Old Eagle School Road, school house, “Chicken Lizzie”

As your columnist walked up the hill along Old Eagle School road from Strafford station in the damp chill of an afternoon last week and turned onto the lane that leads past the old Eagle School, the opening sentences of an item written some years ago by Martha Wentworth Suffren, came into her mind. This article, which appeared in the Evening “Bulletin” began:

” ‘Still sits the school house by, a ragged beggar sunning’. Not ‘ragged’ any longer. The trustees see to that. They keep the grass cut, remove a tree if one falls. But – no prayer of faith wafts upward to the blue, no childish feet scamper or scuffle through the deep doorway, even as once from Sunday School. Houses have Sprung up thickly around the old building, and children there are in plenty.’ ”

This “quaint, almost forgotten relic of early Colonial days, with tightly shuttered windows and tightly bolted door,” as Mrs. Suffren further describes it, seems now a spot quite apart from anything save its immediate surroundings, which are its neatly kept grounds, and the adjacent graveyard “where the great trees spring as often from the graves themselves as from the ground between.” Even to the present passerby along this quiet lane, the noise of the heavy traffic on Old Eagle School road seems almost unreal and far away, as the mind’s eye envisions the ox-drawn carts of those early German immigrants who in the middle of the 18th century founded a small colony in Tredyffrin township.

It was they who built the first small log structure which was to serve both as church and school, and which was to be the heart of their living in this new land. It is a pleasant thought that the spot on which this first little log structure was built, in about 1767, should be marked by a restoration of the second structure, which was built of stone in 1788, as indicated by the stone set in the present southern gable.

Your columnist paused for a moment of quiet reverence before the old church and school building before making her way to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Duncan I. Selfridge, who live a little further along and across the lane from the school house. Mrs. Selfridge is the former Miss Eleanor Newhall, daughter of Daniel S. Newhall, one of five men appointed by the Court as trustees of old Eagle School, just before its restoration in the late 1800’s.

Mrs. Selfridge is custodian of the keys to the building and supervises its care and that of the grounds surrounding it. She is also one of the present seven trustees appointed by the court, the other six being Dr. Thomas A. Shallow, Leonard T. Beale, L. M. C. Smith, all of Philadelphia, in addition to General Milton G. Baker, of Wayne, Daniel A. Newhall, of Narberth and Albert T. Colgan, of Strafford.

Mrs. Selfridge’s recollections of the old school house go back to the days of her early childhood when the tumbledown structure was occupied by “Chicken Lizzie” and her feathered companions, described in last week’s column. At that time Eleanor Newhall lived with her family in the big rambling white
house at the intersection of Crestline and Old Eagle School roads. This house is now occupied by Mr. Colgan, one of the present trustees, and his family. Mrs. Suffren recalls many visits to “Chicken Lizzie”, a pleasant and harmless old soul who let small Eleanor gather eggs from the hens’ nests. At that time, the surrounding countryside was sparsely settled, with only a few of the present houses in existence.

As your columnist left the pleasant warmth of the Selfridge home to go out into a short-lived snow flurry, Mrs. Selfridge gave her the key to the old school building that she might have a long-anticipated look at the interior. But a door tightly jammed by recent dampness made this impossible, although Mrs. Selfridge says that the caretaker often has it open for an airing on pleasant days.

After her unsuccessful attempt to open the door of the schoolhouse, your columnist wandered over to the old graveyard back of the schoolhouse. The light fall of powdery snow had softened the outlines of old tombstones, now covered with growth of all kinds. So dense is this growth that any progress through the graveyard is almost impossible.

However, Mr. Pleasants’ book has recorded much of interest in regard to it. The first trustees made “an exhaustive investigation of the old traditions regarding the burial in the little cemetery of many soldiers of the American Revolution… they established beyond reasonable doubt that many soldiers who died during the Valley Forge encampment of the American Army, in 1777-1778, were buried here, having been removed from the camp to the farmhouses and other places, which then served as hospitals, and then, on their death, to this as the nearest public burial ground.”

The names of these soldiers seem irretrievably lost. However, those of five who served during the Revolution and were later buried here, were well established, including Jacob Huzzard, Samuel McMinn, Charles McClean, Frank Fisher, all of Tredyffrin township and William Lindsay, of Upper Merion township.

The trustees placed a large boulder on the western slope of the graveyard, on which were inscribed the names of these five men, as well as a bronze tablet “in grateful remembrance of the common debt due these humble patriots.” The services of the dedication were held on July 4, 1905.

Mr. Pleasants’ book also contains an alphabetical list of other interments in both marked and unmarked graves dating from 1769 to 1895. These are several hundred in number, and include those of persons of various ages and from many walks of life.
“By time-worn graves behold the ancient school!
It stands beside the spot where earlier years
Beheld a meeting-house of rough-hewn logs,
Which sheltered long the German pioneers.
They went to join in voice of praise and prayer
And joy in freedom thus to worship God.
It thus hath stood a hundred years and more,
A church and school, with resting place for Dead…”

From “Lessons from the Lowly” in appendix of “Old Eagle School” by Henry Pleasants.