Erie County, Pennsylvania

History of Erie County, Pennsylvania 1884

by Samuel P. Bates, 

Submitted by Gaylene Kerr Banister


 

Part II Chapter XXIV
Schools, Academies, etc.

In founding the colony of Pennsylvania, William Penn declared that wisdom and virtue "must be carefully propagated by a virtuous education of youth." To make this precept more emphatic, he provided in his frame of Government for the infant commonwealth that the Governor and Council should "erect and order public schools." The wise example of the founder was followed by the heroes of the Revolution, in framing the Constitution of 1776, with a requirement that "a school or schools shall be established in each county." The Constitution of 1790 went still further by declaring that the Legislature might provide for the establishment of schools throughout the State "in such manner that the poor may be taught gratis." Notwithstanding those noble declarations, little progress toward the schooling of the masses was effected until a comparatively recent period. Generous endowments were made by the State to colleges and academies, but the idea of "common schools," open alike to rich and poor, and supported at the public expense by a system of equal taxation, was slow in winning the approval of property owners. "Pay schools," in which the children were trained for a moderate compensation, were common, however, almost every district having one or more, according to its population. The primary schools in Erie County, up to 1834, were all of this character.

As early as 1821, Gov. Heister, in his message to the Legislature declared it to be "an imperative duty to introduce and support a liberal system of education, connected with some general religious instruction." Gov. Shultze's message to the Legislature of 1827 contained this passage: "Among the injunctions of the Constitution, there is none more interesting than that which enjoins it as a duty on the Legislature to provide for the education of the poor throughout the commonwealth." In 1828, the same executive stated in his annual message that he could not forbear from "again calling attention to the subject of public education. To devise means for the establishment of a fund and the adoption of a plan by which the blessings of the more necessary branches of education should be conferred on every family within our borders would be every way worthy the Legislature of Pennsylvania."

The first practical step in the direction of a common school system for Pennsylvania was taken when George Wolf, of Northampton County, was elected Governor in 1829. The question of public schools entered largely into the canvass preceding his election, and the Democratic leaders were generally pledged to some sort of a measure for the purpose. In a speech delivered during the campaign, James Buchanan said: "If ever the passion of envy could be excused in a man ambitious of true glory, he might almost be justified in envying the fame of that favored individual, whoever he may be, whom Providence intends to make the instrument in establishing common schools throughout the commonwealth." Gov. Wolf's inaugural address took strong ground in favor of the education of the masses, and the Legislature of 1830, in accordance with his recommendation, set apart a sum of money to be placed at interest and used at some future period in establishing a common school system. This did not satisfy the Governor, who was one of the most progressive men of his day, and be continued to urge the free school idea until the passage of the act of 1834-35. The original law made it optional with each township, ward and borough to adopt the system.

Strange as it may seem, there was violent opposition to the measure in some parts of the State. The persons interested in colleges, academies and pay schools objected to it through fear of a loss to their revenues; the wealthy and the snobbish disliked it because they did not want their children to mix with the "vulgar herd;" the penurious dreaded an increase of taxation; and a hundred objections were urged that seem too absurd now for any reasonable person ever to have believed. At the ensuing session, a motion for the repeal of the law was offered by John Strohm, of Lancaster County, and eloquently opposed by Thaddeus Stevens, then a Representative from Adams. Mr. Stevens closed his remarks with this thrilling sentence: "If the opponent of education were my most intimate personal and political friend, and the free school candidate my most obnoxious enemy, I should deem it my duty as a patriot, at this moment of our intellectual crisis, to forget all other considerations, and I should place myself unhesitatingly and cordially in the ranks of him whose banner streams in light." Col. Forney used to relate that after this speech, Mr. Stevens visited the Executive Chamber by invitation of Gov. Wolf, when the latter "threw his arms about his neck, and, with tearful eyes and broken voice, thanked him for the great service he had rendered to our common humanity." The bill was saved, but was improved and made more acceptable during the administration of Gov. Ritner, who succeeded Gov. Wolf. Probably no one man did more effective service in building up the system than Thomas H. Burrowes, who was Gov. Ritner's Secretary of State, and, as such, official head of the School Department. During Ritner's administration the annual State appropriation was increased from $75,000 to $400,000, and the number of schools to 5,000.

The act passed in 1849 made the adoption of the system obligatory through out the State. The law of 1854, providing for County Superintendents, teachers' examinations, and other important measures, was prepared by Hon. H. L. Dieffenbach, of Clinton County, acting head of the School Department, with the assistance of Gov. Bigler and Secretary of State Charles A. Black. After that came the normal school act of 1857, making a complete system, and giving to Pennsylvania the proud and conceded pre-eminence of having the best school laws in the Union.

