Reflections in The Jester About Our Public Schools in Mercersburg

By Joan C. McCulloh


          In the 1926 - 1927 school year the Mercersburg High School Literary Society published The Jester, volume, number 1, a booklet of student writings.  This publication contains not only poetry, biography, and news of sports and other student activities but also the history of the school buildings, essays and  poetry about the school, and notes about the newly formed Mercersburg High School Alumni Association.     


          In writing about the history of the public schools in Mercersburg The  Jester states:  “For a number of years the schools of Mercersburg were under the control of the directors of Montgomery Township.  On April 14, 1857, the people of Mercersburg and surrounding community applied to the court of Franklin County to be incorporated into a separate district from Montgomery District.  In August of the same year the grant was obtained.  The earliest school house definitely known to be used for the “common school” system was a one-story brick building on the Presbyterian Church grounds [not to be confused with the Old Stone Academy that had stood on these grounds earlier].  It stood east and west almost directly opposite the right wing of the new high school building [the 1922 - 1954 high school].  It contained two rooms and the door faced south.  The funds for the construction of this building were realized by general subscription.  The permission to build on the church grounds was granted by the congregation providing that they be allowed to store fire-wood in the basement and $24 was contributed for the work of excavating.


          “In 1862 the Mercersburg Independent School District erected on Seminary Street a one-story, two-roomed brick building [now a residence adjacent to the Presbyterian Church]. It was used for primary purposes and at one time the enrollment for one room was 84 with an average attendance of 78.… Goethean Hall was then purchased for the small sum of $2500 for the purpose of accommodating the advanced grades.  Goethean Hall was one of the two beautiful buildings of classic style which stood in the southern part of town. [The  buildings housing the two literary societies of Marshall College, the Goethan and the Diagnothian, were on the west side of what is now Linden Avenue. In 1853 Marshall College was moved  to Lancaster to join Franklin College to become Franklin and Marshall College]. This hall was used for public school purposes until 1878 when Henry Waidlich accepted it and grounds in part payment for the erection of a school building on West Seminary Street.”


          The first class to be graduated from this new school was the class of 1880.  Only four of the original ten members of the class completed the course and received diplomas.  On October 23, 1925, fire destroyed this building.  Fortunately in 1921 because of the over-crowded conditions in the 1878 building the School Board had begun to plan for a high school.  Fortunately also was the fact that in the November election of 1920 women for the first time throughout the nation were permitted to vote.  For the school board the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution was advantageous as it went to the local Women’s Club and asked its help in mobilizing people, especially women, to vote for the new school.


          The School Board purchased property on the corner of West Seminary and Park Streets, tore down the Cornelius Lauderbaugh building, and awarded the contract for the new high school to Quigley Hafer of Chambersburg.  The first class to graduate was the class of 1923, and the class of 1926 was the first class to spend all of its high school days in this building that served students in Mercersburg from 1922 until 1954.  


          During the 1925 - 1926 school year because of the fire two shifts of classes met each day in the new building as it had to accommodate all of the grades.  The Jester explains:  “The regular program had to be rearranged.  The junior and senior high school pupils and one section of the third grade assembled in the morning at eight o’clock finishing their work at 12:15 noon.  In one half hour all of the other grades were at work in the same rooms just vacated by the first student group and were in session until 4:45.  Every inch of space available was converted into classrooms even the principal’s office, and, for a short time, the Presbyterian Sunday School rooms were used until the two rooms at the back of the old building which had not been destroyed were fitted up for work again.  Thus it was possible to continue school with little delay.“ 


          “Ode to the New Schoolhouse” by Beulah Miller ’27, was, therefore,  an appropriate poem for a student to write in the 1926 - 1927 school year.   When Miss Miller wrote the poem about the new schoolhouse, she undoubtedly remembered the fire and the rearranged schedules and was appreciative of the fact that in 1926 - 1927 the school was serving only the high school students as the School Board immediately after the fire had begun to build an elementary school building on the site of the one that had been destroyed. 

          A building fair with stately lines,

          Is what the casual eye may see

          But to the one whose heart is thrilled

          With hopes for youth and all humanity

                   It is a vital thing - apart.

                   From merely walls and roof and floor --

                   It speaks of wisdom -- music -- art;

                   To God’s best gifts, it is a door,

                             The new schoolhouse. 

          Seemingly from the ashes of a former shrine

          Has sprung the fairer product of nobler aim;

          Oh, that youth might know the golden age

          E’er it passes and with joyful heart acclaim,

                   This is my school - ‘tis free.

                   I’ll strive to do my best each day

                   And live that other folks may see

                   “Tis with gratitude and loyalty, I say

                             My new Schoolhouse.


          In writing about the newly formed alumni association The Jester reports:  “The Alumni Association of the Mercersburg High school was organized on June 9, 1922.  A group of about fifty persons assembled at the close of the commencement exercises held in the local theatre that evening.  Mr. J.L. Finafrock, superintendent of the public schools in Franklin County, acted as chairman.  He explained the needs and benefits of such an organization.

          “An executive committee of the following members was appointed:  Miss Ella Bradley, chairman, Mrs. C. I. Selser, Mrs. Cleone Wagner, Mrs. J. E. Highlands, W. F. Shaffer, and H. L. Wolfe.


          “The preparations that are being made to erect on a concrete base the bell which was formerly in the bell-tower of the old high school building are proof of the loyalty and interest in Mercersburg School


          “If every alumnus school says to himself, ‘If all alumni were just like me, what kind of a school would our school be?’ they would join the organization and do real active service for the school.”


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