Years before Donald Dilatush’s column “Along Edges Brook” was a feature in this paper, Mrs. James West contributed her brief history of the old school in Hamilton Township. Now the site of large-scale commercial development on Route 130, her reminisces of the school offer a glimpse of education from an earlier time. The first of two chapters is titled “Edgebrook Before the Civil War” and appeared in the Allentown Messenger dated March 29, 1928.
In the article written on the passing of the Edgebrook school house which appeared in the Messenger on November 17 last, the writer tells us that to many of the older residents who formerly lived near Edgebrook the closing of the school will recall many incidents that took place in the two first buildings. And it was true. Some of us took a little journey down the twisted path of memory to the land of vanished childhood, and we unlocked the gateway, and glimpsed the scenes about the old school house – scenes of which some of us were a part and some of us have pictured in our imagination from tales our elders have told of the days of long ago before the Civil War.
I remember the day I walked with slow steps around this little old school house that stood on Edgebrook farm near the brook, beside the quiet dusty road and not quite opposite the end of the lane that led to the farm home of Samuel K. Borton, I can remember the closed shutters, the barred doors, and the feelings of utter loneliness about the forsaken school house; the tiny chimney, half fallen off, the building long and low. Its roof was stained and gray; its sides were weather worn; the doors sagged on their hinges, and the board shutters were painted a dull red color like the barns in the neighborhood. Some of the time it was used as a tenant house, but more than twenty years ago it was moved across the brook and now continues its usefulness among the buildings on Edgebrook farm.
The skein of life is tangled, the slender thread is broken, the lips that could unravel the snarl sang their last praises a long time ago, and for many a day the gray moss has grown on the stone that marks the spot where they slumber. There is no one to tell us the name of the first teacher or the children who romped about the door when the little old school house was new.
From fragments of the past, gathered here and there from the memories of the oldest living residents, we learn that it stood there when barn raisings were popular, and barn dances, and husking bees, and spelling bees, and singing schools, and quilting parties; and the children plucked bursting buds from fragrant yellow sweet brier, and blush roses from bushes little great-grandmother had planted when the nineteenth century was young – at the time when loop by loop she hooked the pattern of flowers and leaves until a huge bouquet grew into her welcome rug, then laid it near the door, of record of patience and dreams; and when boys and girls amused themselves fashioning their own toys.
With a long stick and cross stick whittled out of pine, / Some paper and some paste, and a stout ball of twine. / All firmly put together to weather out a gale. / With a cluster of streamer to answer for a tail. / Then out on the windy hill, when the sun was low. / All the boys were flying kites, four score years ago.
Little sister made a dolly from an old pillow case; / It had no feet or fingers, it hadn’t any face; / A string was tied about the neck, the head was like a ball, / And then around the shoulders sissy pinned her little shawl; / And she kissed it and sang to it, and rocked it to and fro— / Your little great-aunt’s dolly, four score years ago.
The lads had no toboggans, no nickel-plated skates, / But they took a pair of boards and curved them into mates; / With a strip of iron-barrel hoop they shod runners well, / And their sleds were all ready when the snows of winter fell. / Then down the steep hill, with their rosy cheeks aglow, / The children went a coasting, four score years ago.
The first teacher of whom I have record was William Wallace Wynkoop, who lived on Locust Grove Farm and taught in the little old school house in 1839. He was then eighteen years old, and his younger brother, Charlie , and sister Catherine were pupils. I have a very sweet picture of these people stowed away in my memory, gleaned from stories that mother has told, and especially dear is that of my distant cousin Catharine, of whom I hold the vision of a very lovely girl of more than ordinary intelligence, who moved with dignity and gentle refinement, industrious, dainty, demure.
In early Spring, when the snows melted and the ground was wet and sodden, Catharine lay on a bed of illness. And when the warm days came and pointed blossoms nodded on the tall growing lilac bush that stood in the doorway near the whitewashed palings, the sweet dark-eyed girl in her young womanhood saw never again the delicate-colored blossoms; the heart-shaped leaves of rich green caressingly touched the waved brown hair no more, for she came not to break a sprig with its fragrant flower. Inflammation of the lungs took her away. Nowadays they call it pneumonia.
Hidden for many decades between the leaves of our old family Bible was a poem written by Catherine while she was going to Green Plain Seminary, as she called the little old school house. Time has turned the snow-white sheet yellow and spotted it with brown. The small even letters are formed with care, and bears the date of December 10, 1839. The poem is written about the Jumpupjoney.
The Jumpupjon is a neat flower / As grows in the flower bed; / Sometimes it looks quite lovely, / Sometimes it droops its head.
