Bisonalities, Again


A History of Our Home Town

Fort Le Boeuf School District

Two Hundred Years of History and Tradition

by Lewis Dove, Teacher, Fort Le Boeuf School District (Retired)


Dedicated to the Directors of the Academy and the members of the Boards of Education for two hundred years of faith in the future.

You present yourself for an interview to enter Columbia College late in the eighteenth century. The committee motions you to a seat at a table where the five of them are waiting. No niceties. The committee head opens a Bible to a page at random; it is written in Greek and it is announced that you are to read to them, translating into Latin.

Once you demonstrate your ability to perform this feat, the committee then drills you on trigonometry, ancient near-east literature, and, of course, French. This, mind you, is to get into college.

People who held power in education circles were determined to keep advanced knowledge as a tool of the rich, the privileged, and under control of the churches - in other words, not democratic. In 1800, almost all American colleges were church schools dedicated to maintaining an intelligent, literate, wealthy, humble, and very moralistic society. Since no states of the United States had a system of "free" education (as George Washington had advocated when he was President), poor people in the East and all people on the frontier were limited to the most elementary of schooling. The degree of training necessary to enter a college in the East was such that no "public" or "pay" school could possibly prepare the student for this level of study. Almost all college students had in the past been tutored.

Then, in Waterford, in the backwoods of Pennsylvania, the mold was broken. This is the story.


Waterford - "The Ancient Borough"

In 1794, the State commissioned three surveyors - William Irvine, Albert Gallatin, and Andrew Ellicott - to map a road across the northern section of the State, in order to open the way to Donation and Depreciation lands of northwestern Pennsylvania, for the purpose of settlement and therefore profit. They were detained at the site of old Fort Le Boeuf by threat of Indian uprising. While there, they staked out the area to be the town, and Gallatin named it "Waterford." (The State Legislature later authorized this name.)

In 1796, Ellicott surveyed the road more specifically, beginning in Curwinsville, near Clearfield, and up to Meadville, more or less where Route 322 runs today. From there, the road followed roughly what is now U.S. Route 19 to Waterford. This action, coupled with clearing the debris from French Creek and improving Old French Road to Erie, opened the way for Pennsylvania settlers to reach Waterford from the south and north. Then, Colt Station road was opened from Waterford to Phillipsville and on to Colt Station and Mayville, this opened the area to traffic from the east. Waterford became the hub of transportation for central Erie County.

Into this vacuum of free and inexpensive land, began a flow of truly great men and women. There names are still common in the area, two hundred years later, but each in their own day made the "Ancient Borough" an exciting and prosperous place to live. (Old letters and histories make frequent use of this honorary title.) Reed, Strong, Brotherton, Judson, Vincent, Smith, King, Moore, Himrod, Lattimore, Boyd, Benson, McKay, Hunt - these men and others and their descendants after them influenced political, commercial, and educational movements in all of Erie County, for years to come. Except for the Pilgrim Fathers, who stepped off the boat in 1620, it is difficult to recall a more talented migration.

They bought and sold land, built saw and grist mills, farmed, and began a strong society in what was then wilderness. Before the town was even incorporated, these talented people turned their attention toward the education of the children.


Legislation and Local Effort

The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1790 provided: "Legislators shall ... provide by law for the establishment of schools throughout the State in such a manner that the poor may be taught gratis."

It would seem that this mandate in the Constitution would be clear to any reader, certainly to any legislator. But legislators take their own biases and agendas to the State house and "free public education" was far down the list. "Gratis" sounds good, but the wealthy legislators knew it only meant that tax payers would pay, and the more affluent would pay most. Why they asked, should one person pay for another person's child to go to school? Society needs well-educated youth to carry on industry and politics and business, but it also needs poorly educated youth to do the hard, manual labor. Better to leave well enough alone.

