Fred (Frederick Charles) Brenckman.

History of Carbon County, Pennsylvania; also containing a separate account of the several boroughs and townships in the county, online

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Online LibraryFred (Frederick Charles) BrenckmanHistory of Carbon County, Pennsylvania; also containing a separate account of the several boroughs and townships in the county, → online text (page 9 of 44)
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returned to their homes greatly disabled with wounds
or shattered in health. Many left widows and children
in destitute circumstances.

The war had not long continued before hundreds of
the orphaned or worse than orphaned children of sol-
diers were reduced to want and beggary or were com-
pelled to find food and shelter in some almshouse or
other charitable institution.

It was then that the great, patriotic heart of Penn-
sylvania was moved and the plan formed by which the
children of dead or disabled soldiers were collected,
maintained, educated and cared for to the age of six-
teen years, and then placed in circumstances giving an
opportunity for a fair start in life.


This charity, if such it may properly be termed, is
said to have been suggested by the necessities of two
children who called at the executive mansion at Har-
risburg on Thanksgiving Day, in 1863, asking for
bread. Governor Curtin met them at the door, and to
his kindly questions they answered in their childish
way that their father had been killed in battle, and
that their mother had since died, while they were en-
tirely friendless and alone.

The voice of these children was the voice of God,
speaking to the noble head of the commonwealth. For
two years he had been calling for troops and urging
men to the field, and, behold, their little ones had
become beggars!

Before the coming of another Thanksgiving day
proper provisions had been made for the education
and care of this deserving class among our people.

During the period when they were most needed, the
state appropriated as high as six hundred thousand
dollars annually for the maintenance of these schools,
in which, to-day, after nearly fifty years, about six
hundred children are still enrolled, a few of the num-
ber being from Carbon county.

Among the crowning acts to make elementary edu-
cation universal in Pennsylvania were the free-text
book law of 1893, and the compulsory attendance law
of 1895.

In the beginning the state appropriated about $100,-
000 a year to the public schools. In 1875, the amount
had risen to $1,000,000, while in recent years the an-
nual appropriation has reached the enormous sum of

The first school to be opened within the limits of
Carbon county was that conducted by the Moravians


in connection with GnadenMtten mission, which occu-
pied the present site of Lehighton.

The Indians who gathered daily for prayer in the
little chapel on the Mahoning were also taught to read
and were instructed in the mechanic arts and in
the cultivation of the soil. These efforts seemed to
be very encouraging at first, but in the course of a
few years, the land became impoverished through im-
proper treatment, and the seat of the mission was
changed to the opposite side of the Lehigh, where
Weissport now stands.

The evil fate which befell this settlement in the In-
dian uprising of 1755 brought to an abrupt termination
the work which had been so disinterestedly undertaken
and begun. From this time forth until the coal and
lumber interests began to be developed, educational
considerations may scarcely be said to have existed
in the county.

In 1837, a few lonely cabins dotted the secluded
valleys of the Lehigh. With these exceptions, the
whole county was a dreary wilderness. But when
the felling of the forests began, and as the demand
for anthracite coal increased with a better imderstand-
ing of its nature and the uses to which it might be put,
extensive improvements became necessary. Large
numbers of miners, lumbermen, various kinds of me-
chanics, clerks, bookkeepers, and common laborers
came upon the scene. Both labor and capital secured
liberal rewards, and villages and towns sprang up as
if by magic. Many different nationalities were brought
together here, while a large proportion of them were

It soon became evident to the proprietors of the
mines and lumber mills that the hundreds of children
who could neither work in the mines nor in the mills


were growing up in idleness, with all its attendant
vices, and that they would have to be educated, or
these sources of wealth would become a curse instead
of a blessing to society. Accordingly, schools were
provided for some of these children. The results of
these experiments were so gratifying that within a few
years flourishing school were found in nearly every
lumber camp and mining village in the county. The
houses were generally provided by the landowners or
the operators, and given free of rent for school pur-
poses. The teachers obtained the right to teach in
these houses from their legal owners, or from the com-
mittees having them in charge. The instructors had
entire control of the schools, managing them to suit
their own peculiar views or whims. Tuition fees varied
from $1.50 to $2.50 per quarter for each pupil.

