The Old Eagle School

History

The Schoolhouse

It was the custom of German immigrants to Pennsylvania in the 1700's to build a church and have a school connected with it. Such were the beginnings of the Old Eagle School when in 1765, Jacob Sharraden, a German immigrant who was proprietor of a grist mill and a man of wealth and education, bought 150 acres in Tredyffrin just north of the present Strafford railroad station, and set aside from this ground a lot for a church and schoolhouse. A deed, executed by him to certain individuals of the community as Trustees, covered the present graveyard, church, and schoolhouse lot and dedicated them to public use.

In 1768, a log structure was built which was superseded in 1788 by the rubble stone structure we see today. When school was first held in this building, there was little furniture. Children sat on logs that had been split, the rounded portion of the log may have been braced by wooden legs -- students sat on the level area with splinters and all. Warmth was provided by a fireplace and later a 10 plate iron stove. The schoolmaster's desk and accompanying birch stick for discipline were in the center of the room next to the stove and benches were drawn as close to the front as could be. Older children sat behind, younger ones up front. On gray days the room was lit with candles stuck into wooden racks on the wall. Children paid 3 cents per day to attend school, or $2 per quarter and had to provide their own goose-quill pens. Ink was made with a bruised nut gall or a few rusty nails in water. Children shared books and would often come up to the schoolmaster's desk to recite. Instructing arithmetic, the teacher would dictate "sums" and the children would work out the problems on their slates with a stylus. Children were educated up to the age of 12. By that time it was hoped they would read and write.

The original schoolhouse was smaller than today's building. It initially faced Old Eagle School Road. On that side one can notice the walled-up entryway that consisted of double doors and was flanked by windows, one of which (north side) is completely walled up and the other narrowed. Over the old entry is a stone with the initials "A.G." and "1794" with a shamrock scratched on it. This is reportedly the initials of Andrew Garden, the Irish schoolmaster of that time. In 1842, the schoolhouse was enlarged by about one third, and one can notice the difference in the coloration of the stones used to extend the building toward Private Way.

In 1836, Pennsylvania adopted the Central School System and the administration of the school house gradually passed from the Trustees to the Tredyffrin Township School District which assumed complete control in 1854. In 1872, the school board erected a new school at Pechin's Corner (Upper Gulph and Old Eagle School Roads), and the key to the Old Eagle School was given to the Union Sunday School. The building was intermittently used by preachers for the next 20 years. At one point in the 1860's, Old St. David's Episcopal Church raised funds with the hopes of establishing a mission in the building. In 1895, litigation between members of the community and the Tredyffrin School District was resolved against the school district. The courts determined that the school district did not own the schoolhouse. Title to the property was established in five trustees, since expanded to nine, to be held by them "for the general use and good of the neighborhood for religious, educational purposes and the repose of the dead."

"Not Famous, But Faithful"

In the adjoining graveyard are some 70 graves which include those of many early settlers of the area as well as several revolutionary soldiers who died during the Valley Forge encampment of 1777 to 1778. The graves of these patriots are simply marked by field stones. In 1905, the Trustees placed a bronze tablet on a large boulder on the western slope of the graveyard bearing the following inscription: "In unmarked graves within this ancient burial ground were whose names... are inscribe upon this boulder in grateful remembrance of the common debt due these humble patriots this memorial was dedicated in 1905."

Also in the graveyard is found a monument to Margaretta Werkiser who was the wife of Christian Werkiser and daughter of Jacob Sharraden who donated the property for the school. The inscription on her tomb reads "Verses on tombstones are but idly spent, the living character is the monument." Margaretta Werkiser must have been a woman of great character during the Revolutionary War, for it was reported that she bravely crossed British lines to walk to Philadelphia to bring back much needed medical supplies for the patriots.

Boys and girls attending school during the Revolution could have seen soldiers marching up the road. They could have watched the men in the sentinel trees nearby. One such tree, a great tall chestnut, stood on the property where Our Lady of Assumption Church now stands. The men in the tree would signal to the next sentinel tree, all the way down to Valley Forge. Perhaps as the students sat on the stone wall (where a stile can still be climbed) they could hear the bells on the Conestoga wagons going down the turnpike carrying food to market in Philadelphia, or carrying supplies westward.

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