"The Schoolhouse on the Hill" by Carrie Horne - 1974

The summer of 1877 was an exciting one in the village of Fair Mount.  The old schoolhouse was finally being replaced by a brand new one!  Everyone was relieved because the walls in the old building had been in bad shape.  Three iron rods had been holding them together and there had been a crack in the eastern wall through which the sun shone on clear days.  Actually, it was not a very old building, but according to a scholar of those days, whose composition "Our School" has been preserved, it had been very poorly built.

The recorded deed for the property on which the building stood was dated August 29, 1860.  So, the building itself must have been less than twenty years old.  It was also the second schoolhouse in the community.  A little girl who started attending the Fair Mount School in 1873 remembered an old schoolhouse (a log building she thought) at the southwest corner of Passer Road and Richlandtown Pike, which was then being used as a carpet-weaving shop. 

So, during that summer of 1877, there were often youngsters perched on the worm fence to the south of the school lot watching as the new building took shape.  On a Sunday when the Fair Mount Sunday School met in the adjoining grove, there was much interest in the progress of the building which, when completed, would again be their meeting place.  People on their way to the store or the hotel down the road stopped to check on things and often joined the others on the fence to "supervise" for a while.  After all, this was their very own school and they were proud of it.  This was especially true when the lofty bell tower began to take form and shape.  It looked so grand and it must have been a great day when the bell was hung!

By October, the building was completed and from far and near the children came to their grand new school.  They were delighted with the bell which was ringing to call them back to school and the inscriptions in the glass above the vestibule doors, Fair Mount School - October 17, 1877.  There were rows of double desks with loose wooden benches and a wide aisle down the center.  There was a big, pot-bellied stove in the center of the room, and the teacher's desk stood in the exact center on the new platform.  Long wooden benches in front of this platform were used when classes came to the front of the room to recite.

Something else was rather new this day.  The teacher was a woman (Miss Mary Rial).  There were many children too, so that the little ones seated in the front of the room had to sit three to each desk.  Even in the rear of the room, where the older pupils sat, there was often a small child seated between them.

There was quite a variation in age, too.  The little children were five years of age and sometimes even younger.  Meanwhile some of the bigger boys might be eighteen or twenty years old.  Since most of the outdoor farm work was completed, these older boys would come to school in the fall, but would leave again in the spring when the outdoor work began.  There were no older girls since they had to stay at home all year round to help with the housework.  During the cold winter months, the littlest children would remain at home too, especially those who lived a considerable distance from the school.

A school of this size (sometimes more than 100 pupils) with such a variation in age and requirements was indeed a challenge to any teacher.  Many of them (the teachers) spent only one year at Fair Mount, and one year it took three teachers to complete six months of the school year!  However, in spite of all the difficulties, some of the best teachers taught at the school for quite a number of years.  These teachers took advantage of the older, more advanced students and had them act as teacher aides to teach the younger ones or those having learning difficulties.  The subjects taught were Reading, Arithmetic (especially mental arithmetic), Geography, Language, Spelling, and Penmanship.  Older students studied History and, before high school was established, Algebra, English Grammar, and beginning Latin.

The school continued to grow in size.  Shortly after the year when the School Board had to hire three teachers for that one year, the primary room was added.  It was about half the present size; the year about 1892.

Two sisters, Emma and Laura Weidner, taught the Primary Grades 1  to 4 in the new addition and the Grammar grades 5 to 8 in the older and larger room.  In 1901, the enrollment in the Primary grades was so large that in order to accommodate all of them, the teachers "swapped" rooms.  Then, in 1902, ad addition was built and the primary room became the size that it is at the present time.  Once more the problem of overcrowding was solved.

By this time, the name of the village had been changed from Fair Mount to Passer.  The community had increased in size and now was to have its own post office.  But, there was already a Fair Mount post office in Pennsylvania, so it was necessary to change the name.  As usual this was the topic of conversation at the village store where the post office was to be located.  A distinguished visitor in the neighborhood, Joseph Taylor, later the Superintendent of schools in New York City, hearing the discussion suggested "Passer" because, so he said, he had seen so many Passer Domesticus (sparrows) around.  So, on August 13, 1888, Fair Mount officially became Passer and has remained Passer even though the post office was discontinued July 15, 1915, after the establishment of the Rural Free Delivery from Coopersburg.

One of the enjoyable events in this rural school, and well-remembered by those who attended, was the Literary Society, which met on a Friday afternoon.  It was such an important part of the school that a separate part of this story of Passer School is devoted to it.  This is also true of the Sunday School which met in the school building and the Christian Endeavor Society, which was in existence for many years.