Compromise, the at of American politics, comes to Waterford. If outright tax aid is illegal, give what you have in abundance - land. In the Act of 1797, the legislators set aside 1800 acres of land in Waterford Township and 400 acres in Le Boeuf Township for the purpose of aiding the development of education. The land grant had to be applied for the elected directors of the Academies when they were organized. These lands were south of the borough and cover the area of the Le Boeuf Gardens down stream to where the outlet meets French Creek and East from there nearly to the "Good Will" Moravian Track.

In 1799, the State limited any one grant to 500 acres; it stipulated that the land could be rented or leased; it would determine the length of time of the lease; it also would set the amount of payments. In this manner, the State kept land speculators from getting the land and selling it for private profit.

Since, at this time, the area within many miles of Waterford would not have had over five hundred settlers, it seems clear that the main purpose of these acts was to encourage settlement.

In 1811, the citizens had fulfilled the obligation of electing directors and planning an Academy. The eight directors were John Vincent, John Boyd, John Lytle, Aaron Himrod, Charles Martin, Henry Colt, James Weston, and Amos Judson. The State Legislature passed and Act of Incorporation. This act stipulated that two of the eight directors be up for re-election every year. This same act also gave 15 in-lots for the use of the Directors. In 1816, eight more were added.

As a final approval for what the trustees wished to do, the state passed enabling legislation to rent or lease the 500 acres for five year periods, at not less than ten dollars per acre.

It might appear that the period of time is long and drawn out, but in reality this authorization moved quite rapidly, in light of the times. The capital in Philadelphia was about as far away as it could be. A trip there was measured in days or weeks. Mail was a little faster. Then, in 1812, a war began and Waterford was a warehouse, campground, and an arsenal, where all energies were exerted to win the war. Finally, these men planning the Academy were not paid - they worked long hours on their own affairs. Regardless, in 1821, work began.


First Schools

The first school houses in Waterford and the surrounding areas were elementary schools, where children were taught the basics of education, to survive in business and home. Generally, the courses were spelling, reading, and arithmetic and writing, if and when materials were available. Paper was expensive and slate black boards were very uncommon.

Since poor quality shale is the natural stone of this area, slate had to be imported. The very first school in Erie County was begun in Waterford in 1800. By 1802, there was a second school and the development after that appears to be small schools, in individual homes, for indefinite periods of time. Le Boeuf had at least one school in 1820 and another in 1822. Many children really did have great distances to travel to get to these schools.

All schools were owned privately, since it was not legal for any school to receive State aid. Any improvement in the level of education was the result of the individual teacher. Mothers, undoubtedly, taught more children than did the distant schools.


The Academy

The trustees hired Peter Ford of Le Boeuf Township to dig a well twenty-two feet deep and stone it. In the same year, 1821, the basement was dug for the building. The outside dimensions were 36' by 48'. A quarry on Oak Hill, about five miles away toward Union City was opened, where sandstone was obtained. That fall and winter the stone was blasted, cut, and hauled on sleds and wagons to the building site. Though no records seem available today to prove the point, it is generally agreed that Thomas King and the two Scotsmen that built the Eagle Hotel, (both buildings were erected in the same years), also built the Academy. The work on the two buildings, experts agreed, was quite similar.

The Academy was built of sandstone. The basement was 7 feet high, 4 feet of which were above ground level. On this foundation set two levels of floors for classes and study. A striking cupola graced the roof. In all, it was as graceful a building as could be found anywhere west of the mountains. It was the first of its kind on the frontier. When the building was demolished in 1955, one hundred thirty years later, the windows and doors were still level and plumb.

In 1826, the Academy was ready to open. The first teacher was hired - he doubled as its first Principal. His name was John Wood; he was an English Civil Engineer, who worked for "the rate of $108.00 every 12 weeks." There were twenty pupils. By 1829, an extra teacher was added to teach the forty students enrolled. By 1838, there were ninety pupils and they looked for and hired a teacher capable of "giving instruction in the Greek and Roman classics, mathematics, and the English Language." Though a private academy, it was accepted as a public pride.


