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Enhancing Family Histories Part 1; Brenneman’s School Memories

Brenneman’s Schoolhouse location in York Township, If it still stood today (Drawn on 2008 Aerial Photo)

This is the first in a series of posts that will provide suggestions for authors to enhance their family histories.  The suggestion for today is the inclusion of notable school memories.  As an example, I’ll use memories about Brenneman’s One-Room Schoolhouse in York Township, York County, PA.

The Brenneman’s School that I will be discussing was one of three Brenneman’s Schools in York County.  The school in York Township was located at the intersection of Donna Lane (a continuation of Tyler Run Road) with South Queen Street.  The sketch of the schoolhouse on a 2008 aerial photo shows the approximate orientation of the school, if it still stood today.

Related Brenneman’s One-Room Schoolhouse posts include:


In 2008 I put together a booklet on York Township’s Brenneman’s One-Room School for the York County Heritage Trust.  My objective was to put the booklet ‘out there’ in hopes of getting someone to supply me with a picture of this particular Brenneman’s School.  This booklet mainly contained memories from my 2001 family history book “Barshingers in America,” augmented with maps and aerial photos.

1938 Aerial Photo of Brenneman’s Schoolhouse in York Township

The aerial photo shown here was taken March 19, 1938.  The 1938 aerial photo orientation is the same as the 2008 marked up photo at the beginning of this post; except no drug stores, no bank and no gas station in sight. In 1938 South Queen Street had been a public road for 19 years.  Previously it was a toll road known as the York and Chanceford Turnpike.

Before writing “Barshingers in America” I reviewed a number of past Family Histories that won in the annual National Genealogical Society’s Genealogical Writing Competition.  The inclusion of notable memories from a prominent one-room school associated with the family was one item they all had in common.

Schoolhouse memories were number one on my list of things for inclusion in writing a family history. In this series on various things for Enhancing Family Histories, I’ll step through the items on that list that I put together before writing my first family history book.

A few of the memories from Brenneman’s One-Room Schoolhouse in York Township follow.  Esther L. Smith, my Mom, provided some of the memories; the gaps were filled in by her sister Virgie Heindel and via a detailed note provided by one of their cousins Paul Barshinger.

The schoolhouse was situated with its vestibule/bell tower room entrance located along Donna Lane.  This would be the area where the teacher would pull the rope to ring the bell to signal the start of the school day, the end of recess, or the end of the lunch hour.  The hooks on both sides of the vestibule would hold the student’s coats and hats.

The front of the school contained two blackboards.  The pot-bellied, coal-burning stove was located up front and to the left, and a piano (at least after 1930) was located up front and to the right—with the teacher’s desk located in between the stove and the piano.  There were two rows of double desks on each side of the room.  And in the back of the room there were two double-door closets that were used for storage of books and supplies.  A water jug with push button spigot contained drinking water—this jug was filled daily with water brought by nearby students.

Outside and set back from the east side of the school were the outhouses and coal bin.  The teacher would carry the coal from the bin and build a fire in the pot-bellied stove on Monday morning; banking it up to keep it burning until Friday afternoon.  The teacher also swept the floor daily and several times a year would apply oil to the wooden floor to cut down on the dust when sweeping.

The first day of each school year was significant to the students; it was the day seats were selected.  Students could select their own seat—one near a window; one near the stove; one with a close friend; or near the back of the room.  Some students would sit next to the same friend in the double desks for all eight grades (that was my Mom).  The school day would begin at 8:30 am and would end at 3:30 pm, with a 15-minute recess in the morning and a 15-minute recess in the afternoon.  Lunch lasted one hour—nearby students would go home for lunch and other students would carry their lunch to school.

Every school day would begin with a Bible reading; then singing of “America” or “The Star-Spangled Banner;” followed by the Pledge to the Flag; and concluding with the Lord’s Prayer.  The students progressed at their own rate in each subject.  For example when grammar was being taught; there was a first grammar class, a second grammar class, etc.—each student would progress to a higher class not necessarily based on school year, but as soon as their competence in the subject would allow.  Other subjects had similar class grouping—i.e arithmetic, reading, writing, penmanship, spelling, geography, history, and physiology.

An important part of each class was recitation, which was always done at the front of the room.  This was the unique feature of one-room schools—all students also learned many important things that the older classes were studying as they observed the recitations to the teacher.  This process allowed students to assimilate a wider range of teacher’s words of advice or corrections in response to recitations at all the class levels.  Not all classes recited every day, but the schedule was adjusted so that each class had two or three recitations each week.

On several occasions during the school year, parents and other family members were invited to attend the school for special events.  One such event was the annual Christmas Pageant.  For this pageant, a curtain would be strung across the front of the room; to form a stage for the performances by the students.

The fifteen-minute recesses in the morning and afternoon were spent playing games in the schoolyard.  Girls usually played circle games such as: Blindman’s Bluff, Stop Red Light, London Bridge, and Two Deep.  Boys usually played ball games such as: Corner Ball, Bat Ball, Hebbley Bebbley, and Andy Over.  The last day of school each year usually consisted of a big hike with a picnic at Springwood Park.

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