Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Forest Oak District #35 School

Forest Oak School #35, in 1926
This is going to be one of those frustrating posts where I have precious little of what you'd technically call "facts", but the pictures are worth it alone. Maybe I'll look at this as just the beginning of this topic, and add to it as more information comes along. The subject this time is another school -- one likely unfamiliar to most, but with a name known by many. It was the District #35 school, which was located on St. James Church Road in what's now the Village of Lindell, and it was called Forest Oak.

The exact early history of the Forest Oak School is not well-documented (at least not that I've found), but a general timeline can be inferred from other sources. The school that preceded Forest Oak as the District #35 school was also on St. James Church Road, but a little further south. Initially founded in 1808, the St. James School was located across the road from the church of the same name. After the passage of the Free School Act in 1829, the subscription school became the District #35 public school. Although the school house remained standing until 1915 (when it was torn down and stones from it used to build a sexton's house, which now forms part of the parish house), it had long since ceased to be a public school. When, exactly, I can only somewhat narrow down.

If the maps are to be believed, then in 1849 the St. James School was still being used as the #35 school. By 1868, however, a new school had been erected further north. Why is most likely explained by the same forces still at work today on school location and feeder patterns -- population growth and/or shifts. The 1868 map (seen below) shows the new school located on St. James Church Road (shown as a dotted line, indicating that it was more of a country lane) just east of Milltown Road, and south of Milltown.

District 35 in 1868

It's funny sometimes what it takes to make things connect in your head. I'd looked at the above map many, many times, even fairly closely at that area when I wrote the post about the Reynolds-Lindell property, almost five years ago. I assume that I saw "Forest Oak" written there, but I don't think I associated it with the school. The name on the map is not that of the school, but rather of the estate it was likely carved out of. Forest Oak was apparently the name of the farm later purchased in 1915 by Andrew Lindell, and renamed "Locust Grove", for the locust trees prominent in the area. I assume the oaks were not as numerous by then.

The name Forest Oak may go back to the ownership of Andrew Reynolds, who brings up an interesting connection. If you were bored interested enough to click on the earlier link for the incorporation of the St. James School in 1808, you would have seen that Andrew Reynolds was one of the original trustees. With his obvious interest in education (I haven't nailed down the Reynolds family real well yet, but Andrew may have been an attorney and his father may have been a doctor), it seems like too much of a coincidence that a school house just happened to later appear on his former property. I have to think he may have had something to do with the placement of the new school, and it was named for the adjacent (probably more like surrounding) estate.

Interior of the Forest Oak School, 1926. Recognize anyone?
As mentioned, I haven't found any solid information about the building of the school, but just by looking at it a date of 1850-1868 seems plausible. I don't have any reason to think that the building shown was not the original school house on the site. By the late 1800's the schools were beginning to be a little larger, so this does look like a mid-century style. In case it's not clear, the blue-shaded area on the map was District 35, from which the school drew its students. It went from basically the edges of Marshallton and Stanton north just past Milltown, and west almost to Pike Creek Road. So look at the map and think about how far some of the outlying families' kids had to walk to get to school.

The Forest Oak School continued to educate the children of southeastern Mill Creek Hundred for about 70 years, give or take a decade. The schoolhouse's educational era came to a close in 1929, when District #35, along with Stanton's District #38 and Christiana's #95 Sunnyside School (located where the Christiana Hilton is now), were incorporated into the new Stanton Elementary School. With the school gone, the Forest Oak schoolhouse became just a house. It was converted into a private residence, and served that purpose for about as long as it functioned as a school. Eventually other houses were built around it, and by the 1980's it was completely surrounded by newer housing.

I only recently became aware that the old Forest Oak Schoolhouse actually survived until about 10 years ago. The little school was old, and small, and the owner decided to tear it down and build a bigger house in its place. But as you may know, even though the school is gone, the name lives on. When a new elementary school was constructed in the mid-1960's just a short distance west along Kirkwood Highway, it was given the name Forest Oak to honor the tradition of education in the area. This was a fact unknown to me when I attended it in the late 1970's.

The Forest Oak School was neither spectacular nor glamorous, but was a good example of a mid-19th Century one room schoolhouse. Its closing 86 years ago probably precludes any of its students (and certainly, teachers) from being around to give us first-hand accounts. Frankly, I never really expected to find pictures as good as the ones here, so it goes to show you never know what treasures are still out there to find.

6 comments:

  1. So, I couldn't help but think about that pot belly right in the middle of the room. That was before they started to "save us all" from ourselves.

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    1. True, Larry. Also look in the foreground of the exterior shot. I don't think there are too many kids throwing metal horseshoes on playgrounds these days, either. And if you want to see a stove just like that, stop by the Visitor's Center (old Yorklin Station) at the Wilmington & Western at Greenbank. The original stove that heated the station is still in there, although thankfully not in use.

      Here's another thought -- see the picture of Lincoln above the chalkboard (yet another thing gone from schools)? When the picture was taken, there were still people around who remembered when he was President, and probably a few oldtimers who voted for him. The end of the Civil War was about as far back as Korea is to us now.

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  2. And I even hesitate to point this out, but is the dog peeing? A few of the kids are looking over and smiling.

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  3. Yeah, I'd say you were right. Also the bricks from the chimney look like they are ready to topple onto some kids noggin.

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  4. Not sure if you covered this already, but I was interested in why there were two St. James Church Roads so close to each other in Mill Creek Hundred. The first runs through Village of Lindell (as mentioned in your post) and terminates at a property that is somewhat larger than the other homes in that neighborhood. The other segment runs Kirkwood Highway connecting to Telegraph Rd. near Stanton. Looking at Google Maps, present-day maps show property lines just wide enough for a street extending from the Lindell portion running through to Kirkwood Highway so it seems that this road (maybe?) used to run all the way through from Milltown Road clear to Telegraph Rd as one contiguous road. I highlighted the route where property lines sort of give away the old road path in this photograph: (http://i.imgur.com/6FgiXFN.jpg).

    If you look closely at the current-day map, there is a little sliver of a "road" that runs from Kirkwood Highway back between Artisan's Bank and Kirkwood Auto Center which follows this segment of property but it ends after just a few hundred feet. I wonder if this is part of the original St. James Church Road segment that no longer exists?

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    1. Yes it used to be one continuous road, and that is a part of it. A little while back I and a couple of guys went looking for remains of the old bridge that would have crossed Mill Creek. If you go to the index and look up St. James Church Road Bridge you can find what I wrote up about it. I should get back to that at some point, because I think Bob Wilhelm said his uncle worked for Mr Lindell and remembers something about the bridge. I think it's possible that the road was extended because of the school.

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