Scarcely any record was kept of our early schools in Westmoreland county until about 182o, and even for thirty years after that they were very meager. Our early settlers, as we have said, were almost invariably either English, Scotch-Irish or Germans. Of these the Germans, or Dutch, as they were called, were behind either of the others in their general education and in the establishment of schools. Many of the pioneer preachers tried to introduce schools in connection with their churches, but their efforts in this direction were crowned with a very meager measure of success. The Scotch Presbyterian clergy, always more bold and zealous in any cause than the Germans, had the better success in the founding of schools. Nevertheless, the educational advantages of that day were extremely limited at best. Schoolhouses were few and far between. Even as late as 1830 children in our best rural communities were often compelled to walk from three to five miles to the nearest schoolhouse. One schoolhouse, where we now have ten, was more than the average in the earls- part of last century. Schoolhouses were built of logs, but this was not their worst feature. The roofs were made of clapboards and upon this they put a covering of clay to keep out the cold and rain. The result of this on a wet day in springtime may be imagined. Frequently great drops of muddy water fell from the roof, sometimes disfiguring a book by a single drop, and 'often driving the pupils to their homes.
At one side of the school room was the usual fireplace, where wood was the fuel used. One of the duties of the teacher and older pupils was to cut wood sufficient to keep the fire going. Stoves were introduced long afterward, and from their manner of construction were but a slight improvement on the fireplace. Around the entire school room was a bench usually made of a slab from a saw log, or a split puncheon, upon which the pupils sat. For a back to this bench they leaned against the wall. There was no desk in front of this wall-seat, except that the larger pupils who were learning to write had a board in front of them upon which a copy book could rest. There were generally two small windows. In the earl- period these were made without glass, that is, by the use of oiled paper. Later they were supplied with glass, but at best the-room was dimly lighted. The schoolhouse was not built by the township, but by the freewill offerings of labor on the part of the neighbors. A dozen farmers met and decided on the most central place to build a schoolhouse. In one or two afternoons they cut the trees, hewed them, rolled them together and laid them up, and the house was ready .for the roof. It was rarely ever larger than fifteen feet square. and about eight feet to the square where the roof began. Rude as it was, it was not far behind the houses of its patrons in conveniences, and therefore was probably as much as we could expect from them greater interest in the education of their children might have prompted them to build better houses, yet it is rare, even in our own enlightened age, that the schoolhouse is better than the average residence of its patrons.
The teacher only pretended to teach the barest rudiments of learning. If he could read, write and count with figures, he was supposed to be sufficiently educated to "keep school." The community depended largely on a chance traveler for a teacher, for but few of their own young men were teachers in the earlier period. The son of the early settler had other matters to attend to which were more urgent than going to school. He had to assist in clearing away the original forest so that crops might be grown, and, when old enough to go to school, he was expected to assist in home defense against the Indians.-No schoolhouse filled with unprotected children would have been regarded as safe anywhere in Westmoreland county before 1795. for the county, as we have seen, was in constant danger of Indian incursions. In the eastern states, where the settlements were older, more attention had been paid to education, and from them our county drew its earliest teachers. Often a lank Yankee came walking westward and was employed as a teacher. Sometimes he turned out to be an impostor or a failure, but not always, for there are instances among our best families of the original progenitor in our county beginning here as a school teacher. For many years the teacher received no specified salary or wages. The schoolhouse was given him and he "kept school" in it. All who sent their children to him paid him a certain amount per month for each pupil. His income therefore depended on the size of the school. If he proved a failure he was more easily gotten rid of than our modern teachers. Later the community raised an amount by subscription, and this was given him for say three months teaching, or for as many months as the amount justified. The term was generally about three months, viz. :December, January and February. Under such an agreement any one who subscribed could send his children to his school. There was no division of the county into school districts-the district was bounded only by the ability of the pupils to reach the schoolhouse. Frequently the teacher canvassed the community for pupils, and thus an energetic teacher often added to the educational advantages of the community.
Very early in our history two good principles were shown-in crude form, it is true, but they nevertheless still hold sway in our present most perfect common school system. They were, first, that when a sum of money was paid the teacher, all who came to him as pupils had a right to his best attention, regardless of how many children came from one family, or how much or how little their parents paid towards his salary. This afterwards became the cornerstone upon which our common school system was founded. The other principle was, that the teacher himself had to be examined by a "committee" as to his intellectual attainments before he could be entrusted with the education of the children. The committee to examine the teacher was frequently the minister of the community, but, in the absence of a clergyman, a justice of the peace or some other man of prominence was appointed to perform this service. The examiner's education may have been extremely limited, but he or he and his associates were nevertheless the embryonic form of our present county superintendent. In some degree, at all events, he tested the attainments of the teacher, and prevented a wholly illiterate man from becoming a schoolmaster. The minister perhaps made a more thorough examiner, but there were many communities which did not have a minister. There were, indeed, but few communities which had a resident minister; their spiritual wants were ministered to regularly every four or eight weeks, but the preacher was gone from among them and on his way to the next preaching place almost as soon as the services were over. Nor was the minister supposed to know the wants of the community as well as a hard-headed old settler who had perhaps, in the east in his youth, learned to read, write and cipher. The committee came afterward, and was appointed or selected to examine the would-be teacher by those who were supporting him.