The County Schools

For several years after the county was established, the population was too small and sparse to maintain more than a few schools. These were wholly private, parents paying the teachers a stated sum for each of their children who attended. The first school of which a record can be found was established in Waterford about 1800; at Manchester in Fairview Township in 1804; at Erie in 1806; at Union in 1820, and at Phillipsville in 1828. Others were opened at an early date, on Federal Hill, within the present limits of Erie; on the Joseph Eagley place in Springfield; and, through the agency of Charles J. Reed, in Mill Creek Township. The earliest school buildings in Waterford and Erie were erected in 1800 and 1806 respectively, being built by the free contributions of the citizens. By 1812, almost every village and township had one or more "pay" schools. These were increased by degrees so that when the law of 1834 went into force it found every district fairly well supplied with educational facilities. The school buildings were generally put up by calling together the citizens interested, on a certain day, with their teams and wagons, to raise and cover the structure. They were built of logs in almost every instance, and were usually very poorly arranged and ventilated. The "schoolmasters," as they were called, were plain men, who made no pretension to a knowledge of more than the rudimentary branches. They believed in the use of the rod, and applied it with vigor for every small offense. A ready knowledge of "the three R's" -- Readin', 'Ritin and 'Rithmetic -- was all that was supposed to be necessary for the average boy and girl.

School Books, etc.
The school books most universally used in the beginning were Webster's and Byerly's Spelling Books, the English Reader and Daboll's Arithmetic. The teacher was expected to be a good penman and to be able to "set the copy" himself. There were no rules for writing, and the pupil was obliged to follow, as nearly as he could, the handwriting of the master. A better class of books came in at a later date, including Cobb's Spelling Book, Goodrich's, Parley's and Mitchell's Geographies; Parley's and Mitchell's Histories; the First, Second and Third Readers; Smith's Grammar, and Davies' Arithmetics. If the children of this generation wish to know something of the hardships through which their parents struggled to get a little book knowledge, let them hunt up some of the old works here named, if they can be found, and compare them with the ones now in use. Cobb's Spelling Book was introduced into this section in 1827. The copyright for one-half of the State of Pennsylvania was purchased by Joseph M. Sterrett and Oliver Spafford, who published the work in Erie for many years, realizing a snug profit from the enterprise. Mr. Spafford at one time also published the "English Reader."

Erie County was one of the foremost in taking advantage of the common school law. The act required that the directors of each county should meet annually in convention with the County Commissioners and determine the amount of school tax to be raised. The first convention for this purpose was held in the court house soon after the passage of the law, and was attended by representatives from every district in the county. A levy of $2,000 was voted unanimously, and the people were requested to decide by vote whether an additional sum should be raised in the several districts. The directors in each district were authorized to levy a tax in addition to the county appropriation, but it would seem from the above action that they had a delicacy about exercising their power without consulting the tax-payers -- an example that is commended to the imitation of some officials of the present day. An extra tax of $1,000 was voted in Erie, the active spirits in having it done being E. Babbitt, George Kellogg, Dr. William Johns and William Kelly. In a few years, the law was changed so as to leave the amount of tax to be designated by the directors of the several districts, in which shape it still remains.

The first convention for the choice of a County Superintendent was held in Erie in 1854. William H. Armstrong was elected at a salary of $800 per year.

Spelling Schools
The spelling school was a once popular institution, in both town and country. As usually conducted, the pupils of the district school would assemble on some winter evening and choose two of the best spellers for leaders, who, in turn, would select from six to a dozen others on each side. These would range themselves in standing rows on opposite sides of the building, and the teacher or some other competent person would give out the words to be spelled from a book that had been agreed upon. The pupil who missed a word had to take his seat immediately, and the exercise continued until but one of the contestants remained upon the floor, who became the hero of the occasion. Sometimes half a dozen spelling matches would occur in an evening. Two neighboring schools would often meet in rivalry, and the event would be the talk of the neighborhood for a month or so. In many districts, the spelling school was the regular winter amusement, old and young attending, and all looking forward to the evening with an interest that cannot be described. The spelling match was not the only kind of a match that grew out of this custom, as many worthy fathers and mothers will testify.

