Alumni help mark former Saltsburg school's addition to historic register
School pride comes in many forms, often from academics or athletics or perhaps even from a celebrity alumnus.
It's not often that the school itself earns special distinction.
The Concord School is a one-room school in Loyalhanna Township, Westmoreland County, not far from the Loyalhanna Dam. On Aug. 23, it received a distinction never before bestowed on a school in the county. Concord School joined the prestigious National Register of Historic Places in a dedication ceremony hosted by the school's owner, Eleanor Ent, and attended by school alumni and other dignitaries.
There are more than 2,000 schools nationwide on file with the registry and not all are listed in the registry. In Pennsylvania, just fewer than 300 are listed in the registry. In Westmoreland County, there are 144 schools on file with the registry but only one has made the list: the Concord School.
“Having the schoolhouse allows the next generation to understand the difference between our past and today,” said Ent, who purchased the farm on which the building sits in 1983 and has worked on restoring it with family, including her daughter, Veronica Ent, and local craftsmen.
Unlike many of the other schools in the township, Concord School was a substantial brick building that provided sufficient space to comfortably house its students; in fact, Concord School was classified as a “first-class schoolhouse” in the 1858 Westmoreland County Superintendent's report.
The building was closed for the final time as a classroom in 1953. But it has been reopened as a museum, with tours given on appointment. A lot of work went into bringing the school back to how it appeared when local children learned their lessons there.
While the building itself was in need of repair, the structure and many of the artifacts are original. The building was vandalized when it was purchased, so brick, plaster, trim, windows and the blackboards needed to be restored. The furnishings were replaced through searching antique stores, donations from friends and alumni, and auctions.
Restoring the school was hard work but a no-brainer for Ent.
“The school represents early values, education, and other founding principles of our country and community,” said Ent. “The local community is provided a site that represents the past in a very rural area. The school is one of the only historical buildings restored in Loyalhanna Township.… The community will treasure and educate others by this site for years to come.”
The dedication was attended by about 15 school alumni still residing in the area in addition to board members from the Country School Association of America coming from Texas, New Hampshire, New York and New Jersey. Other attendees included faculty from the St. Vincent College Education Department, which Veronica Ent chairs, local township supervisors, local historical societies, neighbors and friends.
Among the alumni was Victor Tagliati of Indiana, who attended grades 1-3 at Concord from 1950 to 1953. He lived two miles from the school on his family's farm and walked to school when the weather permitted.
“One memory that I have from the school is that the people from the neighboring farm, the Bash's, would bring two open buckets, or pails, of water each day,” said Tagliati. “We each had our own drinking cup stacked on the window ledge. The restrooms were individual outhouses, one for the girls and one for the boys.
“The summer season was very hot. We just had open windows for cool air, and in the winter, we had a pot-bellied stove that sat in the middle of the building.”
According to Tagliati, special events at the school included an annual Christmas play that was attended by parents. “We didn't buy costumes then,” he said. “We would just wear things that we found laying around the farm.”
The Concord School, which educated students in grades 1-8, was built in 1848, the successor to two log schools in the area — one named “Hart,” after the land owner, and the other named “Concord.”
The school comprised its own district, the Concord Independent School District, from 1848 to 1911 and was known as Concord School No. 6 from 1911 until its closing. It joined the Loyalhanna District in 1922 and eventually the Saltsburg District.
“Concord School was considered eligible for the National Register by our office because it played a significant role in education on the local level in Westmoreland County,” said Keith Heinrich of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. “The nomination makes clear that this school demonstrated the community's interest in providing a quality education for the children in the community.”
More about the Concord School can be found at www.1848concordschool.org.
John B. Smathers is a freelance writer.