The teacher was invariably called the schoolmaster. The wages paid him varied with the times, the thrift of the community - which employed him, and his reputation as a teacher. Ten or twelve dollars per month was considered a very good remuneration for his services in 1823. and twenty-five cents per month for each pupil was the average paid him when the school was a purely subscription school. As a general rule he was an unmarried man and "boarded around:" that is. went from house to house for his meals and lodging, for to board the teacher free was one of the well established rules among our early settlers. In those days there were no regular text-books in use in the schools. The pupils were supposed to furnish their own books, and each brought from his or her home such books as their scant- libraries afforded. Nearly every pupil who could read brought a Bible or Testament. There was then a smaller book called the "English Reader," which many pupils had; "Lindley Murray's Grammar." "History of Rome." "History of the United States." "Plutarch Lives." "Life of George Washington" or any one of a dozen others might be found among the pupils on the opening clay of a pioneer school. Still later came the "Western Calculator," a crude work on arithmetic. From these books the master must hear his pupils recite, and his work, it may well be imagined. was not an easy one. Another duty which necessarily devolved upon him was making pens out of quills. Steel pens were patented in England by Joseph Gillott in 1831, but did not come into general use here for many tears after. So all the earlier masters were compelled to make and mend the quill pens of the pupils to whom he was teaching the art of penmanship. Another duty was to write copies, from which we have the word "copy-book." The pupil brought blank paper, and the master wrote a-copy in the upper line for him to practice on. This copy varied with the degree of penmanship of the pupil.
Schools at that time did not close on Friday afternoon as they do now, but on Saturday at noon. No man could possibly sustain his reputation as a thorough instructor of Youth who did not regularly resort to corporal punishment. The teacher's duty on Saturday afternoon was to lay in a good stock of rods with which to whip the children the following week. So as soon as school closed the really successful master strolled into the woods to cut rods, both long and short ones, to wear out on the backs of the pupils. An old gentleman now in his grave, has often told the writer of a teacher in the thirties who always opened his school with prayer, and whose second regular morning duty was to pass along the benches where the boys sat, and without any provocation whatever on the part of the boys, strike each one on the top part of the legs, striking so that the rod overlapped and left its impression on three or four legs at once. If he had plenty of time, or perhaps. if the devotional exercises had particularly inspired him, he struck one blow for each leg, but otherwise gave one blow for each pair of legs presented. This is no exaggeration at all. It came as regularly as the school opened, and the teacher was regarded as one of the best in the community. No charge of breaking Solomon's injunction to "spare the rod and spoil the child," was ever laid to him. Nor did the parents seem to object to this inhuman treatment. Yet, strange to say, the teacher lived to be an old man, and at his death had earned the highest respect of the community in -which he resided.
What we have written applies mostly to country schools, but there were scarcely any other kind in our county prior to 1820, for Greensburg was a mere hamlet. and was the largest and practically the only town in the county. The state, it will be understood, furnished no aid whatever to the schools at that time; Men were expected to educate their own children, as they clothe and support them non-. The state had not Net learned that to make good citizens it must secure for each a reasonably fair education.
In 1800 a plot of ground on which to erect a schoolhouse was set apart by Colonel John Bonnett, who lived between Laurelville and Mount Pleasant. Colonel Bonnett was of French descent, perhaps of Huguenot extraction. His only daughter was the wife of Dr. David Marchand. He was a man of high character and of generous disposition. On this lot which he set apart, lie and his neighbors combined and built a schoolhouse. It was about one mile east of Mt. Pleasant. along the turnpike. For many years after its construction the children within a radius of five or six miles came there to school. It was the first schoolhouse in that section of the count- and was in use for very many Years. Even from Mt. Pleasant the children attended school there. The house was built of logs. So revered was it that it was photographed before it was torn down, and this in a day when photography was not as common an art as it is now. Daniel Shupe had the photograph made and also had a walking cane made from one of its logs.
The schools of the day were all subscription schools. Most years they had two terms, one in the winter for the larger pupils and one in the summer for the smaller ones.
A schoolhouse built prior to 1833, but in use at that time near Congruity, in Salem township, has been described be one who attended school in it that 'ear, and who is vet living. It was built of logs, and was in the woods. There Were two windows, if they could be called windows at all, one on each side of the house. These windows were made by leaving the space between two logs open, all the other spaces having been filled with mortar and chunks of wood. In these open spaces were set upright sticks eighteen or twenty inches apart, and these were covered with greased paper, the grease or oil being added so that the light might more readily penetrate it. The fireplace was at the end of the building, and was of very large dimensions. Into it large logs could be rolled and burnt, and thus the room could be kept comparatively warm. The master had small pieces of wood like shingles, upon which the letters of the alphabet were pasted, and from these the small pupil was expected to learn his A. B. C's. The only text book in use in the school was "Cobb's Spelling Book," the Old and New Testament, and the "Western Calculator." This was just prior to the adoption of the common school system in 1836.
In 1824 came our first school law. Briefly, it provided for the election of school directors in each borough or township, whose prescribed duties foreshadowed in a small degree the duties of our present directors. The people were opposed to it because it seemed to take from them and give to the school directors powers which they were determined to hold. We take the following from an old paper as indicative of the public feeling:
A correspondent from Rostraver township writes us as follows: It is requested that you publish in your paper that the citizens of Rostraver township at their township election agreed unanimously by public vote, not to elect school men for said township."'
In commenting on the vote in Greensburg and in Hempfield townships, the editor delivers himself as follows :
"At an election in this borough fifteen votes were given for school men. No previous notice agreeably to the school law was given by the inhabitants. We know of no law or act of any legislative body so unpopular as this law has proven to be in this county-. At the election in Hempfield township a scene of confusion and tumult occurred, which is represented as having been frightful. A person who witnessed part of it states that if any advocate of school law had openly avowed himself as such, he would have been literally torn to pieces. Expressions to this effect were uttered by several persons.
