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Excelsior School, South Bethlehem



Webster School, South Bethlehem



The erection of Excelsior marks a turning-point in public sentiment respecting the High School. Much opposition to the High School was manifested ever since its inception, and citizens pledged to oppose it were from time to time named for School Director. It was a time when labor and building material were cheap; but money was tight, and the supposed extravagance of the Board in the building of Excelsior was the occasion of much complaint on the part of certain malcontents. The following Spring, a scurrilous circular was surreptitiously distributed on the eve of election. It gravely charged that “exorbitant taxes are grinding the food from our children’s mouths and the clothes from their backs”, and cited as examples of the Board’s extravagance “the Monumental Excelsior” and “the exorbitant salaries paid to teachers”. The facts are that Excelsior cost just $5,270 and the salaries paid teachers then were: High School Principal, $75; Grammar School Principals, $49; and Primary School teachers as low as $23. It is gratifying to relate that the Directors were vindicated at the polls, a more generous consideration for teachers displayed, and opposition to the High School gradually dissipated.

The year 1881 witnessed the first graduating exercises of the High School. This novel event took place in the High School room, on the evening of June 28, and was numerously attended by an appreciative audience. Arnon P. Miller was Salutatorian, and Elsie E. Werner was Valedictorian on that occasion.

Shortly after the removal of the High School to Excelsior, an additional grade, to serve as a “feeder” for the High School, was opened in that building. Catharine Fluck, '76, W.J. Kratz, and Elsie E. Werner, '81, were the respective teachers of this School, which was continued until 1883, when an additional teacher was furnished the High School instead.

Early in March, 1882, smallpox was declared epidemic here, and our schools closed during the next two months in consequence. The High School was opened during the following July to make up for the time thus lost.

On July 26, 1883, Principal Houskeeper resigned and Francis J. Crilly, who took his degree of B.A. at Lehigh in '83 and that of M.A. in '89, was appointed his successor. W.E. Bartholomew was made, at the same time, Principal Crilly’s Assistant. On. December 4, Mr. Bartholomew resigned, and was succeeded by William Roth. In September, 1885, E.F. Stotz succeeded Principal Crilly, and J. Hollis Wells, L.U. '85, Mr. Roth. In January, 1886, Principal Stotz, on account of the precarious condition of his health, resigned, and was succeeded by Owen R. Wilt. In September of this year, M. Alton Richards became Principal Wilt’s Assistant.

The Excelsior School of 1879 was only half the size it is now. During 1886 the rear half was added, the entire cost of the School, including the grounds and improvements, being $17,100. On its completion, the High School was removed to the second floor of the addition, which contained a large assembly room and a smaller class room, at the eastern end. The successive heads of the High School, up to the time of the School’s removal to its present location, were the Principals of this building. Since that time, Charles Kocher and A.B. Fehr have served it in that capacity, and the Grammar A grade has occupied the former quarters of the High School there.

“The University District”, then a part of Lower Saucon Township, and now embracing that portion of our Borough south of Packer Avenue, was annexed by our town in 1888. Heretofore the Principal of our High School had exercised a sort of general supervision over all the schools of the Borough; but with the increase in territory and population brought about by this annexation, this plan became impracticable, and it was deemed advisable to create the position of Borough Superintendent of Schools here. This action was accordingly taken, and Principal Wilt elected to that position, at an annual salary of $1050. Geo. L. Xander, a graduate of Lafayette College and an Attorney-at-Law, was chosen to succeed Superintendent Wilt as Principal of the High School.

In 1889, Webster School, an eight-roomed, brick structure (as are all our school houses), situated on the east side of Walnut Street, south of Packer Avenue, was erected, at a cost of $24,000. The successive Principals of this School have been: J.C. Messinger, E. Morris Haas, George U.G. Mills, and C.W. Bachert, the present incumbent.

In order to meet the continued advance in College entrance requirements, the High School Course was, in 1889, lengthened to 4 years.

On February 6, 1890, Principal Xander resigned, and M. Alton Richards was chosen to succeed him. At the same time P.J. Hall, the compiler of these statistics, who had been a teacher in the schools here since the middle of June, 1878, entered the High School as Principal Richard’s Assistant.

The eastern boundary of our Borough was shifted to its present position in 1890. The same year, better school facilities were provided for that section by the erection of the front half of Packer School, on the south side of Fourth Street, between Centre and Cemetery Streets, at a cost of $15,473. By 1911, the large influx of foreigners to that quarter of our town made the erection of the rear half of that building a necessity. This addition to the building cost $11,912. W.E. Messinger, C.W. Bachert, Robert Canning, A.S. Gruver, P.J. Talbot, Fred. J. Wilt, Oscar Silberman, and J.J. McNamara, the present incumbent, have been Principals of this School.