In 1750 an English colony was planted in East Penn
township, some of whose descendants are still living in
that locality. Refusing to give aid to the German or
mixed schools, and being too few in number to main-
tain one of their own, they preferred to do entirely
without a school until 1817, when they succeeded in es-
tablishing an exclusively English institution. A good,
substantial stone house was erected near the locality
known as Ashfield, and a three months' term was
taught by Lawrence Enge, who was the first master of
the school. A certificate given by a later teacher to a
pupil read: ''This is to certify that the Bearer
Hannah Andreas is the head of her class by good at-
tention to her book and hereby has gained the good-
will of her tutor, Andrew Cronican the 30th of Janu-
ary, 1821."

In 1820, a board of school trustees was elected at a
town meeting held at Summit Hill. It consisted of
three members, whose duty it was to provide a house


for the accommodation of those who wished to send
their children to school, and who were willing to pay
the tuition fees fixed by the teacher.

After making a number of ineffectual attempts to
raise money by voluntary subscriptions to build a
school house, the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Com-
pany came to their relief by erecting a building and
giving it to the board of trustees, to be held in trust
for school purposes. It was furnished with long board
benches and desks, a rough board table for the teacher,
and an old stove. George Adams was engaged to teach
the school. The branches taught were reading, writ-
ing and arithmetic.

About the same time a school was opened in Mahon-
ing on the spot where Gnadenhiitten mission had been
established in 1746. The house, which was of logs,
was one story high, and was divided into two rooms,
one being used for school and the other for church
purposes. This building was furnished similarly to
that at Summit Hill. The property was owned by the
citizens of the place and was controlled by a board of
trustees. This school was kept open during the winter
season for many years, and some of the pupils who at-
tended it were obliged to travel long distances in
order to enjoy the advantages it afforded.

A school was started at Nesquehoning in 1830, being
organized and equipped similarly to those that have
already been mentioned. The branches taught were
spelling, reading, writing and arithmetic, while the
text-books used were Comley's Primer and Spelling
Book, Murray's Introduction and English Reader, and
the Bible.

"Writing in the schools of this period was still done
with quill pens, all of which were prepared by the
teacher. This was quite a task, particularly so if he


chanced to have a dull knife and had many pens to

On visiting a school, it was not an nnnsual thing to
hear a half dozen urchins call out, ''Master, will you
mend my pen ? ' ' Whether the master 's reply would be
a pleasant ''yes," or a surly "I got no time," de-
pended largely upon the humor he was in when the
request was made.

From 1825 to 1835, schools were established in dif-
ferent sections of the county on pretty much the same
plan. When it was thought necessary to start a school,
a town meeting was called, and three or five persons
selected to act as trustees. These held their offices
during good behavior, under a sort of civil service
reform principle. The duty of the trustees was to
raise money by voluntary subscription or contribution,
select and purchase sites, superintend the erection of
school houses, and hold them in trust for school uses.

As it was a difficult matter to raise a large amount
of money for such purposes in this manner, the strict-
est economy had to be exercised, and sites selected
where they could be had for the least money, regard-
less of their convenience or adaptability.

Consequently they were mostly poorly chosen and
out-of-the-way places, hard by a public highway or
upon some waste ground that could not well be put to
any other profitable use.

The trustees did not hire the teachers. All that was
necessary for one who wished to become a teacher was
to get permission from the trustees to use the house,
arrange for pupils and fix a tuition fee. The larger
the number of subscribers, the better the returns, of
course. But it may easily be imagined that the pro-
fession of teaching was not at that time exactly an
alluring one from the financial point of view.



The most famous among the early schoolmasters of
Carbon county was James Nowlins, a native of Ire-
land, who, in 1829, began his career as a teacher in
Mauch Chunk. The building in which he was destined
to achieve his triumphs was one of the worst type of
slab houses The furnishings corresponded well with
the structure itself, and there were no mottoes or orna-
ments to decorate the rough, gloomy walls and cheer
the minds of the pupils.

