Displaying items by tag: Schools

Thursday, 07 October 2021 17:44

Shady Grove School




Yesterday as I was scanning photographs I came across a few pictures of Shady Grove School, not the current elementary school, but the earlier one-room school house.

Shady Grove can trace its lineage back to the James School. A Dr. James, living near Dawesfield on Lewis Lane hired a schoolmaster for his children and some of the neighboring children in the late 18th century. The school lasted several decades although the original building that housed it was torn down. Jones Detwiler recorded that from 1820-1825, Standish Jennings was the teacher.

Whitpain schools

Some accounting for the Whitpain School District, 1858

In 1836, Pennsylvania established the Common School System, and the Whitpain school district purchased the school the following year and renaming it the Mount Pleasant School. At some point the school moved, most likely (according to the 1977 book Whitpain… Crossroads in Time) to the intersection of Morris Road and Mount Pleasant Ave.

Jones Detwiler left us a description of these early one-room schools, “The early school houses were all built of stone. The desks placed around against the walls, and the pupils occupying them but facing the windows. Benches without backs for the smaller scholars occupied the middle of the room.”

According to the History of Public Education in Montgomery County, Whitpain had 6 teachers in 1836 (all male), 294 pupils, and the school year was 4 months.


In 1855 that school was sold and new one was built on Lewis Lane. Since it was no longer on Mount Pleasant Avenue, the school district decided to rename the school. It chose “Shady Grove” because of the woods that surrounded the school, according to Detwiler.

In 1916, the township built the Whitpain Township Consolidated School. The smaller neighborhood schools, like Shady Grove, were closed. These photographs of Shady Grove are undated, but probably from the 1960’s. The building itself was torn down in 1971.


The current Shady Grove Elementary School (Home of the Bulldogs) was built in 1957 originally as a Junior High School for grades 7 through 9. Later it was used for all the 5th and 6th graders in the consolidated Wissahickon School District.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 19 August 2021 18:22

The Audubon Schools

This week we have a guest blogger: our own trustee and regular volunteer, George Detwiler!


 Jack's School

If you grew up in Audubon you may have attended Audubon Elementary on Egypt Road. This was actually the fourth school to serve the children of Audubon. The first was a one-room schoolhouse built in 1807 on a small plot of land located diagonally across from The Union Chapel on Pawlings Road. The area was known then as “Wetherill’s Corner” because the family owned so much of the surrounding land. This was “Jack’s School”, named after Andrew Jack, a local landowner and first Constable of Lower Providence Township who sold the ¼ acre piece of ground to the township. He was also the owner of “Jack’s Tavern”, later Bud’s Bar. The school was 26’ x 40’ with a round coal stove in the middle of the room with the desks fastened to the walls around the room. In addition to school the community used the building for concerts, lectures and other gatherings and entertainment. There was an active debate society that held their meetings there as well as a Sunday School organized by Mrs. Sarah Rogers. Thomas Highley led the singing.

Audubon Sunday School 1878

Audubon Sunday School, 1878

In the 1850’s, George Corson wrote a poem which he called simply “Jack’s School”. In the Winter of 1872, Howard Rhodes recited it as part of the entertainment during a get together at the school. The first verse was:

Jack’s School is a humble hall

It has no brick or marble wall

No costly bannister or aisles

Bedecked in ornamental style

In all, it contained seven verses but the rest have been lost.

When Jack’s School became too small to accommodate all of the students in the area, a second school, The Beech Tree School, was built in 1852 on land purchased from Albert DeHaven. This property later became part of the Buckwalter Farm on Eagleville Road. It was similar in construction to Jack’s School.


Shannonville Union Public School

These two schools served Shannonville until 1873 when a new two-room schoolhouse replaced them on land purchased from Aaron Weikle. This was called The Shannonville Union Public School and is still standing a short distance off of Pawlings Road behind the David Hagner home. Its first teachers were Miss Sarah Chafin and Miss Elizabeth Gotwals. Chafin spent her first year teaching at Jack’s School. It has been enlarged over the years and eventually became a family residence . Religious services were held here for the Baptists, Presbyterians and Methodists until 1878 when the little Baptist chapel on Egypt road near Brewsters Ice Cream was built. This also served as a classroom for overflow students from the school. Miss Cassel, who many of us remember from first grade, taught there early in her career. It served Shannonville and then Audubon until 1929 when the Audubon School on Egypt Road was built.


