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PUBLIC SCHOOLS—Free public schools were established in New Jersey in 1871 after a struggle of almost fifty years by the progressive educational forces of the State. The first educational legislation was passed in 1816 when State school funds were established, the income from which was to be used for the support of schools. In 1820 permission was granted to levy taxes “for the education of such poor children as are paupers.” The first general school law was passed in 1829 after an investigation showing that one-third of the children of the State were without educational opportunities. This estimable law provided for district schools, school trustees, licensed teachers and local taxation. $20,000 per annum was appropriated to establish the system. This law, however, was repealed during the following year and the old pauper system reestablished. Under this system public moneys were used exclusively for the education of the children of the poor. The battle against the “pauper system” as well as against the “rate bill” and for an absolutely free public school system was renewed with vigor. Thinking men realized that direct taxation was the best method. Their slogan was, “the wealth of the State must educate the children of the State.”
A convention was held at Trenton in 1838 at which a committee of nine with Rev. George Washington Doane, Rector of St. Mary’s Church at Burlington as Chairman was appointed to prepare an address to the people of New Jersey on the educational needs of the State. Speakers were sent out to every section of the State to talk to the people about this very important subject. So much interest in a free public school system was aroused that the pauper 'school laws were repealed. In 1844 a new State Constitution was adopted which limited the use of the income from all State school funds exclusively to the support of the pub-
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lie schools. Our schools, however, were not absolutely free until 1871 when the Rate-bill was abolished. Tinder its provisions the parents of children attending the district schools were taxed pro rata for any deficiency in revenue in the maintenance of the school. Education was very cheap in those days and the amount of the tax usually very small, yet it kept many parents from sending their children to school.
A district school was located at the southeast corner of Church and Second Streets and was known locally as the “Friendship School.” This frame school house containing but one room, faced Church Street—then known as Fork Landing Road—and was erected about 1830. Second Street was not laid out until 1840. Under the Rate-bill parents of the children attending this school were required to pay a small sum per day for each child in attendance. This school house was moved across Second Street in about 1850 to the lot on which the public school buildings now stand where it remained until the first free public school house was erected in 1873. It was then purchased by Andrew Aitken, father of our townsmen, Gilbert and Andrew Aitken, and moved back to its original location. The rear portion of the house now standing at the southeast corner of Church and Second Streets is part of this old building.
Men now living in Moorestown tell interesting stories of their school days in this old building. Directly in front of the teacher’'s desk, a high affair that stood on a raised platform, a nail was partially driven in the floor. The boy about to be whipped was compelled, after removing his coat, to lean over and place one hand on this nail. He was then thrashed mercilessly oftentimes for what we would consider minor offenses. One boy on his way to school reached through a neighbor’s garden fence and stole a tomato and was unfortunately detected in the act. The owner of the garden complained to the teacher and the boy was whipped until he fainted. Just what would happen if a boy committed a major offense is left to the imagination
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of the reader. In winter time when the big boys attended school, the teacher was invariably a man who no doubt was selected for his brawn as well as his brain. In the spring and summer months when the big boys as well as the teacher were needed on the farm, a sister or daughter often acted as teacher. The school was then called a “dame” school.
The new brick school erected in 1873 was a two story affair and contained four class rooms. A photograph of this building and the frame district school building that preceded it were exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in 1876 in the New Jersey Educational Building to show the progress in school construction. Miss Rebecca T. Garrigues was the first principal of the public school and was followed by Miss Anna Weld, daughter of the Episcopal Minister, Rev. H. Hastings Weld. Miss Ella M. M. Carr, now Mrs. Gilbert Aitken, succeeded Miss Weld in 1878. Mrs. Aitken faithfully served the community as principal and teacher for thirty years. This building was torn down in 1914 when the present handsome High School building was erected. The brick building on Second Street nearest to Church, formerly the High School was erected in 1898 and is now used as a gymnasium. No. 9 school building adjoining it on the east now being used for the lower grades, was built in 1906. The Moorestown High School under the leadership of Professor George C. Baker, has achieved an enviable position among the educational institutions of the State.
Another district school was located on the north side of Camden Pike directly opposite the Catholic Cemetery. It was a small frame building containing only one room and according to the memory of some now living in Moorestown who attended this school, it was a very old building at that time. Our townsman, Jeremiah Haines, now in his eighty-second year, taught in this school as well as in the district school building that stood at the northeast corner of Church and Second Street.
