PINE GROVE, Pa. (AP) — “When I was your age, we walked to school uphill, both ways, in the snow!”
It’s something every child hears from their elders, but when she was a student at Stanhope Schoolhouse in Pine Grove, Patricia Weckle lived it.
“You have to remind the kids nowadays what’s out here, what it was like years ago,” Weckle, 78, said recently. “We walked a mile to get here to school. Kids nowadays don’t have to do anything that we did.”
Weckle was standing inside the periwinkle walls of the one-room schoolhouse of her youth, along with several former students, for an open house intended to raise funds and awareness for the schoolhouse’s restoration.
“This schoolhouse will probably be the only one-room schoolhouse in Schuylkill County that is open to the public,” said Linda Mills, co-chair of the Stanhope Schoolhouse Restoration project, part of the Pine Grove Historical Society. “It’s important to preserve history, period.”
The schoolhouse is a work in progress. Dusty little wrought-iron desks, some with initials carved into them, share space with piles of wood and remains of the old pot-bellied stove that provided heat to students during the winter.
There was an old picture of George Washington in the back — but it’s not the one former student John Ziegler, 81, remembers.
“Life in here was different,” he said. “I can never remember more than 25 here at one time.”
Built in 1876, the Stanhope Schoolhouse burned to the ground in 1923 and was rebuilt by Charles Werner and Co. Electric the next year. Electricity was added in 1947, and the Berks County Girl Scout Council purchased it from the Pine Grove School District in 1954. The school fell into a state of disrepair and was to be demolished.
Things seemed hopeless until the Pine Grove Historical Society bought the schoolhouse from the Girl Scouts in 2014, for $1.
“There was a big hole in the roof,” Mills said. “That was a big challenge.”
A volunteer team replaced every single rafter in the roof in October 2014. Despite the efforts of Eagle Scouts and passionate locals, finding volunteers for the restoration has been difficult.
“Well I would say they’re disappearing, and it’s part of our history,” former student Betty Wolfe, 80, said about one-room schoolhouses. “Down the road, nobody’s gonna know there ever was anything like this.”
Wolfe, Ziegler and former student Janet Miller reminisced about a time without central air, a time of penmanship lessons and carrying water to and from the schoolhouse in buckets.
“It’s much smaller than it was when I went here,” Miller, 85, said.
“That’s because you were smaller!” Wolfe replied.
“I remember falling in a creek over here!” Miller said.
Ziegler remembered getting “chewed out” by one of his teachers after he cut class to go fishing with a friend.
“Can you remember Billy, and when Mr. Becker would say ‘Will-yum!’ Because he was asleep half the time?” Wolfe asked Ziegler. She laughed a hearty laugh.
A man in attendance told them that Billy, who could not make it today, would be very happy to hear that he was mentioned.
“This once was eight grades in one room!” Miller said. “And you didn’t get off every time it snowed, you went to school every day.”
“The snow could be up to your waist or whatever,” Wolfe said.
They remembered going to the outhouse in the middle of winter, and in the warmer months never knowing if there was a snake or mouse waiting for them inside.
“You knew everybody, and it was like family,” Wolfe said.
“We had a teacher here for four years,” Ziegler said, “Mrs. Blanch, who was like a grandmother here to all of us.”
Everyone in attendance said that the school was a standing memory of a bygone era.
“Why save a battlefield?” Mills said. “Why not just turn it into housing? There is historical value to things.”
Mills and her team just finished restoring the windows and coat rooms, and after cleaning the floor, they will ask around for period furniture to decorate the schoolhouse.
“To me, it’s very touching that (the schoolhouse) was brought back,” Wolfe said.
Carefully, she sat down on one of the old desks, the kind she sat in 70 years before.
“Well, I’m a little bigger than I was when I was sittin’ in these seats.”