Recently I was looking through a very old box labeled “Schools.” I found some very old items relating several now defunct schools in Montgomery County, including the North Wales Academy and Business School. There was a catalogue for the school for the 1884-1885 school year. There were also several copies of a school periodical called The Academy Acorn.
North Wales Academy can be seen on the lower left in the 1877 atlas
North Wales Academy was founded in 1867 by Samuel Umstead Brunner. Since the original school was in Kulpsville, its name was the Kulpsville Academy at that time (less formally, it was often called Brunner Academy). In 1871, the school moved to North Wales to take advantage of the newly built North Pennsylvania Railroad, according to Mrs. John M. Willis in her 1921 paper “The Brunner Academy of North Wales.”
A photograph of the school in the 1884-1885 catalogue
With the move to North Wales, the school began taking boarders. Many day students also attended. The school hosted several lectures each year which were open to the public and free. The school was co-ed and taught a college preparatory program as well as a business program.
Small private schools at this time existed all over the county. They were generally led by an individual and the school’s identity largely came from that individual. Samuel Brunner was born and raised in Worcester Township, attending public school there until he went to Washington Hall in Trappe. He attended Eastman’s Business College in Poughkeepsie before returning to Pennsylvania to work in Philadelphia. He taught on and off throughout his younger years and spent one year teaching in a public school in Jenkintown before starting his own school.
Samual Brunner from Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania by Henry Wilson Ruoff
The school taught math, science, music, literature, ancient and modern languages, as well as book-keeping and telegraphy. The Academy Acorn is a combination of articles about education (presumably by Brunner) about education and articles by the students themselves. In the first issue, Brunner writes about the public school system and an article titled “Prepare for College,” which claims that Pennsylvania’s high schools do not properly prepare students for college. Student articles include “The Growth of Intellectual Life during the Middle Ages,” “A Few Benefits of Physical Culture,” and “The Women and Shakspeare [sic].”
The school did not outlast Professor Brunner, which was typical of these sorts of schools. After he died in 1901, the building became a private home and was purchased in the 1940’s to be home of the local American Legion.
Did you know that at the beginning of the 20th century, the largest green house in the world was here in Montgomery County?
Florex Gardens was built in 1907 in Upper Gwynedd, just across from the North Wales train station.
These pictures were donated by David E. Groshens in 1954. This photo gives a great sense of its size, but if you’d like exact numbers, here they are:
700 feet long
172 feet wide
35 feet high
The green house was located right by the tracks of the North Penn Railroad. The company primarily grew flowers, and a note that came with the photographs says that the greenhouse could grow nearly 100,000 rose bushes at once.
The greenhouses were dismantled in 1951, and the land was sold to Leeds and Northrup, a manufacturer of electronic parts. This part of Upper Gwynedd became an industrial area with other manufacturers like Zenith and Sharp and Dohme, which can be seen in the upper left hand corner of this photo.
The solvents used by those and other companies led to the EPA declaring the area a Superfund site in 1989.
In the 1990’s Leeds and Northrup moved production to Florida, and Merck bought the land for an expansion. Last year, Merck donated nine acres of the property to the Wissahickon Watershed, and it was opened as a public greenspace called “Dodsworth Run Preserve.”