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Schools - Past & Present

Historical Background

A common note which sounds through the history of one-room school houses is their promotion of a sense of community. A growing community would bring into being a school and then the one-room school house would become an important component of the forces which maintained groups of people in rural areas as a community. A schoolhouse was not only the center for children's formal education and ancillary activities, but often served, too, as a meeting place for the area and so reinforced the sense of community.

The One Room Schoolhouses are part of our history - they were the institutions of education in rural America from the 1830's to post-World War 2 when demographics rapidly changed and forces for school consolidation strengthened.

A school building could serve more than one constituency - e.g., as a meeting place for a small congregation, or for a union Sunday School, or for a group such as Patrons of Husbandry, a.k.a. The Grange. Eventually an informal group of parents, with the teacher, might come together and hold meetings at which children could show off their skills - singing, recitations, short plays - and could present programs for national holidays. Then there was that very American institution, the spelling bee - a direct spin-off from these community-oriented one-room schools and the use in them of Noah Webster's A Grammatical Institute of the English Language (1783), a widely used spelling book which over many years helped to standardize American spelling.

Often, especially after the Civil War, the teacher was a woman, although sometimes a young man, who would teach for a year or so to earn enough money to move to another job. These teachers were the people, other than parents, who most influenced rural children. The teacher could be far more than an instructor - she/he was the elder member of a group which often thought of itself as a family - if the teacher stayed in the community she/he could have great influence on it and be long remembered - as is Grant Wallace by Martinsville graduates.

The earliest schools in our area were private schools and usually associated with churches – Sunday Schools, Sabbath Schools. The earliest reference to a Sabbath School in our area that I can find is to the Lower Windsor Sabbath School No. 2 . This label is in a reader published in 1832, and has two names written in the front – Samuel Rider and Mary G. (E.?) Abel.

When the Pennsylvania State Constitution was adopted in 1790, there was no provision made for public education and all educational institutions at that time were private and only available to those who could afford them. Starting in 1809, the State passed various provisions that would help provide schooling for those children between the ages of 5 and 12 whose parents were unable to educate them. This law was unpopular and was replaced by an even more unpopular law in 1824 which stated that each township or borough should oversee the education of the children in their district. This was soon replaced by the Act of 1834 which established our present system of public schools. This law mandated that each township raise taxes to pay for the schools. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of local opposition to this and many bitter controversies arose, and many townships did not establish public schools until after 1848.

The one room schools in our area are very similar in design. Almost all are made of local stone and consist of one room with a small lobby - the cloakroom - at the front and with 6 large windows, often 3 to the east, 3 to the west; there are arched brick lintels above the windows. Most have a gabled entrance with a recessed door, with a transom window above the door. The Martinsville Schoolhouse is a good example of this typical architecture. The exceptions are the two-room schoolhouse in Craley, which is made from wood, The Pleasant Hill School (brick) and Gilbert’s school in East Prospect, which was wood and burnt down in 1941. (The first school in East Prospect burnt down during the great fire of 1900)

The first one-room schools in Lower Windsor township where built in the mid- 1850’s. Four schools appear on the 1860 York County map, by 1876 eleven schools are indicated on the York County atlas, and the York County School directory for 1935-36 lists 17 schools within the township. When the Eastern York School District was consolidated in 1953-54, 17 schools were still in use.

After consolidation, the school district sold most of the schoolhouses, and almost all are now private residences. The Snavely School, near the corners of Mt. Pisgah & Prospect Road, was demolished by Modern Landfill in 2004 (!). Kline’s School (at the bottom of Kline’s Run Rd) is abandoned and in a state of disrepair. The Martinsville Schoolhouse is owned by Lower Windsor Township and sits next to the municipal building on the Craley Rd. The best preserved schoolhouse in the area is the Wills School, on the East Prospect Rd just West of Delroy. It is owned and maintained by the Conservation Society of York County.

History of Local One-Room Schools



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