Part of the PAGenWeb



The following information is from the files of the Perry Historians Library; verbal consent to post this information, on the Perry Co., PAGenWeb website, was granted to me by Harry Focht (in person) and Margie Becker, the author, (by telephone) on Friday, July 7, 2006.

Margie Becker


"When the area of Perry County was first opened for settlement in 1754 the colonists settled at first along the rivers and creeks.  There were then no roads penetrating the wilderness with the exception of a few Indian trails that could be traveled on foot or maybe by pack horse.  The first settlements therefore were in the Sherman's, Juniata and Susquehanna Valleys.  The majority of people settled after the last Indian massacre in 1763.

"The first schools in those valleys were begun in the 1770's and 1780's.  These schools were parochial schools held in meeting houses which were the predecessors of the churches and also the schools.  The parochial schools were institutions largely of the Lutherans and Reformed denominations.  These congregations often cooperated on building a meeting house which was in this case called a union church or school.  The schools were largely supported by the congregations.  The teachers of those schools were also required to serve as chorister, read the sermons on Sunday, when there was no preacher, teach catechism and lead the young in singing.

"Reading was taught so that the scholar would be able to read the Bible and also the Catechism was learned.  Some writing and numbers were learned also.  Some of those early schools in Perry County were St. Michael's east of Millerstown, Sutch's near Shermansdale, Reiber's in Pisgah, Half Falls Mountain north of New Buffalo, St. Peter's near Bridgeport, Mouth of the Juniata in Duncannon, Church Hill south of Blain and Lebanon in Loysville.  Later meeting houses after 1800 were in Liverpool, Millerstown and Church Hill near New Buffalo.  Many of those schools were taught in the German language.

"At time went on and more settlers moved into the area the predominant method of education became the Subscription School.  The subscription school was a schoolhouse built or rented by a group of neighbors in an area, who had purchased shares to fund the school and who then served as trustees of the school.  Itinerant teachers were hired to hold school for a quarter, which was three months, or even for a half quarter.  The teachers were paid tuition by the families of the scholars.  The rate was ordinarily from one to two dollars per quarter depending on the advancement of the subject.  Sometimes the teachers were boarded around among the families of the scholars.  Reading, writing and arithmetic was taught.  Arithmetic was taught to the level of the "Double Rule of Three", an example of which is geven here: "If $100 in 12 months gain $6, what will $200 gain in 8 months?"  (Multiply the first and second terms for a divisor and the third, fourth and fifth terms for a dividend and the quotient is the answer.) 

"School could be held anytime of the year winter or summer.  If there were women teachers it was customary for them to teach a primary school in the summer.  Some of these subscription schools in Perry County were  at Little Germany, Blain, New Germantown, Landisburg, in the narrows near Donnally Mills, Owen's near Meck's Corner, Congruity in Rye Township, Boden's near Ickesburg, Sandy Hill, Clark's in Madison Township, McBride's in Centre Township, Reider's Mansion near Reidersville (Newport) Washington Seminary in Marklesville and others.

"These early schoolhouses were very primitive.  Many of them were log or plank buildings of diminutive size.  Some of them were erected in one day.  Their ceilings were usually the height of the door.  The roofs were of plank shingles.  Some were heated with fireplaces o later with ten-plate stoves.  The floors were dirt or puncheon floors.  Before the window pane tax was repealed in the 1790's some of the buildings had greased paper set between the logs or planks in the place of glass.  Inside the buildings were furnished with backless benches for the smaller scholars.

"Long slanted desks ran along the outside walls for the bigger scholars, where they learned to write with quill pens and homemade ink on foolscap paper.  The teacher's desk often stood on a platform in the front of the room.  The style of those desks was high like a lectern.  Discipline was rigid.  This was partly so because the scholars were not accustomed to a school atmosphere and tended to be unruly.

"No class was held as such in those schools since the method of teaching was on the tutorial system.  The school in some ways was more on the order of a study hall.  The boys and girls were usually taught in separate schools or were segregated in the schoolroom.  Each scholar provided his own books.  There was no stated course of instruction.  If the scholar was to learn reading or arithmetic he took what books he might have from home, which was often a Testament.  The teacher had been paid accordingly for each subject to be taught.  Each student went up to the teacher's desk in turn where he was individually instructed.  A well prepared teacher could read, write and do some arithmetic.

"Among the teacher's duties was to mend quill pens and make fool's caps out of foolscap paper when deemed appropriate.  Several of the itenerant teachers in Perry County at this time, who were quite capable, were John Ferguson, Jonas and Henry Thatcher.  Some scholars walked many miles to reach the closest school.

