Life in Emmitsburg in the mid 1800's
Reflections on Some Early Schools
[Originally published in May 1908 in
the Emmitsburg Chronicle]
The contribution to the
Chronicles of Emmitsburg about the taverns and hotels
was so interesting and attracted so much attention that
a representative of 'The Chronicle, remembering the
promise made by Mr.________, that he would tell the
people about school life in the old days, again
"About the old-time
schools of Emmitsburg, the first school I remember of
attending was taught by Mrs. Reed, a widow lady, in a
house that stood on the present site of
I was packed off to school when I was about five years
old, with a small yellow book called an English Primer.
The seat, a rough bench was much too high for my short
legs and my feet hung some distance above the floor. The
school was a sort of a go-as-you please affair, and I
did not receive much attention from the mistress, who,
by the way, was a very good-natured lady. Yet, as it is
the school boys' want to go ahead, I made rapid progress
and soon learned to throw paper wads and pinch the boys
that sat next to me."
"What made up the
curriculum of an ordinary school in those days?" asked
"Well, I learned by
heart the names of all the animals with which the pages
of my book were illustrated, and afterwards mastered the
alphabet. While I attended this particular school I
never got out of the English Primer and as you can
imagine from the fact that I knew the old thing by heart
from cover to cover, I got very tired of it. Some years
afterwards I went to the
public school started in this town. The building was
a long, low brick schoolhouse standing on the present
St. Euphemia's School. Robert Crooks was the
first teacher. He was a man of ability and a fine
scholar also a very strict disciplinarian. Under him
"the boys simply had to study and know their lessons."
"Did Mr. Crooks have an
"Yes," laughed the old
gentleman, "he had a persuasive assistant, in the shape
of a birch rod which stood in the corner in full view.
The very sight of it, not to say anything of its
application to the back of a lazy or careless boy,
helped his mental processes wonderfully. That was the
only sort of physical culture we had in the schools in
the olden times. It was not elegant but very effective.
I have witnessed many a flogging, but, strange to say,
never received one. I believe, it has been my luck never
to get all I deserved."
"Did your school
experience end under Mr. Crooks?" was the next inquiry.
"Other well-liked and
successful teachers of, the old public school were Mr.
John Walter, a graduate of Mount St. Mary's College, and
a Mr. Tearce, who came to Emmitsburg with the Gutherie
family from Pennsylvania. Mr. Tearte's assistant was
Squire Knouff, well known in this community for many
years. Mr. Tearce was my of deal of a man and a teacher, bright and pleasing in mind and manner, of strong robust body, somewhat of a slender build and a genuine
athlete, he joined in all our outdoor games, and many a
time in playing corner-ball I had his broad back for a
target. With all this comradeship with his pupils,
inside of the schoolroom he was master and commanded the
respect and love of his scholars.
"The curriculum of the
school was somewhat limited: Grammar, geography,
algebra, and history were taught, but most of the boys
thought that when they were masters of the three 'Rs'
they were ready to graduate.
"In the Summer when the
public schools were closed we had, what were then
called, 'subscription schools.' I attended one that was
held in a brick house on Broad alley. This building is
still standing in good condition and and is now occupied
as a dwelling, by John Ellis. It was called the 'Potter
Kiln School' because the house had been built for a
potter's shop. In the rear stood an immense potter's
kiln that had been unused for many years. It was a
representative of one of the extinct industries of
Emmitsburg: The darkness inside this kiln and the many
small openings made it a fine place for boys to play
"Darius Thomas was one
of the first who taught this school; he removed West in
the early days and became one of the principal educators
in the then new State of Iowa. When I attended the
school the teacher was Isaac E. Pierson, the well-known
lawyer of the town. He laid down the law to the boys and
made them 'toe the mark.' He did not believe in whipping
but inflicted cruel and unusual punishment by making a
boy stand up before the school with a girl's sunbonnet
on his head ; a terrible penalty, far more dreadful to
the boys than the rod.
"Friday afternoons were
set apart for speech making and many a time as a small
boy I mounted the rostrum and told the audience with
wild gestures that 'My name is Norval, on the Crampian
"One of the best
schools was kept in a brick house, torn down in 1870,
which stood on what is now the cemetery of the Lutheran
Church. The teachers were usually graduates of
Pennsylvania College, Gettysburg. Many of our older
pupils will remember Professors McLean, Gerhart, Barrick,
McAttee and others. It was established long before the
public schools were started and was considered a sort of
finishing school. I closed my school days there under
Professor Gerhart, who, I have been told, is yet living
at an advanced age in Virginia."
In answer to the query
"How do the new schools compare with the old ones," Mr.
--answered: "The old times have passed, the old timers
are passing 'one by one; the schools like almost
everything else have changed for the better. When I look
at the books in use now and compare them with those we
used to use, I have to conclude the world has moved and is constantly
moving, at least so far as the schools are concerned, in
the right direction."
Read other stories in this series of first hand
life in Emmitsburg in the 1800's
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