Mohnton Public Schools

The article originally appeared in a publication commemorating Mohnton's 75th anniversary in 1982.

As early as 1840 and then to 1865, the people living in the hills and valleys in the vicinity of Mohn's Store took advantage of the opportunity for training their children in a small stone school house at Cedar Top run by Cumru Township. This school building was located at the spot presently occupied by the Cedar Top Fire Co. at the Church and Welsh Roads crossing. The pupils, eighty or ninety in number, attended school until they were from eighteen to twenty-one years of age, because the school term was only five months long. Children those days were needed on the farms in the Fall and Spring, so that only the cold winter months were available for schooling.

Reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic and history were the subjects taught. Geography was introduced in 1863.

In 1866, a one story, sandstone structure, 32 feet by 40 feet was erected on the northeast corner of Chestnut Street and West Wyomissing Avenue. Among the teachers in this building were Mrs. Berneville Miller, Mary Deeds, Adam Grill, Leo J. Hess, Katie Lewis, Frank Miller, James Shipp, William B. Bechtel, D.M. Blatt, Valentine Guilden and Wilson Long. This building was removed in 1895 to make way for Salem Evangelical Church.

Another school for the convenience of pupils from the area of Penwyn and the northern part of Mohnton was built in 1886 on the northwest corner of what is now Madison Street and Hill Street. The newest section of the cemetery is now located on this corner. This building resembled the one in Mohnton and was known as the Fairview School. It was torn down in 1908. Some of the people who taught here were: George L. Hoffman, Howard Shilling, James Boyer, Hiram J. Bigony, Sr., Frank W. Metz, James E. Worley and Arthur D. Miller.

The history of the sandstone school building on the east side of Chestnut Street begins in 1890 when a two story structure was built. This is the portion of the building closest to the street. In 1895 an addition was made to the east end of the existing building, and in 1897 because of increasing enrollment a second addition was made. This east section was built in a north-south direction at a right angle to the existing structure. At that time the enrollment was ninety pupils. Some of the teachers in this building during the early years were: William F. Bigony, Hiram J. Bigony Sr., J. Frank Merkel, Margaret Mohn, Martin D. Grill, Harry Worley, Madeline Bigony, Wilson Dunkelberger, Elmer Worley, J.B. Gougler,Anna Mohn and Frank W. Matz.

The first school library was started here in 1897 by Hiram J. Bigony at a cost of $59.26. This building was used for the elementary grades until 1957 when only the kindergarten, elementary office and curriculum centers were housed there; grades one through six having been moved into the building farther up Chestnut Street. After 1974 it was no longer used for school purposes and was finally purchased in 1978 by Brian R. Schlappich who converted it into residential apartments, now appropriately known as the School House Apartments.

AFTER 1907

With the incorporation of the borough came many changes. The community was growing and more classrooms were needed. In June 1907, the school directors - Dr. A.A. Stamm, Hiram J. Bigony Sr., Dr. M.L. Miller, Dr. J.W. Frankhauser, Alien 0. Fisher and Calvin S. Krick met and appointed a committee which secured the second story of the Knights of Pythias Lodge Hall for a high school room. Mr. John S. McCurdy was elected teacher-principal. Thus the Mohnton High School was begun. In1909 Miss Sallie Ruth was elected assistant teacher and the following year Miss Elda K. Seidel became the assistant teacher and remained so for five years. In 1912-13 there were 32 high school pupils and the budget was $310.50. The first graduating class of 1909 consisted of Ralph Frymoyer, Naomi Musser, Wayne Slote and Claude Weber.

During the period 1910-12, the seventh and eighth grades were formed and taught by Hiram Bigony. More room was needed for these two grades and in 1913-14 they were moved to the room on the second floor of the John Werner's print shop on Walnut Street. They were taught by Stephen C. Leininger and the next year by Homer W. Ruth. In 1915 these grades were added to the high school, thus forming the first six year high school in Berks County and one of the earliest in the state.

During this period, children were allowed to obtain work certificates between the ages of 14 and 16 years and attend school only eight hours a week. The industrial effort of World War I caused many to leave school and go to work, so that graduating classes were very small.

In February 1914, the school board - Franklin Miller, James Gougler, Pierce Wenrich, John C. Werner and Charles M. Worley - submitted to the voters a proposition for borrowing $25,000 for a new school building. The location chosen for the building was on the west side of Chestnut Street, north of Summit Street. Work was begun in 1914 and the halls and upper floors were completed for entrance by the 1915-16 term. There were approximately 100 pupils.