It is not so sweet as roses, / Nor many flowers that grow; / It blooms all through the summer, / Till early frost or snow.
The bee loves not this flower— / By it they cannot thrive; / They want to make some honey / To place up in their hive.
The winter is now coming / The Jumpupjons have fled; / We soon may have a snow / To cover o’er their bed.
Farewell my little Jumpup, / I am sorry thou art gone; / I hope to see thee in the spring, / Nor think the winter long.
Often in garret chambers, where rafters, beams and timbers entwine, most unusual possessions of peculiar people may be found. But one day when the Gardner children went to see what might be in the dark corners of the tiny loft of the little old school house they found only the dust of many summers’ accumulation and beneath it one little old primer printed in 1841.
In 1849-50 from a white house set on a little knoll somewhat back from the road between Hamilton Square and Edgebrook came a little boy nine years old to the little old school house. He was Theodore Cubberley, and he still lives in the very same place. All his life he has lived there, save for seven years spent on the neighboring farm. Mr. Cubberley, we believe, is the oldest person living who was a pupil in this first Edgebrook school house. He is blessed with an excellent memory, and can tell you, if you so desire, of many things that happened in the neighborhood and among the school children of the yesterday’s before the Civil War.
The yesterdays, when they firmly believed that to spare the rod was to spoil the child. One day when a boy, sent to the brookside for a whip, returned with a slim, straight sapling eight feet tall, the teacher immediately decided that it was enough switch to tan the jacket of two boys, and he promptly broke it in two and got busy.
And still they came to school. From near by came the Ferris children and Ann Mount (Mrs. William Quigley). Up the Robbinsville road came the White children, William, Lydia and Susan (Mrs. Shipley Haines). Over the little hill beyond Back Creek came Hartshorn Evernham and his sisters Mary, Belinda and Emma. From farms that lay along what is now the splendid State Highway between Allentown and Yardville came Somerfield Rockhill and his brother and the Taylor boys, Albert, Henry, Abel and Washington. They walked this long way to school, crossing fields, climbing fences, jumping ditches, tramping through mud and wading through snow for the sake of education.
At that time, Samuel Duffel teaching at the little old school house. I have a faint recollection of having once seen Mr. Duffel, many years later, when he was no longer a teacher. He seemed very old to me then, for I was a very little girl, and, partly from hearing about him, I think of him as an elderly gentleman of education and refinement, possessing a pleasing personality and being a fine musician.
There are many men and women for many miles about Allentown who can say “Prof. Abel Taylor was my music teacher,” and some of these people Professor Taylor would be extremely proud were he living to know what they have accomplished in the world of music. Forty years ago  his bay horse and narrow buggy were a familiar sight on the road as he drove from place to place teaching music. Well, it was Mr. Duffel who first taught Professor Taylor to draw the bow across strings of a violin and produce melody, up in the little old school house.
Oh, this skein of life is full of knots that will not unravel. We weave and weave, and, like stitches dropped, the years between are vanished. We pick up the broken thread in 1858, the year which John Ayers built his new home, and his son, Levi Elwood Ayers, the a lad of fifteen, began teaching here, taking to school with him his little sister Anna (Mrs. J. Y. Dilatush), less than four years old. Anna was delighted to go to school, and often when the snow was deep her father carried her on his back across the bridge where the little brook wound its gypsy way and up the grade to the school house. From here Elwood Ayers went to Crittenden College, in Philadephia. When the Civil War broke out he enlisted and served to the end.
In those days school was kept the year round except for two weeks’ vacation in summer. The teacher’s salary was paid by the parent’s, and a few cents a week for each pupil, and the children chopped the wood, took care of the fire and cleaned the school room.
During the pleasant weather the small children attended school, but when the fall work was finished on the surrounding farms, the older children came, big boys, almost young men, in rough clothes and cowhide boots, and the little room was overcrowded, making it necessary to lengthen the building and add cloak rooms. The one teacher taught all the grades and kept a dunce cap ready and a bundle of switches in the corner. It was in this old school house that Enoch Knowles established the Edgebrook Sunday-school, in which much enthusiasm was shown by the large crowds who attended on Sunday afternoons.
It appears that Martha Bellanger taught a short time in the little old school house before the Civil War. Leaving here she went to teach at Yardville, and her place was filled by a Mr. Boswell. She soon returned, however, to the little old school house. At that time her father owned one of the farms that lay along the railroad between Edgebrook and Yardville. She was so highly esteemed as a teacher at Yardville that a number of children from that school followed her to Edgebrook. Among them came Julia Ginglan and Kate, and Lang Johnson. Later in life this man became well known in Trenton and vicinity as a decorator.
