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The First Schools

in what is now Centre County

The first school house in Centre county was situated about three and a half miles east of Old Fort, Penn's valley. No definite information about this school or its teachers could be obtained. The house must have been erected a hundred years ago. In the eastern part of Penn's valley, which was settled but a few years later than the region about Old Fort, Mr. Jacob Stover, "for and in consideration of promoting literature and learning," donated, on the 15th day of December, 1789, a tract of land containing seven acres, "for the use of a school and the master thereof." A double house, one room of which was designed for the "Master" and his family, was erected some time after, but at what date is unknown. The school seems to have been the only one in this section of the valley for a number of years, and was quite famous for that period. Some scholars had to go a distance of three or four miles to attend it. The land is still held in trust, but the present school is in operation under the free school system and is known as "Wolf's School." The old log house has disappeared long since and the present house was put up by the school board of Haines district. It is located on the pike about two miles east of Aaronsburg.

At Millheim both English and German schools were opened as early as the year 1797, probably before that time. The first school house was located on a lot now occupied by Mr. Jacob Snooks buildings. The first school house in the neighborhood of Spring Mills and Penn Hall was situated a short distance east of the latter village near the cemetery.

In the western section of Penn's valley the first school of which there is any definite knowledge was held in the year 1800, in a private house situated near the end of Nittany mountain within a short distance of the present village of Lemont. The school house was opened by a Mr. Daniel O'Bryan, who, it seems, was not deficient in resources to meet certain emergencies, for when, on a certain occasion, the boys "barred" him out, he climbed the roof of the house, dropped brimstone down the chimney and smoke the young rebels out.

A school was taught at Pine Grove by a Mr. Van Horn in the year 1819, which seems to have been the first in that section.

The pioneer school of Brush valley was erected about the year 1800, and was located on lands now owned by Mr. William Walker near the main road about two and a half miles east of the present town of Rebersburg. Like all the school houses of that period it was built of logs and furnished with slab benches. The first teachers were Fred Gettig and Joseph Hunt. In 1796 the lot now occupied by the Lutheran and Reformed churches at Rebersburg was purchased "for the purpose of a site of a school or schools, or the site of a church or churches," and a double school house was built on it about the year 1806. One part of the building was set apart for the use of the teacher and his family, but afterwards was fitted up for a German school, so there were, for a time, two schoold, German and English, in the same building. In connection with his duties of the school room, the teacher of the school was required, usually, to lead singing in the church, and, to some extent, under the supervision of the ministers. This custom was brought from Germany.

In the neighborhood of the present villages of Snydertown and Hublersburg, Nittany valley, schools were in operation as early as 1812. At Bellefonte schools must have been in existence at an earlier day.

The early schools of Stormstown, Halfmoon valley, were attended by some pupils from the present village of Port Matilda, Bald Eagle valley, a distance of three or four miles and across the Muncy mountains.

The first school house in Bald Eagle valley was erected within the present limits of Milesburg. When the house was built is not known. It was a log cabin and its location was at the lower end of town near the site of the present school building. A Mr. McMullen was teaching a school here about the year 1800. But as this section was settled as early as the year 1768 there msut have been schools before. James Hall taught a school at Plum Grove, about thee miles west of Milesburg, in 1813. About the same period he taught at Unionville, McCormick's Run and Dick's Run.

At Martha Furnace and Port Matilda schools were in exstence as early as 1812. The first school in the neighborhood of Howard, in reference to which any positive information could be obtained, was taught by S. Garret in an old log church about the year 1816. It was German. About the same time an English school was taught by James Parkison and Amos Packer. This school was held in an old log cabin on the north side of Bald Eagle creek opposite Howard borough.

Philipsburg, Rush township, was founded in 1794, and the first school about which there is any definite knowledge was a night school taught in 1819 by Charles Simler, a Revolutionary soldier who came to this country with LaFayette. A day school was soon after conducted in her own dwelling by Mrs. McCloskey. Mr. Ward, an English gentleman, a year or two later, taught a night school in the same place. He was followed prior to 1825 by John Matthias, an accomplished scholar from Philadelphia. These latter teachers held their schools in the Union church, still standing near the present school house.

(SOURCE: "The First Schools" by Henry Meyer, in Industries and Institutions of Centre County with Historical Sketches of Principal Villages, compiled by D. S. Maynard (Bellefonte, Pa.: Republican Job Printing House, 1877).