"In the early part of the nineteenth century there were around twenty-five of these schools in Perry County.  Even though there were subscription schools held briefly at various places not all children were sent to school and illiteracy was quite common.  In 1802 the Pennsylvania Legislature passed legislation requiring the county commissioners to pay the tuition of poor scholars.  This became known as the Pauper School Law.  Sometimes a school known as a poor school or a Pauper school was opened.  At other places they attended the regular subscription school.  The parents of the children were required to sign a pauper oath or in some way show the need for tuition.  Those who paid their own tuition felt resentment toward those receiving free tuition.  Others were reluctant to apply for tuition so those children were still not educated. Education was now becoming quite a political issue in Pennsylvania.

"In 1834 a law was passed known as the Free School Law, which got around the differences between those who had paid tuition and those receiving free tuition by making tuition free to everyone.  There was local option on accepting or rejecting this system of education until 1873 when the last district in the State in Potter County finally accepted the new system, particularly in German settlements, where there were parochial schools.

"In Perry County six districts accepted the free system in 1835.  They were the townships of Buffalo, Juniata, Liverpool, Rye, Saville, and Wheatfield.  The following year in 1836 six more districts accepted which were Bloomfield, Carroll, Centre, Greenwood, Liverpool Borough and Tyrone Township.  That year Perry County was third in order in the State with the number of districts accepting.  At this time there had been in existance about fifty schoolhouses in Perry County.  Madison Township did not accept the free school system until 1838 and Toboyne Township not until 1840.

"The law at first provided for the education of any child between six and twelve years of age for three years of schooling.  A year then was only a three-month term.  The schooling was for an English education.  Later on legislation was passed providing for the teaching of the German language in the schools.

"In some schools boys were taught arithmetic and the girls were taught sewing.  This is where the finely stitched linen samplers were made.  They served the double purpose of teaching both sewing and the alphabet and numbers to the girls.  Both in the early period of schools and after the adoption of free schools there were sometimes schools held known as Select Schools, where certain scholars were chosen or at least had to meet certain requirements to attend the school.  There were also select and evening schools where surveying was taught to adults.

"At first the course of instruction was not well devised nor were some of the teachers very competent.  The location of the schools were frequently changed.  If the building to be moved was a log schoolhouse it was usually torn down and moved log by log to be erected at another location.  School terms were usually longer in the towns than in the rural areas.  Gradually the school term was lengthened little by little.  The English grammar school was added to the primary school with such subjects as spelling, orthography, U.S. History, geography and English grammar being introduced.  Much mental arithmetic was taught.  The text books then began to be approved or selected by the school districts, but were still bought by the scholars.  There were no graded classes then.  Schools were still divided into male and female schools or they sat one one one side and the other on the other side of the room.  Individual slates were beginning to be used by the younger children, however at this time beginners were supposed to know their letters before starting school.  This was a hold over from when parents did not pay for children to learn letters that could be taught at home.  The number of years a scholar could attend school was increased to between six years and twenty-one years of age.  Books such as McGuffy's Readers, Mitchells's Geography and Davies' Mental Arithmetic were commonly used.

"The first County Superintendent of schools in Perry County in 1854 was Rev. Adam Height.  Around this time in 1857 six brick schoolhouses, thirty-six log schoolhouses, eighty-two frame schoolhouses and fourteen stone schoolhouses were in Perry County.  The stone schools can be identified, namely:  Mt. Pleasant and Church hill in Jackson Township; Blain; Landisburg and Patterson's in Tyrone Township; Greenbriar, Pisgah and Elliottsburg in Spring Township; Neilson's, Perry Furnace and McGowan's in Centre Township; Eight Square in Juniata Township; Union in Tuscarora Township and Stone School in Saville Township.  Many of the stone and log schoolhouses were closed not long after this.

"The six brick schoolhouses at that time were Newport; Bloomfield; Green Mark and Loysville in TyroneTownship; Oak Grove in Spring Township and possibly Reed's in Rye Township.

"In a number of towns the early organization of free schools was to have two or even more one-room buildings at different locations.  This was the general system until nearly 1870 in Newport, Bloomfield and Marysville and earlier at Liverpool.  Marysville in fact had two buildings above the railroad and two buildings below the railroad.  These buildings were in most cases organized for a female (and younger boys) and a male school.  In Newport the male school was the one-room brick schoolhouse on Second Street and the female school was at Third Street and Cherry Alley.  By 1870 this system had gone out of style and the new system of grading schools was employed.


