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Thaddeus Stevens School - New Castle, PA

Between 1890 and 1900 and population of New Castle, Pennsylvania, nearly tripled due to the thriving mills located in the town. As a result larger schools were needed to replace the many one-room buildings in operation throughout the city. In early 1898 it was decided to build a new East Side schoolhouse out on Pittsburg Street (now East Washington Street), an odd move to many because the area was mostly sparsely populated farmland. Children in the area had previously been attending classes in an old blacksmith shop located across the street from where the new school would be constructed. The building of the school would prove a wise move as they population of the area exploded in the coming years.

In May 1898 the school board announced that the building would be known as the Thaddeus Stevens School, named in honor of the wealthy Philadelphia lawyer who became the most powerful U.S. Congressman during the American Civil War. Stevens was a staunch supporter of the abolitionist movement, a devoted supporter of civil equality for all races, and the father of the early public school system in Pennsylvania.

The architectural firm of C. C. Thayer designed the school and construction soon got underway in mid-1898. The new building opened for classes sometime later that year. The two-story structure, with a full basement as well, was equipped with a two-ton bell that rang out several times a day. Wilson M. Eckles, a pioneering educator originally from Mercer County, served as the principal for the first two years until George T. Robinson took over the reins. The first teachers were Ivah Dart, Effie Leslie, Harriet Sterling, and Clara Hamilton. Robinson resigned in June 1904 to begin study as a minister and was succeeded by S. A. Wilson. Wilson was succeeded in 1907 by John H. Frishkorn, who guided the school for the next seventeen years before resigning to enter the field of real estate in Michigan.

The area along East Washington Street grew rapidly as lots of new homes and businesses were constructed in the early 1900’s. Overcrowding became a serious issue throughout New Castle and particularly on the East Side. Thaddeus Stevens, then serving grades one through seven, grew from 345 students in 1907 to 596 students in 1915. In 1916 a five-room addition, costing $45,000 and designed by architectural firm of Thayer & Thayer, was built onto the back of the school. This brought the capacity of the school up to 800 students but it was still not enough. By early 1920 six portable classrooms had also been constructed behind the school to accommodate the growing student population.

The school served the East Side community for many years until plans were formulated in early 1961 to replace the almost sixty-three-year-old structure with a new Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School. Additional plans called for two other antiquated elementary schools, those at Croton Avenue and Highland Avenue, to also be replaced at about the same time.

The plan on the lower East Side called for the purchase of additional properties just behind the old Thaddeus Stevens School and to construct the new building at that location. The old school would later be demolished and its location used as the new school playground. The W. G. Eckles Company was awarded the contract to design the new building, which would cost about $520,000 in all. The two-story structure would have two main entrances, an upper level entrance on Harrison Street and a lower level entrance on Morton Street.

There were some delays but construction finally got underway in the fall of 1962. In July 1963, when the new school was almost completed, the demolition of the old school got underway. Within a few months the remains of the old structure were cleared away and a new playground and basketball court were built at that site. The new twelve-room school, with a large multi-purpose room, opened for classes in September 1963.

The old bell, which had ceased being rung back in the early 1950’s, was saved from destruction by the efforts of a concerned local citizen named D. O. Davies of East Washington Street. He purchased the bell and helped develop a plan to see it mounted near the new playground as a monument to the old Thaddeus Stevens School. Architect W. G. Eckles designed the pedestal that the old bell, which was refinished, would rest while on permanent display.

In June 1987 a reorganization plan called for the closing of five elementary schools (Arthur McGill, Mahoning, Lincoln-Garfield, Rose Avenue, and West Pittsburg) and the George Washington Junior High School. Thaddeus Stevens, along with the John F. Kennedy and West Side buildings, would become known as Primary Centers beginning in the summer of 1988 and house children in grades 1-5.

In in late 2009 an ambitious plan called for the realignment of existing city schools. The plan called for the expansion of the Harry W. Lockley into an Early Learning Center (for grades K-2), the closing and selling off of the three primary centers, and the expansion of the George Washington Intermediate School (for grades 3-6). The modern New Castle Junior-Senior High School building would then be home to the newly-renamed New Castle Junior High School (grades 7-9) and the existing New Castle Senior High School (grades 10-12).

After several years of bitter debate the project was finally implemented in late 2012 – and construction of the $22 million Harry W. Lockley Early Learning Center was soon began. As a result the Thaddeus Stevens Primary School (in addition to the John F. Kennedy and West Side buildings) was closed for good in early July 2014. The Thaddeus Stevens building, appraised at $120,000, was soon put up for sale in a sealed bid auction. The high bid of $75,000 was accepted in September 2014 and is currently pending final approval. As soon as zoning issues can be resolved the proposed new owner, Disability Options Network, plans to open administrative offices in the former school.

