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Oak Street School - New Castle PA

The six-room Third Ward School, located on Oak Street on the East Side of New Castle, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, was opened in late 1894 at a cost of just over $31,000. The building, later known more prominently as the Oak Street School, served the local primary-aged children in the Croton section of the city. I believe the first principal was twenty-two-year-old Miss Iretta Y. Dart, who would faithfully oversee the school for the next forty-five years.

In conjunction with the Thaddeus Stevens, Lincoln, Garfield, and Croton Schools the new Oak Street School served the growing population of the East Side and by late 1905 housed 355 pupils. In 1912, after owners dropped their asking price to a respectable $1,400 total, the school board was able to purchase three additional lots behind the school along Chestnut Street. A playground and a portable classroom building were built upon this property in the coming years.

Overcrowding became a major issue and in 1913 the school was designated to adhere to the “Gary Plan,” a controversial schooling system originating in the steel town of Gary, Indiana. The plan strives to make efficient and maximum use of every bit of an individual school’s space and facilities. The “platoon” or “work-study-play” system provides for multiple groups of students to alternate between the classroom, playground/gymnasium, and auxiliary rooms/spaces featuring industrial, agricultural, and domestic education studies. The plan called for the constant movement of the pupils (similar to today’s schools) and was in direct contrast to the longstanding style of the old one-room schoolhouses where students basically sat at one desk all day long.

Mr. William A. Wirt (1874-1938), the longtime superintendent of the Gary (Indiana) School District and the man who originated the plan in 1907, actually visited the Oak Street School in May 1912. New Castle was not alone as eventually (by 1929) over 1,000 schools in 200 cities, including those in New York City and Baltimore, experimented with his progressive style of schooling until it fell out of favor after his death in 1938. In the fall of 1913, the Oak Street School was the first in New Castle to adopt this system, but it was later implemented in others such as the Lincoln, Garfield, and Mahoning Schools.

The Gary system required improvements at the Oak Street School and among them was a new playground added in the summer of 1913. A major renovation project was also completed in mid-1915. The enrollment continued to grow and by late 1919 the facility housed 582 pupils. With additional improvements, including adding a portable classroom behind the school in mid-1918, the Gary system allowed eleven separate groups of students to be taught with only eight classrooms during the 1919-1920 school term. While the eight classrooms were occupied, another three groups of students were outdoors on the playground – or in makeshift areas such as the hallways during times of inclement weather.

The September 1924 opening of the Rose Avenue School, of which Iretta Dart also served as principal, helped alleviate some of the overcrowding at the Oak Street School. The Oak Street building, which received a new library in September 1930, also took on seventh and eighth graders for a time as well. During a Parent-Teacher Association (PTA)-sponsored ceremony in early May 1931 a new school song, written by Wesley Davy, an executive with the Lehigh Portland Cement Company, and sung by Carl Gilmore, a civic leader and renowned local singer, was presented.

In June 1940, after forty-eight years of service in the New Castle School District, Iretta Dart officially retired. On the last day of school in early June, her current pupils gathered on the playground of the Oak Street School and bid her a fond farewell. It must have been a bittersweet day for Miss Dart, who enjoyed a lengthy retirement until she passed away at the age of eighty-seven on December 27, 1959. John N. Cornelius took over her position as principal of the Oak Street and Rose Avenue Schools – and later yet of the Harry W. Lockley Elementary School – until he retired in ill health in September 1968.

Miss Anne Perry, longtime principal of several schools including the one on Terrace Avenue, also retired at the same time as Miss Dart. These two women, with ninety-nine combined years of educational service, were two of the most influential female educators in the history of the New Castle school system. Years later, when the aging West Side School was slated for replacement in the late 1950s, the name “Dart-Perry Elementary School” was under consideration during the naming process for the modern facility. In September 1959 the school board members voted 8-1, in line with the wishes of the PTA of the West Side School, to adopt the bland and unimaginative moniker of West Side Elementary School, which opened in September 1960.

The Oak Street School remained in operation throughout the 1940s and in the early 1950s the school board decided to replace the aging structure. Several issues slowed the process including whether to completely renovate the old school and continue using it for a while, whether to replace the old building with one large or two smaller schools, and finding a suitable location for a proposed “new Oak Street School.” It was finally decided to build a new school and a site was purchased off nearby Scott Street. The Oak Street School was retired when the new school, named in honor of local businessman Harry W. Lockley, opened for classes in September 1955.

