Education In Palmyra

Early in the 19th century, two schools were conducted for the benefit of the children of the Palmyra settlement. The Hon. John Kean, to whom we have previously referred, erected a stone building for that purpose in 1805 on the plot of ground he had bought from Palm. Its dimensions were 34 feet by 36 or 38 feet and stood south of the highway about 200 feet, and about 100 feet west of south Locust Street.

It was in use for 40 years. The names of two teachers of this school have been preserved for us: Abraham Philips, Esq., and Alexander Dasher, a third teacher may have been Benjamin German, who afterwards took up the ministry in the Lutheran Church. During the same period a school was conducted in a one story log house located on the north side of the old Derry Road, about 400 feet beyond the point where it branches off from the highway. Adam Grittinger was a teacher in this school in the year 1826.

An old copy book, held by the Horstick family has in it the name of Joseph Horstick, the date January 26, 1826 and the sentence, "He is sitting beside John Karmony, at the time, I go to Grittingers."

About the year 1840 two buildings were erected, one a stone structure on the rear of a lot on the north side of West Main Street in the 400 block; the other, a brick building, located several hundred feet directly south of the first stone building.

These were a part of the State system of free public schools. Pupils attending school in one of these buildings one year would attend sessions in the other building the next year. Teachers in the

Stone building were Mary Pennypacker, in 1855, the sister of the late Governor Pennypacker; her cousin, Emma Boyles of Phoenixville, year 1856; A. Frank Seltzer, later known as Colonel Seltzer, 1859; John Grumbein, 1860; David Shope, 1861. Henry Boeshore, Jerome Henry, Jerome Deininger, William Siechrist, and Allen B. Gross, also taught in the Stone building, although we have not designated the years. Among those who taught in the Brick School were: Aaron E. Wiedman ' 1846 Darius Seltzer, 1854; Louisa Hamilton; Joseph E. Jackson, 1858; D. Balsbaugh, 1850; Mr. Hofford, Sallie Earnest, Lucretia Early, Henry Yohey, Amos Zimmerman, Mr. Irwin, and John Heagy.

The next school house erected was a building of four rooms. This was in the year 1874, though two of the rooms were not occupied until several years later. Among those who taught in this building were: Conrad A. Horstick, Christian Metzler, John Witmer, Hannibal Hartz, Willis Harpe, Ida Landis, Frank Hartz, and John Alleman.

The Palmyra Academy (Witmer Academy) which was located at Main and College Streets, where the first Evangelical Congregational Church now stands, was established in 1857. It was a private institution founded by Professor Peter B. Witmer, who employed the instructors and had sole supervision of the school during the entire history.

The career of the Academy from the beginning was a prosperous one. It was well patronized by the citizens of Palmyra and vicinity, and received year students from adjoining states.

It was at that time the principal institution of learning in this part of the state, and was celebrated as a preparatory school for young men and women who desired to enter college, and ; despite the excellence of the free schools, its higher grade of learning retained for it its early prestige.

Many of the early public school teachers in Lebanon and the counties adjoining received their professional training here. Boys and girls, young men and women - several thousand in number - received their early training and education at Witmer's Academy.

Long after the free school system had been introduced, it retained its early prestige until owing to failing health, Mr. Witmer closed its doors never to be reopened again as an educational institution.

In 1890 the school was abandoned and during the nine years following, 1890-1899, the building was used mainly as a town hall.

In 1899 the building was sold, and the substantial three story brick building - as we remember it, was torn down.

With the formation of a Borough Government, and the continuing increase in population, other changes had to be made to meet the needs of the community. The Palmyra Borough School District was formed in 1913 when the Board of Directors of North Londonderry Township relinquished control of the schools of Palmyra Borough. Sitting on the board of school directors at their initial meeting on December 3, 1913, were: Amos Snavely, President; M.R. Fisher, M.D., Secretary; and members J. A. Schriver, J. A. Detweiler, and C.F. Yoder.

On January 21, 1914 the directors decided to erect a school building on South Railroad Street. Following the approval of a $70,000 bond issue, the building was completed and dedicated on October 12, 1915. Among the speakers were Gov. Martin G. Brumbaugh, Henry Hauck, Secretary Internal Affairs, and County Superintendent John W. Snoke. This building is no longer in existence as it was demolished to make way for the Interfaith Manor which houses elderly residents of Palmyra.

The building on South Railroad Street served the needs of the community for its public school, grades one through twelve until the end of the 1936-37 school term.

The secondary school of Palmyra Borough received classification as a six year Junior-Senior High School in 1928. This school provided secondary school education not only for the Borough of Palmyra, but also for the Township of North Londonderry, whose pupils attended on a tuition basis.