"Disorder on occasions of this kind is generally confined to a few individuals who drink too freely, but in this instance it is not a little surprising to find a great majority of the people present openly opposed to the adoption of any measure having the least relation to the law in question. A greater number of persons were present than ever congregated at the same place before."
"In Unity township, and, indeed in every township from which we have heard, a very decided disapprobation of the provisions of this law was manifested by the people. What could have produced such an unanimity- of opinion upon the subject, it is difficult for us to conjecture."
The early school houses, as a general rule, were built on land donated by some land owner, who thus secured for his children the advantage of being close to the school. They were, moreover, invariably located near a good spring, for an abundance of water was a necessity which our ancestors never forgot, either in locating their dwelling houses or schoolhouses. Another requisite in building a school house was that it must be centrally located, so that it might receive the largest possible patronage from the community.
So far as can be learned now, prior to 1825 there was no country schoolhouse in the county that was not built of logs. The first frame schoolhouse was built in Derry township in 1825, at what is known as No. 7, and was formerly called "Center Union Schoolhouse." It is situated about four miles north of Latrobe and is yet one of the leading rural schools of the county. The original article of agreement entered into by the citizens of the community for its construction was as follows
"April 5th, 1825. A memorandum of agreement entered into by the undernamed subscribers for the purpose of erecting a school house in Derry township, Westmoreland county, on the lands of Coulter, McCune and McClelland. We do agree that five of us shall be appointed to manage said work and to keep a just account of what each individual pays or does towards it. and to settle with and pay any person who may or does more work or furnish more material for said house than is opposite their respective names."
This agreement has appended to it the names of the subscribers, with clay work, bushels of rye, corn, oats, wheat and buckwheat furnished by each. James -McClelland was the leading spirit in the enterprise and heads the list with "12 days work, 12 bushels of rye and 12 bushels of oats." Then follows sixteen others, each of whom agreed to furnish labor, grain, etc. Their names are as follows : Conrad Rinsel, George Rinsel, Joseph McMaster, Hugh Skelley, Robert Coulter, Felty Flowers, Win. McClelland, Henry Rinsel, Alexander McCune, James H. Johnston, Patrick McDermott, John Latimer, Philip Diamond, James Dunlap, Dennis Conner, Isaac Munson, and John Rainey.
It was about twelve feet long and about ten feet wide, and the ceiling vas only about seven feet high. It had one window on each side, and a window at one end, and a door at the other end. The windows were glass and some of the pupils who came there saw glass windows for the first time in their lives. The writing desks were fastened around the wall. The seats were called "peg seats," that is they were made of a slab from a log, with pins. for legs. The heating apparatus was what was called a ten-plate stove, and it was adapted to burning wood. About 1835 the house was enlarged by adding a few feet to one end. The windows were increased to six, but the ceiling still. remained at its original height of about seven feet, and this prevented the master from swinging his rod as skillfully as he might otherwise have done. With this enlargement of 1835 the house stood and did service till 1853, when it was torn down, and a new one erected in the same place. The second house-was built by Philip McGuire, who died but recently. The third house was erected near the original site in 1904.
The nearest neighboring schools were at New Alexandria, then called Dennesontown, about four miles northwest on the northern turnpike, about five" miles north, and New Derry, about three miles to the east.
The method of employing teachers and the general management of the-schools at that time can be pretty well gathered from the following agreement written by James McClelland, and dated May 5, 1825.
"Articles of agreement made and concluded upon by and between William Lovegood of one part and the undernamed subscribers of the other part Witnesseth, that the said Wm. Lovegood for the consideration hereinafter mentioned doth agree to teach reading, writing and arithmetic at the rate of five dollars per scholar per annum, agreeable to the best methods he is acquainted with, for the term of three, six or nine months or one year, the parties reserving a liberty of withdrawing at the end of every three months by giving a month's warning, and during which term or terms the said Wm. Lovegood doth also agree to keep good rules and regulations in school and observe regular and proper hours of attendance and to pay strict attention to improve the minds, manners and morals of such children as may be entrusted to his care, and to have an eye over them during the hour of recreation and likewise to permit the trustees or any of the subscribers to visit the school as often as they may think proper.
"For and in consideration of the above obligation being duly performed by the said Wm. Lovegeod, we do obligate ourselves one and each of us to pay the said Wm. Lovegood the above sum in proportion to the number of scholars next our names in the following manner, to-wit: One half in cash, the other in wheat, rye, oats or corn at the following prices - wheat at 5 shillings per bushel, rye and corn at three shillings and oats at 20 cents. We do also obligate ourselves to furnish a comfortable house to teach in with a sufficiency of fuel. The said payments to be paid at or near the end of every three months if required. and to be delivered at any place fixed on by the teacher within three miles of the schoolhouse."
The frame schoolhouse was not finished in time for occupancy in 1825, and the first school taught there was in 1826, by Robert Given, who afterwards became associate judge of Westmoreland county William Dennison taught there in 1827, James Kelly in 1828 and 1829, John McCaleb in 1830 and 1831. J. C. Lannahill in 1832 and 1833, Craig McClellan in 1834, W. A. Nichols in 183, W. H. Cochran in 1836, beginning March 1st and continuing three months. This ends the history of that district prior to the acceptance of the Tree school system. Though the first free school law was passed in 1834, it was not until after the amending act of 1836 that Derry township adopted the free school system. William H. Cochran was the first teacher under the new system in 1837. He had as many as eighty pupils present at one time, for now that it was free of tuition, every citizen felt like availing himself of its benefits. He opened the school with prayer, had a Bible class which recited twice a clay, and he read to the school from the New Testament four times per day. In his day the "Shorter Catechism" was the prominent text book in the school.
