The Lower Merion Academy
Introductory Comments. This document is from the Lower Merion Academy Collection of The Lower Merion Academy Trustees. It is a manuscript written in 1888 by Perry L. Anderson of Pencoyd.
This seventeen (17) page document, delightful in style and clear in detail, was written by hand and tells the story of the beginnings of “education for all children” in Lower Merion.
Ann Bagley of Merion, carefully transcribed this text which is presented below. It was transcribed with editorial conventions familiar to all: misspelled words and variations in spelling were left intact as were abbreviations if they were perfectly understandable.
Ann hopes that you enjoy the reading of this text as much as she had transcribing it.
The Lower Merion Academy
The mere mention of this ancient institution of learning will most certainly revive in the minds of many of the present generation, very pleasant recollections of the days of Auld Lang Syne. Its founder -Jacob Jones, was a descendant of some of the very earliest settlers of Merion: they having emigrated from Wales prior to the year 1700, and settled in the vicinity of what is now known as Wynnewood. Jacob was born in the year 1713 of a noble stock of Friends, and adhered most tenaciously to the persuasion of his ancestry during all the years of his earthly pilgrimage.
The occupation of his more youthful years was that of a tiller of the soil. After the death of his father – Jonathan Jones, he repaired to Philadelphia and tradition says, learned the trade of a Baker, and followed that vocation a few years soon amassing quite a competence for that early day. He then returned to Merion, and on October 22d, 1743, purchased from his brother Edward Jones a plantation of some 231 Acres. He again took up the vocation of his youth which he followed for quite a number of years, and during all this time, kept gradually increasing his worldly store until called from earthly labor. He departed this life, on his farm, on the 22nd of March 1810 in the 97 year of his age. Jacob when 39 years of age, took for a life partner, Mary, the daughter of Henry Lawrence of Haverford, and was married by Friends Ceremony in the Merion Meeting House on the 10th day of June 1752. The certificate of Marriage being witnessed by 37 of the most prominent Friends of Haverford and Merion of that day. They shared each others joys and sorrows together for a period of 58 years. His consort survived him 17 months and departed this life Oct 17th, 1811, leaving no issue. It is said of her, “that she was a woman who adorned each space she was called to act in.” They were both interred in the burial ground of the Merion Meeting, and, sad to relate, no stone marks the place of their sepulture. Jacob was always spoken of by those who knew him best, “as a man in whom there was no guile.”
This noble philanthropist had imparted to him a deep seated concern for the welfare of the rising generation. Seeing the opportunities of a good education for the young were exceedingly limited, and being anxious that their education should include more than “the three Rs, Readin, Ritin and Rithmetic,” he, when drawing near the close of a useful life, made his will the 10th day of the 6th month 1807. In that testimony he devised to five of his intimate friends, namely – Jonathan Jones, Algernon Roberts, Henry Bowman, Jonathan Walters and David Roberts in Trust forever, a certain messuage or Tenament and piece or parcel of land at the west end of his plantation, and bounded eastwardly by a laid out road leading to Mary Waters Ford, southwardly by land of Thomas David, now John Hoffman’s estate, westward by Reese Price’s land, now a public road, and northwardly by a line to be drawn on the north side of the Orchard so as to include the same, now the estate of H.G. Freeman, making about eight acres of land. He also bequeathed the sum of eight hundred pounds, for the erection of a building, to be used as a School House and a dwelling for a Tutor or Tutors, and Five hundred pounds to be by them placed at interest on Landed Security, the income of which to be appropriated to the payment of a teacher, for the “free education of as many Poor and Orphan children of both sexes living in the Township of Merion as the funds would admit of, and without reference to Color or Creed.”
The tenament mentioned in the bequest, as then standing was one of the primitive kind, having been hewn from the forest, and was of too limited dimensions to allow of its occupants entertaining as liberally, as in these Centennial times. It has long since given way to the ravages of time, and nothing remains to mark the spot upon which it stood. The grounds that constituted its lawn, are now appropriated to the use of a Garden. At that early day there were but two tenements on the entire plantation. Now, there are forty four houses and one factory, showing the march of improvement to have been onward, if not “westward”. After this liberal minded man had passed from among the living, and the trust, becoming available, the said Trustees proceeded to carry out the instructions contained in the said Testament, and in the year 1812, erected the structure known as title bearing the name that heads this article. The building is of stone and was finished after the best fashion in vogue at that early day, and was for a number of years quite in contrast with the primitive surroundings, and attracted quite as much attention as many of the more modern buildings, now to be seen in the country adjacent thereto. This structure, though now three quarters of a century old has been kept in good repair, and may last to have many generations come to be taught within her walls, and leave to play some noble parts in the great drama of life. The first Teacher to be employed by the trust, was Joshua Hoopes, a noted Friend of considerable ability for so early a period, and quite a proficient teacher of the higher branches then extant. As the country was but sparsely settled at that time, and there not being a sufficient number of Pupils to fill the school, or engage the time of the Tutor, it was thought best to appropriate part of the building to teaching the higher rudiments of knowledge, and take a few boarding scholars, the building being of sufficient capacity for that purpose. A few of the well to do people of the city and more remote parts of the country sent their wards to be instructed by the renowned Tutor. It was soon discovered that such a choice of procedure could not be of long duration.
