EARLY NORTH WALES: ITS HISTORY AND ITS PEOPLE, Part 10

The old public school building on School street, which in 1959 was purchased by the borough for the sum of $1, was erected in 1877 at a cost of $7,000. Although heavily altered, today this building serves as North Wales Borough Hall.

The following appeared in the North Wales Record of April 28, 1877:

“The School Board of North Wales has purchased a handsome lot of ground, comprising about an acre, bounded by Third and Fourth streets and School and Beaver streets, upon which will be erected, this coming summer, a new school house. The purchase of this lot was unanimously favored by the board. The price paid for the ground is $1,000. [Clarification:  the ground purchased for the school was in fact eight vacant building lots:  four facing Beaver street and four facing School street.]

This is the School Street school, when new in 1877. The left facade faces School Street, and the right facade faces 4th Street.

“The new building will comprise four rooms, and will be constructed in a manner that will be eminently creditable to our beautiful and growing borough. The commendable zeal of each community to secure abundant school facilities is too frequently accompanied by an oversight of the necessity of looking after the health, as well as the education, of the young. Vigor of body and industry of habit are just as essential elements of strength as intellectual culture, and the one cannot attain to any great excellence without the other.

This 1893 photograph shows that the 1877 school building had not been added onto, yet.

“The present borough school [on N. Main Street] is entirely inadequate to meet the wants of the pupils, and reasoning from past experience, the school board proposes that the new building shall meet every requirement necessary. Just what plan will be adopted is yet undecided, but it is safe to say the building and its equipment will equal in every respect any in Montgomery County, as it very properly should, for of what advantage are the fine new school houses fast growing up throughout the County unless they meet the important requisites of health in heating and ventilation, in lighting, in the proper arrangement of the furniture, and other purely physical conditions of a health school with wholesome provisions for teachers and pupils?

This photograph shows the 1896 addition to the 1877 school building. The 1877 building is behind the addition, and can’t be seen in this photo. The vantage point of this photo is on School Street.

“Economy of space is a poor reason for putting successive generations of pupils to work under conditions that are admittedly unfavorable to physical development. Bad contracts and extravagant, useless furniture, and other waste in money outlay may be corrected even if they cannot be excused. But our school board are men of judicious minds, economical yet progressive ideas, and we believe the power invested in them to carry out the construction of the new building to a successful consummation will be wisely exercised.”

This photograph taken from 3rd Street includes a glimpse of the original 1877 school building, on the left. The bell tower and balustrade atop the 1896 addition (center and right) were removed by this time.

It appears that the construction of this school building created considerable dissension among members of the school board because of the cost, as it was deemed that the new school house was an unnecessary expense. Because of this split in the school board, one of its members, Enos M. Lukens, grandfather of George E. Lukens and Clara Lukens Brooks, refused to meet with the board, and the editor of the North Wales Record, knowing him to be a man of undoubted integrity and veracity – one who, as a member of the board, always endeavored to discharge his duties faithfully and honestly – and for the good of the community only, sought an interview with him regarding the alleged wrongs committed by the school board.

The renovated North Wales borough hall was dedicated in 2005. Portions of the old school building are incorporated into the new.

The following interview between Wilmer H. Johnson, editor of the North Wales Record, and Mr. Lukens is quoted from the November 10, 1877 issue of the local paper:

Record — Mr. Lukens, you have no personal animosity against any member of the school board, have you?

Mr. Lukens — Not a particle.

Record — When were you elected a member of the board, and when did you cease to meet with it?

Mr. Lukens — I was elected in the spring of 1876, and met regularly with the board up until last June. At the time of my election I was waited upon by leading citizens of the borough and urged to take my seat in that body, for I had an inclination not to do so, notwithstanding my election.

Record — Upon what grounds do you decline to meet with the board?

Mr. Lukens — As I was not at Conshohocken with the board to view the school building there, and was not posted in building school houses, I thought my services in the board of no longer account. The board set a time for me to go with them, but changed that time without proper notice to me, and the president of the board told me I could go in the [railroad] cars. The members who did go, went in carriages.

Record — Previous to this treatment did the board show any anxiety to have you along?

Mr. Lukens — Yes. The president thought I would be of great service – that I would see things that the other members would not notice – which would be of importance to the board in the construction of the new building.

Record — The original specifications for the construction of the school house were drawn up by you, were they not?

Mr. Lukens — They were, and were unanimously adopted by the board; but the building is not constructed according to those specifications. The botch in the cellar, a very important point about the building, and which gives it that squatty appearance, is attributed to me, but I emphatically deny it. The original specifications allowed one foot fall for the drainage of the cellar. The fall should have commenced at the north corner, as the board agreed was correct. But Mr. Harley directed that the opposite southern corner was the one to begin at, which gives the cellar a depth of five and a half feet in the clear, instead of six and a half according to my specifications, and hence the botch.

Record — Had you any interest in the contract further than for the public good?

Mr. Lukens — No; and positively had no thought of entering a bid in any way or shape for the construction of the building.

Record — Hasn’t there been an unnecessary expense attached to the school?

Mr. Lukens — There has. When the matter of building the school was first approached, $3,000 was thought to be a fair sum for the purpose. That amount would have made a good building, but of course would not have allowed for unnecessary extras.

Record — How much over $5,000 do you think the building will cost?

Mr. Lukens — I say $1,500 or $2,000.

This post is sourced from a column entitled Early North Wales: Its History and Its People penned by long-time North Wales resident historian Leon T. Lewis. The article appeared in its original form in the May 12, 1959 issue of the North Penn Reporter.