Prior to the adoption of the free school system there were in this, as in many other schoolhouses in the county, frequently two terms a year of three months each, one in the winter and one in the summer, the number of terms and their length being entirely regulated by the citizens in the community. When times were hard and crops were scanty, they frequently did not have any school at all, though that never happened in this particular house.
Women were rarely ever employed as teachers anywhere in the county prior to 1840. Sometimes they were employed at low rates to teach a few small children during a summer term. When the hard times of 1837 came, this school, like others in the county, began to employ them because their services could be had for less than half the sum they were compelled to pay men. For a number of years afterwards there were two terms of public school in each house, one in the winter and one in the summer, and they were frequently taught by different teachers. Jane Henry was the first woman teacher in the Derry township school above described, and taught there in 1838. After that came Eliza Mitchell, in 1840, Jane Marshall (Mrs. Sterling), in 1842; Martha McCune in 1843, and Elizabeth Woods in 1844.
The leading text book in our country schools in addition to the New Testament were the "United States Speller." "English Reader." "Kirkhams Grammar" and the "Western Calculator." This last, was a splendid work. and with all the many arithmetics published they have not improved much upon it since.
We have in the above given much more space to one school than the limited pages of this work warrant, but Nye have done so because it is fairly representative of the schools of the county, and its rise and progress does not differ -widely from that of any other long since established county school.
The school law of 1854, with some amendments, is the school law of our present day. Among other things it provided for a county superintendent of the common schools. One of his duties is to examine the teachers as to their qualifications to teach. So the old style of examination passed away at once. With the law of 1854 came also better educated teachers and better pay per month. Twenty dollars per month was the highest wages ever paid at Center Union school until 1837. The average was less than twenty dollars per month.
An attractive feature of the schools of Westmoreland as managed in the early days was the "spelling bee." This was held at night. in the country schoolhouses, and was attended by the older pupils, the parents and the young men and maidens who had recently passed the school age but who still took an interest in its public meeting. The teacher, or master, announced the evening of the spelling, and made all necessary arrangements. One necessity was to provide for the proper light, as there were no tamps in those days. and a number of the older pupils were designated to bring candles. The spelling bee was held on the long winter evenings, and, if it happened while the roads were covered with snow, the house was not infrequently crowded to overflowing. As a. general rule, two of the older pupils were chosen as captains, who "tossed up" as to which should have the first choice of spellers for his or her side. They then "picked" time about from all who were present, and each one selected came out and took a position on the side of the captain who selected him or her. When all who could be induced to spell were thus lined up, the master or some one selected by him began the evening's performance by giving out the words, beginning with the captains, then to those who came next, and so on. When any one on either side misspelled a word, it was given to the next on the other side, and those who missed words left the line, and took their seats. When either side was thus exhausted, the other side were the-victors. Sometimes but one on each side was left. The one pronouncing the words then selected the hardest words in the spelling book and gave them time about. When the evening was about half gone, there was an intermission, and this to some in attendance was not by any means the least enjoyable feature of the evening's entertainment. This old fashioned spelling bee produced good spellers, better perhaps than we have now in our common schools.
Another feature was a closing exhibition. This came at the end of the term and belonged to a later period than the spelling bee. It partook of the nature of a private theatrical, with the pupils as performers. The entertainment consisted of recitations, essays, dialogues, music, and sometimes a debate between two or four of the older boys of the school. The platform of the schoolhouse, usually extending across the one end of the room, was the stage from which the performances were delivered. In some instances, where tableaux were shown or dialogues were included, which required a change of costumes, the one end of the platform was curtained off so as to form a dressing room. The performance often lasted an entire afternoon or evening. It was discouraged somewhat because of the time consumed in its preparation, yet there are few who participated in them who do not look back on them with pleasure, and regard the time spent in their preparation as well improved.
It was not infrequent that each alternate Friday afternoon was set apart as a special tine for hearing declamations, essays, dialogues, etc., by the pupils. Each member of the school was required to have some performance. On such occasions the school was often visited by the parents or friends of the pupils, and to speak or read before these strangers and the school, was a splendid antidote for bashfulness, so common among the children of rural communities.
On the matter of the examination of teachers as to their qualifications to .teach, we find an agreement entered into by the delegates of several townships, which was published in the Greensburg Arius on May 7, 1835. This .agreement indicates a more systematic examination than was customary in former years. It is as follows:
We the subscribers, delegates from our several school districts, do agree to adopt the following rules for the examination of teachers who may apply to them for certificates of qualification to teach under the school law of the Commonwealth, viz: As to their competency to teach reading, writing, arithmetic, English grammar and geography.
1. On the Art of Reading:-By their reading in the presence of the Directors or such other person or persons as they shall appoint, such pieces as shall be required of them and answering such questions as shall be asked them.
2. On the Art of Writing:-By exhibiting their own hand writing for the inspection of the Directors.
3. On the branch of Arithmetic:-By working such questions as shall be required by those who examine them to their satisfaction.
4. On Grammar:-By parsing lessons and answering such questions as shall be asked them in a satisfactory manner.
5. On Geography:-By answering from the maps or otherwise such Geographical .questions as the examiners may think proper to ask them.
May 7th, 1835 "
JOSEPH BARNES, Derry Township.
JOHN Powers, Rostraver Township.
Amos OGDEN, Fairfield Township.
GEORGE W. MARTIN, Allegheny Township.
SAMUEL KELTZ, Ligonier Township.
JOSEPH MOORHEAD, Ligonier Borough.
PETER HINE, Loyalhanna Township.
