Friday, December 3, 2010

Mt. Pleasant and Union Schools

Mt. Pleasant School, 1933
As of the 1860's there were about 13 public school districts with school houses in Mill Creek Hundred. To the best of my knowledge, the Harmony School House on Limestone Road is the only 19th century school still standing intact.* For the other dozen schools, there is generally frustratingly little information that I've been able to find so far. Since even with my penchant for verbosity it would be hard to pad most of them out to a full post, I'll once in a while take a look at a couple of them at a time. In this post, I'll focus on the Mt. Pleasant School (District 34) and the Union School (District 31). For these two, at least, I've been able to scrape together a little bit of information.

The Mt. Pleasant School was located on the south side of Old Wilmington Road, just north of Loveville and south of Brackenville Road, and got its name from the old Mt. Pleasant Inn nearby. In 1815 the land for the school was carved out of the holdings of Moses Montgomery and Joseph Ashton, and the first school was built at about that time. It sat facing the Newport Road (equivalent to today's Loveville Road), which forked from Old Wilmington Road between the school and the inn. It's likely that the school in the pictures is not the first one at the site, but was built later in the 19th century. It was, however, apparently a fairly good building for a rural school house. A 1918 report from the Public School Commission had this to say about it (there's also a picture of the school after page 8):
The nearest approach in all the state to a modern one room rural school building is the school in District No. 34, New Castle County. This building is of cement block, with a basement, an attractive front porch, cloakrooms for both boys and girls, and a classroom of standard size. The walls of the classroom are tastefully decorated with good pictures; there are new single desks, window shades, slate blackboards, teacher's desk, oak glass-faced bookcase, an organ, and a basement furnace. Yet, even here, there are evidences of lack of thought and knowledge. The classroom is lighted in the old-fashioned way, from three sides, instead of from one; there is no artificial lighting, so that it cannot be used in the evenings for community gatherings; there are no provisions for industrial work for boys and cooking for girls, for serving hot luncheons to the children, and no inside play space for use in inclement weather. The grounds are small and uneven, providing neither space for demonstration beds in the teaching of elementary science and agriculture, nor playgrounds equipped with appropriate play apparatus.
It's not clear exactly when the school came down, or if there are any traces of it remaining today. It looks like the site of the school is an overgrown lot now, and it's possible that there could be a foundation still there. According to this 1941 fire insurance report, the building was in "poor condition" then, and from what I can glean, the school was closed around 1950 (if anyone has, or knows of anyone who has, personal memories of the school, I'd love to hear about it). Also note in the 1941 picture that you can see the barn that still stands across the street in the background.

Meanwhile, the children in School District #31, the area around Corner Ketch, attended another formidable school -- the Union School. This school was located on the southwest side of Corner Ketch Road, between Paper Mill and Doe Run Roads. Although the structure is (mostly) no longer standing, it used to have a datestone over the doorway inscribed with its erection date of 1850. Like Mt. Pleasant, this building was probably the second one to grace the location. It was two stories high, and had two large trees in front, as the picture above shows. There was also a white oak in front of the school that measured well over 13 feet in circumference and may have dated to the 1600's. It appears this tree has come down just within the past few years.

Like most rural schools, Union was originally attended by students from grades 1-8. Around 1921, it was reduced to 1-6, with the older two grades attending school in Newark. The school was closed for good in 1936, with all the children then attending school in Newark.  As I alluded to above, it appears that there might be some walls of the school still standing in a wooded area. If I get a chance to wander out there this weekend, I'll try to post any pictures that I'm able to take. When you think of all the children who attended these schools over their century or so of use, it's a little sad to think that there isn't more left of these early schools.

* While Harmony is the only one listed on the National Register of Historic Places, there are at least two other schools remaining in some form. The Fairview School was modified, but still stands on Polly Drummond Hill Road.

2 comments:

  1. The school at Thompson's Bridge was converted into a residence in the 1940's, expanded and renovated in 1956, and is now one of the White Clay Creek State Park Offices... I grew up in that house, and have pictures.

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  2. That's interesting, Joseph. If you have anything (info and/or pictures) you'd like to share, you can email me at mchhistory@verizon.net. I think I know what school you mean, but doing some quick looking I couldn't find anything on the school. I can't even tell what number it was. The District 40 school over on 896 is labeled, but this one isn't. I see it on the 1881 and 1893 maps, but there's no name or number. Do you know what it was?

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