Saturday, June 7, 2014

Smith School

Boys yelling, “You’re out!” Girls singing jump rope rhymes. Gurgling water emerging from a pipe and splashing noisily into a trough of water.  All of these are sounds heard long ago outside the one-room school house of Smith School located on Route 333 near Thompsontown, PA. The watering trough is still there, along with tally marks on the side of the building from the ball games, but children now are heard only a couple times a year.

Built in 1835, Smith School housed children from grades one through eight. Most walked to school. One of those students later became the owner of the building in the 1955 when the closed school houses were auctioned off. The ex-student, Stan Sieber, used the building for storage until the bicentennial committee of the county approached him about restoring the building for the 200-year celebration of our country. 

With the help of his daughter, Judy, Stan began the work of cleaning out the building. He was pleasantly surprised when he found it easy to put back the desks that had been removed and stored at the back of the building. “I just matched up the holes on the floor with the holes on the feet of the desks,” he said.  Arrangement went from small near the chalkboard to large near the door and furnace. Stan found his initials that he had naughtily carved in the top of a desk over fifty years prior, as well as, initials of his two sisters, Beulah and Kaye, who had sat side-by-side. They had added a line down the middle to keep from fighting over the space.

The restored school opened in 1776 as planned and has been open for prearranged tours ever since. The nostalgic era that one steps into as one enters the building is enchanting. Most of the furnishings are original. Besides the desks, Stan found the original teacher’s desk at the township building where it had been taken when the voting location had been moved from Smith School. One oil lamp is original along with the maps, basin, water cooler, and some of the books. A retired school teacher, Ruth Dimm, wrote the alphabet across the top of the chalkboard the same as it had been when Stan attended school.

The first grade from Thompsontown Elementary spends one day at Smith School learning about the building and participating in activities that reflect the times such as butter making, sawing wood, and pony rides.

A local history teacher, Nora Houser, became concerned that high school students did not appreciate the local historical sites. She began to arrange a day every year when all the ninth grade classes visit local historic sites. Smith School has always been included.

A class from Greenwood Elementary came once, and second grade from Juniata Mennonite usually has a Little House in the Prairie day every year. Local “Little House” enthusiast, June Gray, gives a presentation, and the children spend the day at the school.

Stan passed away in 2005. Since then his granddaughter, Suzanne King from Mifflin, PA, and his son-in-law, Ron Lyter  from Willow Street, PA, have given tours. Everyone seems to enjoy a visit to Smith School.

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