For many rears what is now known as Brant's school about two miles south of Ligonier borough, was called the Dutch Meeting school, or Dutch school. It was one of the first schoolhouses in Ligonier Valley, but the exact date of its erection is not known. It had three windows, one at each side and at one end, the other end containing a door. There was a large stone fireplace at one end, but this in after years gave way to a wood stove. The building was a low structure, and near by was a meeting house built by the German Reformed and the Lutheran churches, and from this the school took its name.
Along the walls all around the room, excepting at the door and fireplace, was a wide board which served as a writing desk. Parallel with it were rude benches without backs, upon which the pupils sat. The door swung on wooden hinges, and was closed with a wooden latch. Spelling, reading and writing were the only subjects taught in the country schools in those days.
The school opened at nine o'clock and closed at four o'clock, with an intermission of an hour at noon. The recess at 10:30 and 2:30 was not then thought of. The Bible was the leading text book. There were generally two terms each year. They were called the winter term and the summer term. Both were subscription schools, and the rates of tuition were about fifty cents per month for each pupil. The first teacher at this school was a man named Hidey, who began teaching there in 1818. He taught both in the German and English languages. He had no family, and boarded and lodged in the school house, cooking his scanty fare at the fireplace, and sleeping on a bunk of some kind on the floor. Often the passer-by saw him sitting there alone, reading by the flickering light of a tallow-dip or mayhap by the warm glow of the wood fire.
In 1822 Patrick McGowan taught there and continued its teacher for about four years. In about 1818 he and his family were going west in a one-horse covered wagon. At Laughlintown their horse took sick and died, and the journey could not be prolonged further. McGowan wrote a very neat hand, and found employment as a clerk at Washington Furnace, which was then in blast. Afterwards he purchased the farm now owned by Mr. C. C. Menoher, east of the school. He was a Scotch-Irishman, and Was the first man who taught there who was really capable of teaching English. For his day he was well educated, and was a very successful teacher. At his death he was buried in a graveyard near Zion's church. His sons were John, William, Peter, Francis and Enos. John became the well known merchant of Ligonier, and died in 1871. William was a physician, and Peter was a Methodist preacher, and the father of the late Dr. Wm. McGowan, of Ligonier.
The summer term of school was attended almost entirely by the young children, and the winter term largely by full-grown young men and women. It was not infrequent in this early day that young men who had several years before reached their majority went to school during the winter term and worked on farms in the summer. This was doubtless due to the fact that there were no schools for them to attend in their younger days. Spelling was taught differently then from now, and engaged about the one-fourth of the pupil's time, the other three-fourths being divided between reading. writing and arithmetic. When the hour for studying spelling arrived, all the pupils studied spelling at the same time, and each one "spelled out loud," and the pupil who could spell the loudest and the fastest was decidedly the champion of the school. The noise they made may be imagined.
Those who went to school there before 1830 were the Ambroses, Barrons, Bakers, Brants, Campbells, Eclebergers, Hargnetts, Hairs, Markers, Matthews, McGowans, Rileys, Reeds, Roberts, Slaters, and the Selbys. Some of these names are on the report book of the school to this day. The families were much larger then than now. The Barron family consisted of ten, the Baker family of twelve, and the Fry family of sixteen children who attended this school, though they did net attend at the same time.
The progenitor of the Brant family, from which family the school takes its name, was John Brant, who died in 1802 and is buried in the graveyard nearby. He came to America from Amsterdam. It was he who killed an Indian with a rail. The Indian had concealed himself by crawling into the bake-oven. hoping. it was presumed. to remain there until the proper time, when he would pounce upon the defenseless family. When Brant accidentally discovered him he had no weapon at hand, nor could he procure any without affording the Indian an opportunity to come out and either shoot him or escape. Nearby lay a strong fence-rail, and with this the sturdy old pioneer punched the Indian to death. John Brant was a soldier of the Revolution. Near his grave is that of his son John, who died in 1844, and who had fought in the war of 1812.
An old custom in the country schools was that the master should "treat" his pupils at Christmas. The treat consisted of candy, sugar cake, apples or nuts, or whatever might be convenient. One of the teachers of this school refused to comply with the custom, and the older pupils concluded to force him into compliance. Accordingly, the next morning the pupils went early and barred the door against the master, and kept him out till one o'clock, when they allowed him to come in, but, in place of resuming their studies, the pupils ran out and barred the teacher in. At evening the girls had to have their wraps to go home, and one of the strongest of the pupils who was fully grown concluded to go in and hold the pedagogue while the girls went in for their wraps. A hand-to-hand encounter ensued, and the pupil tripped on a bench and fell to the floor, whereupon the teacher escaped. The next morning the master came with a good supply of rods, and the barring out ended in the usual way.
In the nearby graveyard rest the remains of Henry Reed, who died in 1835. He lived on the Freeman farm, and sent his children to this school. On the Laughr farm lived the Ecleberger family, noted for its fine looking girls, all of whom attended school there, and one of whom, Mary, married Benjamin Park, an inn keeper near Ligonier. Near by was the house of Frederick Hargnett, whose sons and daughters went to school there. Sarah was married to Jacob Briniser. and was the mother of the Briniser family of Ligonier. John was a well known merchant and business man of Ligonier for nearly seventy years, and died in 1896. David Boucher moved from Somerset county to a farm near Ligonier in 1833, with a family of eight sons and one daughter, most of whom attended this school, though they lived fully two miles to the north of it.
The Roberts family have been patrons of this school almost continuously since it was first started. From it came Robert Richford Roberts, who was brought up and lived a short distance northwest of this. He afterwards became a bishop in the Methodist Episcopal church, and preached in ever- section of the Union. Bishop Roberts died in 1843.
