Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Stanton and Brandywine Springs Schools

Stanton School, 1926
By the mid to late 19th Century, Mill Creek Hundred contained all or part of at least 17 separate school districts. Each district contained one school, and at least 13 of those schools were situated within the boundaries of the hundred. We've already looked at a few of them (Harmony, Fairview, Mt. Pleasant and Union), and even at a few of the teachers. As the 20th Century progressed, these old districts and schools were eventually consolidated into larger ones, and many of the schoolhouses lost. In this post, we'll focus on two more of these schools, each representing old districts -- the Stanton School (District #38) and the Brandywine Springs School (District #33). Both of these today have "descendant" schools still in operation, and one of these old schools (although not the first one at the site) is still serving its community, albeit in another capacity.

The District #38 school in Stanton was undoubtedly one of the longest-serving schools in our area. It was your classic one-room schoolhouse, made of stone, and measuring about 30x27 feet. It had two outhouses (which sometimes needed to be emptied, as this 1886 report shows), and stood on the north side of Main Street, west of Limestone Road, about halfway between the Friends Meeting House and Telegraph Road (about where the Goodeals is now). Exactly when it was built is a bit of a mystery. The number "38" does appear on the 1849 Rea & Price map (although, oddly, there is no "S.H." as there is by the other school houses), so it was surely built by then. Scharf claims that it was the first public school in Mill Creek Hundred, which would probably put its erection sometime around 1829, when the first real public school act in the state was passed. Writing in 1888, to Scharf it was already the "old stone school-house".

Teachers and students of Stanton School, c.1908
The best description we have of the school comes when it was likely about 90 years old. In 1919, the "General Report on School Buildings and Grounds in Delaware, 1919" was released, and consisted of pretty much what the title said. There are short write-ups of a few schools in different categories (one room, two room, more than two rooms, and in each county), and luckily for us, the Stanton School was one of them. The report doesn't help us with the age of the school, only saying it's of "unknown age". Despite the school's great age (or, more accurately, because of it), the report includes the following glowing remarks about the old schoolhouse:
The outside of this building conforms very closely to that of a large number of like buildings in New Castle County, but the interior of the building stands out in striking contrast to the exterior and in striking contrast, also, to the interior of the majority of buildings like it. It was a pleasant surprise on entering this building to discover that this old cave of a house had been made into a bright, cheerful, livable sort of a schoolroom in which one would not feel adverse to having his own child attend school. Through the individual efforts of a heroically courageous teacher of unusual initiative and ability, this class room has been thus converted: the walls were beautifully tinted, bordered and decorated. Good, attractive pictures were on the walls; the floors were clean and well kept; new single desks were provided for every child in the room and a generous amount of equipment of the type possible in this building was at hand. Too much cannot be said in recognition of the kind of energy displayed in making this building come as close to being livable as possible. Such energy should be rewarded by a new and modern school building so located as to bring together enough pupils to make possible the development of an adequate school program.
Unfortunately, I don't know for sure who that "heroically courageous teacher of unusual initiative and ability" was, who made the old stone school so attractive. The only teacher I can find in the area on the 1920 census is Gertrude Cranston, daughter of William B. Cranston. However, they lived on Stanton Road, so she just as easily could have been teaching in Marshallton. The one woman I don't think it was, was Lora Little (profiled here, complete with a newly posted photo of her from 1924). In 1920, she was still living in the Corner Ketch area, although she would be teaching in Stanton by 1922.

In 1929, the hope in the 1919 report would be fulfilled, as a new, much larger, modern building was built. The new Stanton Elementary School was quite a step up from the century-old, one-room schoolhouse. In addition to the Stanton students, the new school also included students from the recently merged and closed Forest Oak School #35 (located near Milltown Road and St. James Church Road) and the Sunnyside School #95 (located at Route 7 and Churchman's Road, where the Christiana Hilton is). What happened to the old schoolhouse after it closed is unclear, but the new school hosted countless area kids (including at least a few readers of this site) for many years.

Brandywine Springs School, c.1905
Another of the 19th Century school districts whose name carries on today was the Brandywine Springs School (District #33). Like Stanton, Brandywine Springs may have been one of the original districts created as a result of the 1829 public school law. The school, which also appears on the 1849 map, was located on the west side of Duncan Road, between Faulkland Road and McKennans Church Road. A school, but not the one shown in the picture above, is still there -- but that's getting ahead of the story.

The school that is shown in the picture is likely the original school for the district, and appears very similar to the Stanton School. It appears to have been a stuccoed, stone building, almost certainly one room, and close to Stanton's dimensions of 30x27 feet. Not much is known about this first school, even though it may have stood for nearly 90 years. And although it looks to be in pretty good shape in the c.1905 photo, the old stone #33 school would only stand for a little over ten more years. Where the 1919 school report stated how nice the Stanton School was for its age, it appears the Brandywine Springs School had not held up so well.

The New Brandywine Springs School, 1919

Sometime in the late teens, the old school was torn down, and a new brick structure was built.  As luck would have it, that 1919 report also includes a review of the new school, which is the building that still stands on the site today. It was described as a two-room building then, although I have information showing that within a few years, it would be converted into a three-room school. According to Paul Jenkins (who was born in 1913, and attended the school from 1920 to 1925), the first and second graders had a room in the front left of the building. Grades 3-5 were taught in a room extending the depth of the right side, and grades 6-8 had a larger room in the rear.