Nowlins was a man of fine literary attainments, but
was decidedly eccentric, while being a strict disciplin-
arian. His school was composed of more than one hun-
dred pupils, many of whom came long distances, think-
ing it quite a privilege to be permitted to sit under
the teachings of so great a master. All the common
English branches were taught, and some of the higher
ones, too. He would allow no dull scholar to remain
in school. When he chanced to get hold of such an
unfortunate one, he would tell him at once, ''What God
has denied you, I cannot give you ; take your books and
go home!"

The chief instrument for inflicting torture was a
short hickory club, with leather thongs fastened to one
end. These the professor called his "taws."

So deep and lasting were the impressions that he
made upon the minds and backs of his pupils with this
dread weapon that one of them, recalling his memory,
after the lapse of half a century, declared: "While I
am telling this, my back itches, and the hairs on my
head bristle up like a porcupine's quills, while the
ghost of Jimmy Nowlins, with his 'taws' in hand,
seems to rise menacingly before me."

But while Nowlins' methods would to-day be consid-
ered unspeakable and doubtless result in summary
vengeance being visited upon his head, they were not


entirely unusual then, and in his case, at least, pro-
duced good results.

Quite a number of men who became prominent in
various fields of endeavor, owed their subsequent suc-
cess in large measure to the training they had received
in his school. It seems like the irony of fate that Now-
lins, who placed so many others on the pathway lead-
ing to success, should himself have died in the poor-

The early settlers of East Penn and Towamensing
were with few exceptions Germans or their descend-
ants, members of the Lutheran or the Reformed
church. It was their custom to partition off one room
in each of their church buildings for school purposes.
And the church organist, however deficient that worthy
might be in other branches of learning, was called
upon to act as schoolmaster.

Almost without exception the German language was
taught in these schools.

When the free school law was passed, in 1834, there
were twenty-eight schools established within the pres-
ent limits of Carbon county. They nearly all belonged
to the primitive type which has already been described,
and their equipment was little in advance of that of
colonial times, while the school term was of but three
or four months' duration. Wood, of course, was
burned to warm the buildings, and this was purchased
by the teacher, who added an extra charge to the tui-
tion fee therefor. The heating apparatus generally con-
sisted of some old cast-off stove, purchased from the
scrap-pile of some iron-monger.

The houses 'were either deficient in smoke-flues, or
altogether without them; hence the stove pipe had to
answer a double purpose. In order to save pipe, it
was usually made to pass through the loft floor only,


not extending tlirougli the roof, while the smoke was
left to find its way out through the chinks between
the logs, or be forced down into the school room.
Consequently the school room was frequently filled
with smoke, to the great annoyance and discomfort
of teacher and pupils.

This condition of affairs would sometimes be taken
advantage of by the people of the neighborhood, who
would bring their meat to the school house to get it

Most of the districts of the county accepted the free
school law with gratifying promptness and, in 1843,
when the county was organized, all the townships
within its limits had adopted it, and the day of prog-
ress was rapidly dawning.

Mauch Chunk already had a school house which was
considered the equal of almost any other structure of
its kind in the state, and her schools were well con-
ducted. In 1844, there were three schools in opera-
tion at Summit Hill, while Nesquehoning, Rockport,
Beaver Meadow and Weatherly all had flourishing

The first triennial convention of directors met at
Mauch Chunk early in June, 1854, electing J. H. Sie-
wers, an experienced educator, to the office of county
superintendent. His salary was fixed at $400 per
annum, which was not entirely an exceptional case, for
there was but one superintendent of schools in the
state at that time receiving more than $1,000 a year.
Perhaps the principal reason for this niggardliness
was that the people did not generally approve of the
office, which they considered superfluous, viewing its
incumbent in the light of an impertinent, meddlesome


But Siewers was a warm friend of the public school
system. During his term of office he did much to break
down whatever prejudices still existed against it, and
by visiting the schools, giving advice to teachers, hold-
ing public meetings, and addressing the people on the
importance of more liberal means of education,
achieved grand results.