To Mrs. Fred F. Gardner was are indebted for the following letter regarding the name “Edgebrook,” which appeared in the Messenger seventeen years ago : “Editor Messenger—Noticing in the Messenger of last week the item speaking of Edgebrook’s enterprising doings, I think your readers will be interested in a little history concerning the beginning and origin of the name ‘Edgebrook.’ It takes us back to that vitally interesting period, the beginning of the Civil War. The little school house, as it was called, stood at the side of the road bordering the banks of the little brook which flowed through the farm of John Ayres. In 1862 Martha Bellanger came to teach in this school. Miss B. Was an extraordinary woman in a great many ways. She was of striking personality, piercing black eyes, and exceptionally energetic and ambitious. Her period of teaching at the school house was one of great pleasure to the older scholars. She organized a swimming class of girls, where, in a deep spot in the brook by the school house side, they learned to swim in various positions and to float.
From the big substantial comfortable-looking house set on the hill beyond the railroad came Emma Knowles, who some years later became a missionary to India. When her father, Enoch Knowles, sold the farm to Jacob Scott, the charming family of this man was a pleasing addition to the school, but the Scotts moved to another locality, and the farm was sold to Shipley Haines, and his sons, Ellsworth and Walter, became a part of the Edgebrook school. Walter, who was then one of the little boys, has for several years now been the owner of this homestead that in all the length and breadth of its roominess smiles in warm geniality across the fields. To Walter Haines we are indebted for this very true picture of the old school house.
From out the narrow road which leads towards the west came Emma Robbins and Anna Galbert, and George Vanness and his sisters, and the Foster children. From this house at the end on the long, long north lane came the Hammell children, Harry and Sallie and Belle [the Georgian colonial on Robbinsville Rd., just outside Allentown]. Now Belle was the shining light in every crowd because of her ability to see the funny side of every circumstance. Down the low muddy road that ran beside the railroad through the Borton farm came Joseph and Jennie and Timothy Scobey, there were George and Anna Forsyth, and the Bowers and Conover children. Up the south road from beyond Back Creek walked Emma Hendrickson (Mrs. John B.Yard) and her sister Phoebe and their brothers Clark and Allen G., and Clark and Pierson and Cora and Emma Nutt and others. Just over the brook the Ayers home stood, the keeper of the school house key, and in a motherly sort of way it watched over the little school house.
And these children sang songs and played pranks just as children before and since have done. And most of them grew up to be credit to the community in which they were reared. Then one by one by the boys and girls said good-bye for the last time, and in a few short years all but a few were scattered and fled. Some married and established homes in other neighborhoods, and youthful dreamy faces became mature ones, and bore the markings of numerous thought-filled years. And some trod the shadowy path towards the setting sun, and in the evening’s last glow, while twittering swallows in the gloaming around the gables flew, they laid their burdens down, closed their tired eyes and went to eternal rest.
And it seemed now the old house too must pass into the splendid Used-to-Be. Sometime some good thoughtful soul had planted two trees near the little building of education, and as the house grew old and outlived its usefulness to the children, the trees grew vigorously, big and strong and beautiful, and the limbs entwined until the two tops became as one and cast its silent shadow protectingly over the aged roof. And through the fields all about life was sweet and roomy and old-fashioned, and the days were full of sunshine and rain and work, and neighbors really neighbored.
But the old house was too small. The big, clumsy long desks were cut and scarred and the benches rickety. The floor creaked and the windows rattled in the casements, and the cold wind whistled through the cracks. The teacher, Miss Lydia Howell, earnest and exacting, tall and spare, and very neat, urged the building of a new school house.
And it so happened that passers by on a sunny spring day saw farmers unloading lumber and stone at the crossing of the roads on the most prominent corner of Edgebrook Farm. It was very evident that something pleasant and important to the school district was going to happen.
The coming of the gold and the green September days of 1876 found the new school house proudly waiting, gleaming in its promise of fulfillment to the youth of the community. Miss Howell and the children were transplanted to the firm level floor, the straight white walls, the large windows and the varnished desks of modern style in the new school house in a new location.
How thrilling the opening of school of that autumn morning when teacher and pupils began the days with a willingness, an energy, that painted the old familiar tasks in new colors.
From the mists of the years I see before me the dim remembered faces of the children who came there from out the narrow dusty roads that merged into the one road at Haines’ Corner—girls with braided hair and clean new aprons, and with faces hidden by slat sun bonnets. Down memory’s lane, with out-flung arms, I greet them. They seem to smile at me as faces smile from the leaves of an old album—Bessie Cyples, with her blond head, and Emma Hammell, who s-s-stuttered, and Laura Dye (the late Mrs. Pearson Dilatush), and the Hatcher children, and the Robbins girls, and Lillie Scobey (Mrs. Ellsworth Haines), with her sister Carrrie (Mrs. Joseph Stelle). They are daughters of Joseph Scobey, who lived in the comfortable red brick house that still stands on the cross roads [VFW hall?]. And then the fair daughters of Mount Rogers and their bashful brother, and Lyda Borton and Walter Haines, and the family of Robert Fagans, and others.
