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TRR photo by Laurie Stuart
The Bethel School has separate entrances and cloakrooms for boys and girls. The large single-classroom school, one of eight in Berlin Township, has a high ceiling, slate boards and the double wooden desks of the last century. (Click for larger image)

The Bethel School — stepping back in time

BERLIN TOWNSHIP — “The Bethel School is a good example of one of the eight one-room country schools in Berlin Township,” said Sally Soden.

Soden, a retired teacher, is a member of the Wayne County Historical Society, which opens and maintains the school. The school is owned by Wayne County and is the responsibility of the Wayne County Commissioners.

The circa 1872 one-room school closed in 1951 with the formation of the Wayne Highland School District. In 1997, members of the historical society sought help from the commissioners to save the school. “It was falling apart. The foundation was crumbling,” said Soden. The county agreed to take it on—the school was propped up, a new stone foundation was constructed, a new roof was put on and the exterior was painted. Three members of the Wallenpaupack High School construction class recently reconstructed the outhouse.

Photo courtesy of the Wayne Historical Society
Francis Gray posed with her students in this undated picture of the Bethel School, located near what had been called the “Poor Farm.” Edith Holbert offered the picture and, with the help of Mildred Body, came up with the names of those shown here: from left, John Smith, Tom Marshall, Lorance Ham, Mildred Wagner, Louise Sweitzer, Bertha Smith, Josephine Smith, Cecilia Smith, Katherine Smith, Victoria Smith, Rosa Smith, Otto Ritchman, Aaron Sweitzer, George Sweitzer, Fred Sweitzer, Clyde Harvey, Grant Harvey, Pat Wenders, Stella Schwartz, Leon Toms, Warran Bunnel, Letta Marshall, Mable Wagner, Virginia Jay, and Catherine Gray. (Click for larger image)

Since the school opened for tours in 1998, 1,800 people have passed through its doors.“People were proud of their little schools,” Soden said. “Imagine going to school with everyone who lives within two miles of you. Everyone was cousins, neighbors. There was very little variation. There were a lot of social and community events that happened around the schools. There was always a play, and a box social where they would auction off lunches for art supplies and crayons. There were very few school supplies.”

The teacher taught all eight grades and the number of students varied. “The teacher would give out assignments and then listen to the children recite their lessons from the recitation bench. “There was a lot of mental arithmetic and not a lot of frills,” Soden said. “Most of the kids went to work when they were 12. Childhood was very short.”

For more information call 570/253-3240.

News & columns provided by The River Reporter