Our High School continued to grow, and in 1891 another teacher, in the person of Wilson A. Deily, a graduate of Lafayette College, was added to the faculty.

Old Penrose, top-heavy, decrepit, and threatening collapse, was razed in the Spring of 1892 to make way for its more commodious and imposing successor — Central School — which was erected at a cost of $36,742. The same old bell which, for a quarter of a century, summoned to Penrose “the whining school-boy, with his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like snail, unwillingly to school”, still does duty in the belfry of Central. All else, even the very name of the building, is now but a memory. The High School was removed to the third floor of this new building in October of the year which witnessed its completion, and the respective heads of this institution have served it since as Principals. Mr. Deily declined a re-election to the faculty this year, and he was succeeded by M.L. Horne, a graduate of the Keystone State Normal School and of Muhlenberg College.

In September, 1892, the free text-book system went into general effect here.

“Alas for those who never sing,
But die with all their music in them.”

Shortly after Mr. Wilt became Superintendent he introduced rote singing into our schools, and, in April, 1888, had the Board adopt the Normal Music Course as part of the curriculum. The teacher’s labored, with indifferent success, to impart a knowledge of the rudiments of music, until 1896. In September of that year, the idea of having “the blind lead the blind”, was abandoned, and a special teacher of music, H.A. Kline, was appointed. Mr. Kline’s successors in this work here were: E.A. Daltry, Marion E. Chase (Mrs. R.E. Neumeyer), Mary Warlow, Gertrude M. Serfass (Mrs. J.H. Wily), Nellie McGettigan (Mrs. Dennis Coyle), Gertrude Z. Knight (Mrs. R.V. Parker), and Bertha A. Bartley, the present efficient head of that department.

Nor should we neglect to chronicle one other important innovation introduced here by our late Superintendent. April 27, 1888, witnessed our first celebration of Arbor Day here. It proved a case of the proverbial new broom, and at all the Schools it was observed by extensive renovation, digging, grading, and planting. Perhaps no other event mentioned here has been so productive of apparent, far-reaching, permanent good effect upon our community as has this movement, insignificant as it may at first thought appear. Superintendent Wilt was a man of refined taste, and, under his spur, neglected buildings, rickety whitewashed fences, grounds disfigured by growing weeds, ash heaps, and other debris, have given way to buildings attractive in design, neat iron fences and stone walls enclosing well-kept lawns relieved by beds of beautiful flowers, clumps of trim shrubbery, and grand trees of many varieties. Who can properly estimate the effect produced upon the aesthetic and moral natures of our pupils and people generally by this great change for the better in their environment?

In 1897, the first half of Madison School, east side of Ontario Street, south of Wood Street, was built, at a cost of $13,000. The other half of this building was erected in 1902, at an additional cost of 7,845. George U.G. Mills, Jacob B. Krause, C.W. Bachert, Robert Canning, A.S. Gruver, P.J. Talbot, and Oscar J. Silberman, the present incumbent, have been its Principals.

It was in 1897 that the Commercial Department of the High School was established, with Benton D. Kurtz as Instructor. Since then, William H. Weick, C.A. Butler, A.K. Harris, C.M. Miller, Gregory J. Scanlon, Leo T. Foster, and William J. Toohey, in the order named, have had charge of this department.

On February 1, 1901, The Blue and White, the High School magazine, was launched. Excepting a brief interruption during the Principalship of Mr. Krause, it has been published continuously since.

Principal Richards resigned on April 1,1901, and Jacob B. Krause, L.U. '98, succeeded him. The graduating class of this year introduced the custom of appearing during Commencement Week in cap and gown.


Packer School, South Bethlehem



Old Melrose School sturdily withstood the march of improvement here until 1902, when it was replaced by Quinn School, at a cost of $29,560. The Principals of this new School have been: Joseph H. McGee, Dennis J. Broughal, and William J. McConlogue.

With the completion of the new High School building, which is promised for July 1,1916, our Borough, during the 51 years of its corporate existence, will have expended for the erection of school houses approximately $430,500 — an annual average of more than $8,000. This is a most creditable showing when we consider the 7 commodious and handsome school buildings and their surroundings which will then grace our town.

On July 14, 1895, M. Alton Richards succeeded Mr. Krause as Principal of the High School. Principal Richards was elected for a term of three years, and at a yearly salary of $1200. The graduating class of this year held the first Class Day exercises of the School.

In September, 1907, M.L. Home was succeeded as a member of the High School faculty by Meade Reginald Beck, L.U. '06. Mr. Beck was succeeded, in 1909, by Fred. J. Wilt. At the same time, Samuel Strauss was added to the faculty.


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