In the sweet dewy morning, down the quiet north road they came, the children of that neighborhood, swinging along a bag of books, or in boyish thoughtlessness juggling a lunch in a battered tin bucket. Swiftly they walked pass the old school house beside the quiet way, the old building forsaken, forlorn, waiting sad and meek in its loneliness for sounds that will never come again. The breeze still stirred the tree top leaves and swayed the uncut grass about the door, but the children hurried on. They paused at the bridge where the meadow brook flows through Edgebrook farm, and the water splashed from the pebbles they tossed into the quiet pool. Around the crooks the migrant birds and the pasturing cows came trustingly down to drink, and from the banks they breathed the fragrance of mint when the sun was high at noon.
From the farms stretched along the road that came from the west, out from Yardville, the little village in those days commonly called Sand Hills, came Louise and Fred Haverstraw and freckled, good-natured Laura (Conover) Hepburn, with braided auburn hair. From the township farm came Bertha (Lippincott) Moon, who rarely missed a lesson, but could never learn to climb a fence. Some years later from this same farm we had James Hendrickson and his sister Anna (Hendrickson) Davis. We remember Anna for the mushrooms she gathered, and her efficiency with the mute alphabet. The teacher allowed the girls to talk in this silent language about their lessons.
Other boys and girls there who plodded along the road that came the way of the rising sun and led out of the little village of big business enterprises, the little village having two names. On the general store a sign announced Robbinsville P. O. A word on the end of the railroad station proclaimed it Newtown. When the post office became Robbinsville, the railroad company refused to change the name of the station, until the increasing trouble of exchanging freight with Newton made the change seem wise.
From homes beside this road came Mahlon and John Mershon and the intelligent and comely family of William H. White—the three boys Irving, Gerald and Norman, with their only sister, Aileen D. These children knew Mr. Duffel, who taught in the little old school house, as Grandfather, and from him they inherited their love of music. Very plain on memory’s page is the slender graceful manner of Aileen D. (White) Van Lohr, the Edgebrook girl who graduated from Priscilla Braislin School, of Bordentown, and later from the Woman’s Medical College in Philadelphia and became an M. D.
From where the shadows of maple and evergreen swayed to and fro against the house, the happy family of J. Y. Dilatush rushed off to school—Carrie M. (Dilatush) Scudder, Mary Lavina (Dilatush) Gardner, and Robert and the twins, Elmer and Earl. Memories I share with them, glad memories, spiced now and then with a bit of humor, or shadowed by a childish tragedy. Across the years that are gone I can see how the clear gray eyes of Carrie Maud looked out on the world thoughtfully. I can remember her courage and perseverance. She would recognize no such word as fail in anything she attempted to accomplish. She was the Edgebrook girl who climbed high on the ladder of learning. She is a graduate of the Priscilla Braislin School and Vassar College, class of 1889. She also studied for a portion of four years’ course at Vassar at the University of Wisconsin and at the Leland Stanford Jr. University in California by permission of the faculty of Vassar. Her sister Mary L. became a pianist of ability, and being of French extraction she soon learned to speak the language fluently; and the boys all outgrew Edgebrook and went away to college, and we missed them from our old familiar haunts.
In a tender spot in the heart of memory dwells Grafton [since fortunately preserved by the township and the mall developers and moved to a new location]. The community at large felt a reflected glory in the largeness of Grafton, the farm home of Mr. and Mrs. S. P. Nicholson, and the show place of the neighborhood. From its elevated position the windows of the large, square rooms of the spacious house command a sweeping view of the surrounding country, and the broad fertile fields slope away to every point of the compass. Its wide portico, shaded by the fine old maples, spoke of warm-hearted hospitality within, and viewed the length and breadth of the evergreen dotted lawn.
From time to time we had with us at school the children of the different farmers of Grafton. We remember the Reed boys, Miles, Mercer and Lemuel, and their sister Laura, and the comely daughters of Price Varian, Susie (Varian) Darnell and Mary (Varian) Mount, and the sons of Apollo Carter, William and Elmer, and the younger children of George West, Edward L. and Mary E., and others.