Academies, etc.
While the State was slow in adopting the common school system, the liberality she displayed in founding colleges and academies proves that it was wholly through doubts of its policy, and not because good educational facilities were not appreciated. Provision was made at an early day for an academy in each county, and generous appropriations were made to colleges and universities. The Waterford and Erie Academies were incorporated in 1811 and 1817 respectively, the buildings for both being completed in 1822. A bountiful donation of lands was given by the State for the support of each institution and both are still in operation.

The Erie Female Seminary was incorporated in 1838 and went into operation soon after, receiving an annual appropriation of $300 from the Legislature for several years. It kept up till about 1866, but never had any buildings of its own. The last location of the seminary was in the Hamot House, on the bank of the bay, at the foot of State street.

Academies were established at West Springfield in 1853, at East Springfield in 1856, at Girard in 1859, and at North Springfield in 1866, which were conducted for some years with a certain degree of success. All except the one at North Springfield have become merged into the common school system.

The Normal School at Edinboro is the only State educational institution in the county. It was founded as an Academy in 1857, and re-organized as a State Normal School in 1861. This school has been quite prosperous for the past ten years, and has the promise of a long and useful career.

The Lake Shore Seminary was established at North East in 1870. Liberal contributions were secured and a fine building was erected. The institution became involved, and the property was bought in at Sheriff's sale by the principal creditor. The latter, in 1880, sold the building to the Redemptionist Fathers, of Annapolis, Md., who re-dedicated it as St. Mary's College. It is conducted as a preparatory school for young men intending to enter the Catholic priesthood.

Fuller particulars of the above institutions will be found in the sketches of their respective localities.

General Remarks
To return to the common schools, they are under the control of directors, who are elected by the people of the several districts at the spring elections, a certain number going out each year. Each city, borough and township is a district by itself. There are three independent districts in the county, viz: Belle Valley, Elk Creek, and Franklin, and Lake Pleasant. The State grants every district an annual appropriation, which is apportioned according to the number of pupils. Teachers are employed by the directors of the district in which they are to serve, but most have passed an examination and received a certificate of competency from the County Superintendent. The latter holds an annual examination in each district, and is expected to visit every school in the county once in each year. The following is a list of the County Superintendents since the adoption of the law creating the office:

William H. Armstrong, Wattsburg, 1854 to 1860. L. W. Savage, Springfield, 1860 to 1863. D. P. Ensign, Erie, served six months in 1863, and resigned. Julius Degmier, Erie, appointed for six months, and then elected to serve until 1866. L. T. Fisk, Girard, 1866 to 1869. C. C. Taylor, Elk Creek, 1869 to 1878. Charles Twining, Union, 1878 to 1884. Salary, $1,500.

The office of City Superintendent of the Schools of Erie has been filled since 1867 by H. S. Jones, whose salary in 1883 was $2,200. V. G. Curtis, City Superintendent of Corry, receives a salary of $1,600.

THE FOLLOWING TABULATED STATEMENT SHOWS THE RESULTS OF THE SYSTEM IN
ERIE COUNTY DURING THE SCHOOL YEAR ENDING JUNE 5, 1882
 