One of the most enjoyable happenings of these early school years was the sleigh ride.  Two or three big farm sleds drawn by two horses and driven by the farmers who owned them were engaged to carry the children on a visit to a nearby school.  The children were seated on the straw on the body of the sled, and what a merry crowd they were -- singing, shouting, and tooting their tin horns!  Arriving at the school they visited, they were eagerly welcomed.  Then there were contests between the two schools in spelling and arithmetic, or sometimes an impromptu entertainment of songs and recitations.  It was a great treat to go on a sleigh ride and also to have another school visit your school on a sleigh ride.  You can just imagine that all the children wished for a good, deep, lasting snow so they could go on sleigh rides.

In the school year 1903-04, the Springfield Township High School was started, and the older boys and girls of the area began attendance there.  Classes were held in a large room on the second floor of what was, at that time, Weierbach's Store in Pleasant Valley.  The enrollment at Passer Grammar School was, thus, considerably less because the older boys and girls had to go to the highschool.

Along with the growth of the building had been a growth in the size of the play area.  In the 1860's to 1870's, the size of the lot on which the building stood was roughly 58 feet by 144 feet.  That did not allow much space for a play area.  Of course, the wooded area to the south of the school was always used.  In 1897, according to a document in the possession of the school board, a plot of land to the south of the school building had been acquired, although there was never a recorded deed for the land.  This was probably due to the manner in which the land was acquired.  The residents of the community realized the need for a larger play area for the school children and the need to own the chestnut grove which was always the setting for the annual Sunday School picnic, as well as other community activities.  These residents used a unique method to get the money to purchase the land (in that) differed people bought one or more of the big chestnut trees standing in the grove.  They could either cut down their trees for their own use or allow them to remain standing.  Many chose to leave their trees where they were, and they stood there - tall and majestic in the lovely picnic grove - until killed by the chestnut blight that occurred around 1912.

A deed recorded early in 1903 - about the time the second addition was built - added some land at the rear of the school building.  Now there was enough space for play during recess and lunch time.  Popular games were: Bat-Ball, Sei-Bolla, Giggledy-Giggledy Over, Corner Ball or Circle Ball (a form of dodge ball), Prisoner's Base, Puss in the Corner, Three Deep, Farmer in the Dell, Drop the Handkerchief, Tag (various forms), Duck on the Rock, and Nipsy or Kotz.  (In winter), whenever there was a snowfall, Snow Ring Tag was popular.  Also snow ball battles (were waged) with forts built for shelter.  Sometimes these battles became a Capture the Flag game.

There was usually, in those earliest days, a group of the smaller girls playing "house" using a group of trees as the "house" with detailed lawns and paths outlined by the plentiful stones.  It was simple, too, to find a strong rail or, if you were lucky, a stout board, to make a see-saw using the rail fence or a tree stump for the support.

When stormy weather kept everyone indoors, they played: Upset the Fruit Basket; Stir the Soup; Pass the Ruler; Up Jenks and Down Jenks; Charades, or a shorter form called Acting Trades or Proverbs; Steal the Bacon; Who, What, When, and Where; Blind Man's Bluff; Mumbledy Peg; and, Who's Got the Chalk.  Sometimes during cold winter months there were contests, especially Checkers, which created a lot of interest.

A wise teacher organized regular games, especially indoors, because this kept everyone too busy to get into trouble.  When the school later owned a record player, square dancing indoors, and sometimes outdoors, was a favorite past-time.

Throughout the years there were certain traditions at the school.  One of the oldest was the feast on the last day of school when the pupils brought all kinds of goodies for a picnic lunch.  According to one of the former students, it was Kissing Day, too, when the boys were allowed to kiss the girls (when they played ring tag, or other kissing games).

A cherished tradition was the special privileges allowed the older boys.  They were the ones who did special outdoor chores during school hours, and climbed  up the ladder to the attic to fix the bell rope when it became tangled, or to remove the snow after a snow storm.  There was a tradition, too, that the older boys were allowed a morning off to go to a wooded area nearby to choose, cut down, and bring back an evergreen tree (usually a cedar) to be used as part of the Christmas decorations.  This was a much-valued privilege, and the few rules, set by the teacher (such as, "you must be back by 12 noon") were strictly followed to ensure that the privilege would not be lost.  Of course, the teacher never did get to know all that really happened on those trips, luckily for everyone!

