Going Way Back to School: One-Room Historic Schoolhouse Dates to 1850s

9/14/2013 7:00 AM
By Sue Bowman Southeastern Pa. Correspondent

INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. — September traditionally marks the time of year when young scholars head back to the classroom. The Lindley Murray School in northern Lebanon County, Pa., welcomed its first pupils more than 160 years ago. A classic one-room schoolhouse, the 25-by-30-foot, red, clapboard structure housed grades one through eight from 1850 until its closing in January 1947. By that time, much of the student body, drawn from East Hanover and Union Townships in southeastern Pennsylvania, had been displaced by the purchase of large tracts of adjacent land for the Army’s Indiantown Gap Military Reservation.

For the next 26 years, the building housed a government paint shop instead of students, and all of the school’s original fixtures were removed. Fortunately, in 1973, a group of Northern Lebanon High School students, in classes taught by Thomas Donmoyer, began a renovation project that culminated in the Lindley Murray School restoration being completed in time for the nation’s 1976 Bicentennial celebration. Since that time, hundreds of school students and other visitors have visited this landmark to experience what education was like in a classroom where one teacher taught eight grades in a school that accommodated about 36 pupils.

While the furnishings are not original to the Murray School, they nevertheless approximate what had been in use there. Eighteen single desks and 12 double desks line either side of a center aisle leading from the schoolhouse door to the teacher’s desk and blackboard area at the front of the large classroom. The wooden desks have ornate metal legs and were designed with the seat back of one desk attached to the desktop behind it. Each desktop contains a hole to place an inkwell; textbooks would have been kept on a shelf located underneath the desktop.

Amenities within the classroom were basic. Although some one-room schoolhouses had cloakrooms, the Murray School had only hooks on the wall for hanging up coats. With no running water, instead of a drinking fountain, a large crockery container with a spigot held water for thirsty students, who shared a common cup unless they had brought one from home. The lack of running water and indoor plumbing also dictated that separate boys and girls outhouses served as restroom facilities.

A major necessity for the one-room schoolhouse was a coal stove to provide heat. The 1872 rules for teachers in East Hanover Township spelled out, “Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session.”

In the case of the Lindley Murray School, coal was stored in the basement, which was accessed through a trap door in the floor that led to a steep, narrow stairway. Sometimes as a “reward” for trustworthy students, the teacher would allow one of them to fetch the day’s bucket of coal.

Pupils appreciated the large stove not only for its warmth, but also as a way to provide a hot lunch. Potatoes would be laid along ledges of the stove to bake during the morning’s classes and some students used special holders that allowed them to toast their sandwiches at lunchtime. The stove area also served as a place to dry wet shoes, socks and mittens.

During the school day, the teacher would call individual classes to the front of the classroom, where they would be seated on the long “recitation bench” in front of the blackboard. There were usually five or six children per class. Subjects covered included arithmetic, spelling, history, geography and penmanship. Generally, the teacher would deliver the lesson using a textbook; then, students would be called to the blackboard to demonstrate what they’d learned.

One of the advantages of a one-room school was that it permitted older or more learned pupils to tutor slower learners. Sometimes one of the better students would be seated next to a struggling scholar to assist him or her. It was considered a privilege to be allowed to help the teacher in this way. Other rewards included being asked to wash the blackboard or clap the chalk erasers at the end of the day.

Teachers in one-room schoolhouses tended mainly to be single women; if a female teacher married, her classroom career ended. There were also a number of male teachers. Because of the diverse range of ages and grade levels present, one-room schoolteachers often had reputations for being strict disciplinarians in order to firmly control their charges. For those youngsters who strayed from acceptable behavior, several fates could await them, depending on their infraction. A student might be required to write a sentence on the blackboard 50 times, such as “I will not talk in class,” to ensure better deportment. Some teachers struck the knuckles of offending pupils with a ruler, while a student dozing in class might be awakened by a blackboard eraser thrown at them.

In other cases, a naughty student might be required to sit on a tall stool facing a corner at the front of the classroom. Being sent to the “dunce stool” was a humiliating event — and the offender’s parents would likely mete out additional discipline of their own at home.

Wayne Anspach, a Murray School tour guide who attended a one-room schoolhouse himself and who has authored a book titled, “One-Room Schools in East Hanover, Union, Swatara, North Annville, North Londonderry and Surrounding Townships,” recalled one particularly memorable comeuppance he received. After failing to master his multiplication tables in 6th grade, Anspach was sentenced to missing recess until he could recite them accurately. That was a harsh punishment for a young boy. It meant missing games like “snow tag” on the playground in winter or playing marbles indoors on a rainy day. Another outdoor favorite was called “Farley Over,” which involved two teams stationed on either side of the schoolhouse; a ball would be thrown over the school’s roof and the person on the other side who caught it would need to run to a base before being tagged.

The school day was broken up by one hour for lunch, during which students who lived close by were permitted to return home to eat. For pupils who brought a packed lunch, it was not uncommon to trade food with someone who might appreciate it more. Typical lunchtime foods included molasses sandwiches or mush sandwiches.

Upon completion of the 8th grade, a test was given to students. Those who passed were able to further their education at a local high school. Only about 30 percent of these 8th-grade graduates opted to continue their schooling. The remainder went on to work on farms or get other jobs to help support their families.

The Lindley Murray School is located on Asher Miner Road, just north of the Route 934 North exit of Interstate 81 in Lebanon County, Pa. For more information, contact Wayne Anspach at 717-838-6077.<\c>

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A regulator pendulum was a standard fixture in many one-room schoolhouses. The woodwork on this clock is particularly ornate.

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