SCHOOLS
TEACHERS
SCHOLARS
TAX AND RATE
PER CENT
DISTRICTS
Whole
number
Av.
number
of
months
taught
Number
of
males
Number
of
females
Av.
salary
of males
per month
Av.
salary
of females
per month
Number
of
males
Number
of
females
Av.
number
attending
school
Av.
per cent
of attendance
Cost
per
month
Number
of mills
levied
for
school
purposes
Number
of mill
levied
for
building
purposes
Total amount
of tax levied
for school
and building
purposes
Albion
2
6
1
1
$45 00
$30 00
48
54
80
92
$0 76
3
---
$395 20
Amity
10
6
3
16
15 00
15 00
126
95
141
87
72
2
---
806 71
Belle Valley
1
8
1
1
40 00
32 00
32
19
31
70
71
2
---
318 87
Cook, Conc'd
11
6
2
15
19 00
17 00
150
125
186
87
73
2
.50
1,514 91
Conneaut
11
7
4
18
24 00
18 00
182
165
266
88
46
1
---
1,031 46
Corry
17
9
2
16
88 00
36 64
526
584
750
90
87
8
2
10,913 33
Edinboro
3
9
1
2
77 70
38 80
93
110
148
86
87
4.25
---
1,587 56
Elgin
1
7
---
3
---
17 43
25
32
29
51
36
1
1
120 08
Elk Creek
10
7
3
7
30 00
18 50
230
205
295
68
59
3
3
2,813 46
Elk Cr'k, Ind
1
7
1
1
28 00
14 00
42
25
33
50
35
1
1
246 03
Erie
104
10
8
96
77 00
33 65
2,370
2,288
3,136
92
1 03
5
---
61,413 38
Fairview bor
3
8
1
2
45 00
25 00
43
44
74
87
1 00
5
---
953 88
Fairview Tp.
13
6 1/3
8
17
20 62
27 97
213
165
226
84
1 18
2
---
2,366 40
Franklin
10
6 3/4
5
10
17 75
14 46
150
117
184
86
65
3
---
929 96
Girard bor
4
8
1
3
70 00
30 00
105
110
180
90
84
4
---
1,694 29
Girard Tp
16
7
5
19
26 60
25 00
275
285
351
85
68
2
.50
3,752 70
Greene
8 1/2
7
1
16
24 00
18 75
162
130
151
84
65
2
3
2,327 77
Greenfield
9
8
4
14
21 00
17 00
140
121
140
82
55
3
---
1,548 39
Harbor Cr'k
13
8
5
17
24 34
22 90
183
172
147
81
94
2
---
2,334 89
Lake Pl's'nt
3
6
2
4
22 00
14 50
45
58
82
85
56
1.80
---
299 97
Le Boeuf
13
6
3
17
20 00
15 00
238
184
286
83
48
1.50
1
1,744 11
Lockport
2
7
1
3
28 00
23 00
38
40
40
90
54
2.50
---
324 00
McKean
12
5
5
9
19 00
15 00
164
134
163
81
90
1
.50
1,154 28
Middleboro
2
8 3/4
1
2
27 00
16 50
55
42
66
91
55
2.50
2.50
575 01
Mill Creek
14
8
5
10
40 00
40 40
360
261
326
85
1 06
2
.50
5,893 53
Mill Village
2
6 1/2
2
1
25 00
23 33
43
62
64
83
60
4.80
---
397 03
N. East bor
5
9
1
4
70 00
30 75
151
190
188
91
70
2.50
2.50
2,699 86
N. East Tp.
17
7
4
30
28 50
23 20
212
198
285
71
1 10
1
.50
2,880 76
Pleasant Hill
1
5
---
2
---
22 00
25
20
29
85
55
2.25
---
164 22
Springfield
18
6
2
20
43 00
19 00
268
249
337
86
93
2.50
---
2,919 17
Summit
9
7
5
13
18 00
13 15
126
105
106
62
58
2
2
1,717 35
Union Tp.
13
6
2
19
25 00
17 50
154
150
205
70
76
2.50
1
2,234 73
Union City
11
9
2
10
90 00
28 77
281
262
369
91
78
8
2
4,278 76
Venango
13
7
7
19
22 43
19 79
139
130
200
89
1 11
2.50
---
1,638 42
Washington
15
7
5
21
18 00
14 82
217
203
278
86
59
1.75
.75
2,030 42
Waterf'd bor
3
9
1
2
69 44
25 00
87
102
90
77
80
4
---
1,240 83
Waterf'd Tp.
17
6
6
22
24 00
23 00
247
198
281
86
93
3.50
---
2,943 08
Wattsburg
3
8
1
2
65 00
24 00
66
72
99
94
86
5
3
809 35
Wayne
12 1/2
7
6
30
24 05
19 00
163
164
182
83
90
4
---
2,056 72
 
-------
-------
-------
-------
-------
-------
-------
-------
-------
-----
-------
------
-----
---------------
Total
433
7.30
117
514
$37 06
$22 55
8,174
7,670
10,224
82
$0 75
2.89
.81
$135,070 87