The cause of popular education in Carbon county
was also ably championed in the early days by such
broad-minded, public-spirited citizens as R. Q. Butler,
J. D. Bertolette, Fisher Hazard, N. B. Reber, Charles
Meendsen, Paul Kresge, and others.

Thomas L. Foster, a member of the legal profession,
followed Siewers as county superintendent. Under
his supervision the schools continued to improve. He
labored particularly for the improvement of houses,
ventilation, furniture, methods of instruction, and
better classification of schools.

He was succeeded in 1863 by R. F. Hofford, a man
of solid worth, who held the office continuously until
1881. During this long period many advances were
made. One of his first important acts was to adopt
measures to secure a better co-operation of the educa-
tional forces of the county, resulting in the permanent
organization of the Carbon County Teachers' Insti-
tute in the fall of 1864. The annual gatherings of this
body have done much toward elevating the teacher's
profession and promoting the cause of education in
the county.

Upon Hofford's retirement, T. M. Balliet, a native
of Mahoning township, and a thoroughly capable young
man, who has since become one of the recognized lead-
ers of his profession in the Untied States, succeeded
to the duties of the office.


At the expiration of six years, he relinquished the
position to T. A. Snyder, who served for three succes-
sive terms, studied law, and became a member of the

A. S. Beisel, who followed him, held the office until
1902, when the present incumbent, James J. Bevan,
was elected. The latter has placed particular em-
phasis upon the importance of grounding the pupils
well in English, and has done everything possible to
foster the best interests of education throughout the

There are now many fine, modern school buildings in
Carbon county. Their equipment is up-to-date, and
higher standards are being established year after year.

There are thirteen high schools in the county, eight
of which are situated in the various boroughs; three
are classed as township high schools, while the two
remaining are supported by the independent districts
of Franklin and Packerton, respectively. Banks,
Mauch Chunk and Lower Towamensing are the town-
ships which have established these schools.

The large amount of money appropriated by the
state toward the maintenance of the public schools, has
aided materially in securing better salaries, while
resulting in legislation requiring higher training and
efficiency on the part of teachers than formerly. True
as this may be generally, there are a number of dis-
tricts in the county where the pay of teachers is not
higher to-day than Ihat of forty years ago, notwith-
standing the aid accorded by the state. The study of
agriculture has during recent years been introduced in
nearly all of the schools of the rural districts.

While the public schools have had such a grand
march of progress, there have been no permanently


successful attempts made to establish private schools,
or schools devoted to higher education in the county.

Park Seminary, opened at Mauch Chunk in 1832;
the Carbon Academy and Normal Association, founded
in 1853, first located at Weissport, and later at Le-
highton, and Fairview Academy, which had a short-
lived career at East Mauch Chunk, were efforts in this

Another institution of this nature was the Normal
Institute, originally known as Normal Square Select
School, located at what is now known as the village of
Normal, in Mahoning township. This school was
founded about the year 1878 by Professor Thomas M.
Balliet. It was housed in a public school building, and
was kept open during the seasons of spring and fall.
Its primary purpose was to prepare those in attend-
ance for admission to the higher institutions of learn-
ing ; and a large number of young people of both sexes
from the surrounding country availed themselves of its

When weather conditions were favorable, recitations
were often conducted after the manner of the ancients,
beneath the trees.

Most of the students were sturdy farmer boys, not
a few of whom laid the foundations of a liberal educa-
tion and a larger usefulness in the environment cre-
ated by the school. These are now literally scattered
from ocean to ocean.

After the first few seasons, the school was conducted
for the most part by successive students and graduates
of Franklin and Marshall College. It was finally
closed during the early nineties.

The Carbon Academy, later known as the Lehighton
Academy, while not a financial success, also served a
useful purpose.


