Inside McEwensville High School

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, May 31, 1912:Today seemed like Monday to me, as I didn’t do much work yesterday. Went over to see Carrie.

Grandma’s gravestone is in the foreground. The brick building in the background once housed the high school that she attended.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

I’d like to tell you some more about last week-end. I got to tour the inside of the building that once housed McEwensville High School!

The school building is next to McEwensville Cemetery and  is now empty, but from the late 1950s until a few years ago it housed the McEwensville Fire Department.

When I went to the cemetery to put  flowers on relatives graves for Memorial Day, I noticed that the building doors were open and that there was a garage sale taking place inside.

With my heart beating rapidly I went into the garage sale, and told the story of Grandma and her diary.

I met a wonderful family, including Vincent Emery, who had purchased the building several years ago. He even gave me a tour of the second floor where the high school was located (the primary school was on the first floor).

Vincent Emery giving me the tour.

As I ascended the stairs, my whole body tingled with excitement. I finally was going to be in the room that Grandma had written so much about. Some things had changed since Grandma’s time. The stairs had been moved to enable the building to serve as a fire truck garage and the tile ceiling was from a later time.

But much appeared to be the same as it had been when it was a school. . . . wooden wainscoting . . . the chalk board . . .

The old slate chalkboard now sits on the floor.

The hole in the wall where the chalkboard once hung.

I thought about the times Grandma sat at in this room and worried about tests . . .  the time  a boy chased her around the wood or coal stove . . . the time she teased her teacher about drawing a picture of a ring, the times wind rattled the windows, the time she cheated on a test . . .

Whew, even now, five days later, I’m still in awe that I actually stood in the same room where Grandma attended school.

“Had a Sorrowful Time Today”

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, May 10, 1912:I seemed to have had a sorrowful time today. I guess it was because I was getting lonesome and wanted to go someplace. Ruth went up to Turbotville to attend the commencement.

Recent photo of the Turbotville Community Hall. The building once was a high school. There is a large auditorium on the second floor and the commencement probably was held there.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Turbotville is another small town about 4 miles northeast of McEwensville.  I wonder why Grandma didn’t go with her sister Ruth to the commencement. Maybe someone gave a ticket to Ruth—but not to her.  It’s not fun to feel excluded.

This was the 4th day of summer vacation; and, boredom and loneliness seem to be really setting in.  I wonder if Grandma got into any disagreements with her mother, father, Ruth, or little brother Jimmie—or if she was just quietly moping and feeling down.

Over the Christmas holidays, she and six-year-old Jimmie managed to get into several fights.  For example, on December 26, 1911 she wrote:

Am beginning to get rather tired of this seemingly long vacation. When you don’t have anything interesting to do and you don’t go many places it is not very hard to get lonesome. Jimmie and I are turning into regular fight cats, so Ma thinks. . .

Downtown Milton–Then and Now

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, March 23, 1912:Ruth and I went to Milton this morning on a shopping tour. I needed a pair of new shoes and so I got them. We went in and came out on the train so you can see we weren’t gone long.

Postcard showing Marsh Shoe Store, Milton a hundred years ago (postally used December 1910).

Recent view of S. Front Street. Marsh Shoe Store was once located toward the far side of the block on the left side.

Another view of downtown Milton.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Milton was about five miles from the Muffly farm. There was a whistle-stop for the Susquehanna, Bloomsburg, and Berwick Railroad near their farm. Grandma and her sister Ruth probably needed to change trains at Watsontown.

A hundred years ago Milton had a thriving downtown. Today better transportation, nearby malls, and several floods have all taken a toll–though hopefully the recent movement toward shopping local will help revive it.

Could Hardly Get Through the Mud

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, February 23, 1912:  It was so awful muddy this afternoon. Didn’t hardly know how I would get through mud and everything else coming home from school.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Mud was a huge problem a  hundred years ago. Neither the streets in McEwensville nor the rural roads that Grandma needed to walk to get home from school were paved.

A muddy Main street in McEwensville in the early 1900s. Photo from Watsontown, McEwensville, and Delaware Township: A real Photo Postcard History by Robert Swope, Jr. (Photo used with permission)

Recent photo showing the same section of Main Street. The paved road is a definite improvement on muddy late winter days.

School Had Financial Problems

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Sunday, February 18, 1912:  Went to Sunday School this afternoon. The roads are rather muddy. Went over to see Carrie this afternoon. I mean I went to Sunday School this morning. I wonder what will happen tomorrow at school I just wonder if Mr. Forest Dunkel (that’s his name) is going to be stern and terrible.

Grandma would have walked down this road to church--EXCEPT in those days it wasn't paved.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Forest Dunkel was going to be the new teacher at McEwensville High School. The previous teacher had quit mid-year.

As I told you several days ago, McEwensville School had a difficult time keeping teachers because of the low teacher salary. Here’s a little more information about the school’s financial problems:

Sometimes the school board was unable to pay the teachers at the appropriate time and could do so only when there was again enough money in the treasury. The McEwensville school board had difficulty collecting tuitions due from the directors for pupils attending from Delaware Township. At one time McEwensville even considered going to court to collect these monies, but concluded that it would not be worth the legal expense involved.

The History of the McEwensville Schools (2000)  by Thomas Kramm

Grandma’s family lived in Delaware Township, so she would have been one of the students that the school was having difficulty getting the township to pay for in a timely manner.

Carrie Stout was a friend of Grandma’s who lived on a nearby farm.

High Teacher Turnover

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, February 16, 1912: And this is the last day of that wonderful teacher of ours. I wonder how he felt this afternoon. I expected he would give some kind of an address, but he didn’t. Oh well, I don’t think I’ll be sorry of his leaving if the next one comes up to the average.  

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma wrote the previous Friday that her old teacher was staying for one more week.

I learned a little more about the mid-year change in teachers in the  History of the McEwensville Schools by Thomas Kramm:

. . . The high teacher turnover rate, especially in the high school prior to 1916, resulted in a new teacher almost every year. At least one teacher, and perhaps more, would not return to teach the following school year because the school board refused to increase the teacher’s salary. Although it did not occur often, when a teacher resigned in mid-term it was sometimes a challenge to find a replacement. During the 1911-12 school year, when high school teacher Howard Northrop wanted to resign mid-term, his resignation was not permitted until he personally recruited his own replacement.

Whew, it doesn’t sound like the school board did much vetting of teachers. Hopefully the new teacher will be good.

Rural “Mass Transit” a Hundred Years Ago

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, January 20, 1912: Ruth and I went to Milton this afternoon. We both had our pictures taken. I hope mine won’t be any bigger than what I am, but I won’t know for a whole week yet.

Old postcard of South Front Street, Milton. (Source: Milton Historical Society, Used with permission.)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Sounds like Grandma was worried that she’d look heavy in the photo. I wonder if she’d gained weight over the holiday season.

The Muffly farm is about 6 miles from Milton—but the sisters probably used “mass transit” to get there.

Ruth and Grandma probably walked the two miles to Watsontown—or  maybe they took the train to Watsontown. (There was a whistle-stop for the Susquehanna Bloomsburg and Berwick Railroad at Truckenmiller’s Feed Mill which was located near their farm.) Once the sisters got to Watsontown they would have taken the trolley from Watsontown to Milton.

It amazes me how many transportation options were available in a relatively remote area of Pennsylvania a hundred years ago. And, how trolleys and passenger rail service vanished a little later in the 20th century as automobile ownership proliferated.

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