The Building of a High School
By Joan C. McCulloh
The Pennsylvania Free School Act was enacted in 1834. Three years after that, in 1837, Montgomery Township had a school building constructed in the area behind the Presbyterian Church in Mercersburg, an area that then was in Montgomery Township. That school served the Mercersburg students. From that time on men of vision, sometimes facing intense opposition, had schools built, furnished, and supplied with teachers. Eventually in 1878 the school board built a larger school building on West Seminary Street that could house both elementary and high school students.
By 1920 the local school board realized the necessity for a new high school as the school on West Seminary Street was overcrowded, a fact which brought about many related problems. Therefore, the local school board proposed the building of a high school. Being men of vision, they published in the Mercersburg Journal many, many weeks before the November election the financial statement of the school district and the notice that the school board would be seeking approval in the November election for borrowing $44,801 for the construction of a new school. The editor of the Mercersburg Journal was helpful as he published in the middle of the front page a letter from a citizen noting the overcrowded classrooms in the school and another article stating that a newly hired teacher had left his post because of the unmanageable class size. The members of the School Board also realized the power of women. Since 1920 was the first election in which women nationwide were permitted to vote - some western states had earlier granted that right - the school board went to the Mercersburg Women’s Club and asked that group both to encourage women to vote and to ask women to attend a mass meeting to be held in October at which the school board would explain the necessity for the new building and the necessity for approval for borrowing the $44,801. The meeting with music by the Mercersburg Cornet Band was held in the Star Theater. On November 2, 1920, the nation selected Warren G. Harding as its President, - the headline in the Mercersburg Journal was “Harding Sweeps Borough” - and local citizens overwhelmingly approved the bond issue. Of the 456 citizens who voted only 31 voted against it. This is a remarkable testament to both the School Board and our local citizens, and the school at a cost of approximately $56.000 was built.
Then in October 1925 the older school building, since the construction of the high school used only for the elementary students, burned. Again the school board needed money. Since, however, it had already borrowed to its limit for the high school, as a corporate body it could not borrow more. Therefore, being men of vision and concern for the students and their community, the men of the school board put up their own properties as collateral and obtained the money for the construction of the new elementary school. The men of the school board who manifested this vision, generosity, and risk were H. W. Byron, president, H. S. Waidlich, secretary; James Fallon, treasurer; C. H. Eitemiller, and C. W. McLaughlin.
As we think about the past, it is well to remember those with vision who worked hard to provide for us an environment in which we could learn and did learn.