District Origins

  • The Pennsylvania's Free School Act of 1834 gave authority to impose local taxes for the support of free public schools to each county, township, borough or city ward, and made them responsible for operating schoolhouses for children otherwise unable to receive instruction. Some families paid to have local men and women teach their children in homes or rented places.

    The State's new constitution in 1873 outlined a Department of Public Instruction to administer public education for all children age six through primary and grammar school grades. A minimum six-month school term was set in 1887; the same year large school districts were authorized to have high schools.

    In 1893, districts were required to provide free textbooks; attendance became compulsory in 1897 for children eight to 13 years old; high schools were officially accepted as being a part of the public education system.

    When a town began to grow around the college campus in southern Harris Township (shortly to become College Township), many students attended the little red schoolhouse in Centre Furnace, some attended the Branch school, and others north of the village went to a one-room school on the Krumrine farm in Ferguson Township.

    If families wanted their students to continue their education beyond the eighth grade, they were responsible for funding the additional schooling themselves. For those interested in enrolling in college, the Penn State Preparatory Department welcomed such 14-year-olds.

    To alleviate overcrowding at the Center Furnace one-room school in 1889, the College Township Board began construction of a two-room building near the intersection of Hiester Street and Calder Way, and set up a temporary classroom in the old town band hall on Beaver Avenue (northwest corner of Beaver and Garner, below the branch bank site, 1980.) The town's first public school teacher, John Laird Holmes, taught there at a $28.00 monthly salary for the six-month school year, with 50 or 60 pupils from all over the township.

    School District and Town Created 1896
    On a midsummer night in 1896, a dream came true for neighbors of what was then the Pennsylvania State College, the magnet that drew them to make their homes here ever since its modest opening in 1859 as the Farmers High School of Pennsylvania.
    A population of 337 lived in the 100 houses that were their town. Seventy-five of these residents - 60 were described as property owners and five as "females" -- had petitioned the Centre County Court for a charter to incorporate as a borough carved from College Township, which itself had been carved from Harris and Benner Townships in 1874. 
    The town charter was granted on August 29, 1896, and the organizing process began. A public meeting in the State College Band Hall, at the northeast corner of South Allen Street and Calder Alley/Way, was convened on September 29 for the election of twin representative bodies—a Borough Council and a Board of School Directors.
    First Board of School Directors sworn in
    On October 1, 1896, Justice of the Peace William S. Harter - a newcomer and the town's first dentist-- met with six school directors and administered the oath of office to Dr. William S. Glenn, Sr.; William Homan; Joseph Hoy, Sr.; Prof. John Price Jackson; T.J. Kennedy; and A.F. Markle. They elected Postmaster Kennedy President of the board, with Dr. Glenn -- the town's first resident physician - as Secretary and Mr. Markle as Treasurer. The new directors grappled immediately with the business of getting funds and classrooms and complying with State school regulations and opening the six-month school year two weeks later, Oct. 12.
    By December they were meeting to build a new schoolhouse and it was in use before another year had passed. Since costs would exceed borrowing power, a special election was set for May 15 to decide on an $8,000 bond issue and on the building location. Townsmen voted, by 109 to 37, to increase the municipality's indebtedness, and by 109 to 32 chose William Foster's land, at $500 per acre as needed. By June 1897 a bid of $6,265 from Thomas F. Kennedy, contractor and also postmaster and first school board president. He had to complete the building for use in four months, October 22, 1897. 
    After the first Hiester Street schoolhouse was sold in 1902 the entire school population was housed in the four-room Frazier Street School building until a planned addition was undertaken in 1906, enlarging it to eight rooms. Election of a fifth teacher in 1901 is cited as the beginning of the high school in which 17 were enrolled that fall. The total school enrollment in 1901 was grammar 35, junior grammar 26, intermediate 34, and primary 60.
Last Modified on November 29, 2023