When the day school moved into the new school house, the Sunday-school came also, and at this time was under the very efficient leadership of Mr. and Mrs. Nicholson and James Allison and his sisters, Miss Rachel, Miss Bernice and Miss Caroline of Locust Hill. Among the beautiful pictures that hang on memory’s wall is one of the pleasant face of Mrs. Nicholson, with her soft dark hair parted in the middle and smoothed back like the wings of a bird, as we knew her and loved her when she taught the infant class. For a number of years these kindly people helped to guide the youth of Edgebrook in the paths of righteousness, and those of us who sat under their earnest teaching have felt the influence of it all through our lives.
In my garden of memories I find the sewing circles at Grafton, on Friday afternoons, when we pieced patches for quilts, and the visits to Mr. Nicholson’s workshop in the top of the house; and the Christmas entertainment, when we dressed all up in a hood and tippet and woolen mittens and rode to the school house in high-backed old-fashioned sleighs, and the prancing horses tossed their heads and the bells jingles, and the ponderous sound of the big old sleigh bells echoed across the snow.
Oh! Don’t you remember, too—those times, when in the hum of excitement the school room seemed almost to lose its identity and become and enchanted place? In our best dresses and high buttoned shoes we sat back of our little desks and tried to catch glimpses, back of the curtain, of the tree all hung with cards and strings of cranberries and popcorn. We recited our pieces and sang our songs without the aid of a musical instrument, and then—our treat.
When I look back I can’t remember much about presents; maybe we had them. I know we never had any chocolate candy—nobody had. It was not thought of. We were given broken sticks of candy in little bags made of mosquito net, sewed all around with yarns of various hues. But never was there ever-such a day so long anticipated and so long remembered. In the joy of it we even forgot the ice on the pond at Grafton, where we squandered many a happy noon hour.
Down the road that lay off to the southward a crowd of us came to school. From under the sheltering roof of a large white house, set on a level land, the land of David T. Hendrickson, came his nephews, Samuel, Daniel and William N. Steward, and their sister Carrie. Less than a quarter of a mile farther on, from the home of Clark W. Hendrickson, came at different times Albert Tilton, Joseph Worth and Stella (Carson) Hepburn.
From the farms that lay beside the splendid State highway between Allentown and Yardville (at that time known as the turnpike) came Richard and George Gerard and the Yard children, Hannah (Yard) Hulse and her sister, Lizzie (Yard) Atchley and their twin brothers, William and John, Edmond and Halley Richmond, whose father was the keeper of the tollgate. Nearby lived Hugh Henry Hart, the best speller in school. Across the pasture and through the shady orchard lane came Cora (Nutt) Harris and Emma (Nutt) West. Almost late, the sons of Henry Haverstraw came down the road, Harry, Charlie, Joseph and David.
All the lanes and by-paths at the south road seemed to end at Locust Grove, the home of the Comp children. From here with the rest they marched off to their first days in school. Stella (Comp) West and Frances (Comp) Naylor, who graduated from the State Normal School at Trenton and lived up to the expectations of the family by becoming a teacher, and their brother, Charles A. Energetic and ambitious, and blessed with a cheerful disposition, he could laugh a hearty, wholesome laugh that was good to hear. Encircled by yellow locusts, the old green house, trimmed in brown, still stands beside the road and spreads its length on the top of the little hill on the south bank of Back Creek—the same house in which William Wallace Wynkoop had lived when he taught school in the little old school house in 1839.
So these were some of the children whose names were found on the register in the new school house, in the years that followed 1876, and they worked and played, laughed and cried, and survived the whooping-cough, the measles and the mumps, as normal children the world over have done.
The days, in threads of rainbow hues, have woven the years together, end on end, and memories bridge the deep chasm between the past and the present. And in an instant’s flashing space, a misty dream sweeps over me in exultant mood to that marvelous place, and old time Autumn wildwood, beyond the bright green floor of the meadow and the wandering little brook, where, when school let out, care free and happy we lived amid the wonders and beauties of Nature. We made cornstalk fiddles and rubbed them with rosin, and Jack-o’lanterns from yellow pumpkins. We knew where the fish lived in the deepest pools, and the hillsides where the largest chestnuts grew. We swung from the branches of the spicy wild apple tree, and knew where to find the ripest fox grapes, and the bushes where hazelnuts hid in their ruffled hoods, and long and painfully we remembered our experiences with bumble bees and hornets’ nests.
When Autumn had passed and Winter snows were gone,
And the alder boughs were budding, early in the Spring. / When the dandelions bloomed and the birds were on the wing. / When the grass was growing green, and the sky was bright and blue, / Then the lads sought the meadow where the whistle-willows grew. / And over the fields you could hear the music flow / From the boys’ willow whistles forty years ago.