The old Oak Street School, in service for about sixty years and having only two principals during that time, was not quite done yet. Due to overcrowding issues of their own, the Neshannock Township School District leased the building for the 1955-1956 school term to house an overflow of seventh and eighth graders.

In June 1956, after lengthy negotiations, the former Oak Street School became home to the Pennsylvania State University Center, a satellite campus of the main Penn State campus in State College. The facility offered a two-year course of study with such classes involving drafting, architectural design, and electrical wiring. The center opened for classes in the fall of 1956 and I believe it closed in June 1960 as Penn State officials began looking at more modern facilities. A few years, in September 1965, Penn State opened its newer campuses of Penn State Shenango (at Sharon) and Penn State Beaver (at Monaca).

By the fall of 1960, after Penn State vacated the old school, LARK Enterprises Inc’s Workshop for the Handicapped, a United Way-affiliated agency, moved in and occupied the building for almost a decade. In the late spring of 1969 the New Castle School Board, citing safety regulations, ordered that the aging building must be closed by the first of October of that same year.

In October 1970, the New Castle School Board solicited bids to demolish the Oak Street School and the nearby Pollock Avenue School (once known as the Home Street School). Both aging schools were soon torn down and in September 1973 the vacant sites were put on the market. The Pollock Avenue site was quickly sold, but finding a suitable buyer for the Oak Street site proved difficult. Various alternative plans were put forth such as building a school maintenance facility on the site or turning the property over to the city for use as a playground.

I am honestly not sure who owns the oversized lot these days, but I believe it’s the New Castle Board of Education or the city itself. The site still sits vacant and the foundation from the old school is clearly visible among the grass and weeds. A local homeowner maintains the property by cutting the grass. My uncle Ray Bales Jr. and other members of my family attended this school for a time back in the early 1950s.

To read a short mention about the new Third Ward School in February 1895 click on: PRESENT FLAG MENTION. To read about an Arbor Day celebration put on the pupils in April 1896 click on: ARBOR DAY OBSERVED ARTICLE. To read an excerpt from a much larger article in February 1898 about various school celebrations honoring George Washington’s birthday click on: GAR VISIT ARTICLE. To learn more about a young boy from the Oak Street School who was killed when he was kicked by a horse in May 1898 click on: KILLED BY A HORSE ARTICLE and JOHNSTON PATTON OBITUARY. To read two articles about the school being struck by lightning in early July 1901 click on: LIGHTNING ARTICLES. To read another obituary of an Oak Street School student who died in 1902 click on: GEORGE MARTIN WILSON OBITUARY. To read about a group of Oak Street School students who went Pulaski for a party click on: PARTY AT PULASKI ARTICLE. To read an excerpt of a larger article that shows enrollment and attendance records from the school in December 1905 click on: DEC 1905 REPORT. To read about a game – presumably softball – played between the teachers of Oak Street and the Martin Gantz School in May 1908 click on: TEAM WON ARTICLE. In early 1912 the New Castle School Board was able to purchase the three lots behind the school after several unsuccessful earlier attempts. To learn more it click on: LOTS ARE PURCHASED ARTICLE. To read the real estate agent in that deal returning money he kept – apparently illegally – click on: RETURNS $100 TO SCHOOL BOARD ARTICLE. In May 1912 Mr. William Wirt, the superintendent of the schools in Gary, Indiana, visited New Castle to show school board officials how they could adapt his “Gary Plan.” To read an excerpt of an article that mentions his visit to the Oak Street School click on: UNNECESSARY TO BUILD SCHOOLS ARTICLE. To learn more about the opening of a new playground at the school in the summer of 1913 click on: OPEN PLAYGROUND ARTICLE. To a report from the health inspector in April 1914 that mentions the Oak Street School click on: INSPECTION IS NEARLY FINISHED ARTICLE. To read about the school board purchasing a piano and additional chairs for the school in September 1914 click on: HAS BUSY TIME ARTICLE. To learn more about why the local police were watching over the school in March 1915 click on: POLICEMAN TO WATCH SCHOOL ARTICLE. The school lost several of its teachers at the end of the 1915-1916 school term. To learn more about this loss click on: TEACHERS LEAVE ARTICLES. Due to overcrowding bids were accepted for the construction of a portable building behind the school in June 1918. To read more about it click on: MORE ROOM NEEDED ARTICLE. To read about a fence being built in 1919 to keep the Oak Street pupils out of a neighbor’s yard click on: WILL BUILD FENCE ARTICLE. To read about the health inspector examining the pupils of the school for signs of Scarlet Fever in September 1919 click on: SCARLET FEVER ARTICLE. In late 1919 the Oak Street School was severely overcrowded and the issue of a new school on the East Side was apparently a topic of conversation. To read more about it click on: 582 PUPILS ARTICLE. To learn more about city students who received a certificate in June 1920 for reading at least five books during the past school term click on: FIVE BOOKS REQUIRED ARTICLE. To read an article from September 1922 that discusses the specialization or departmental method of classes, the issue of overcrowding, and a feud between the boys of the Oak Street School and nearby Thaddeus Stevens School click on: SPECIALIZATION ARTICLE.