Mr. Jenkins, a wonderfully nice man who passed away in January 2009, also stated that the janitor at the school was a Mr. Yearsley. I would guess this was probably Frank Yearsley, mentioned in the post about his family, whose daughter Ruth was a teacher -- probably beginning at Brandywine Springs. She didn't teach at this school very long, though. Even though the school was only about eleven or twelve years old, as this article shows, its days were numbered by 1930. The proposed merger of the Brandywine Springs and Marshallton School Districts did take place, leading to the 1932 construction of the big, new Marshallton Consolidated School. When this happened, the little school on Duncan Road was closed and sold off.

The little brick schoolhouse, though sold, was saved. It now (as far as I know) serves as a community-based mini-station for the New Castle County Police. (I'm sure that's a relatively new function. Does anyone recall what the building was used for, for the bulk of the time since 1932?) As such, the Brandwine Springs School is one of only two historic schools in MCH, along with the Hockessin School (Lamborn Library), that stills serves as a community building. With the nearby elementary school being one of the most desirable in the district, the names of Brandywine Springs and Stanton are still key to the education of MCH's youth.

Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
  • The 1886 health report (the one with the full outhouses) states that the schoolhouse is brick, whereas every other source says it was stone. From the picture, I just can't tell, but since most sources say stone, I'm willing to believe that the health inspector was more concerned with the outhouses than with the schoolhouse, and maybe was fooled by the whitewash or stucco that appears to have covered it.
  • On the 1910 census, a Lydia Dockety is listed as a teacher, and living on Main Street in Stanton. She's not shown as a teacher in 1920, though. On a related note, I've always thought a good thing to do would be to go through the censuses and pull out the names of the teachers. For the most part, you could probably figure out where they taught.
  • The 1905 Brandywine Springs School picture almost doubles as a family shot for the O'Rourkes. There are 6 O'Rourke children in the picture, ranging in age from 7 to 15. Their father, Thomas O'Rourke, was a carpenter who built many of the structures at the Brandywine Springs Amusement Park. The mother, Mary O'Rourke, was the station master and postmistress at the Wilmington & Western's Faulkland Station, near Faulkland Road. The teacher in the picture is Emily Pennington, about whom I have not yet found anything.
  • I didn't think about this until I was writing, but the Brandywine Springs School was awfully close to the Delcastle Farm. There was farmland on this side of the road, too. I know that we've heard stories about how the inmates were pretty well-behaved, and interacted with the local residents, but I find it hard to believe that any kind of prison facility would be built that close to an elementary school these days.
  • What a difference a decade makes. Look at the difference in the "new" school from c.1919, as compared to about ten years later. Think of how much the area (or at least, the thinking in school configuration) changed from the small Brandywine Springs school, to the huge Stanton Elementary and Marshallton Consolidated Schools. They don't even look like they're from the same century.


  1. Is the County Police substation located in the same building that housed the original Tri-State Bird Rescue right off Duncan Rd.?

  2. Yes I believe it was the Tri State Bird Rescue.

    I also assumed the school on maps in Stanton, between Friends MH and Telegraph Road, was a Friends School. Shows how much I know.

    Thanks Scott

  3. I asked a couple of Stanton seniors who attended the school on Telegraph Road in the early 1940s if they recalled the one-room school. They said the original school was gone by then. I know of a couple who are a few years older than them; maybe those folks will recall if the building remained for any time after the Telegraph Road building was opened. kc.

  4. Great post Scott. A third historic school does still serve as a community building. Hockessin School #107c (1920) on Mill Creek Road is home to the Hockessin Community Center.

  5. Stephen -- That's right. I had forgotten about that one. It's also one whose future seems to be very much up in the air right now. I can't remember what the last thing I saw about it was, but hopefully something can be worked out to the benefit of everyone involved, including the school itself.

    On a related note, that's a good idea for a future post. As far as I know, there are only two remaining "Colored" schools left in MCH -- that one, and one in Marshallton. Have to write myself a note...

  6. Just a follow-up about the Tri-State Bird Rescue. Yes, it was located in the Brandywine Springs School building in the 1980's. Sad to think how many times I ran right by that building, never knowing what it was, or apparently noticing what was there. In 1989, they moved to a larger facility, ironically also located in a historic property that I've profiled -- the John C. Vansant House.

  7. Another great article. I grew up in Hyde Park
    and remember going by the building for years but don't know what it was before Tri-State Bird Rescue.

  8. My grandmother most like was the youngest of the O'Rourke children in the photo of 1905. She was born in 1898 which would have made her 7 years old in 1905. To the best of my recollection, the O'Rourke children's names were John O'Rourke, Kate (Katharine?) O'Rourke, Dorothy O'Rourke, Madeline O'Rourke, Nora O'Rourke, and grandmother Margaret Cecilia O'Rourke born November 1898.

    Margaret fondly passed along her memories and stories of her and sister Nora riding on the carousel that their father helped build and stories of her mother as postmistress.