"In the decade of the 1860's Perry County had an average of 165 schools.  In buildings with more than one room each room also counted as a school.  There were some new schools established in this period.  The buildings in most cases were of frame construction with a few brick and even one log building.  Some of these schools were Fox Hollow, Jericho, Rope Ferry, Red Corner, Pfoutz's Valley, Laurel Grove in Madison NE, Cross Roads, River Bank, East Newport, Baskinsville, Oak Grove in Rye, Shenandoah, Adams' Glen in Spring, Lyon's Cherry Hill, Fairview in Wheatfield and Mountain.  Many of these schools did not endure for any length of time.  In some instances the names of schools were repeated in the County.  There were five Centers, four Mt. Pleasants, three Unions not counting a number of early Unions, three Fairviews or Mt. Fairview, three Oak Groves, three Pine Groves and quite a few duplicates.

"The furniture in these schools were homemade desks, a schoolmaster's desk at the front on a platform and a pot bellied or log burning stove usually placed in the center of the room.  The rooms were often cold in winter only being warm near the stove.  It was customary for the boys to carry the water in a pail from a nearby spring or well and the wood for the stove had to be carried in.  The teacher's contract as a rule stated that the fire was to be made by a certain time and that the schoolhouse was to be swept daily.  A teacher had to turn in a report each month with the number of male and female scholars and the books used at the school before his salary would be paid.

"A number of brick schoolhouses in addition to the early brick schoolhouses were built in Perry County between 1860 and 1871.  These schools were as follows:  New Germantown, Clark's, Pine Grove in Madison NE, Loysville and Union in Tyrone, Jefferson, Elliottsburg, Black's, Gravel Hill, Red Hill in Howe, Center and Charles' in Buffalo and Pfoutz's Valley in Liverpool Township.  The New Germantown, Clark's, Loysville and Pine Grove brick schoolhouses were later replaced with frame buildings.  Many more brick schools were continuing to be built so that by the end of the nineteenth century the majority of them had been erected.  In 1872 there were a total of 150 buildings in the County, most of them being of either frame or brick.

"It became the custom to grade the schools beginning around 1860 in Perry County. There were then twenty-five graded schools in the towns and villages.  In 1867 two of the buildings in Marysville, Upper Cove, Center in Wheatfield, Milfird, Marklesville and Oak Grove Furnace were also graded.  By 1889 there were fifty graded schools and 137 ungraded schools in the County.

"In the 1870's the average cost of schooling for each pupil was seventy-one cents a month.  Also in this period the steel pen point was now in common use and Penmanship had become an important subject in the schools which gave us the era of beautiful hand writing.  By this time there were now thirty school districts in Perry County.  Each school board had six elected members which gave a total of one hundred and eighty representatives in the County.  Today there are nine elected board members for each of the four school districts making a total of thirty-six representatives.  The schools in addition to school were employed for entertainments, evening spelling schools, lyceums, socials and voting houses.

"These schools began to have blackboards, shelves for lunch baskets, maps and cupboards for books.  The first blackboards were often not slate but boards covered with black paint.  The furniture in  the schoolhouses were now not as frequently homemade, but instead were furnished with patent desks made of maple and cast iron. These patent desks were usually double sized desks.

"There were then a number of two-room schoolhouses in the County.  A few of them had been built in the 1850's, but most were later schools.  The two-room single-story schoolhouses in the County were at East Newport, Locust Grove near Donally Mills and Loysville.  Earlier there had been two-room buildings at Landisburg, Ickesburg, Marysville, and briefly at New Germantown, Bloomfield, Fio Forge and Stony Point.  The majority of the two-room schools were built as two-story buildings such as Evergreen across from the Newport Fairground, Oak Grove Furnace, Ickesburg, Elliottsburg, New Germantown (later), New Buffalo and Main Street in Marysville.  Evergreen, Elliottsburg, Fio Forge, Stony Point and Landisburg are not standing.  The Bloomfield and Ickesburg schools were replaced with larger buildings.

"Also in the late 1860's and 1870's the large grade school buildings were built in the towns  There were large buildings at Liverpool, Duncannon, Lower Duncannon, Baskinsville, Millerstown, Marysville, Newport and Bloomfield  Many of these schools had begun teaching some high school subjects in the 1880's and 1890's  In 1893 legislation was passed requiring the school districts to furnish text books.  Also at this time schoolhouses were no longer allowed to  be used for religious services.  Up until then many schoolhouses were utilized frequently for church services and Sunday Schools, which were in many cases the forerunners of a number of churches.  Compulsory attendance was now also instituted whereas there had been no requirement in this respect.