Audubon Elementary, dedication, 1928


Audubon Elementary served the children of Audubon almost continually for 90 years after it’s opening in 1929. It opened with only four classrooms. Entrance was through the large front door facing Egypt Road, and the first thing you saw when you entered was a large Marble bust of John James Audubon sitting on a wooden pedestal. Numerous additions were made over the decades. First were additional classrooms added behind the original building on both the upper and lower levels. Then, in 1955, a wing on the right when facing the school from Egypt Road added several more. In 1958 a new combination cafeteria, auditorium and gym was added out the back along with a new kitchen. More additions followed as the building of housing developments by George Custer, Mr. Middleton and especially Joe D’s Apple Valley neighborhoods greatly increased the student population. It was permanently closed in 2018 with students now attending either Woodland or Arrowhead (K-4) or Skyview (5-6) Elementary.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 04 March 2021 18:36

Schissler College


The Albertson Trust Building, showing Schissler College on the second floor

Recently one of our members sent me a link to a postcard for a long forgotten business school in Norristown and suggested it might make an interesting topic for this blog. I recognized the name from some items in our collection and thought maybe others would find it interesting.

Schissler College began as a night school founded by the 23 year old A. J. Schissler in 1887. Schissler had been born in Manayunk and attended school only to the age of nine when he was sent to work at a local mill. He continued his education by attending night school and at 21 he took a business class and was able to begin clerical work at a local grain merchant. He began the school by teaching in his home two nights a week, but soon expanded to nightly classes in separate buildings. Day classes began in 1890.


The following year, Schissler founded a second school in Norristown. Housed in the Albertson Trust Company building at the corner of Main and Swede Streets, it had classes during the day and in the evenings for both men and women.


Example of shorthand from the 1896 prospectus

Courses at the college included bookkeeping, commercial law, penmanship, shorthand, and typing. Students could also choose an academic course “for pupils who contemplate a more complete course of study, but are not prepared to enter upon it, because of lack of early education.” French, Italian, and Spanish were also available for an addition fee of $5 per month.


The college also maintained an employment bureau for its students, and the college prospectus has a long list of firms at which it has placed students. In addition to three years of the college’s catalogs, we also have a graduation booklet from 1896. That year, the Norristown College graduated 53 men and 64 women in a ceremony at the Grand Opera House.

I don’t know how long the college lasted. The latest record I could find of it was this 1915 advertisement from the Conshohocken Reporter.

schissler ad

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 18 February 2021 21:50

Desegregation in Norristown

When Pennsylvania passed the Public School Act in 1834, Montgomery County didn’t exactly jump to comply. Some townships took several years to establish public schools because both the Quakers and the Pennsylvania Germans believed education was the province was the family and the church.

Norristown opened its first school in 1836 on Church Street with 113 pupils, all white. When more space was needed, the school board rented rooms. In 1839 the board rented out a lower room in Thomas Bruff’s house for educating black students. Jacob Glasgow was the teacher, and he had 15 students to begin with.

In 1846 the board rented space at Mount Zion AME Church, which was then on Chain St. When the Oak Street School opened in 1859, the white children moved into that building, and the African-American children moved into the old school for a brief time. Soon, they were moved again to a two-story building on Oak St. That was replaced by the Powell Street School in 1874.


Powell Street School

According to Edward Hocker, by the 1880’s the African-American parents in Norristown began to insist that their children be permitted to attend any convenient school in the borough. In 1883, the board decided to integrate Norristown’s schools, and all students were allowed to attend the school most convenient to them. There was little controversy over desegregation in Norristown.

In 1900, the county school superintendent, Joseph K. Gotwals, delivered an address to the Historical Society of Montgomery County on the history of education in Norristown. He only touched on desegregation briefly, but he said, “I cannot help feeling that the old separate arrangement was the better one.” He went on to say that the Powell Street School had 100 pupils. Twenty years later, he was doubtful that there were that many African-American students in all of Norristown’s schools despite the population increase.

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“The larger colored girls and boys would come to school when they were with their kind. They were willing to go and read in the first reader when their companions of the same age were in the same grade, but after the change was made we found that they did not want to go into the 'baby' room with six or eight-year white children.”

