Monday, August 16, 2010

Harmony Schoolhouse

In previous posts, we have covered things like houses, mills, factories, places of worship, farms, and even a hospital. Probably the most important community building not yet covered here is the schoolhouse. In the early days of Mill Creek Hundred, schools were few and far between. There may have been a few church schools and a number of short-lived private schools (really not much more than a teacher instructing a few kids), but most education was done in the home, or not at all. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries there were a few attempts in Delaware at passing school laws, with little success. (Although one early law did lead to the incorporation in 1808 of a school near St. James Church.) Real public schools in the state didn't get started until after the passage of the "Free School Act" in 1829. [It's a rather long PDF, but here is a very good account of the history of school districts in Delaware.] This law set up school districts in the state, each with one school and at least 35 pupils. There were provisions for districts to be split or combined, and each was controlled by, and funded by, the residents of the district. By 1868, there was all or most of 12 districts in Mill Creek Hundred, with parts of four more.

One of the original school districts established in 1829 was the #32 school, or Harmony School, between Milltown and Hockessin. The original Harmony School was built about 1818 as a rare positive result of one of the earlier generally ineffectual school laws. It was located on the west side of Limestone Road, about a half mile north of Paper Mill Road, probably just below where Jarrell Farms is now. It occupied that location until 1845, at which time the old school and property were sold, and a new site was acquired from local farmer William Torbert. The new school was to be situated on the east side of Limestone Road, across from its intersection with Paper Mill Road. A 1 1/2-story stone schoolhouse was built, approximately 30 x 40 feet, with a small cupola and a bell on top. In 1900, a wood-frame porch was added to the front (south) end, and the bell and cupola were replaced with new ones in 1907.

Harmony School and class, 1895

Other than a few small upgrades over the years, like moving from a wood-burning stove, to a coal pot-belly stove, and finally to an oil heater, the school changed very little over its lifespan. And quite an impressive lifespan did it have! After opening its doors in 1845, the Harmony School operated for the next 111 years, not closing until June 1956. After it did close as a school, replaced by larger, more modern schools serving the increasingly suburban area, the school continued to be used as a residence. During this time period, there were multiple changes made to the interior of the structure, but very little to the exterior. The pair of outhouses that once sat behind the school were removed, however, replaced by sheds and a garage.

Tacked on to the end of the school's National Register nomination form is a wonderful little essay, written and updated by alumni of the school, and read at the 100th, 110th, and 125th anniversaries of the school. As storied as the past has been for the little Harmony School, its future is very much in doubt. The residents of the schoolhouse moved out long ago, and the building and land are now owned by DelDOT. As this Community News article states, DelDOT would very much like to be rid of the schoolhouse, as it has become a liability and all-around nuisance to them. The Hockessin Historical Society has said it would like to move the school and place it near Tweed's Tavern on Valley Road, but they don't have the funds to do so yet. I wish them lots of luck in their efforts to preserve one of the last remaining one-room schoolhouses that were so much a part of the area in the 19th century.

20 comments:

  1. I've added a new picture to this post, taken from the wonderful Hockessin: A Pictorial History. It is a class photo from 1895, taken in front of the school. To anyone who has read other posts here, or has looked at an old map, many of the last names in the caption should be familiar -- Allcorn, Brackin, Pierson, Derrickson, Dennison, Pennock, Mendenhall, and others.

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    1. John Parisi remembers the name Dennison.

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  2. The 1895 class photo from the Harmony School includes Belle Woodward, my grandmother's sister. She was the daughter, grandaughter and great granddaughter of my ancestors who worked in the Fell Spice Mill through the 1850s, 1860s and 1870s. Unfortunately Belle died of diptheria in 1899. The Woodwards were related to the Brackins which may explain why Belle is standing next to a Brackin, likely her cousin.

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  3. I didn't even catch that name in there. From a real quick look at the 1900 census, it looks like they may have lived not far from the school, close to or on Limestone Road. I guess they probably moved there after the spice mill closed. I'll have to see -- I might be able to get a better scan of the picture.

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  4. You're close Scott. My grandmother, Ella Woodward,told me she was born in Mermaid (1895)and she often talked about Harmony School.

    Ken Shelin

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  5. My 7 year old son has a petition to save Harmony school. He's an avid, young, history buff, and was very upset when he found out it was to be torn down. I thought I'd send his petition to Biden since he's from Delaware. Any suggestions would be appreciated!

    Stacey G

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    1. Dear Stacey G
      I went to Harmony School in 1939, we lived on the farm that is where Mendenhall Village is now. I'm trying to find out if it is the Dean Ross Farm. We walked through the field to get to Harmony School. Many of the names who went to the school I forget now, I do remember a Lois Colemery, also Bill Pennegton. You have a young boy there who someday may be a great historian. Seven years old and he want to preserve Harmony School. It is a solid built school and would not be too hard to fix it up so it can be preserved. There were all farms
      then, I was so interested in the school that I learned all I could about it and gave a class to fifth graders on Harmony School. They really liked that I gave them the class. Many of the students live in Hockessin, I don't know if they can see the school. Last time I passed it trees were too thick they blocked the view of the school.
      John G.

