In January, 1900 “The Suburban” started a column of “Historical Notes”, which had a prominent place on the front page. Just how long the series continued, this writer does not know. However, there are three clippings from this column among the many interesting ones to be found in the old Martin family Bible, to which we referred last week.
The first sketch was written by a member of the family well known in this section for many years, Joseph Levis Worrall, who was born in April, 1817. Another writer came from a family equally well known locally then and now, Margaret Cornog, born in October, 1810, who must have been ninety years old when her reminiscences appeared in 1900. Still a third writer was Joseph Fisher Mullen, then of Upper Merion township, who had been born in March, 1824, in Downingtown.
All three writers had one thing in common. Each had attended Old Eagle School which, in its restored condition, still stands on Old Eagle School road in Strafford.
The ground on which the school was built formed part of an original grant by William Penn to Richard Hunt, of Brome Yard, Hereford County, Wales. This grant was dated March, 1683.
By the time Jacob Sharraden purchased the 150 acres in 1765, it had become the property of Sampson Davis and his wife. In 1767, Sharraden deeded this property to his son-in-law, Christian Werkhizer. However, on the tax lists of Tredyffrin for 1768, Werkhizer is taxed for only 149 acres. This discrepancy lends credence to the belief that somewhere between 1765 and 1768 Sharraden had donated one acre of his holdings as a site for a German Protestant Church and School.
A stone set in the south gable shows that the Old Eagle School house was erected in 1788. This may, however, refer to the original old log building, used as church and school, which stood a few feet to the north of the present structure. “Local tradition has it”, according to Mrs. Martha Wentworth Suffren, now one of Strafford’s oldest residents, “that the two structures stood side by side until 1805, when the first one was pulled down and the huge logs were used in the remodeling of the other building, which is still standing.”
When small Margaret Cornog was eight years old in 1818 she began to attend the Old Eagle School, and here she remained for several years. “Because I studied hard and liked to do my lessons, I was never slapped or punished in that school” this 90-year old woman wrote in 1900. “However, the ‘birch’ was not spared in those days,” she continued. “The teacher, who was called the ‘master’, used to walk around the room, and if a child was not doing right he would give a cut with the switch. I have often seen children sent out to cut switches with which they were to be punished. The boys had a way of giving the switch they were obtaining a cut with their knives so that they would not last for more than a few strokes.
“I remember that once three boys and three girls played truant while Adam Siter taught, and he called them up and sat them on a bench preparatory to ‘birching’ them, and called for the boys to take off their coats. But they said it was not fair unless the girls took off their dresses, and this made a laugh and all got off.”
In those days the school room was heated by a “ten plate stove” which stood in front of the chimney place. A bucket of water for drinking purposes was kept on a jamb which was almost as high as the small Margaret’s head. Benches were arranged around the walls of the building, with shorter ones in the center for small children. For writing they used quill pens, which they made themselves. Three dollars per quarter was the tuition for pupils at that time.
Committeemen visited the school frequently, according to Miss Cornog. Their names she did not recall, but more than 80 years later she did remember the names of four of her teachers. One was William Simpson, another was Evan Jones, “who subsequently went west as a missionary” while still another was George W. Lewis, “a young man who was courting Sarah Grover”. A later teacher was Adam Siter, “a lame man and partly paralyzed.”
Much interest was manifested always in those, who like Evan Jones, went west as missionaries to teach the Indians. Miss Cornog writes, “I remember seeing Peter Clyde and wife and two children start in a one-horse dearbourne in which their things were stored away… I was very fond of the little children, and went up to my uncle’s, James McMurray, who lived at the foot of Devon Hill on the pike, to see them go past and to say good-bye. No one ever heard of them again after they reached their destination.”
Miss Cornog’s reminiscences also include seeing the first car go over the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, early predecessor of our presenr Pennsylvania Railroad. “I was working”, she writes, “at my business of dressmaking in my present home, and heard the noise and ran to the hill to see it pass. It was one car with two horses – the steam cars came later. The horse-drawn cars would stop anywhere to get passengers.”
Shoemakers in those early times went around “from house to house with their kit of tools and leather to do up all the cobbling and making of new shoes… I remember John Aikens, son of James and Roseanna, who lived on Kelly’s place in Upper Merion, going about in that way.”
Of the building of the Radnor Scientific and Musical Fund Hall, which has been described at some length in this column, Miss Cornog had vivid recollections. It was built on the site of the First Baptist Church on Conestoga road, which was recently torn down. “It was built for general meeting purposes”, Miss Cornog writes, then continues, “I don’t remember that it was actually built for irreligious purposes, although several persons were active in securing its erection who were not religious characters. But Emily Siter… refused to sign a deed conveying it for worldly purposes, and the persons who had been instrumental in securing its erection abandoned connection with it… when William Siter united with the Baptist Church he and his wife joined in a deed of it to the Radnor Baptist Church, an offshoot of Great Valley Church. I have an invitation to the first entertainment at the hall which was sent me.”
Thus ended the reminiscences of a woman who at the age of 90 years must have been a remarkable person, with her keen memory of days long past, and with a gift for telling of these days. Subsequent articles in this series will tell of Mr. Worrall’s school days in the Old Eagle School, as well as those of Mr. Mullen.