Murrysville students get a glimpse of the past in a replica 1800s schoolhouse
When Laura Hoff was looking to teach local history in Murrysville to her Calvary Early Learning Center students, she didn’t realize there was a packed building just up the street.
“I saw a Trib article describing the (replica of) the old school in Murrysville,” Hoff said. “I stopped there, walked around the grounds and looked out the windows. And since then, I want to go there!
This week, Hoff was lucky enough to lead a group of Calvary students on a lesson tailored to Monroeville’s “schoolmistress” Suellen Watt’s period in the 1800s schoolhouse that the Murrysville Historical Preservation Society rebuilt in 2020.
Watt explained how the “school day” was planned.
“Normally we would all have the boys sitting on the right and the girls on the left,” she said. “But there is only one little boy in this group, so they will be sitting together.”
One of the first orders of the 1860s school day was chores – pumping water and bringing logs for the authentic bellied stove that was installed in the schoolhouse.
The pupils were divided into two groups, one working on the alphabet and numbers, and the older pupils taking part in a quill pen calligraphy lesson.
“During the school day back then, there were always multiple different things going on at the same time because their ages spanned multiple years in one class,” Watt said.
Watt, a member of the Murrysville Historical Preservation Society, was joined by fellow society members Sandy Knepper and Sharon Parker. All three were dressed in the same period attire they usually wear at the group’s annual festival, held on the same grounds as the school and the Sampson-Clark Toll House.
After a brief lunch, the students went out for an hour of recreation, trying their hand at older, familiar games such as checkers, pick-up sticks and jacks, but also even older hobbies.
“There’s a game that girls usually play called ‘graces,’ where they use two dowel rods to toss a hoop back and forth,” Watt said. “There are also quoits, which are sort of a precursor to horseshoes. It’s from Greece, but I believe the Native Americans also had a version, where you try to throw a ring on – or as close as possible – to a right ankle.
Recess was mandatory in the mid-1800s, Watt said.
“It was part of the program, because when these kids came home, they didn’t have time to play,” she said. “They had chores, they had to help run the farm.”
Hoff students probably don’t have to worry about that.
“I’m excited for them to take a lesson, do a craft, and learn some of the games they played back in the day,” Hoff said.