Legislation Addresses Education
Synopsis 1829-1900

Act of 1829 Governor Wolf recommends to the legislature that they take a sum of tax money, set it aside for interest, and prepare for public supported schools.
Act of 1834 Governor Wolf's program passes:
1. "Each county shall form a school division, and that every ward, township, and borough, within the several school divisions, shall form a school district"
2. The Directors of each district shall be elected on a staggered basis.
3. The election of officers shall be by vote of directors.
4. The County tax must equal at least twice the amount of state appropriations.
5. Each county had the option of involvement.
Act of 1849 The Act of 1834 is made mandatory
(This Act puts Pennsylvania first in the nation in the organization of public schools.)
Act of 1854 Regulating the course of study for elementary schools:
1. Each County must select a County Superintendent of Schools to supervise education within that county.
2. Teachers within the County are to be examined (evaluated by this Superintendent).
3. Certain courses mandated:
    A. Orthography
    B. Reading
    C. Writing
    D. Grammar
    E. Geography
    F. Arithmetic
4. The law specifies grade levels within the schools and sets the course of study in those grades.
5. To get State reimbursements the districts had to accommodate the regulations.
Act of 1857 The State authorizes State Normal Schools and appropriates tax money for their use. (Edinboro soon challenges Waterford as the center of education. Public funds begin to set the pace for secondary and post-secondary education.)
Act of 1873 State mandates that all districts have a "free public school."
Act of 1893 All books and supplies must be furnished "free of cost."
Act of 1895 1. Compulsory attendance ages 8 to 14th birthday (no penalty). (In 1905 penalties were added.)
2. No religious garb or symbols could be worn.
3. Townships authorized to build high schools.
Act of 1897 Districts authorized to provide transportation at public expense
Act of 1899 School year minimum time, 7 months; maximum time, 10 months.

The Academy's Additions

The Waterford Academy Directors were concerned that the public academy at Edinboro was showing great growth and in 1857 was poised to be a public college, as well as an academy. In March of 1858, they had an architect determine if an addition could be added to increase their classroom capacity. It could. Remove the stone outer wall of the east side from the second floor to the roof. Extend the upper floor outward for 20 feet. Make one very large assembly or recitation room, and divide the first floor area into two laboratory rooms. The work was begun at once and was complete for usage the next year. The measurements were 20' by 34', with a full basement. It provided much needed space.

All students had in the past been required to board in town, or at home, if in walking distance. To help remedy this, and addition was added to the north side, for housing accommodations. It was three stories high, and since the original Academy was only two, a series of clever steps up or down made the transition acceptable. The roof line was kept straight with the academy. It was opened in 1873. These additions, the fair tuition, the reputation of a good education - all these things contributed to the Academy's growth. At one time, as many as four hundred students attended its hallowed halls. These were the "golden days" of the Academy. They would last until the 1890's, when time ran out. ((Course of Study)) In 1899, only one person graduated. The end came for a truly great institution, but a new more democratic form was born.



Still sits the school house by the road,
A ragged beggar sunning;
Around it still the sumacs grow,
And blackberry vines are running.

Within the master's desk is seen
Deep scarred by raps official;
The warping floors, the battered seats,
The jack-knife's carved initials.

We humans have great memories - we even remember thing that never happened! With time, uncomfortable events become romanticized and very real to us. Remember Grandma saying she walked four miles to school and back, how deep the snow was, how cold winters were, how mean the teachers were (at least to the boys), how you "really had to learn your lessons and not like now?" Most of these memories are rather pleasant nostalgia that add spice but not accuracy to the past. Central heating, insulated clothing, in-door plumbing, and warm busses school may have robbed the kids of today, cherished stories for their future grandchildren. But consider this; In 1884, there were 17 one room school houses in Waterford Township and one two roomer; in Le Boeuf, there were 12 school houses; in Summit there were nine. The Boards had done a good job distributing these schools geographically to the benefit of the children. Not many pupils walked four miles to an elementary school, in fact, not one!


Waterford High School

As a public high school, Waterford began to change its curriculum to be "more in the times." By 1901, they developed a program of study that included Agriculture, which combined class and field work. They had help and encouragement from Penn State. Waterford was the first "Agricultural" High School in America! In 1980, working with Waterford, Penn State developed a syllabus for teaching of Vocational Agriculture in schools, and in 1911, the State required the teaching of Ag in all rural areas.

