eagle School. Later the southern entrance was closed and the present entrance on the east side of the building opened.
In its early history it accommodated not only those who resided in the neighborhood, but also derived its support from and extended its influence far into Radnor and Upper Merion townships. Most of the territory now known as Mt. Pleasant was then a vast forest, through which straggled the northern end of the Radnor and Chester Road, "Aiken's path through the woods" from King of Prussia, and other paths, from Nippes Hollow and Morgan's Corner, into the old Gulph Road.
It is interesting to note that, for the year beginning November 4, 1836, the money levied for the county and paid to the School District amounted to $169.90. The costs of materials during that year were: quills, two for one cent; Testament, 18 3/4 cents; primer, 6 1/4 cents; spelling book, 16 cents; "Joshua Jones English Grammar", 75 cents; fire wood, 44 cents per quarter; arithmetic, 37 1/2 cents; slate and pencil, 19 3/4 cents; paper, pen and ink, per quarter 15 cents, the paper averaging one cent a sheet.
Few incidents of special interest concerning the history of the school have been preserved. To tell the general story of one of these early schools, however, must tell the story of all, and a description of one practically describes them all.
The wooden seats of the Carr School were of the plainest form and utterly devoid of varnish or paint. They were arranged in double rows around the sides of the building, forming a hollow square in which stood a large ten-plate stove. In this square also stood the schoolmaster's desk.
The ten-plate stove was a great improvement over the open fireplace at the Eagle School, because it furnished not only more reliable and continuous, heat, but also a more satisfactory mode of drying shoes, about a bushel of which might be deposited under the stove in the course of an evening's entertainment in bad weather.
The use of the building for religious purposes and for lyceums and singing schools was largely for evening services, and the meetings were often advertised "for early candle light". This was understood as a suggestion that each one, so far as possible, bring with him some means of illumination. Those brought were usually "dip" candles, and the lighting of the building was accomplished by sticking the candles in rows in board racks which hung from the sides of the wall. When, as at singing school, a person needed more light than this furnished, he obtained it by plucking a candle from the rack and holding it in his hand.
The leader of the meeting read by individual candle light or, more frequently, by the light of a "Dutchman's Lantern" which consisted of a short candle in a closed metal box, in the sides of which were punched numerous holes to furnish enough air for combustion but not so much as to extinguish the flame. The feeble light that escaped through these holes furnished a gloomy illumination. Lamps were at first almost unheard of, although occasionally a bowl of lard, into which a thick cord was plunged, was used. In later years, tin lamps were fastened along the walls.
In the early history of the Carr School, before the invention of matches, it was the custom at the end of an evening service to cover the hickory logs that were smoldering in the stove with ashes, thereby preserving them for days as glowing embers, and this being known amongst the neighbors, the old building was relied upon as a place where they could always come for coals to start their fires.
In 1869 the School Board decided that a new school be built in place of the Carr School. The contract for the new building was given to Mr. H. Fritz, the lowest bidder, for $1513.35. The new building was a one-story building facing toward the Gulph Road, and became known as the Mt. Pleasant School. With the erection of the new school house, the Carr School building fell into almost total disuse for several years, and its battered walls and decaying roof seemed eloquently to say that its work was nearly finished and that, like so many similar institutions which Whittier immortalized, it was little more than "a ragged beggar sunning". In 1890 the shedding was added in the rear of the building, and a few years later the fine iron fence was placed around the property.
The first Glassley School seems to have been the only common school in Easttown Township before the Public School Law was passed. This school was located south of what is now Highland Avenue in Devon. The ground was donated by Robert McClenaghan, a developer who laid out plans for a town he named Glasslay, on his property astride the Lancaster Turnpike.
In 1891, Annetta Malin, a former teacher in Easttown, wrote a short history of the school. In it, she reported that in 1807, a few men interested in providing an education for their children went around the neighborhood with a subscription paper to raise money for a school building. The school opened in September 1808; the first teacher was a Master Coffee.
From a claim for reimbursement for teaching the poor, dated July 12, 1836,when John Neilly was the teacher, we know that tuition at that time was three cents a day, with an additional charge of three cents for use of the broom, two cents for use of tin cup, and one cent for the use of ink for a twelve-day period.
There was also an early Classical School in Easttown. It opened in 1833. Professor Noble Heath, a well-known educator in the area, bought the old Drove tavern that stood at the 16th milestone of the Lancaster Turnpike and turned it into the Reeseville Boarding School.
This school flourished and attained considerable recognition before it closed in 1850.
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