The Marker family were likewise patrons of this school for more than a half century. They lived on a farm a mile south of the schoolhouse. One of the sons. -Noah M., was for many years a merchant in Ligonier, and died in 1896. Jacob Deeds lived northwest of the school, and was the father of a large family who attended school there. Anthony and Philip Kimmel came to America from Manheim, a Rhine city in Germany. in 1755. coining with General Braddocks army. At Belie Haven (now Alexandria) near Washington, they left the army and became farmers. Solomon, a grandson of Philip, came to Westmoreland count- and was a resident of this school district some time in the thirties. He was the father of a large family, some of whom attended this school.
The teachers, or masters, of an early day, in addition to those mentioned. Heidy and McGowan, were William Louther, Peter McGowan. Abel Fisher. Robert Davison, James Leonard, John Burhl, John Riley. David Everhart, Jacob Beig. The school was very large then. One term Mr. Fisher had ninety-two enrolled, and on several days all were present. Abel Fisher was a son of Abel Fisher, a Quaker, who settled on a farm about two miles north of the school. The family of the teacher, Abel Fisher, went to school to him. He was a man of deep religious convictions, and is yet revered as one of the, pioneers in Methodism in Ligonier Valley. He died at his home in 1876.
Robert Davison, a most kindly disposed man, taught there in 1839, 4L. 43. 45 and 1847. He lived a short distance south of the school, and died there a few Years ago, when nearly ninety years old. His brother Thomas taught a few years ago, and both were deservedly very popular teachers.
In 1849 John G. Albright taught school there, it being his first term as a teacher. He afterwards taught the same school twelve years, though not in succession, his last term there being in 1871-72. Mr. Albright was for many years a surveyor and a justice of the peace. He taught in all about forty winters.
Charles Davis. who afterward was successfully engaged in the lumber business in the northern part of the State: George W. Phillippi, yet living in Illinois; John Murdock. a business man of Johnstown; I. M. Graham, editor of the Ligonier Echo; Holmes Phillippi. who died not long after, were later day teachers in this school. Many pupils of this school were soldiers in the civil war. Among them were J. B. McDowell, wounded at second Bull Run; Port. Bricker, who afterward went west; Samuel Murdock, who died in Ligonier in 1895: Major John McClintock. died shortly after the close of the war : John Johnson, wounded at Bull Run; John H. Miller, now dead; John McMillen, killed in the battle of Fredericksburg; George Johnson, of the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteers; H. Y. McDowell, of the 135th Regiment; Jacob, Robert, Shannon and Adam Roberts of the Roberts family previously spoken of; Godfrey McDowell and Humphrey Caven were in the 13th Regiment; A. K. Nicely; James Mathews; Henry Stom, of the 84th Regiment, was wounded at Chancellorsville and died at Washington, D. C.; Benjamin and Hiram Yealy; Samuel Weller, of the 211th Regiment, died in front of Petersburg; J. D. Barron, of the 84th Regiment; the Fry brothers, four of whom died in Andersonville; two of the Shadron brothers, who also died in the service; Thomas, James and John Davison, sons of the old teacher; Reuben Marks, of the 61st Regiment; Andrew Rankin, A. S. Nicely; Isaac and Noah and Henry Serena, the latter of whom was killed; Israel McDowell, killed in battle; Hiram, his brother, was a prisoner in Andersonville.
The second school house at this place was a log structure. A frame house was erected in 185o, but it was not finished in time, and so there was no school that winter. About 1872 it was remodeled and made much more attractive, both inside and out. In 1902 it was torn down after being in use over fifty years, and a modern frame structure erected. This school has been given perhaps undue attention, for it is only one of many in Ligonier Valley. Yet in its main feature its early history differs but little from that of the others, or from many others in the county. It has been taken, therefore, as one whose early history is fairly representative of all schools founded in the early part of the last century.
At a meeting in June, 1853, of the Westmoreland County Teachers' Association, John H. Hoopes, S. P. Shryok and S. W. Greer were appointed to prepare an address to the teachers and patrons of the common schools of the county, looking toward a better organization among teachers, and better methods of exchanging ideas and improving each other. In July, 1853, the address was published in the county papers. Briefly it set forth that a number of teachers having met in October, 1852, came to the conclusion that it was high time that a County Teachers' Association should be formed in Westmoreland. A committee was therefore appointed to draft a constitution and call a general meeting at New Alexandria. The address states that this meeting was called for December 24, and that only about twenty-five teachers were present. These formed an organization as indicated above, and with great benefit to themselves remained in session two days, then adjourned to meet at Madison, in June. Unfortunately, only eight teachers met at Madison. The report further urges very eloquently that a regular Teachers' Association should be formed and kept up, and that Township Associations should be organized in every township in the county. They urged that whenever this is thoroughly accomplished the friends of popular education will come out and co-operate with them, and assist then, in building up and elevating the standard of the profession. The address then announced meetings of the County Association for Adamsburg in September, and New Salem in November, and also that the "Conemaugh Teachers' Institute" would meet at New Alexandria on October 24, 1853, and continue in .session one week.