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FRIENDS’' SCHOOLS—Prior to the establishment of the district schools, the schools of Moorestown and neighborhood were either under the care of the Society of Friends or were conducted in the homes of individuals as private enterprises. The Society of Friends at a very early date became deeply interested in the education of its youth. The Yearly Meeting held in 1746 expressed the desire “that Friends in their several Monthly Meetings be encouraged to assist each other in the settlement and support of schools for the instruction of their children at least to read and write.” The minute proceeds to say, “many of the children of Friends previous to that time were brought up without school instruction; and even those in comfortable circumstances in some country places for want of convenient schools never learned either to read or write.” The Yearly Meeting of 1778 expressed a united concern “for the establishment of schools for the instruction of youth in useful learning.” The minute further stated that notwithstanding the pressing recommendations before mentioned “very little had been done efficiently in the matter.”
On Eighth month 31st, 1784, Chester Preparative Meeting of Friends (Moorestown) purchased one and one-quarter acres of land from Job and Ann Cowperthwaite located on School House Lane west of the Haddonfield Road not far from the old Matlack homestead still standing at the corner of School House Lane and Fellowship Road. This lot was bought for school purposes and a brick school house was erected thereon during the following year. The school stood near the King’s Highway not far from its junction with the old Ferry Road leading to Camden. This school house was apparently erected a little before the Friends’' Stone School in Moorestown to which I will refer later in this article.
A minute of Evesham Monthly Meeting dated Ninth month 10th, 1784, clearly indicates that neither the brick, school on the Matlack farm or the stone school in Moorestown was the first to be established under the care of
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Chester Meeting. This minute records “that a school at Moorestown had been discontinued; that another is likely to be established in Chester (Township) near Job Cowperthwaite’s and that the above named school at Evesham is established.” I have found no other reference to a school having been held in Moorestown under the care of the Meeting prior to 1785 and I assume it was held in the Meeting House. Preparative Meeting records show that a committee was appointed on Twelfth month 6th, 1785 “to have the care and oversight of the Friends’ School near William Matlack’s” to which I have just referred. It is interesting to note that in 1818 the average attendance in this school was thirty-one. The school at that time was kept open about four months during each year. At the time of the Separation in the Society of Friends in 1827, the Brick School was retained by the Hicksite Friends and was used by them until 1872 when it passed under control of the County and was used as a public school building until 1917 when it was sold to Joseph Matlack. It is still standing on the Matlack farm and is now used during the summer months to house berry pickers. For several years after the Separation the Orthodox Friends conducted a school in the home of Joseph Roberts who lived in the neighborhood. In 1835, they purchased a lot from George Matlack on the road leading from Fellowship to Lenola and built thereon a small frame school house. The price paid for the lot was One Dollar and it was agreed that George Matlack should have the privilege of buying the land and building if the Brick Schoool should be restored to the Meeting or the school discontinued. This School House stood on the south side of Lenola Road about one-quarter mile east of the Haddonfield Road on land now owned by Arthur J. Collins. It was taught for many years by Esther Roberts, a woman of strong character who was greatly loved by her pupils. The Society of Friends erected the Stone School House in Moorestown in 1785 on land purchased by the Meeting in
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1781 from Ephraim Haines to be used exclusively for Meeting purposes. On First month 3d, 1786, a committee was appointed by Chester Preparative Meeting “to have the care and oversight of the Friends’ School in Moorestown and inspect into the good order and improvements thereof.” Another minute dated Eighth month 8th, 1786, refers to the school house “lately erected on the lot of land in Moorestown belonging to said Meeting.” The minute also called attention to the fact that the cost of the building two hundred fifty-three pounds and twelve shillings had not all been subscribed. Subsequent minutes show that the small attendance of these early Friends’ Schools was a matter of “deep concern” to the Trustees. These records definitely set the date of the building of this school house.
The school was a plain square stone building with a vestibuled entrance on the south side. It served its purpose until 1878 when a one room brick addition was erected on the northern side. The section of stone wall on the western side of the school building standing between the two Meeting Houses, south of the main entrance, formed part of the building erected in 1785. Rachel Hunt, who afterwards married David Roberts, grandfather of the Roberts brothers of Moorestown, taught in this school for many years. According to an interesting family tradition, she at one time asked the committee in charge of the school for an assistant which request was denied as the committee could not see why she needed help with only one hundred children under her care. As the building was not large it is probable that one hundred children did not attend school at one time.
