Fayette County Genealogy Project

County School Report - 1877

Contributed by Judy Banja



Harrisburg: Lane S. Hart, State Printer, 1878


William H. Cooke.


With the first settlement of the county, schools were established by the citizens en masse. They were supported by subscription. Their character was indifferent. The branches taught were reading, writing, and ciphering. The houses were poor, usually built of logs, with backless seats and greased paper windows. The most prominent article of furniture was the rod. Boys and girls were lashed into obedience. The teachers were generally of the Irish persuasion.


This state of things, with slight improvement, continued up to the time of the passage of the common school law of 1834. In some places select schools were opened, in which the languages and higher mathematics were taught. These schools were sometimes dignified by the name of academy, seminary, &c. Several parochial schools were also opened. I have heard of no effort to secure free schools in the county, except that made by Doctor Cummings, while a member of the Pennsylvania Legislature, about the year 1820. The Doctor introduced a bill to establish free schools throughout the State. This was, perhaps, the first effort made to secure legislation upon the subject in the State. The Doctor returned to the Legislature no more after the introduction of that bill. It was thought that the had disgraced his constituency. He was regarded as a dangerous man, and was requested to remain at home.

Many school districts, upon the passage of the common school law of 1834, immediately accepted its provisions. Others hesitated, and those who were opposed to the law succeeded in preventing its going into effect for several years. In some districts, where a majority voted to accept the provisions of the law, the minority refused to pay their taxes, and being compelled to pay, refused to send to the schools. From 1834 until the county superintendency was established, teachers were subjected to a public examination by school directors, assisted by clergymen. Very frequently these examinations were well conducted.


There are at present but two persons in the county, who have made a life work of teaching, viz : Mr. Joshua V. Gibbons, and Mr. John G. Hertig. Mr. Gibbons has been engaged in school work more than half a century. He was, for twelve years, superintendent of the county, and has done more than any other person to promote the cause of public instruction in this section. Mr. Hertig has been engaged in teaching nearly fifty years. Messrs. Wanee and Zeagly, ex-superintendents of the county, spent the best part of their lives in the school-room, and did much to promote the cause in our midst.

Many, who are now engaged in other pursuits, spent several years in teaching in the public schools. Each year some of our most successful teachers leave the profession, to engage in more lucrative vocations.


Union Academy, the first in the county, was established in 1808. The first section of the act establishing this institution is as follows: "Be it enacted by the Senate, and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in General Assembly met, and it is hereby enacted by authority of the same, That there shall be, and hereby is, established in the borough of Uniontown, in the county of Fayette, an academy, or public school for the education of youth in the useful arts, sciences, and literature, by the name and style of "The Union Academy."

It was further enacted, that the sum of $2,000 be granted to this academy, to be applied, under the direction of the trustees, to the benefit of the institution, and that there should be admitted into said academy any number of poor children, who might at any time be offered, in order to be taught gratis; provided, the number so admitted, and taught, should at no time be greater than four, and that none of said poor children should continue to be taught gratis in said academy more than two years. This school was kept open until 1828, when all the property belonging to it was vested in the trustees of Madison College.

It was a non-sectarian school, and did much to advance the educational standard in this community.

An academy was established in Merrittstown, Fayette county, in 1848. It was under the supervision of the Redstone Presbytery. Reverend Samuel Wilson, D. D., was the founder of the institution, and its first principal. He was succeeded by Reverend James Black, D. D., of Wooster, Ohio. The building lot of this school, was donated by the citizens of Merrittstown. The building fund was raised by subscription. The name of the institution, was "Dunlap's Creek Presbyterian Academy." The primary design of this school, was to impart instruction in the doctrines and duties of religion, in connection with all the branches of learning usually taught in academies and high schools.

A portion of every week was occupied with Biblical studies and catechetical exercises, and such other branches of religious literature, as the trustees, with the concurrence of the presbytery, should prescribe. No pupil, however, was required to engage in these exercises, contrary to the express wishes of the parent or guardian. This academy was well patronized and efficiently managed. The school closed in 1873.