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  6. I feel the same way your son does. It's a great piece of history, and I really hope that somehow it can be saved. On that note, does anyone know what its current status is? The last thing I could find was that last summer DelDOT gave the Hockessin Historical Society 6 months to come up with a plan. I get the feeling DelDOT really wants to be rid of it, and may be getting impatient.

    Bonus Fun -- While I was looking for new info, I came across two old newspaper stories about the school. This one is from 1953 and mentions that it might soon be closing. Also has a picture of the students and teacher. Then there's this story from 1952 that's a full page about the school. I thought they were neat stories. Stacey, might be cool for your son to see pictures of some of the kids that went there, and hear what they did.

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  7. Wow! Yes, thank you very much for the added info. He will be very excited to see it. I'll let you know how his petition goes. Thanks again for all you do!
    Stacey

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  8. John, I am trying to find information on the history of Mendenhall Village in Hockessin. It was a farm back in 1939 when I lived there as a child. The Montagues, like Gearld, Francis, Helen took care of the farm for Dean Ross owner. Every Saturday there was Fox Hunting right past the farm house. I went to Harmony School, sure would like to see it saved. Would like to hear from anyone who knows anything about the area.

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    1. That's wonderful! I think you might be the first Harmony alumnus to comment here. Thanks! Considering time and the original pool size, you've got to be a fairly exclusive club now. Did you see the links to the newspaper articles in my April 20 comment above? The second one has a few pictures, too. Is that how you remember it? Is that the same teacher you had? I'd love to hear more sometime.

      As far as Mendenhall Village, I don't know much right now about the area's later (20th Century) history, but the names you mentioned would be a good starting point to research. The best I can give for the moment is that generally speaking, MV West would have been owned by the Ochletrees, farmed from the house on Limestone Road just south of Village Drive. MV East would have been Springer land. There are two 19th Century (at least) Springer houses still there. One on Village Drive just past Woodridge, and the other near the end of Forest Creek Drive. Both appear on the 1849 map, and are probably a good bit older than that. I haven't gotten around to focusing on either of these families yet, but I'm sure I will, and maybe sooner rather than later. Thanks, and I hope someone might know more about the more recent stuff.

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    2. Scott P.
      I went to Harmony School in the year 1939. I'm now 85 years old, so there may not be too many around who went there when I was going there. I am in touch with Lois Colemary who was in the first grade and I was in the fourth. Lois is now living in Florida. I'm at work now so I don't have any thing on the school, but I look at my file at home and see what I have.

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  9. Harmony School, Limestone Road, Hockessin, Delaware
    Does anyone remember the Montague family that lived and took care of the farm where there was fox hunting every Saturday. The family took in orphan boys I was there living with the family in 1939 and went to Harmony School and St. John Catholic Church. jparisi34@yahoo.com

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  10. Any news on this? I spend the my teenage years and some of my adult life in Pike Creek and it is amazing the changes. I'm glad to see the old farm houses being salvaged in the projects occurring diagonal from the school house (other side of route 72). I am hoping that theme will catch on and SOME form of restoration can be hoped for in the case of the school house. It would be a nice addition to all the typical suburban landscapes popping up in that area. I mean, why does everyone love Old New Castle? The history! Here's to hoping they can save it!

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    1. Couldn't agree with you more. That's why I was so excited when I learned that the retirement community was saving those houses. But no, I haven't heard anything recently about the fate of the school house. I just did a quick search and I can't find any recent news items. Last I can find was about three years ago when DelDOT gave the Hockessin Historical Society an extra six months to come up with money to do something with it. As far as I can tell (or assume), DelDOT still wants to be rid of it, but they're hesitant to just tear it down. I think they really want someone to be able to step up and take it off their hands. If anyone's heard anything else, let us know.

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    2. Just confirmed with HHS and they say that DelDOT is selling the property with the caveat that it be restored... However (big however), if there are no bids they will sell the property withOUT that caveat, clearing the way for someone to bulldoze it and use the PRIME property for something else. Unfortunately I can't see anyone but HHS as wanting to preserve it (investing in such at least). So it looks like it might be a lost cause. Without that caveat that property would sell in a matter of minutes... maybe seconds, seeing where it is...

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    3. Sorry I lost track of this. Thanks for the update! Sadly, I have to say I think you're exactly right. If no one has stepped up to restore it yet, I don't hold much hope it'll happen now. Without a last-minute miracle, I don't see this ending any way other than Deldot being forced to sell to someone who will come along and raze it for commercial space or housing. Sad.

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  11. I am sure you heard by now that DelDOT auctioned this property off in late summer and got a buyer that IS attempting to work with HHS to somehow preserve what can be there. Not FINAL yet, I don't think... but I hope they can make it into something, and NOT clear it for another strip mall!

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    1. No, I hadn't heard that. That's great news if it pans out. Hopefully they can work something out!

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  12. Fox hunting... makes me wonder if that is where "Fox Fire" came from as in the development on Polly Drummond Road... I once heard a rumor it was because of the large amount of foxes around the area (pre-suburbia development) and that color of their coat is of fire. The only time I see foxes in the area anymore is on Fox Den road, go figure...

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