In addition to the schools which have already been
mentioned, flourishing parochial schools are being
maintained by the Catholic churches of Mauch Chunk,
East Mauch Chunk, Lehighton and Lansford.

A school of this description, opened in connection
with the Episcopal church of Mauch Chunk, was dis-
continued after a time for want of sufficient patronage.



While Carbon county, by reason of its smaller area
and population, contained fewer Mollie Maguires than
either of the neighboring counties of Luzerne and
Schuylkill, it nevertheless occupies a position of equal
importance to these in the popular mind when the
memory of the crimes and outrages perpetrated by the
members of that dark and blood-stained organization
are recalled.

It was at Mauch Chunk, after the most fearless and
resolute of the law-abiding members of society in the
coal regions had begun to despair of ever being able
to bring a Mollie Maguire to justice for the commis-
sion of crime, that the first conviction and execution
of one of this lawless and murderous band took place.

It is difficult to secure definite and reliable informa-
tion concerning the origin of this organization, the
very name of which was a reproach to the civilization
of the coal fields for more than a generation.

The nucleus of the American contingent came from
Ii eland, and were closely identified with, if not actual
members of, the Ancient Order of Hibernians. It is
evident that the men who comprised this company
of outlaws were of Irish birth, and that most, if not
all of them, came here direct from the green shores of

It appears that the Mollie Maguires were an out-
growth of the Ribbonmen, or auxiliaries of that so-
ciety. This association was formed in Ireland during
the early part of the nineteenth century for the pur-
pose of resisting landlords and their agents in the en-



forced collection of rentals. As a branch of this so-
ciety, and growing out of it, sprang the men known
as MoUie Maguires; and the name of their organiza-
tion simply arose from the fact that, in the perpetra-
tion of their offenses, they originally dressed as
women. Generally, too, they ducked or beat their vic-
tims, or inflicted some such punishment as infuriated
women would be likely to administer. It is quite likely,
besides, that at some time or other they had a leader
or patroness named Mary, or Mollie Maguire.

These men came from intimate contact with the
heartless landlords and their unfeeling agents in Ire-
land, and they transferred the prejudices which they
had a right to entertain against these to the coal
operators and their subordinates in authority, the men
under whom it was their lot to labor for the means of

No doubt, in some instances they suffered real
wrongs, and were treated with culpable injustice, but
it is safe to say that in the majority of cases the griev-
ances of which they complained were imaginary rather
than real encroachments upon their rights, and of
which knavish and designing wretches took advantage
in inciting to deeds of violence and outrage.

Crimes of the most shocking nature were committed,
and the perpetrators permitted, in many instances, to
go unpunished through fear of a like fate being visited
upon the informer. Dastardly outrages were com-
mitted with imiDunity, and the lives and property of
''marked" individuals were in constant jeopardy.

Lawlessness and crime had existed in the coal re-
gion since 1848, and these early depredations were aft-
erwards identified as the work of the Mollie Maguires,
since they then employed the same methods of warn-
ing their victims as they later did. These warnings


were crude drawings of coffins, pistole, skulls and
cross-bones, and vulgar notes, declaring the demands
upon the persons for whom they were intended.

They were variously signed, sometimes being given
under the name of ''One of Mollie's Children," and at
other times as *' Black Spots" or ''Buck Shots" and
similar designations.

The society received large accessions in membership
during the early days of the Civil War, when there
was a great demand for men to take the places of
those who had so generously rallied in defense of the
nation and its institutions. Among those who re-
sponded to this demand from across the seas were the
worst classes of the downtrodden population of

It was now becoming apparent that the anthracite
coal fields were infested by spirits the most desperate
and lawless, and, when in 1862, an enrollment for the
purpose of a draft was ordered, the formidable and
dangerous character that animated and distinguished
these men was made manifest.

Assaults, arson and murders were committed, and
the officers of the law seemed utterly powerless to ap-

Online LibraryFred (Frederick Charles) BrenckmanHistory of Carbon County, Pennsylvania; also containing a separate account of the several boroughs and townships in the county, → online text (page 9 of 44)