The spring of 1937 marked the completion of a new Junior-Senior High School building on West Cherry Street under the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works at a cost of $260,000. With the beginning of the 1937-38 school term, this building housed grades seven through twelve and the Railroad Street Building grades one through six.

Members of the Board of Directors at this time of were: D. LeRoy Spitler, Harry E. Clark, A. D. Ulrich, Dr. William H. MacEwen, and M. M. Moyer.

Following the census of 1940, Palmyra Borough was classified as a third class school district, indicating a population in excess of 4,000 but less than 30,000.

On July 10, 1952, the directors of Palmyra Borough and North Londonderry Township agreed to operate their schools jointly. This resulted in the abandonment of one-room schools in the Township. Subsequently, on July 14, 1955, by vote of the electorate, the school districts of Palmyra Borough and North Londonderry Township were dissolved and one district, the Palmyra Area School District, was created.

The members of the boards of the two former districts formed the Board of Directors of the new school district. Comprising the board were Cyrus J. Forney, Rev. Melvin E. Patrick, Perry D. Bicksler, J. Early Stauffer, Harold E. Cockley, J. Nissley Imboden, and Henry H. Mark from Palmyra Borough; and Casper E. Arndt, Dr. Homer Forney, Allen G. Bucher, Clair Seltzer and Claude Bomgardner from North Londonderry Township. Dr. Homer Forney served as the first President of the new Board.

On July 2, 1956 the Palmyra Area School District and the School District of South Londonderry Township agreed to jointly operate their schools. Harold E. Cockley, Dr. Homer Forney, Claude Bomgardner, Henry H. Mark, Cyrus J. Forney, J. Early Stauffer, Perry D. Bicksler, Paul E. Hershey, Allen G. Bucher, and Casper E. Arndt from Palmyra Area and Clarence Kegerreis, Mark Hitz, C.E. Gingrich, Herbert S. Straub and Clair E. Stoner from South Londonderry Township comprised the Joint Board with Harold E. Cockley serving as the first president.

It was apparent to the School Board that the increased size of the school area, as well as the steadily increasing population required additional school facilities. Consequently, in February of 1957, the Palmyra Area Joint School Authority was formed to finance and construct the needed improvements. Comprising the Authority were Louis S. Alspach, Chairman; Rev. Warren E. Adams, Harold H. Herr, Victor Hoffer, and G. Wilbur Gibble.

The Forge Street Elementary School, comprising -14 classrooms and situated on a 13 acre tract of land, was completed and occupied on October 20, 1958. The bond issue for this building was $597,000.

During the 1959-60 school term, a project involving the complete renovation of the Railroad and Cherry Street buildings, as well as the building of an addition thereto, was completed. The bond issue for this project was $1,842,000. The Railroad Street Building housed Junior High students; the Cherry Street Building housed Senior High students; and the addition common facilities to be used by both.

The construction of the Pine Street Elementary School was completed for occupancy in September, 1961. The 20 classroom construction carried a bond issue of $845,000.

In July, 1962 the Palmyra, North Londonderry Township and South Londonderry Township school districts merged to form the Palmyra Area School District. The members of the Board were Paul E. Hershey, Jesse D. Ziegler, Casper E. Arndt, Cyrus J. Forney, Robert S. Weidler, Carl R. Baum, Harold E. Cockley, Allen G. Bucher, Dr. Homer S. Forney, Dr. James M. Keiter, Herbert S. Straub and E. Mark Hitz.

The Northside Elementary School was occupied in September, -1967. the 16 classroom building had a bond issue of $1,050,000. Six years later construction of the Palmyra Area High School was completed at a cost of $6,100,000. The 1972-73 school year marked the closing of the Campbelltown School and the property was transferred to the South Londonderry Township in December, 1973.

Labor and Industry condemned the Railroad Street Building in 1978. The District sold the building to the Palmyra Council of Churches who in turn razed the building and constructed the Interfaith Manor, senior citizen housing.

A ten room addition to the Cherry Street Building was completed in September 1981. The Lawn Elementary Building was sold during the summer of 1981. Since 1981 the District has housed grades K-.5 in the Pine Street, Forge Road and Northside Elementary Schools, grades 6-9 in the Middle School on Cherry Street and grades 10-12 in the Palmyra Area High School.

The following men have served the schools of the Palmyra community in the capacity of Chief School Administrator: C. S. Crumbling, 1912--17; M. M. Metzger, 1918; C.F. Harnish, 1919-1927; R.E. Hartz, 1927-1956; William H. Bolger, 1956-1976; and Dr. James L. Dell, 1976 to the present.

At the present time the Palmyra Area School District has an enrollment of 2610. The District employs 157 professional employees and 95 non certificated personnel. The 1984-8,5 educational budget is $8,076,824.

The Palmyra Area School District has been built on a solid foundation.

Excerpted fromWe Love PALMYRA 225THAnniversary