The girls had a play-house, near the pasture wall. /Where daises bloomed in Spring and gentians in the Fall. / There bits of broken crockery so tastefully were stored, / And acorn cups and saucers were ranged upon the board. / There pillow-case dollies were seated in a row— / So they fitted up their play-house forty years ago.
Now listen, little ladies, and you manly boys, / With your desks full of books and your houses full of toys, / Your wax dolls and bicycles, your puzzles and your games, / and so many cosltly trinkets one scarcely knows there names. / I want to tell you something that perhaps you do not know / Boys and girls were just as happy forty years ago.
Miss Lydia Howell, the first teacher in the new school house, was no longer a girl. She took great pride in keeping a new building spick and span. The teacher’s platform she had covered with ingrain carpet, and no child was allowed to step foot on it, and they respected her wishes at all times. She boarded at Edgebrook farm, and one day while she had gone to dinner some boy grabbed a sun bonnet and threw it across the eight feet of the teacher’s platform. The owner, being of conscientious girl and having a genuine fear of the consequences of breaking Miss Howell’s iron-clad law, crept on her hands and knees to rescue the bonnet, reporting the incident to the teacher immediately upon her return.
I do not know how long Miss Howell taught there before Mr. Ayers married her for his second wife and she went to Edgebrook farm to live. After that I recollect that Sallie Hulse sat back of the teacher’s desk and brought to school with her her sister Maggie and their brother Howard.
Very sweet and motherly are the memories of Miss Sadie Borton. She let us bring our dolls to school and set them on the cloak room shelf—wax dolls, and rag dolls, and dolls with china heads. Because we loved her, we made an honest effort to keep from whispering and to win the pictured reward cards she gave. We have them, as we pasted them then, on the leaves of our scrap book. I think of her in these verses I read somewhere:
She was our teacher, / Very many years ago. / And if she wearied / Of the daily grind / We never knew, / For she kept smiling— / As school teachers do.
And I cannot recall / Just what she taught, / Nor what her methods were / That brought / Achievement to us / In that school of yore.
It has been long; / Those days are far behind; / Dim is her face, / Nor do I know / The color of her eyes, her hair, / Nor whether she was plain / Or passing fair; / And though she stood each morning / At the door, / I cannot recollect / A single dress she wore.
But one thing lives— / A memory as radiant / As the Sirius star / That hangs beneath Orion / On the wall of space / And takes on its shining way / Across the Winter sky— / A silver thread, / That will forevermore / Its pattern trace / Upon the scroll of years / As they unwind. / The one thing I remember— / She was kind.
Virginia P. McCurdy, one of the five daughters of a deceased Methodist minister, lived in Hightstown and boarded home. She came on the train to Newtown (Robbinsville) and walked the two miles twice a day to and from Edgebrook, carrying her lunch and umbrella. Earnest and persevering, she heroically braved driving storms and ice and snow and Winter winds and the weeks of mud in Spring of the year, and dust and heat in the Summer, to give her best to the school. She always started our school day with a Scripture reading, the Lord’s Prayer in unison, and a song service. At the close of our commencement day, June 24, 1884, she bade us an affectionate farewell and I never saw her again. The following is a clipping from the Bordentown Register, written by someone who appreciated our entertainment on that commencement day:
Although this is but a country place, it can boast a beautiful school building, not large and grand, but built with an eye to comfort and convenience for scholar and teacher. It was shown off to good advantage on Tuesday, June 24, when decorated for commencement exercises which were abundant proofs of apt pupils and an efficient teacher. Windsor, Newtown and surrounding and the surrounding country were represented in the audience. Great care and taste was manifested in the selection of the pieces and the training of the children. The singing was excellent. Several pieces by the school were especially admired, including “Youthful Days,” “Edgebrook Song, “ “Drinking Gin,” and “Always Do Right.” “The Bell Goes Ringing for Sarah” was distinctly rendered by Miss Emma Nutt. “Jesus Loves the Little Ones” was vigorously sung by six little boys who have just begun mounting the golden steps of education. “I Am Jesus’ Little Friend,” by one of the smallest of them, Johnny Mershon, elicited much praise. “Cousin Jedediah” was gracefully acted and smiling sung by an eight-year-old girl, Aileen D. White, with a chorus of little girls. She addressed the names of Josh and Obed to two very small boys, making a comical and charming tableau of them. The recitations excited much surprise at the talent manifested by many of the speakers. They certainly did their teacher and parents credit. “A Little Boy’s Pocket,” by Allie Nutt, caused much laughter, and was really well done. He was not embarrassed, but searched smilingly for each article he wished to show and speak of, and although not able to speak plainly, still he was understood easily. “Bishop Hath,” by Irving White; “Touser,” by Carrie Dilatush; “Miracles,” by Jennie Thompson, and “Barbara Frietchie,” by Stella Comp, was rendered with more than ordinary ability. “The Curfew Bell,” by Aileen White, showed wonderfully elocutionary powers for so young a person. “Playing School,” a dialogue, was acted well. Emma Nutt gave evidence of a talent which may be developed in this profession. Little Ella Yard’s address to her doll was very good. Altogether it was a charming entertainment, and much regret has been expressed that the present efficient teacher, Miss Virginia McCurdy, has resigned in view of a more lucrative position. Spectator
Long before this time Summer vacation had lengthened from two weeks to two months, and the teacher was drawing a large salary—thirty dollars a month, and the school girls were gathering buttons for their love string. Some of the boys even caught the button fever. Aileen White owned the most beautiful string of all, three yards long, a large portion of the buttons handsome old-fashioned glass ones. There was a time when I knew the history of every button on my string, but now as I count them over, I can remember only a few—a small button like those on a garnet dress Emma Nutt used to wear, a green one from the pocket of a green coat that mother made for sister Frances, a red one from the polonaise of my red cashmere, and a shining black button the size of copper decorated with a golden horseshoe, a jockey cap and a riding whip, one of a row of buttons that adorned the front of father’s vest. The touch button on the very end of the string is a large brown button that once dangled on the sleeve of my Winter coat. I wonder how many of these strings of buttons still exist.