In 1914 the teaching staff was headed by Grant E. Delph, Supervising Principal and Esther E. Fisher, Vice Principal. The high school faculty included Cara M. Matz, Ethel B. Strausser, and John V. Shankweiler. The elementary teachers, starting with first grade, were Frank W. Matz, E.Madeline Bigony, Minirva Worley, Wilson A. Dunkelberger, James E. Worley and Charles F. Madeira. The high school curriculum included mathematics, science, Latin, German, history, penmanship, typewriting, bookkeeping, music, literature, English, geography and civics. The ele­mentary studies were reading, spelling, writing, history, English, physiology, arithmetic, geography and music.

At the November 1930 election, the citizens passed a bond issue for $45,000 to be used to erect an addition to the high school. Besides classrooms, the addition contained rooms for manual training, domestic science, rest rooms and a combination gymnasium-auditorium. The high school board at this time consisted of: Charles M. Leininger, Luke A. Lutz, George G. Mell, Arthur B. Pawling and Wayne Mohn. The first community Baccalaureate Service was conducted on May 17, 1932 with the Rev. I.F. Bergstresser delivering the address. Prior to the construction of this addition to the building, all special activities requiring an auditorium or gymnasium had been conducted in the Mohnton Band Auditorium. They were now held in the new location.

During the ensuring years and until 1953, Mohnton High School was a busy place. In addition to the regular educational pursuits there were extra­curricular activities: chorus, band, operettas, clubs, school paper, yearbook, field day, May Day and Halloween celebrations. The first yearbook was published in 1927. For many years the high school was on the approved list of colleges and secondary schools. The last evaluation for this purpose was made in 1950. During its forty-five year history, Mohnton High School graduated 764 people, the last class (1953) having forty members. The men who served as supervising principals from 1907 to 1930 were John McCurdy, Grant Delph, Harry E. Messersmith, Conrad Muehe, Howard Heckman, O.J. Farrel, Jacob D. Wentzel. In 1930 at the time the high school addition was built, Harry B. Fehl became supervising principal, followed in 1934 by Charles 0. Metcalfwho served for 18 years until 1952 when Ira P. Hoffman succeeded him.

AFTER 1952

After World War II, changes occurred in the educational system throughout the state of Pennsylvania. The formation of "jointures" was the order of the day, the idea being to form educational units which could offer a better program of study to the children. After much planning, the jointure known as Governor Mifflin Joint Schools was established and became effective July 1, 1953.

The jointure was composed of the schools from the boroughs of Mohnton and Shillington and from the townships of Brecknock and Cumru. The members of the Mohnton school board at the time of the jointure were C. Mark Fichtorn, Hiram J. Bigony Jr., LeRoy W. Webber, Mrs. Jane Ludwig Worley, H. Ernest Worley. The joint schools were named in honor of Governor Thomas Mifflin, first Governor of Pennsylvania as a state. His country home occupied a part of the old County Home tract and the new Governor Mifflin High School site.

Mr. Howard L. Hendricks was named Superintendent of Schools forthe jointure. The senior high school (grades 9-12) was located in the former Shillington High School building, Mr. Luther Weik, principal. The former Mohnton High School was designated as the junior high building with Ira P. Hoffman, principal. All of the elementary grades (grades 1-6) and kinder­garten were under the supervision of Mr. Joseph E. Plevyak. At this time there were still two-room schools in use in the townships. These were gradually closed and the pupils consolidated in new and larger buildings.

In 1957 the present Governor Mifflin High School building was occupied and the former Shillington High building became the junior high school. The old Mohnton High School building was then used by 12 groups of elementary children, grades 1 -6. In this same year the old stone building was used for kindergarten and the elementary administration offices. The borough council and some lodges also met in the second floor rooms. By 1971-72, only grades 1 to 4 were taught in the Mohnton building. Grades 5 and 6 were bussed to Gouglersville. Later, kindergarten children were bussed to the Cumru building and grades 4 to 6 to the new Intermediate building. The term of 1975-76 was the last one to see children winding their way to school up Chestnut Street. For awhile the old High School building stood vacant and was finally torn down in 1979. Thus ended in Mohnton, an educational era lasting for one hundred and thirteen years.

Fairview School


Mohnton Elementary School (1939)


  Images from the archives of Berks County historian George M. Meiser IX


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