 
RECEIPTS
EXPENDITURES
RESOURCES &
LIABILITIES
DISTRICTS
State
appropriation
From taxes
and all
other sources,
except State
appropriation
Total
receipts
Cost of
schoolhouses,
purchasing,
building,
renting, etc.
Teachers'
wages
Fuel,
contingencies,
fees of
collectors,
and all
other
expenses
Total
expenditures
Resources
Liabilities
Albion
$95 73
$538 82
$634 55
$35 15
$450 00
$47 56
$532 71
$129 33
---
Amity
172 16
1,189 11
1,361 27
---
810 00
210 23
1,020 23
580 79
---
Belle Valley
52 50
339 18
391 68
19 45
252 64
60 67
332 76
58 92
---
Cook, Conc'd
248 18
2,016 92
2,265 10
319 18
1,098 80
307 51
1,725 49
539 61
---
Conneaut
352 80
1,149 79
1,502 59
193 72
996 00
273 44
1,463 16
189 22
---
Corry
1,120 24
18,442 30
19,562 54
1,365 28
7,047 00
5,099 55
13,511 83
---
$21,475 60
Edinboro
204 58
1,937 70
2,142 28
---
1,553 71
105 57
1,659 28
127 45
---
Elgin
32 50
262 36
294 86
---
122 00
38 14
160 14
185 17
---
Elk Creek
335 05
7,746 60
8,081 65
5,607 19
1,535 35
885 04
8,027 58
---
3,545 93
Elk Cr'k, Ind
51 72
289 87
341 59
50
154 00
154 86
309 36
---
55 30
Erie
5,757 84
66,509 71
72,267 55
11,170 98
40,516 55
17,925 41
69,612 94
---
8,480 64
Fairview bor
94 18
1,025 35
1,119 53
140 32
625 00
167 61
932 93
186 60
---
Fairview Tp.
314 20
3,261 58
3,575 78
85 26
2,862 49
448 46
3,396 21
179 57
---
Franklin
185 82
1,479 63
1,666 45
200 67
1,088 89
235 24
1,524 80
141 65
---
Girard bor
174 47
2,022 59
2,197 06
565 22
1,330 06
300 47
2,195 75
1 31
---
Girard Tp.
572 82
4,194 04
4,766 86
1,904 49
2,197 88
689 50
4,791 87
---
609 01
Greene
265 00
2,591 27
2,856 27
1,294 40
1,128 00
394 96
2,817 36
38 91
---
Greenfield
200 78
1,522 80
1,723 58
53 50
1,000 25
492 27
1,546 02
177 56
---
Harbor Cr'k
355 12
3,183 58
3,538 70
337 82
2,388 80
390 17
3,116 79
421 91
---
Lake Pl's'nt
87 78
312 37
400 15
19 30
306 00
70 07
395 37
4 78
---
Le Boeuf
308 03
2,264 13
2,572 16
729 09
889 18
737 81
2,356 08
110 08
---
Lockport
87 00
367 00
454 00
---
267 00
102 22
369 22
84 78
---
McKean
349 72
1,650 74
2,000 46
193 34
1,325 80
360 27
1,879 41
121 05
---
Middleboro
47 87
2,737 47
2,785 34
2,258 09
240 00
261 24
2,759 33
---
1,650 80
Mill Creek
572 82
6,592 37
7,165 19
1,585 00
4,426 36
1,145 78
7,157 14
---
16 95
Mill Village
100 36
452 03
552 39
108 45
337 50
52 74
548 69
45 32
---
N. East bor
298 76
5,463 72
5,762 48
439 26
1,689 14
1,985 61
4,114 01
---
1,561 53
N. East Tp.
488 68
4,398 01
4,886,69
---
2,700 95
683 49
3,384 44
1,679 89
---
Pleasant Hill
29 09
166 72
195 81
7 00
109 64
47 60
164 24
31 57
---
Springfield
490 22
3,329 22
3,819 44
249 36
2,652 00
401 68
3,303 04
852 70
---
Summit
198 89
3,160 58
3,359 47
2,151 78
790 00
417 69
3,359 47
---
848 69
Union Tp.
251 17
2,442 98
2,694 15
527 07
1,264 80
361 05
2,152 92
541 23
---
Union City
540 60
5,480 49
6,021 09
1,615 47
3,399 36
1,675 93
6,690 76
---
1,532 27
Venango
976 88
2,644 97
3,621 85
693 00
1,876 00
719 91
3,288 91
332 94
---
Washington
782 66
2,160 17
2,942 83
725 14
1,542 28
462 25
2,729 67
213 16
---
Waterf'd bor.
189 91
1,733 33
1,923 24
79 43
1,209 09
183 81
1,472 33
630 91
---
Waterf'd Tp.
436 20
3,491 90
3,928 10
994 62
2,196 16
600 31
3,791 09
137 01
---
Wattsburg
90 30
1,047 78
1,137 88
92 35
889 36
222 05
1,203 76
115 88
---
Wayne
310 62
2,405 93
2,716 55
49 98
1,825 52
736 66
2,612 16
104 39
---
 
---------------
----------------
----------------
---------------
---------------
---------------
-----------------
---------------
---------------
Total
$17,224 25
$172,004 91
$189,229 16
$35,810 86
$97,143 56
$69,454 83
$172,409 25
7,963 69
$39,766 72

 



Bibliography: Samuel P. Bates, History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, (Warner, Beers & Co.: Chicago, 1884), Part II, Chapter XXIV, pp. 451-456.

 


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