The six-room Third Ward School, located on Oak Street, was opened on the East Side in late 1894. The building, later known as the Oak Street School, served the local primary-aged children in the lower Croton section of the city. In 1913 the school faced severe overcrowding and instituted the “Gary Plan,” a controversial platoon schooling plan that strives to make efficient and maximum use of every bit of an individual school’s space. This school was closed in June 1955 as the new Harry W. Lockley Elementary School neared completion. The Oak Street School remained in use in various capacities over the years until it was finally torn down in September 1973. (Lawrence County Historical Society photo) (c1920) Full Size

A class photo from 1913-14 depicting students of the Third Ward or Oak Street School. Jeannette Sayre is second from left in second row. (1913) (Photo courtesy of Debby Gillis)

A class photo from the 1913-14 school year of the Third Ward or Oak Street School. Ned C. Chapman is standing 2nd from left end – in back row. (1913) (Photo courtesy of Elaine Chapman Chilcote) Full Size

Another Oak Street School class photo from the 1913-14 school year. Floyd R. Chapman is in the back row – 2nd from right end. (1913) (Photo courtesy of Elaine Chapman Chilcote) Full Size

The old class photo from the 3rd Ward or Oak Street School. Miss Helen Hinkson (standing on right end), a graduate of the Indiana State Normal School, taught at the school from about 1912 until she resigned due to illness in March 1952. (c1920) Full Size

An old drawing of the Third Ward or Oak Street School. (c1900) Full Size

This photo shows the front of the Oak Street School and was probably taken sometime after the school closed in 1955. (c1960)

The grassy lot where the Oak Street School once stood. Notice the rectangular foundation partially hidden by the high grass. In the foreground is the curb on Oak Street. The vacant property extends from Oak Street all the way back to Chestnut Street, which runs behind the behind the large tree and in front of the white house in the background.

View of the foundation remanants of the former Oak Street School. The owner of the light blue house on S. Ray Street maintains the property by cutting the grass. I am not sure who owns the property these days. (Jul 2010)

Another closeup of the foundation remnants. Oak Street is visible in the upper left. I talked with George, a construction worker and motorcycle enthusiast who recently moved into the house (not visible here) in front of the red truck, and he told me how a lot of the guys he now works with attended the Oak Street School long ago. (Jul 2010)

A fine example of an Oak Street School final report card from June 1937. Notice the stamped name of principal Iretta Dart. The pupil, Ruth Stewart of McClain Avenue, was successfully promoted to the seventh grade at Ben Franklin Junior High School for the next school term.


  1. I have been researching family genealogy. This Oak Street school report card really caught by attention. My grandfather (Clarence Richardson) had a sister Ida who was married to a George Stewart. According to her obituary, Ida had a daughter Ruth Stewart Moskal. Could this Ruth Stewart be her?

  2. Are there any other pictures from Oak Street School out there? My Dad was there December 1931 (he was in a school play). I’m not sure which years he went, possibly 1928 to 1935 or so. His brother went as well, as was one year older than him.
    Thanks !!

  3. attended Oak Street the year before Lockley was opened. our classroom was an outside addition to the main school building. under the direction of my teacher, Mr. Ellferrson (sp) i played the lead role of Jackie Gleason with Marlene Clark as my wife.. great memories….

  4. Ruth Stewart is my grandmother.

  5. Ruth Stewart Moskal was my aunt – Her mother was Ida Richardson Stewart who was my grandmother – My father was George T. Stewart who was Ida’s son and Ruth’s brother – George Stewart was my grandfather whom I never knew – Clarence Richardson was my great uncle and brother to Ida Richardson Stewart – and Lorne Moskal (noted here) is my second cousin or is that cousin once removed? Anyway looks like I am related (in one way or another) to both Lorne Moskal (his father was my first cousin) and Elaine Chambers.


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