Thus began the Teachers' Institute in our county, long since one of the most popular features of the profession. John H. Hoopes is very nearly entitled to be called the father of these meetings. He was an ardent, able and outspoken friend of the common schools and teacher. He was, moreover, .a very able talker, and had the happy faculty of presenting his theories and arguments in a practical and interesting manner. The Institute until that time was not known in our county, and few if any had been held in Pennsvl- vania, though they had been held both in New England and Ohio, and doubt-.less elsewhere, as early as i84o. It is a fact that we may well be proud of that Westmoreland and Indiana counties were the first in the state to hold the institutes. The Conemaugh Teachers' Institute was composed of teachers .along both sides of the Conemaue, very important sections then, for the canal and its attendant improvements had placed them in advance of other sections. Their most noted meetings were held in Blairsville, in October, 1852, and in New Alexandria, in October, 1853. Elders Ridge Academy was then in its .best days and had able instructors who attended these meetings as special instructors. The Blairsville meeting was the one at which the organization was formed, and when it adjourned it was to meet in one year, that is in October, 1853, at New Alexandria. At the New Alexandria meeting there were .several friends of popular education present from other counties, who addressed the teachers and carried home with them most glowing reports of the Conemaugh Institute. Among others was Hon. Thomas H. Burrows, who, .after Thaddeus Stevens, did more for the common schools of Pennsylvania than any other man of that day. He published in the Pennsylvania School Journal a glowing account of the teachers' meeting he had attended. It so aroused the teachers of the state that, before the year was ended, in several other counties public institutes were held and arrangements were made for their continuance in the future. All over the state they were organizing, so that by January 1, 1856, nearly every county had perfected a county teachers' organization. The New Alexandria meeting lasted one week and adjourned to meet at Saltsburg in October, 1854. The Saltsburg meeting was equally interesting, but not, of course, fraught with such great results in the state, for that work had been done by the New Alexandria meeting in 1853. At this Saltsburg meeting the connection between the teachers of Westmoreland and Indiana was dissolved by mutual consent, for it was believed that each county had so grown in the strength of its teachers that they were able to form and continue separate institutes. These institutes were looked upon with great suspicion by many of the "tax-payers" of the count-. They were regarded by some as a scheme of the teachers to have their salary raised. Others thought that new studies and new text-books on perfectly useless subjects were about to be introduced. Nevertheless, they had come to stay, and they have been greatly beneficial alike both to the teacher and the pupil. Mr. James I. McCormick was then county superintendent of Westmoreland schools, and at once made arrangements for holding an institute in Greensburg, in October,
He arranged that Mr. Burrows, J. P. Wickersham. of Lancaster, afterwards state superintendent, and J. H. Stoddard, author and teacher in the eastern part of the state, should be present as instructors and lecturers. From that time on teaching became a profession. Teachers were no longer called "piasters." Before that the "master" had "kept' schools, now he was "teaching." The old styled "master" found himself "behind the age."
County Superintendent. The Act of 1854 established the office of county superintendent. It was like many other innovations, a very unpopular act at first, but now', after living under it and testing it thoroughly for more than a half century, there is probably not an intelligent educator in the state who would dispense with its main features or with the county superintendent. The great improvement made in our common schools and in our teachers has, in a great measure, been due to the county superintendent. The Act of 1854 was objectionable, but the Act of 1856 amended it so that no one save a practical teacher with certain literary qualifications could fill the office. Nevertheless, in our county in the years of 1858 and 1589, the great question agitating the people was, whether or not the office should be abolished. Meetings were actually held in nearly every school district, certainly in every township, to discuss this most infamous measure. The leading men of every community- attended these meetings, and reports of them were published from time to time in the county papers. The great majority of them, four-fifths of them, at least, adopted resolutions denouncing both the office and the officer, calling the latter a miserable failure, an "expensive and useless burden saddled on a tax-ridden people," etc., etc. In nearly all of these resolutions they called on the state legislature to repeal the law and vacate the office at its next session. The same class of men who opposed the introduction of the printing press, turnpikes, prepaid postage, telegraphy, and a hundred other now indispensable measures, now brought its force against this most important and useful provision. No township was more advanced in education in that day than Derry, and an expression from them is therefore in keeping with the general trend of this discussion. The resolutions adopted by them in a public meeting- at school house No. 8, Derry township, on the evening of February 10, 1859, are as follows:
"Resolved, that we consider our schools in a retrograde, in place of a progressive condition. We view the present law as arbitrary, the power being all placed in the hands of the school board and superintendent, the tax pavers having nothing to say.
"That we view with indignation that feature of the law which empowers the teachers and directors, absolutely combined, to force on any locality a series of books which they do not prefer, and to debar a series of books which it is the desire of the people to use.
"That we will support no man for the office of school director that will not pledge himself if called upon. to cut down the salary of the county superintendent, and use all honorable means to abolish the office."
One of the earlier meetings of the county was held at "Hickory Spring" schoolhouse in Unity township. They adopted and published the following resolution, and it was copied and endorsed by many other meetings in the county
"Resolved, that we view with indignation and abhorrence that feature of the law which empowers the superintendent and directors, combined, to arbitrarily force on any locality a series of books, when that locality is already supplied wilt a series they prefer. We believe that by an easy transition of such laws in their hands many would strike a death blow at the rights of conscience and triumph over our prostrate liberties."
It is fair to state that at some meetings these resolutions were condemned. Such was the result of a meeting held at Boyd's No. 5, in Unity township, early in February, 1859 M:r. Hoopes, to whom we have already referred, very ably sustained the law in all its features in the public press, the columns of which seem to have been opened to both sides of the discussion- In his articles he evinced a thorough knowledge of the school law and of the whole history of the common school movement form the beginning. In a series of articles he defended his cause in a manner that would do honor to any who have since written in this line.
Petitions were put in circulation in nearly all sections of the county asking the legislature to repeal at all events that part of the law which established the office of county superintendent. Fortunately for our common school system, the legislature had the fortitude to refuse to comply with these requests, and the result of the law has successfully proved the wisdom of their action.