"In the winter after the compulsory attendance law was passed some of the children were provided transportation to school by horse drawn sleds or sleighs.  In those days both boys and girls wore high topped shoes.  The boys wore knee pants and the girls wore homemade gingham or plaid dresses with aprons.  School was held from October to March.

"Over half of the country schoolhouses in the County remain.  Here are given the largest number of them at any one time in each of the twenty-one township school districts.  The Buffalo School District and five one-room schools, all of them were brick.  Montgomery's Ferry had been in bad condition and may soon be gone; the others are standing.  In Carroll Township there were eleven schoolhouses.  At one time two of them were brick and the other frame.  One brick and seven frame remain.  The Centre School District once had eleven schoolhouses. There are now remaining three brick, two frame and one stone remnant of the past.  Greenwood had eight buildings.  In Howe District were many years ago, in the days of log schoolhouses, four buildings.  Of the later schools, which were brick, one remains.

"In Jackson Township were seven buildings.  The last buildings all were frame with five remaining. Mt. Pleasant, which is not among the five, was torn down and made into an out-building at a different location. In Juniata Township all buildings were finally brick; of these all seven are remaining and in addition an earlier frame and and an earlier log remain.  In Madison NE were seven one-room schoolhouses. Of the later schoolhouses one was brick and the rest frame.  Four of the frame and one earlier brick remain.  In Miller Township were three brick schoolhouses; two of the brick and one earlier log remain.

"Oliver had at one time four one-room brick schoolhouses, two of them were converted to two-room schoolhouses.  Two of the one-room and one two-room remain. Penn Township had eight one-room buildings. Three of them were brick; the three brick along with an earlier brick, two frame and an earlier log remain.  Rye Township had five schoolhouses; three were frame and two brick.  There are two frame, one brick plus an earlier brick remaining.  Saville Township had eleven one-room schoolhouses. Among these, two were frame and two were brick.  There are now no frame, however six brick are remaining.  Spring had eight one-room schoolhouses. The frame and one later stone are gone, although five brick and an early stone schoolhouse remain.

"In Toboyne were six one-room schoolhouses which were all frame; four of them remain. Tuscarora had seven one-room schoolhouses.  Three of them were brick and four were frame.  Tyrone had nine one-room buildings; of these five brick are remaining.  The major portion of them were recent buildings with ten of them being of an older vintage.  Thirty-two are newer frame, six are brick, three are log, two are stone and three are older frame.

"Many that remain have become dwellings, church social halls and community buildings.  Five of these that have become churches or Sunday Schools are Walsingham, Green Grove in Madison, Middle Cove, Locust Grove and Lower Ridge.  Seven have become church social halls.  These buildings are Barner's, Milford, Fairview in Wheatfield, Grier's Point, Mt. Fairview in Oliver, Walnut Grove and West Horse Valley.

"Bailey's in Miller has for a few years been an Eagle's Clubhouse. Five have become Community or township buildings.  These are Red Hill in Howe, Center in Buffalo, Airy View in Carroll and Township, which is a Senior Citizens Center. Those that have become granges are four which are Ferrell's, Lower Ridge, Oak Hall and Emory Green.  And those that are schools or libraries are Divide and Airy View in Centre Township.

"In 1900 the cost of education averaged to ninety-nine cents a month for each pupil. The education in the one-room country schools was then to the level of about nineth grade where there was a good teacher.  In Perry County high schools were slowly being added.  To begin with they were usually only two-year high schools and then three-year high schools.  The first high school graduation was held at Liverpool in 1884 with five class members.  Earlier than this there had been a number of academies and normal institutes held in Perry County. The first academy was a few classes held by Reverend Joseph Brady at his home north of Duncannon.  The other principal ones were the Bloomfield Academy, The Marklesville Academy, The Mt. Dempsey Academy at Landisburg, The Juniata Valley Normal School at Millerstown and The Blain Summer School.

"In the early twentieth century there were around 189 teachers and 160 school buildings in Perry County.  Before WWI there were ten high schools in the County.  These schools were at Liverpool, Millerstown, Newport, Bloomfield, Duncannon, Lower Duncannon, Marysville, Landisburg, Ickesburg and Blain.  After WWI the four-year high schools had been established in most of the towns when new high school buildings were erected.  After the Evergreen School in Oliver Township was destroyed by fire in 1925 the Oliver District and Newport were combined into a new district known as Newport Union, which was the first completely consolidated district in the County.


This site is maintained  by Cathy Wentz-Eisenstadt
Copyright 2003-2010.  All Rights Reserved.

This page was last updated on:   03/03/2009

People for better PA Historical Records Access (PaHR-Access)
Learn about the grassroots effort to make older PA state death certificates available on-line!!  Please consider helping.