To read about the new school being named in honor of Thaddeus Stevens in 1898 click on: BUILDING IS NAMED ARTICLE. To read about a luncheon hosted by school principal George Robinson in December 1900 click on: LUNCHEON ARTICLE. To learn more about why Robinson resigned in 1904 click on: ROBINSON RESIGNS ARTICLE. The school board was in a longstanding dispute with the general contractor about the (faulty) operation of the school’s heating system. To see an article in early 1906 that mentions that dispute click on: HEATING COMPANY TRIAL ARTICLE. To learn more about three teenaged boys in trouble for breaking into the school in June 1907 click on: BOYS PLEAD GUILTY ARTICLE. To read about the unexpected death of Clara Hamilton, an original teacher and the assistant principal at the school, click on: POPULAR TEACHER DIES ARTICLE. To read about the odd gymnastics program at the school in 1912 click on: GYMNASTICS ARTICLE. To read a short article from January 1912 about overcrowding at the school click on: SCHOOL CROWDED ARTICLE. By early 1916 the school was growing increasingly overcrowded and in need of a solution. To read an article about the issue and what might be done click on: MORE ROOM NECESSARY ARTICLE. To learn more about the plans in April 1916 to add an addition onto the back of the school click on: READY FOR BIDS ARTICLE. To view a notice soliciting building contractors for the proposed addition click on: CONTRACTORS NOTICE. To read the plan in August 1919 to erect additional portable classrooms to the school grounds click on: PORTABLE CLASSROOMS ARTICLE. To learn more about the shop building at Ben Franklin Junior High School being designated for use as an annex for Thaddeus Stevens students click on: SHOP WILL BE ANNEX ARTICLE.

(New Castle News Wednesday May 4, 1898)

The old Thaddeus Stevens School on Pittsburg Street (now East Washington Street) in the early 1900’s. The schoolhouse, which opened in the fall of 1898, was built in what was then a sparsely populated farmland area.

The school was named in honor of flamboyant Pennsylvanian politician Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868), the father of the public school system in the state. He passed an act in 1834 that led to the establishment of the free public school system in Pennsylvania. (c1860)

Stevens was a staunch abolitionist and was actively involved in the Underground Railroad. He became a powerful member of the U.S. House of Representatives during the Civil War and led the fight against “Slave Power.” After the war he was a major figure in the Reconstruction Era. (c1860)

The old schoolhouse in the 1920’s. You can see that houses now stand around it as the local population had expanded significantly southward along Butler Road/East Washington Street. The school was later closed in 1963 when a new Thaddeus Stevens School was built right behind it.

A group of 6th graders from a photo marked as 1944. A young Marlene Mitchell in standing in the second row – third from left end with the striped dress. (1944) (Photo courtesy of Denise Guthery) Full Size

The old Thaddeus Stevens School (mismarked on this old postcard as the Highland Avenue School) was designed by the architectural firm of C. C. Thayer and opened in late 1898. Wilson M. Eckles (1870-1934), a well-respected educator born in Mercer County, served as the first principal of the school. He later served at other schools, including as principal of West Middlesex High School, and for many years was employed with the American Book Company, a publisher of educational books and materials for schools. (c1910) (Photo courtesy of Grace DiThomas DiVirgilio) Full Size

The newer Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School on Harrison Street, which opened in 1963. I believe the older schoolhouse sat up to the right in the adjoining playground area. (Aug 2010)

The bell from the old schoolhouse, which last rang out back in the early 1950’s, was saved and put on display at the corner of East Washington and Harrison Streets. The newer school is visible in the background. The old schoolhouse sat to the right where the basketball court is basically located. A memorial plaque commemorating the old bell and schoolhouse is sorely needed – or perhaps went missing? (Aug 2010)

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  1. i heard the schoolbell isnt the thaddeus stevens bell, but actually came from the pollock ave/ home st school. not absolutely sure but have heard stories that it came from that school.

  2. We used to climb up and walk along the ledge running along the bottom of the 1st floor windows starting at the low end (far end in pic) and would see how far we could make it to the high end that seemed 100’ off the ground back then.

  3. I remember attending this school with fond memories. Playing in the playground at recess time. In the gym, climbing the high robe. Loved all the teachers there. I was there from 1963-1969. My teachers were Miss Mabel Dickey (1st), Miss Nancy Myers (2nd), Miss Mildred Lusk (3rd), Mrs. McKim (4th), Mrs. Brown (5th) and Mrs Schepp (6th). Mrs Ruth Weir was the Music Teacher. Mr. Peter Grittie was principal.

  4. I attended from 1957-1963. The top floor was condemned the summer of 1959. Three homes faced Harrison Street and were razed for the playground c. 1920. My second grade teacher Miss Lucile Courtney taught second grade there from c.1922 to 1963. She lived on the Old Pittsburgh Road and walked 3 1/2 miles to and from school—and she never missed. Milk was 20 cents and week and raised to 25 cents in 1958. An electric bell replaced one in the belfry in 1953.

  5. attended there from 1941 thru 1944.glen mc cracken was the principal .peter grittie was our arithmetic teacher,mre mc clurg, laura cowmeadow ,nancy hillyard mrs wolfe, mrs pancratz,,mrs gibbons mr book janitor,,collecting tin cans..war effort.mrs davies, center stairwell,up and down ,remember the boys room urinals,was a crossing guard..washington and harrison streets used to swing a long pole wih flag to stop traffic ,potters market across the street ,were two basketball bankboards and a soft ball field in back on harrison st. Mrs McClurg’s son was a member of the black sheep fighter squadron …remember her reading his letters to us especially when he shot down his first japenese zero Ablong time ago

  6. I attended my 3rd grade year there. 1979/80. Thanks for the memories.

  7. I attended 1st through 6th grade back in the late 70’s early 80’s.
    1st Grade Mrs. Ruscille
    2nd Grade Miss Myers
    3rd Grade Mrs. Lyerson
    4th Grade Miss Harven
    5th Grade Mrs. Ryan
    6th Grade Mrs. Tofel
    So many great memories and friends made there.

  8. My father was born in 1926 and attended there in the 30’s. He was attending Jeannette high school in 1944 when he enlisted in the navy on his 18th birthday. Two months later, he landed at Normandy.


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