The name “Friends’ Academy” was given to the school shortly after its enlargement in 1878. The name was suggested and earnestly advocated by Mary Warrington Stokes who apparently had a vision of its future growth. Richard Cadbury was the first Principal of the Academy and was followed by Edward Forsythe, Walter L. Moore and William F. Overman. When William Overman became
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Principal in 1893 the Academy Building consisted of the old stone school building and the brick addition on the northern side to which a second story had been added for the use of the Friends’ Library. He also “dreamed dreams” of the school’s future growth which he clearly foresaw would follow the erection of a larger building with better equipment and the addition of several courses to the curriculum. Under his leadership a two story addition was added on the south side and later the stone building was taken down with the exception of the west wall and the present building erected. As many as one hundred and sixty-four pupils attended the school during his administration.
The Friends’ High School building located at the northwest corner of Chester Avenue and Second Street, dates back to the division in the Society in 1827 and was entirely under the care of the Hicksite Friends until the two schools were merged in 1920 and placed under the control of a joint committee representing the two Meetings. The first building, a small frame affair, was erected in 1829 on the plot of land purchased by the Society of Friends from Nathan Heritage in 1795. It faced Chester Avenue and originally stood on land now occupied by Second Street. When Second Street was laid out about 1840, the building was moved a little to the North, where it stood until 1880 when it was torn down and the present building erected. The uniting of the schools in 1920 has worked out very satisfactorily and has also had the happy effect of bringing the two branches of Friends into closer fellowship.
The first Kindergarten School in Moorestown was established by the Hicksite Friends in the Fall of 1883. Rachel L. Rogers was the first teacher and it is interesting to note that her salary for the first year was thirty dollars per month. Sarah Wilson, now Mrs. Nathan Conrow, was engaged to assist her in 1885. Thirty-four pupils were enrolled in the winter of 1888‑9 with an average attendance of twenty-seven.
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On Fourth month 25th, 1889, Rachel Rogers was granted a leave of absence to further perfect herself in kindergarten work. In Seventh month, 1890, she entered into an agreement with the School Committee under which she was to run the school as her own enterprise, the Meeting agreeing to supply the building and school furniture. In the Spring of 1891 she informed the Committee that she would not be a candidate for another year. She opened a Kindergarten School in the home of Mrs. Foote at the southeast corner of Chester and Central Avenues in the Fall of 1891. Shortly afterwards the school was moved to her home on Central Avenue and conducted by her for several years.
Rachel Rogers, who studied under Madame Kraus, a pupil of Froebel, was an earnest and gifted educator and should be remembered and honored as the Founder of the Kindergarten Schools in this vicinity.
W. Elmer Barrett was the first Principal of the United Schools and under his leadership the experiment proved to be most successful. During his administration important alterations were made in the school building and the standard of the school raised in many ways. The Moorestown Friends' School with the financial and moral support of both Meetings has assumed a leading position among the educational institutions of South Jersey. Mr. Barrett was succeeded by Chester L. Reagan in 1925. Under his inspiring leadership the old Academy building was again enlarged and improved in many ways. The removal of the library to the Community House and the removal of the kitchen to the basement of the Friends' Meeting House in the western end of the yard, made additional room for the entrance of more pupils. In 1929, the present handsome High School building was erected and the school house on Chester Avenue abandoned. A large measure of credit for the planning and building of this splendidly equipped school is due to Samuel R. Matlack, Chairman of the Building Committee. The Moorestown Friends' School now can accommodate six hundred pupils and opened this Fall with
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four hundred and one pupils enrolled. It is undoubtedly the largest college preparatory school in South Jersey.
PRIVATE SCHOOLS—I have found no record of any school in the neighborhood of Moorestown prior to the establishment of the Friends’ Schools in 1785 and very few references to the schools of that period. As Friends laid great stress on education, there were no doubt many private schools conducted by members of the Society prior to that time. Woodward and Hageman’s “History of Burlington County” mentions a frame school house that stood on the old Ferry Road near its junction with King’s Highway not far from the Friends’ Brick School. This school, according to the account, was abandoned when the Brick School was established by the Meeting in 1785. An article written by Dr. A. M. Stackhouse and published in the Moorestown Chronicle many years ago contained the following reference to a school on King’s Highway. “Prior to 1756 a school house stood on the east side of King's Highway near the south branch of Pensauken Creek on land owned (when the article was written) by William T. Lippincott.” The Lippincott farm was located on Church Road opposite the Colestown Cemetery and was separated from the old Reuben Matlack farm now farmed by Lindley H. Gardiner by the south branch of Pensauken Creek. I am of the opinion that this was the same school as the one referred to in the old History as they were located in the same neighborhood.