The first county superintendent of schools was Rev. Matthew McKinstry, of West Newton, who was elected in 1854 under the new law. He had served but one year when he resigned, the opposition to the office having made his term a very unpleasant one. James I. McCormick, of North Huntingdon township. was appointed in his place and filled out the unexpired term of two years. J. R. McAfee, of Latrobe, was elected in 1857; S. S. Jack, of Pleasant Unity, in 1860, and again in 1863: Joseph S. Walthour, of Greensburg, was elected in 1866; H. M. Jones. of Salem township, was elected in 1869, and again in 1872; James Silliman, of East Huntingdon township, was elected in 1875 ; J. R. Spiegel, of Greensburg. was elected in 1878, and again in 1881. Geo. H. Hugus, of Latrobe was elected in 1884, and again in 1887 and 1890. William H. Ulrich was elected in 1893, and re-elected in 1896, 1899 and 1902: R. C. Shaw, of Irvin, was elected in 1905.
Sketches of J. R.McAfee and J. R. Spiegel will be found in that part of this work devoted to the Westmoreland bar; of James I. McCormick in the part devoted to the medical profession.
Joseph S. Walthour was born in North Huntingdon township, February 5, 1829. His grandfather had built Fort Walthour, famous in the revolutionary period of our history, and treated of in that part of this work. In 1846 he began teaching school at Barnes' school, near his home, at eighteen dollars per month. In 1847, '48 and '49 he attended school in Greensburg. In 1850 '51 and '52 he taught his home school in North Huntingdon township. After a short venture in the mercantile business he taught the Byerly school in 1854, at twenty-two dollars per month. In 1855 he taught in the boys' department of the Greensburg schools, and in 1856, '57, '58 and '59 he taught in New Salem. After this he taught one or two terms elsewhere in the county, and returned to Greensburg as a teacher, where he was engaged when elected county superintendent in 1866. His salary in this position was $800 per annum. During his term as superintendent he traveled somewhat over the state as an instructor at other institutes, and was favorably received. In 1870 he removed to Albion, Erie county, where he engaged in teaching, and still later taught at Saegertown, Crawford county. Later he taught at Latrobe, New Derry, Saltsburg, Greensburg, etc., and in fact spent the remainder of his life as a teacher.
When he took charge of the schools as county superintendent in 1866 there were 286 schools in the county. In 1867 there were 302 schools in the county, and in 1868 there were 312. District or Township Institutes were held in nearly every township in the county, and these served only to add to the interest and attendance of the County Institute, which was now regularly held in Greensburg each fall or winter.
Henry M. Jones was born in Salem township October 28, 1828. He was a son of John Jones, one of our early associate judges of Westmoreland county. In 1847 he began teaching at Elwood school, in the northern part of Franklin township. For the next twenty years he taught. mostly in the northern part of the county, teaching in the winter and summer much of the time. During these years he studied the higher mathematics and the dead languages, largely under the tutorship of his elder brother, Rev. John M. Jones, of the Presbyterian church. His salary as county superintendent for the first term was $800 per annum, and when re-elected in 1872 his salary was raised to $1,500. Mr. Jones worked with much zeal during the years when he was in office, and met with great success. He suggested many improvements which he has lived to see adopted. One of these was a uniformity of text-books all over the county. After retiring from office in 1873 he travelled and rested a year in the west and then resumed teaching near his home in Salem township and continued to be thus employed for some years.
When he began the duties of the office there were 312 schools. and three were added the first year. There were 200 male and 115 female teachers. The salary of the male teachers averaged $44.12, and that of females $34.47. The average cost of instruction per month was ninety-two cents for each pupil. In his second year there were sixteen new schools added. In his third year six schools were added. In the fourth year twelve schools were added, and the same number the year following. In his sixth year, ending June 1, 1875, fifteen new schools were added, making 342 in the county. There were 212 males and 133 females employed, the average salary of the former being $48.50, and of the latter 838.95.
James Silliman was born in Lancaster county. June 24, 1827, and was of Quaker descent. He came to East Huntingdon township in 1833, and attended the common schools of our county, and also a higher school in Mt. Pleasant. He began teaching when he was twenty-one years old (1848), and continued it until 1875, when he was elected county superintendent. While a teacher he learned surveying, and paid more or less attention to that while a teacher.
In 1882 there were 398 schools in the county. The average length of the term increased gradually, till at this time (1882) it was five and three-fourths months. The county institute under Mr. Spiegel, as county superintendent, was probably more popular than at any time before or since his day, though we doubt whether it was more profitable to the teachers. The popularity was due mainly to the noted instructors and night lecturers whom he secured. His county institutes were held at a time when the field of instructors and lecturers was filled with great men who could not be equaled by those who came after him. He had Henry Ward Beecher, T. DeWitt Talmage, Edgar Cowan, John B. Gough, Theodore Tilton, Daniel Dougherty, A. K. McClure and many others of national fame. At the session of the institute in 1882, 385 teachers out of a total of 398 were in attendance.
There are now 476 school houses in the county, with 863 schools. In eighty-one of these the higher branches are taught. Last year there were 918 teachers employed, of whom all but iii were experienced teachers, and 287 were teachers who had been graduated at state normal schools, while forty-one others were graduated from colleges. The average monthly wages paid male teachers was $58.54, and that paid to female teachers was $45.04. The number of pupils enrolled was 36,057. The average cost of each pupil per month was 81.42. The state appropriation, that is the amount which came to Westmoreland schools, was $137,169.92, while the amount of school tax levied for building, schoolhouses, etc., and for school purposes was $438,072.93. The total expenditure last year for all school purposes was $686,327.30.
Source: Page(s) 405-425, History of Westmoreland County, Volume I, Pennsylvania by John N Boucher. New York, The Lewis Publishing Company, 1906.
Transcribed August 2008 for the Westmoreland County History Project
Contributed by Nathan Zipfel for use by the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project (http://www.pa-roots.com/westmoreland/)
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