In 1917, the Smith-Hughes Vocational Education Act provided federal funds to states to implement Vocational and Agricultural education. It also provided money for Home Economics to be taught. Waterford seized the opportunity and for approximately seventy years, these two programs were strong in the school. These graduates developed the skills to exert themselves in farming, home making, the allied industries, but also the professions. Many engineers, doctors, nurses, teachers, and others received the necessary "push" from these fine programs. Later, commercial subjects were supported by the federal government, which opened many jobs in the business world.

The need for an indoor athletic facility, as well as an assembly area was answered in 1931 by an addition, on the south side of the Old Academy. Bad concerts, plays, skits, "pep meetings," town meetings, movies, and of course basketball games kept the place humming. Again, however, by the end of the war, increased enrollment and expectations mandated new facilities.

By the early 1950's, Waterford Borough and Waterford Township were well established and comfortable with the political arrangement for directing the school. The State began pushing for better methods of consolidation. Le Boeuf and Mill Village had a good elementary tradition but were unsettled for post-elementary education. There were many who had questioned the need for a closer union with other districts for high school. Others realized the cultural heritage with the Waterford Area. When the Le Boeuf Board moved toward a jointure with Waterford to build a new high school at $900,000, some of the citizens entered into a law suit to stop the process. The year was 1952.

To still the dissent and also get community support for the necessity of moving forward on the path the State had provided, an informational meeting was held on February 12, 1952, at he high school auditorium. No better example of democracy in action can be found than on that night.

Mr. E. L. Heard, President of the Joint Board of twenty members presided. He gave an overview of the problem and the course of the night. He followed questions and comments, yet kept order and civility. Mr. Lee Port, a gentleman farmer and member of the Le Boeuf Board, explained three problems:

1. Increased Le Boeuf school enrollment.
2. Lack of any other high school desiring their students.
3. A problem of non-reimbursed tuition costs if not members.
(His conclusion--Best to be part of the jointure)

Mr. M. E. Kolpein, the County Superintendent of Education, explained how the State would reimburse the districts if the jointure went forward. Le Boeuf and Mill Village would benefit more than enough to pay their rental obligations.

Mr. Willis McGinnett explained Mill Village's position:

1. Need for a voice in policy at high school level.
2. Advantages of larger attendance and administrative unit.
3. Members of the individual Boards had assured Mill Village they would never lose their elementary school.

The meeting was concluded. It produced nearly complete agreement to go forward. Woe be to anyone who might forget Mr. McGinnett's third point.

The legal case against Le Boeuf School Directors was dropped.


Fort Le Boeuf High School
1955 -

In 1955, Fort Le Boeuf High School opened its doors. A brand new school beckoned. A formal dedication ceremony was held on February 6, 1956, at 8:00 p.m., in the high school auditorium. Presiding at the ceremony was Mr. C. Warren Dingle, Supervising Principal, Fort Le Boeuf School System.

Summit Township also needed a high school "home." Their students were being sent to schools that had their own problems. While the township was being torn culturally between the north and south, the only sensible plan seemed to be to join the Fort Le Boeuf School District.

Plans were immediately begun to add classrooms, an auditorium, and much needed space to the new school. This addition was completed in 1961. The inclusion of Summit, with its leadership and cosmopolitan ideas, has been a positive factor in moving to the future.

Today, Fort Le Boeuf High School has been re-built, re-equipped, and staffed to enter the next century - a new school with an old, honorable tradition. It is the central pride of the area, the one unifying voice of the people of the whole district.

Lewis Dove is a retired Teacher from Fort Le Boeuf High School, Waterford, PA. He has published many stories about the Waterford area and its history. This story of the Fort Le Boeuf School District - Two Hundred Years of History and Tradition is published in the Bisonalities, Again Web site with Mr. Dove's permission and blessings. Thank you, Lou.

History Index