Through the years the grade set-up at Passer School remained the same: Primary Grades 1-4 and Grammar Grades 5-8.  Then, in 1936, the advent of bus transportation made it possible to consolidate grades in certain schools.  Passer now became the middle school of the Springfield Township district with the one room housing grades five and six and the other one seventh and eighth grade students.  Included were those (students) from Zion Hill, Salem, and Keystone school areas as well as those from the Passer area.  By the years 1947-48, the enrollment had increased in all of the schools, and especially at Passer.  The movement for further consolidation was gaining momentum (as well as the idea of) combining of townships into larger school units.  At first, Passer was considered as one of the units to be retained when this consolidation came about.  The school board had a plan for a one- or two-room addition, also including heating and indoor toilet facilities at Passer.  However, when finally the consolidation took place, and Palisades School District came into being, this plan was dropped.  A building on the grounds of the Springfield High School at Pleasant Valley was converted into a temporary class room for the eighth grade pupils of Springfield Township.  Passer School now became the classroom for the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh grades.

During all the years of its existence as a school, there had always been strong community interest and support.  Functioning usually as a PTA organization, the community was responsible for many improvements to the building and playground.  In 1936, the school was wired for electricity.  Most of the work was done by volunteers and necessary money obtained through donations and dinners.  For many years, the electric bill was paid by the PTA.  In the year 1941, a typewriter and a spirit-type duplicator were purchased for the use of the teachers.  At that time, the school paper Pass-Key, later Passer School Bulletin, began publication.  About this time, too, the PTA helped in enlarging the school library.  This was a decided help in the Unit Type teaching started at that time.

In 1947, an urgent need for a larger playground (so there would be room for baseball diamonds and volleyball courts) brought about the purchase of a three-acre tract to the north of the school building.  An outlay of $700 seemed a large sum at that time to an organization with very little money in the treasury.  However, through the combined efforts of the PTA, students, teachers, and other members of the community, the tract was soon paid for.

The school board agreed to spend $100 for grading.  When this was done, there were literally millions of stones of all sizes.  Before the seeding was done, they would have to be removed.  Now it was the children's turn to really work.  They picked and picked and picked stones.  Even the punishment for misdemeanors those days involved picking stones!

Finally the field was seeded, the grass grew, and at last the ball diamonds were laid out and a back-stop built.  Now there were often three lively ball games going at one time without any interferences with one another.  A regularly schedule for games with other schools in the newly-created Palisades district was set up both for boys' hard ball and girls' softball games.  Again the PTA came through with needed equipment.  To win the championship of the league was keenly desired by both boys and girls.  When the managed to achieve this goal, in the words of one of the children, "Passer was King!"

More important, however, was the fact that it brought together the students from the different schools and through friendly (even though hard-fought) competition, it was the beginning of an attempt to establish unity in the widely-scattered Palisades School District.  These youngsters in a year or so would become members of the same classes at Palisades High School.  Maybe these games helped just a little to make that transition.

Another project at this time was to replace the outdoor hand pump with an electric pump to provide each room with running water.  Wash basins and drinking fountains were installed in each room.  Much of the work, including excavation of a space beneath the pump floor in which to place the new pump and the electrical wiring, was done by volunteer workers.

One big money-making event at that time was a one-night carnival held in August, 1949, on the Springfield High School grounds.  Feature attractions were Asseba and Sabina with Ray Herring's Band.  At that time, this was a very popular Pennsylvania Dutch radio show.

Much hard work made easier because of a comradeship, common goal and purpose, and a strong community spirit had made things more convenient and pleasant throughout they years for teachers and students at Passer School.  Many teachers and very many children had benefited by this close cooperation between school and community.  However, times had changed.  With better roads and bus transportation, schools like Passer were being closed.  The children would be transported to the new Palisades High School or the old Springfield High School at Pleasant Valley, now to be an elementary school.

On February 2, 1953, the children left, the doors were locked, and Passer as a school was no more.  However, memories of happy school days lingered on the minds and hearts of many who had been students here, or whose privilege it had been to teach at Passer School.  Such memories did not end when the door closed on the final school session.  Many of them would say it in this way...

Good-bye!  Old Schoolhouse!
Echo sad, "Good-bye, good-bye," replies;
We leave you with a friendly tear;
Fond memories bid us drop it here,
'Mid scenes that gave it rise!
You, who shall live when we are dead --
Write down our wishes if you will --
Protect it, love it, let it stand,
A way-mark in this changing land --
That school house on the hill.

Adapted from
The Old Schoolhouse at the Creek
Translation from the Penna. Dutch
Horne's Penna. Dutch Manual
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