Gotwals didn’t seem to think there might be other solutions to this problem or that it might be his job to find them.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 25 June 2020 15:25

Montgomery County Science Fair


With schools closed this spring, many students missed out on their annual science fair. Montgomery County started holding fairs in 1958, one year after the Soviets launched Sputnik. Sponsored by the Montgomery County Science Teachers’ Association, the annual fair includes middle and high schoolers competing for prizes.

science fair2

We have a few programs from science fairs in the early 1960’s (1962-1965). They show students examining diverse issues in science: biology, engineering, mathematics, chemistry, and physics. The biggest winners received scholarships to local colleges.  In these early years, boys and girls were judged separately.


My favorite thing about these programs is the seal for the science fair. It shows what is a perhaps an artificial satellite in the upper left, a Tesla coil on the bottom, and perhaps a moon settlement in the middle.


The Montgomery County Science Teachers’ Association still sponsors an annual fair, now called the Montgomery County Science Research Competition.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 05 March 2020 21:22

Montgomery County, 1959


Lee Templeton car dealership in Norristown


I started on a new shelf in the stacks this morning and discovered 42 photographs of buildings from all over the south-eastern side of Montgomery County. The large format black and white photographs are mounted on cardboard. With the cardboard backing, most measure 18 by 24 inches.

The cardboard backing is signed by the photographer, Ellis O. Hinsey. A few have a date, 1959. I suspect that they’re all from that year or year before. They might have been mounted on cardboard for an exhibit.

All of the photographs are of buildings and several are of churches and parochial schools.


St. Gertrude's Parochial School, West Conshohocken



Epiphany of Our Lord (now Holy Rosary), Plymouth



Mother of Divine Providence (now Mother Teresa), King of Prussia

There are also a few businesses.


Two shops in downtown Norristown



Hale Fire Pump Company, Conshohocken

Ellis O. Hinsey was born in 1902 in Akron, Pa. For his day job, he was an English professor, first at Temple and then at the Pennsylvania Military College, now Widener University. He lived in Wyncote, and according to his obituary in the Glenside News, he was a freelance portrait photographer of 20 years. He died at 58 from complications of lung cancer.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 16 May 2019 18:16

World News


I came across an interesting old document last week, a news magazine produced by eighth graders at a local junior high school. The magazine was created simply with paper and pencil and bound together by string. The somewhat damaged cover gives the title “Cultur[al] Works” and declares it the March issue (complete with lion and lamb).


There are three sections, one on world news,  a literary section with poems and stories, and a final section on style. No year is listed on the cover, but heavy coverage of the Roosevelts suggests a 1933 date. The kids also covered fashion, a California earthquake, and wrote biographies of several historic figures such as Franz Liszt and Robert Lewis Stevenson.

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Betty Bean, editor of "Cultural Works" and Jeanette Poser, a contributor, from their 1937 NHS yearbook

Each article has a by-line, but the school isn’t mentioned. I did some math and some poking around and found most of the students mentioned in Norristown High School’s 1937 yearbook. So they could have been at Rittenhouse or Stewart Junior High Schools.


Overall, the magazine is a nice production. It’s the sort of thing that often doesn’t  survive, usually getting thrown away by parents or simply falling apart. The pencil is very faded on some pages, and we can assume the paper you see above was originally white. The inclusion of newspaper clippings would have only accelerated the deterioration (newsprint is very acidic).

Teaching students about media continues to be part of the curriculum in the Norristown Area School District. Just last week our own Barry Rauhauser was interviewed at Norristown High School for the Hank Cisco show. You can check it out on YouTube:

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 23 August 2018 20:01

Ada Worthington

Ada From the Ambler High School yearbook

We have in our archives a small collection of items from Ada Worthington. All of the papers concern her education, beginning with her third grade report card from Prospectville School in Horsham. It was the 1924-1925 school year.


Ada was a good student. Her fourth grade report card is also in the collection. When looking over her grades, keep in mind, this is before grade inflation, so 75 should be the average.


This invitation to her elementary school graduation indicates she was valedictorian.


After attending Ambler High School, Ada was admitted to the Abington Memorial Hospital School of Nursing. Her letter of acceptance includes a list of what to bring with her, including $22 for textbooks.