One event for which we always tried to be ready was the visit of the County Superintendent to the school. William J. Gibby, a lawyer from Princeton, held this position for a number of years. We stood in awe of Mr. Gibby, but we liked to get our names on his roll of honor, so we tried to learn all the words he would be likely to ask us to spell. I remember him for his immaculate appearance, his dignified bearing and his long dark beard. His successor was Dr. Lloyd Wilbur, of Hightstown. He was a useful and influential member of the community, and by his upright character won and retained the respect of all with whom he was brought in contact. In a rough-and-ready way Dr. Wilbur looked the person of importance he actually was. The breadth of his body and of his face seemed to match the breadth of the man. He used to have us come to class and read for him, and once we smiled when he lost his hat and found it on his foot.
The successor to Miss McCurdy was Miss Georgie Foster, of Bordentown, a dainty little lady and an excellent teacher. She had barely got the school to running smoothly when she met with an accident and her arm was broken. Her place was temporarily filled by Miss Irene Lampson, from Bordentown also. But Miss Foster never came back to Edgebrook to teach. She returned to her native town and later became the principal of Bordentown High School.
Miss Lampson was followed by Miss Annie M. Savidge, from Mercerville. Miss Savidge, in her gentle way, worked hard to help her pupils forge ahead and at the same time subdue the noise of active feet in clumsy boots and clattering slates in thoughtless childish hands. I can not remember that we ever had a pad and pencil then, and we had never heard of a fountain pen.
Miss Savidge left Edgebrook to accept a higher position in a school in Trenton, where she was highly esteemed, and where she continued until failing health forced her to give up. Hoping for her recovery, her position was kept open for her a year. But resigned to her fate, she gradually grew weaker until the silver cord was broken and she went to eternal sleep.
Miss Alice Perry, of Wilburtha, tall and slender and young, closed her thin lips over her white teeth, and her dark eyes snapped. She got results by being severe and exacting. We feared Miss Perry, and we crowded our Appleton’s Readers and Greenleaf’s Arithmetics and Swinton’s Spellers into our book bags and studied our lessons at home. For who was there among us that delighted in being detained at noon hour or after school to recite a missed lesson! I remember a certain little fellow, detained after school for the first time, went home and told his mother the teacher liked him better than any of her scholars because she kept him there after all the other had gone.
The penalty of whispering without permission was a hundred words to write for each offense. Some boys with several hundred words against them borrowed all the slates near them, and the minute the bell had rung for recess and the children were all at play, they made their fingers fly.
While Miss Perry was teacher we observed our first Arbor Day. I think it was May, 1886, and we planted an ash tree in the corner of the yard, and our names on a slip of paper in a bottle were buried under the roots. And we dug up a spot of earth and circled it with stones and planted some old-fashioned and lady-slippers and zinnias, and Walter Haines set myrtle around it for a boarder. In the afternoon, with the school bell in her hand, Miss Perry went with us on a ramble through sunshine and shadows in the woods. Stars of Bethlehem, pale and meek, peeped from the corners of the zig-zag rail fences, and all the world was sweet and fresh and new. The most splendid thing about the springtime, perhaps, is its eternal newness. No matter how hard or long or cold the Winter may have been, this one fact is ever before us, to comfort and to bless. The pink and green of the dawning Spring time! Nothing can tarnish its freshness, nothing can dim the gleaming promise of it.