Dr. Stackhouse in this or possibly another article, stated that Joseph Roberts (born in 1742) “who gave some information about the schools of his time, mentions a Wallis School and a Roberts School where he went to school.” I talked with the Roberts brothers of Moorestown who are lineal descendants of Joseph Roberts about the Roberts School but they do not seem to have any knowledge of any school known by that name during the Eighteenth Century. Dr. Stackhouse further stated in his article that he was un
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able to locate either of these schools but was of the opinion that the Walls School was near Lenola.
The Mary Lippincott Boarding School for girls was undoubtedly the most famous of the many private schools that flourished in Moorestown during the Nineteenth Century. This school was located in East Moorestown on the north side of Main Street a little east of Stanwick Avenue. The school was established in 1843 and flourished for about forty years. Mrs. Lippincott, who once taught school at Westtown, was a noted educator in her day and her school was patronized by the daughters of many of the most cultured families in South Jersey, Philadelphia and vicinity. Much attention was given to the manners and deportment of the students. The school was beautifully located on the ridge and commanded a splendid view of the valley to the south. A favorite walk of the girls led to the famous Indian Spring located about one‑quarter mile down in the valley almost directly in front of the school. Many of the girls came from Philadelphia and doubtless they had jolly times as they journeyed back and forth in the stages before the opening of the railroad in 1867.
The Weld School conducted by Rev. H. Hastings Weld, Rector of the Episcopal Church from 1854 to 1870 was also famous in its day. It was held in the Rectory of the Church and Mr. Weld was ably assisted by Miss Helen Weld who afterwards conducted a small school in the Rectory. Mr. Weld, a man of high character and exceptional literary attainments, was greatly loved by his pupils. In addition to his duties as pastor and teacher, he found time to write weekly editorials on Religious and Moral subjects for the Philadelphia Public Ledger then owned and edited by George W. Childs. Mr. Childs, who regarded him highly, attended his funeral in 1874.
“Fairview Academy” another well known private school was conducted by James E. Giffen in “Fairview” the present home of Mr. and Mrs. Charles W. Stokes,. located on Haddonfield Road at the top of the hill leading down to
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the Water Works. When Mr. Stokes came into possession of the building the black boards were still attached to the walls in the school room. Jeremiah Haines, who attended this old school, informed me that it was held on the second floor and was reached by an outside stairway. If Woodward and Hageman’s History is correct, the district school located about three miles east of Moorestown known as Page’s School House and later as the Poplar Grove School, formerly stood on or near the site of “Fairview.” It was sold to Thomas Page who moved it to its present location. It is situated on the Hartford Road on farm No. 1 belonging to the Jersey Orchards’ Corporation and is now used as a tenement house.
An old map published in 1860 shows that C. C. Pennel conducted a school known as the “Male Seminary” in the building now standing at the northwest corner of Main and Schooley Streets. This school was afterwards conducted by Benjamin W. Lippincott. Hannah Warrington for many years conducted a school in her home which is still standing at 300 West Main Street, which was attended by some of our oldest residents.
Bartram Kaighn taught school in the western end of the building now standing at 13 East Main Street and occupied by Cluss’s Bakery. David Bispham, the great singer, whose boyhood days were spent in Moorestown, attended this school and some of our older residents who were students at that time tell interesting anecdotes about this celebrated man. David Bispham, a relative of the Stokes family, was a direct descendant of Joshua Bispham, who lived in the house now standing at the northwest corner of Main and Schooley Streets at the time of the Revolutionary War.
Dr. Stackhouse in his “A Retrospect of Colonial Times in Burlington County” gives us a very interesting account of the schools and customs of the early days. The cost of education in those days was exceedingly small. His grandfather taught school in Mount Holly in 1788 and it is evident from this article that he furnished his pupils with
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“firing, pens, ink and paper” and that the parents paid “ten shillings for small children in their letters, spelling and reading per quarter and fifteen shillings for writers and cipherers and the customary prices for superior branches of learning.”
The following agreement made by Rachel Hunt, then a young woman twenty-one years of age, on Third month 21st, 1812, will doubtless prove of interest to all interested in the schools of our great-grandparents: “Rachel Hunt, Agrees to teach school in the Brick school house belonging to friends in Chester, at the rate of two dollars for each schollar per quarter, provided they will make a sufficient number, at least not less than 20, to teach reading, writing, sewing, marking and grammar if the employers desire it. To commence 4th mo. 27th, 1812. Each employer to pay his equal dividend for fire wood according to the number of schollars sent; she finding quills and ink.”