Nearly 100 folks turn out to celebrate the renovation of a local landmark
It's hard to overstate what an important role one-room schoolhouses played in Pennsylvania during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
According to local maps from this time period, there were more than 300 of them in Wayne County alone.
On Sunday afternoon, I traveled to Manchester Township to witness the revival what was known as the “Lester School.”
The newly restored building stands proudly in a field just off the road. It's surrounded on three sides by farm fields and enjoys a beautiful view of the surrounding valley.
Organizers of the event with Equinunk Historical Society were expecting a modest crowd. In anticipation of this, they hauled in a total of 26 student desks.
Happily, their estimates proved to be a bit low.
In fact, more than 80 folks showed up and signed the register, a testament to the powerful hold one-room schoolhouses like this still maintain in our hearts and imaginations.
This school was named for the Lesters, a prominent family that lived not far from the site in Manchester Township.
The Lesters were a large farm family whose roots extend back to the turn of the 19th century. In fact, the Lesters had the distinction of sending 11 sons to fight in the Civil War.
Remarkably, every one of them returned home safely with the worst injury being a severed finger.
The Lester Family patriarch, demonstrating uncommon patriotism, also tried to enlist in the Union Army. However, he was turned away because of his age: 76 years!
According to the local history book “Once Upon a Memory,” the original school was built on the NE corner of Hellmers Hill and Stalker Roads in 1868.
Twenty years later, the school was relocated to a field approximately a quarter mile east. It began operating there in 1888 and ran without interruption through 1920.
This is the building that has been painstakingly restored by Jeff Adams and his crew … a building that was near collapse after years of being used as an open-air storage facility for farm machinery.
The property, which was for many years a fully operating farm, is now owned and maintained by Maria Barone and Roberto Posada. Both played major roles in the school's resurrection and were on hand Sunday to accept a beautiful framed photo of the school circa 1915.
“Thank you so much for all your hard work and dedication,” Jerry Wood said as he presented them with the picture and the crowd applauded warmly.
One of the best things about Sunday's gathering was listening to the stories of local residents who once attended the Lester School.
Students who performed well in the classroom were rewarded with special jobs that reflected their teacher's confidence in them.
For example, Jerry Wood fondly remembers being tasked with winding the clock that hung on the wall at the head of the classroom
“It was an eight-day clock,” he said while holding up a modern-day example of a Seth-Thomas model. “Sometimes I wouldn't quite wind it all the way so I could do it again on Friday.”
Bob Wood also earned the favor of his teacher.
He regaled the crowd with an amusing tale of being chosen to get the wood stove going each cold winter morning.
“I'd get there about half an hour before everyone else,” he said. “I'd light the fire and make sure everything was ready for the school day.”
Bob recalled with a big smile that he was paid 10 cents a day for his efforts.
“Every Friday she'd pay me with a silver half dollar,” he said. “It always made me feel like the richest kid around. I mean, 50 cents could buy an awful lot of candy bars.”
Notably, the teacher paid for this out of her own pocket since there was no such provision made by the school board.
The Way It Was
Standing in the classroom and looking out over a sea of faces, it's easy to imagine what a vibrant place of learning the Lester School must once have been.
The teacher likely sat at an elevated desk in the front of the room. According to records, there were as many as 15 “double desks” that could have accommodated 30 pupils, grades 1-8.
Several maps and paintings of historically significant events would have adorned the walls. In addition, it appears that the Lester School had a globe and a slate blackboard measuring seven square yards.
A wood stove occupied a prominent place, while a “closed drinking vessel” sat on a table in the corner. Students filled it with fresh water from a local source each morning and used individual paper cups to quench their thirst during the day.
A small outhouse for girls stood to one side of he school building, while a larger one for the boys stood on the other.
Don't ask me why!” Jerry Wood quipped to much laughter.
A great deal of work went into preserving the Lester School.
This was a worthy investment of time, labor and money that ensures future generations can appreciate the modest beginnings of education in Wayne County.
This humble one room schoolhouse played a huge role in the lives of many families in Manchester Township.
Several “souvenir cards” from the Lester School still exist, as documented in “Once Upon a Memory.”
One commemorates the 1911-12 school year and includes the following pupils (taught by Hazel. M. Hopkins):
Elton Gillow, Carl Gillow, Frederick Gillow, Gordon Hawley, Harold Lester, Orin Maudsley, Frank Stalker, Nathan Stalker, Harriet Lester, Rachel Maudsley, Marion Osborne, Elizabeth Osborne, Evelyn Price, Evenly Gillow, Vera Gillow, May Stalker, Ruth Maudsley, Mildred Maudsley, Mary Gillow, Floyd Stalker, John Maudsley, Dorance Lester, Lee Gillow, Gerald Hawley.