All the girls had brought their autograph albums to school for the new teacher to write in. Many of us still have our albums, and now that the years are beginning to hurry, ever so slightly, we still enjoy them, but there is a difference between the pleasure they gave us then and now.
Miss Mattie F. Horsfull, a sprightly little brunette from Bordentown, came to Edgebrook in 1887. She guided her pupils pleasantly along the way of geography, etymology and composition until Mr. George Thompson won her heart and hand and took her away from us. And we missed her from all the riding parties we had planned, for now the girls were seeking the meadow or back pasture lot for a horse that had been retired from active service, and with a folded blanket for a saddle and a bridle from the team harness we were ready for a canter.
Miss Emily S. Moyer, of Allentown, was succeeded by Maria Reeves, of Ellisdale. Mrs. Addie (Ford) Yard, of Allentown, then came to Edgebrook and for several years worked earnestly and faithfully for the good of the school. She was an anxious teacher and took a personal interest in her pupils, teaching them many things besides what she taught from books. Her effort was greatly appreciated, and she was fondly remembered. While there she gave some very pleasing entertainments. Among those who took part in them and who stands out a little apart on memory’s page is dainty, fairy-like Elsie May, the little daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ellsworth Haines.
Miss Harriet Dickinson, from Trenton, taught one year, followed by Mrs. Frances (Comp) Naylor. Then came, in turn, Miss Lillie Vanness and Miss Catharine Herbert, all of them good efficient teachers. Miss Sara G. Chamberlin was the last teacher in the house built in 1876.
By 1913 new families had moved into the neighborhood, and the children of the school days of 1876 were parents now, and their children sat at the desks where their fathers had sat when the school house was new. The school room was filled to capacity, and still they came. And the people of the district asked that another room be built to the over-crowded school house. But the Board of Education had other plans, and the light-colored building with its slamming brown blinds moved aside and sadly watched, brick on brick, the new school house grow up in its place. In 1915 the new modern two-room brick building of education was completed and opened, and Miss Sara G. Chamberlin, with an assistant, was the first teacher.
The old school house became the property of Robert Dilatush, and with a sad little ache in its shabby heart, and a sigh of farewell, it started on a journey to other scenes of usefulness. When it reached its final resting place it was the on the south side of the woods at Grafton—our picnic woods—and standing within hearing of the creaking hinges of the great pole swing Mr. Nicholson placed there for us between two tall oak trees. Not so long ago I saw the transplanted house in its wild surroundings, amid the stumps of treees, and it seemed so sad, ready to burst into tears, as a little child from the hurt of a harsh word. I know the sign in the hollowed doorstep, the sign of feet that have crossed it. The windows, empty though they now may be, are a symbol—a symbol of the faces that have laughed through their panes. Thirty-nine years it had seen the laughter and the mirth and the songs and even the tears of the families that had dwelt in its neighborhood.
For twelve years the new brick school house was used and then, like its predecessors, it, too, must miss always the splendid Used-to-Be. A great change had taken place. School buses were conveying the Edgebrook children in various directions to the village schools, and older heads were wondering what was to become on the new $10,000 Edgebrook school house.
A few months back I wandered about the closed, silent and unfamiliar building. I sat beneath the white pine tree that had sheltered my playmates and me (the playground now is nicely fenced). The oak tree in the corner, with the heap of stones at the root, where we built our playhouse in gone. The bilstead where we spread our croquet set, so vigorous then, is slowly dying. From the front door yard I looked up to Grafton. Here, too, time and change had been busy. A disastrous fire had swept the big barn away, and other barns of a slightly different type stood there. A quarter of century had passed since Mr. and Mrs. Nicholson were called to their reward beyond the sunset skies, and later Robert Dilatush had brought Frances Swift, his bride, to be the mistress of Grafton, and here their promising family are growing up.
There is little left on the old home school ground to gladden the heart of an old scholar. Edgebrook school has become a memory. The road that runs by it, from which we saw clouds of dust rise in Summer and horses wallow knee deep in mud in the Spring of the year—that road is now a fine wide, paved State highway—caught in the stream of progress, for a community or a country cannot stand still. It must either progress or slip backward.
Often I wonder where can they be, all the Edgebrook lads and lassies of 1876—the shy little girl, for instance, in sunbonnet blue and printed calico. Some of them, like the flowers they gathered, perhaps turned to dust. Some of them, I know, are grandmothers now. I wonder, did they meet disappointment—did their dreams come true?
I have tarried long in my garden of memories and feasted my eyes on dear scenes of the past, but I left no tracks on the tangled path; I plucked no flowers there, and at the end of the walk I silently close the gate.