Using Ancestry, I was able to follow Ada through her life. In 1942, she married Camillus G. Schlecter in Delaware, though both listed Philadelphia addresses on their marriage license. Interestingly, Ada lists herself as about a year older than Camillus. Her birthdate on the marriage certificate is March 29, 1916, however, on a form from the school district from when the family moved from Cheltenham to Horsham (when Ada was 6 years old), her birthdate is listed as March 29, 1915. Did she shave a year off her age? Or did her parents have reason to list her as older than she was? Is it just a clerical error?

marriage adad              blog392

A little more searching revealed that Ada passed away in 2013. She’s buried in Ambler, with 1915 listed as her date of birth on her tombstone.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 26 July 2018 20:13

Treemount and tintypes


In the very early days of this blog, I wrote about Treemount Seminary (you can check out that original post here). The school was a private boarding and day school founded in Norristown in 1857. The school existed for 43 years and educated about 5,000 students. For decades after the school closed, an active alumni association continued to keep its memory alive through annual reunions.

I revisited the Treemount Seminary papers this week while working through our school collection. This morning I found a small box, donated to the Historical Society of Montgomery County in the 1940’s that contained tintypes of students from the school.


Most of the tintypes are identified with a last name on the reverse, and most were taken by Thomas Saurman, whose shop was located at Main and Green in Norristown. According to Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County by Henry Wilson Ruoff, Saurman himself was a graduate of Treemount.

Tintypes were a popular form of photography for the second half of the nineteenth century. They were cheaper than competing forms of photograph such as daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. Their cheapness and their small size made them perfect for sending to family or collecting pictures of your friends.


Tintypes were also known as ferrotypes, are made through a process similar to how ambrotypes were made. They used a wet collodion process to create a direct positive image that was reversed. No negative was made, so only one image could be produced from each exposure, no copies. The main difference between the ambrotype and the tintype was the material the image appeared on. Ambrotypes used polished glass while tintypes were produced on metal.


The process of creating a tintype was invented by Hamilton L. Smith at Kenyon College in 1856. The plate was a thin piece of iron that had been lacquered black or dark brown. The image was not was sharp as an ambrotype, but their affordability made up for this shortcoming.


The rosy cheeks you see in so many of the photos was added by hand, and was typical at the time, not just for tintypes, but for daguerreotypes and ambrotypes.

The paper mats you see around the images were also typical. Daguerreotypes and ambrotypes had to be kept in cases to protect the glass plates. Tintypes sometimes have cases, but the paper mat is more typical.

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Henry C. Trexler's tintype

These tintypes were owned by Harry C. Trexler, a graduate of Treemount Seminary and came to the historical society through his brother Frank.


Ruoff, Henry Wilson. Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Montgomery County Pennsylvania. Biographical Publishing Company, Philadelphia, 1895.

Ritzenhaler, Mary Lynn and Diane Vogt-O’Connor. Photographs: Archival Care and Management. Society of American Archivists, Chicago, 2006.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 14 June 2018 17:30

Cheltenham Military Academy


As I continue to make my way through our school collection, I discovered two interesting catalogs from Cheltenham Military Academy, which was once located on several acres in the Ogontz section of Cheltenham Township.

It was founded in 1871, when Robert Shoemaker and Jay Cooke, business tycoon, approached Dr. Edward Appleton of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church about the need for a military academy in the area. It was located on land purchased from the estate of Gabriella Butler.


Our catalogues are from 1891 and 1892 and were donated to the society in 1950 by Septimus Kriebel. They fall in between the times of the school’s two most famous students. Jesse Grant, youngest son of Ulysses S. Grant attended the school briefly in 1873. Ezra Pound attended the school from 1897 until 1900, sometimes as a boarder though his family lived in nearby Jenkintown.


The school’s catalog explains that the school could accommodate sixty boarders. Tuition for boarding students was $275 per year. Piano lessons were an addition $45. There were additional charges for the boys uniforms, though the catalog notes that the school was not “in the strictest sense a Military School.” Military drills were carried out by all the students.


Parents of the pupils were given many instructions. They were not permitted to send food other than fresh fruit and were urged not to give their students extra pocket money.  Then there is this instruction:


The school had football and baseball teams as well as a drama club. The school also organized a summer excursion in Europe for a small number of pupils.


There were three courses of academic study. The Classical and Latin-Scientific courses prepared students for college or scientific schools, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The English course was for boys intending to go into business and not attend college.



The 1892 catalog has a very interesting enclosure. This table shows the admission requirements to the nation’s top colleges. Interestingly, few of them had any interest in science, and the mathematics requirements are the equivalent of first year high school algebra. A thorough knowledge of Latin and Greek was, however, required.


The school closed in the early twentieth century.

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