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By the Way: Richland Historical Society shares some old school memories

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The Shelly One-Room-School is an island in time, untouched by the traffic that roars by on Route 212 as it passes through Richland Township. It is filled with memorabilia and, perhaps more telling, childhood memories of a culture long gone.

Captured within its sturdy walls are 72 years of “reading, writing and ‘rithmatic” that came to an end when the state decided to consolidate into districts forcing closure of all one-room schools in 1957.

Members of the Richland Historical Society, most of whom attended the school, gathered there this week and regaled each other with some of the moments. Interestingly, they were less about lessons and more about minor infractions, punishments and fun.

They spun tales of a schoolmarm, Miss Cordelia Maier, who was not only strict but also quick with the paddle or a ruler to the fingers if she thought bad behavior warranted it.

Beryl Stumb Himmelsbach laughingly confessed, “The story about my paddling got home before I did, but no parent ever accused the teacher of abuse.”

John Koetteritz, facing punishment, said “I spread my fingers enough that the teacher hit the desk and broke the ruler.” That did not bode well for him, he said.

Both agreed Miss Maier, while strict, was fair and a very good teacher. “Look at us,” said Jeanette Landgreen as she pointed to the society members. We’re teachers, scientists...we all had good jobs.”

The teacher’s first job on cold days was to build a fire in the wood stove. Joe Bobiak said, “We each brought a potato and we’d line them up to heat on the stove for lunch.”

School would start with the Pledge of Allegiance followed by the Lord’s Prayer and perhaps a Bible verse or two. Before luncheon, the children would line up to wash their hands with water some of the boys had pumped.

The children also lined up to sharpen their pencils. “You got one pencil and you took care of it,” one volunteer explained.

On Fridays, one member recalled, two boys and two girls would be selected to scrub their respective outhouses. A happier job everybody wanted was to clap the chalk dust out of the blackboard erasers at day’s end.

Recess, of course, was always special. There were games and snowball battles and baseball, with the teacher often pitching for both sides.

Members of the Richland Historical Society have amazingly kept alive not only the culture of the one-room schoolhouse, but also the physical school, managing almost Herculean tasks for a small group of volunteers.

Six people bought the school in 1958 and formed the society. The society has restored and refurnished it, complete with a 38-star American flag, the requisite Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, high stool and dunce cap, and life-sized dolls seated at the front row of desks.

They’ve turned a barn next door into a museum and library. It’s been serious business with many hours of work for volunteers. They got it placed on the National Register of Historic Places as well as on the Bucks County Register of Historic Places.

Now, with some of the older members no longer able to volunteer with the historical society, they need younger people to step in to help them continue their work.

Interest seems to be growing. There was “a good turnout” July 4, when the group gathered to ring the school bell, a tradition they carry on annually.

The Shelly school is the only fully restored one-room school in Upper Bucks. It is open to the public for guided tours by appointment only.

The society is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and donations are tax deductible. Along with dues, they are a lifeline for the society and the school.

Kathryn Finegan Clark is a freelance writer who lives in Durham Township. She can be reached at kathyclark817@gmail.com.


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