McKeesport celebrates 180th anniversary of first schoolhouse
By Jennifer R. Vertullo
Published: Monday, Oct. 1, 2012, 5:36 a.m.
Weekend activities brought guests of all ages to McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center as it celebrated the 180th anniversary of the city's first one-room schoolhouse.
On Saturday and Sunday, the public toured the schoolhouse that was built in 1832 at Fourth Avenue and Market Street in McKeesport. The school house now sits in an enclosed addition to the heritage center in Renziehausen Park.
The center hosted lectures on the school's history and a glimpse at other one-room schoolhouses in the region.
Board member Francis Show shared an account of his time in a one-room schoolhouse in Farmington.
Younger visitors played games that were popular in the 1800s, including hoop rolling, marbles and checkers.
On Saturday, they brought stuffed animals that were left overnight in the schoolhouse, with photos of the animals' adventures shown in a Sunday slide show.
On both days, kids heard stories told by the center's executive director Michelle Wardle.
“We wanted to do something for kids, because most of our programming is geared toward adults,” Wardle said. “Because this is a school house, we wanted to make sure we made this weekend interesting for kids.”
Jamie Moss of McKeesport brought five of her six children to take part in a scavenger hunt to find notable items within the center's museum-style collection. They searched for a pocket watch, candelabra, airplane propeller, silhouette picture, lantern, blast furnace images, pizzelle iron, spinning wheel, class rings and more.
“They're having a blast,” Moss said. “They've been so excited just to see the schoolhouse, and now they're spending the day looking through history and learning. They love it.”
Grace Frederick, 6, who was visiting her grandmother in Port Vue, compared the schoolhouse to her classroom in a Westmoreland County school.
“There's two rooms in each grade in my school, and there's 21 kids in my room,” Grace said, shocked at the idea of eight grade levels fitting into one classroom.
McKeesport's first school house became a part of the heritage center in 1985, more than 40 years after its move to Renziehausen Park. McKeesport Area School District had moved the building to the park in hope of preserving it after it already had been relocated to Blackberry Alley and again back to Market Street.
The schoolhouse remained outdoors on Heritage Center grounds until 1992, when an addition was constructed around it. Today, it is a centerpiece to that extension of the museum, and tours offer a walkthrough experience that truly is “old school.”
Guests get a close look at old benches, desks, chalkboards and books, with a period-clothed mannequin seated at the teacher's desk.
“We sat down and talked about how (Grace's) great-grandmother attended a one-room school,” said grandmother Madonna Frederick, who regularly volunteers with the center.
Talking about his days in a one-room school, Show recalled being in class with his sister and other family members.
“At one point, I think half the school was related,” he said with a laugh. “We had fun. We got three recesses, and we played outside. But we worked, too.
“I remember it was the job of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade boys to build the fire. That meant getting the wood and bringing it in, too.”
McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center board president John Barna said he researched 85 one-room schoolhouses in the region, some of them still intact.
“I'm impressed because there's so many,” he said.
Barna listed the restored Concord School in Rostraver Township, which is the oldest standing one-room school in Westmoreland County. He said Linden School in Lincoln and Lincoln Township School in McKeesport's Tenth Ward now are private residences.
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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