George's Creek Academy, located in Smithfield, Fayette county, was established about the year 1855, and closed 1875. This institution was under the direction of the Baptist Church. Professor C. A. Gilbert, an experienced and accomplished teacher, acted as principal of the school.

In addition to the public schools of the county, we have, at present, Hamiltonian Institute, located in Uniontown, and the Soldiers' Orphan School, at Dunbar's Camp.


By an act of the Legislature, passed 1827, there was erected and established in the borough of Uniontown, in the county of Fayette, a college for the education of youth in the various branches of science and literature, the useful arts, agriculture, and the learned and foreign languages. Said college was known by the name of "Madison College." This institution was under the direction, management, and government of a board of trustees, not exceeding forty. The powers and privileges of the board of trustees, were such as are customary in other colleges of the United States. Neither the principal nor professors, while they remained such, were capable of holding the office of trustee. The faculty of granting and conferring,


By and with the approbation and consent of the board of trustees, signified by their mandamus, such degrees in the arts and sciences, to such pupils of the college or, others, who, by their proficiency in learning, or other meritorious distinctions, they should think entitled to them, as are granted and conferred by other colleges, and to grant to graduates, diplomas, under the common seal, and signed by the faculty to authenticate and perpetuate the memory of such graduation. The trustees of the college had power to establish a department of agriculture, but no student or pupil, was required to study or labor in said department, contrary to the wishes of the parent or guardian. A supplement to the act, establishing this institution, was passed in 1828, appropriating to Madison College the sum of $5,000. President Madison, for whom the college was named, donated the sum of $2,000 for the purpose of purchasing a building lot for said college.

The Methodist Episcopal Church first had charge of Madison College. Reverend Bascom, was the first president of the institution. It was well patronized, both by home and foreign students. After a few years, the Methodists gave their support to Allegheny College, and the school here passed into the hands of the Cumberland Presbyterians. This denomination had a good school. After a time, the Cumberlands transferred their patronage to Waynesburg, and the Protestant Methodists assumed control of Madison College. This denomination continued the school until the beginning of the Civil War, when the buildings, apparatus, and grounds were sold. They were purchased by citizens of Uniontown. The buildings are still standing. For nearly eight years they were used by Doctor Waters, of the Soldiers' Orphan School. At present they are used by Hamiltonian Institute.


The first county institute was held in 1854. About thirty teachers attended this meeting. At that time, teachers and citizens took little or no interest in such gatherings. The last county institute, held December, 1876, was attended by two hundred and twenty teachers and several hundred citizens. We have searched the county records; have examined files of old newspapers; have taken the depositions of our oldest citizens, and have been able to gather but few facts of general interest, prior to the year 1854.

Since the establishment of the county superintendency, the history of education may be found in the annual reports of school superintendents. This I will not re-write; but, as this paper is a brief one, will append a few statistics, taken from the first and last reports.

In 1856, there were two hundred schools in the county; now, there are two hundred and fifty. Then, there were one hundred and eighty-three male and seventeen female teachers; now, there ate one hundred and seventy-five male teachers and seventy-five female. Then, the average monthly salary of male teachers was twenty-five dollars; now, it is forty-one dollars. Then, the average monthly salary of female teachers was eighteen dollars; now, it is thirty-five dollars. Then, there were eight thousand pupils enrolled in the schools; now, there are thirteen thousand. Then, the cost of teaching each pupil, per month, was fifty three cents; now, it is eighty-seven cents. Then, the number of mills levied for school purposes was 4.2; now, it is 4.53. Then, the total receipts were $21,555 92; now, they are $99,703 01. Then, the total expenditures were $20,913 55 ; now, they are $89,474 65.

We leave it to the patrons to judge, from these figures, in connection with what our schools have accomplished, what our progress has been.

My thanks are due and extended to those who have given me information concerning the subjects embraced in this paper; also, to the School Department for waiting patiently until said persons gathered such information.