The playground, though of ample dimension, was held in common between the boarding scholars and the youth of the adjacent country. As at this day, those of the scholars who were boarding, and who happened to be of a wealthier parentage than the neighboring young rustics of the surrounding country, were a little too tony in their notions of matters and things, and soon an unpleasant rivalry manifested itself. The boys of broad cloth thought to dictate to, and conquer the lads in homespun. The youths, clad in less costly apparel were not to be subdued by trifles, and many a bloody encounter ensued, contrary to the advice of the teacher and discipline of the school. Finally, after a reasonable experiment in that direction, the project was abandoned. It was but a short time until the population increased most rapidly, and as a consequence, the number of scholars became sufficiently numerous to occupy all the time of the Tutor. This being the largest and finest looking institution of the time in all the country, soon attracted all the young men and maidens of that day, and became quite a celebrated school, making it necessary to employ the second teacher. Nearly all the prominent men and women of Merion, of the past and present generation were taught here. Some of the boys grew up to be prosperous business men, and quite a number, whom the writer can recall, have acquired a competence of this worlds goods, and are now enjoying a serene old age. Many, indeed, most of the first scholars have passed from the confines of earth, but a few still linger upon the shore of time, and like Moses, are looking over into the promised land, and soon will be gathered with the fathers.
The first teacher having tired of his calling there, after four years of faithful service, resigned and left the place for some other field of usefulness unknown to the writer but departed this life at West Chester and was interred. His successor was Noah Leeds, who by he way, was also a noted teacher, and member of The Society of Friends. This man held the reins of government eight years and then sought another sphere of usefulness. Then came a gentleman of culture from Yankeeland, named John Allen, who was induced to assume the Principalship of the Institution. This man enjoyed single blessedness, and was quite a favorite with the gentler sex. But he always walked with a demeanor becoming a gentleman, and directed his best energies to the mental and moral advancement of all his scholars. After three years of patient toil, he too sought a more select school in the city, and taught there quite a number of years. Wherever this man went, he won the affections of his scholars and their parents. He made a practice of visiting some of his old scholars in Merion periodically until near the close of a useful life. He departed for the spirit world but a few years since in the land of his birth, and was consigned to the tomb, to sleep beside kindred dust.
A very few are still living who remember this patient instructor, but those who do, recall with gratitude the days spent there, as they pass down life’s declivity toward the house appointed for all the living. Jno (John) Allen had for his success Newton Milton Boggs, who endeavored to train the youths entrusted to his care for usefulness, and after four years of toil, he too sought another field of usefulness in his native State – New Jersey.
Then came Jno Phillips, a native of Chester County, who was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Phillips was quite a noted mathematician and linguist. He represented Dauphin County two terms in the National Congress. His grandfather, Jno Phillips, came over from England with William Penn on his second visit to this country. Phillips taught some two years when ill health caused him to resign. After he had regained his health somewhat, he taught in the Chester County Academy awhile, and after leaving there he resided for a time at Merion Square then repaired again to Dauphin County, where he ended his earthly sojourn in 1858 in his 70É.years and was interred in the Dauphin Cemetery. He was followed by a man named George Williams, whose life was replete with inconsistencies, and becoming ashamed of himself, relinquished teaching after two years and departed for parts unknown this writer.
Then came a rather large muscular man named John M. Jones, who is doubtless well remembered in the neighborhood by others that are advancing toward the time when grey hairs are apt to set in. This man was a rigid disciplinarian who ruled through fear instead of love, and who spared not the ruler or rod. It is presumed that many remember how frequent was the declaration, “I declare I will have to whale you my boy,” and the threat, “Now Mary Jane, if I have to speak to you again, you will come stand here in the chimney corner, now mind what I tell you”. The chimney corner was a much dreaded place, during this well meaning gentlemen’s term, because, being called there, meant to stand on one foot for an indefinite time, with a big red dunce cap drawn down over the ears. How it rejoiced the heart of many a poor mischievous one, to hear the teacher say, Ônow George, or Emily as the case might be, “if you think you can behave yourself, you may go to your seat.” It took a very short time for one in such a posture, to coin a promise of good behavior for the future whether it was the intention to live up to it or not. Jones’s great ambition was to have his scholars apt, and fitted to become useful men and women. After seven years of faithful toil, he relinquished teaching and followed the life of a husbandman the greater part of the remainder of his days. He departed this life in the “Great bally” on June the 12″ 1872 aged 77 years, and was interred at the “Union Church” at Whitemarsh. Then came the genial, graceful, and scholarly old gentleman, known far and wide as “Uncle John Levering, who was considered as one of the greatest mathematicians and geomatricians of his day. He and the late Allen Corson were regarded as authorities on surveying. Levering strove to teach by love for a period of seven years, and then retired to private life, and sojourned to the end of his allotted time almost within the shadow of this Institution. He departed this life Nov. 13, 1878, in the 90th year of his age, and was laid away to await the resurrection of the Just, beside kindred dust in the Roxborough Baptist Church grounds. This venerable man had for his successor, one of his sons – Clifford Levering, one of the most genial natures that ever took a rod in hand. This good man, after 6 years of patient toil resigned for another vocation, and on May 10, 1885 passed from earth to enjoy the reward of the Just. Then followed a teacher of some repute, named Wm. Henry Parker, who owing to indiscretion in the exercise of his rights, resigned after serving as Tutor but one year. This man was succeeded by Wm. Harrington who was somewhat erratic, injudicious and too impetuous. But he was a man of more then ordinary ability, and one who sought to impart knowledge. He failed to become popular, and resigned after but two years sojourn. Then came the Old Scotch Pedagogue – Jno Cameron, who was the very personification of an ‘Old Country teacher’. If there was ever a time in the history of the institution when levity and mirth ran unbridled, it was during the short term of his administration. There are quite a number living in that locality today who can entertain an evening company relating the experiences of the not very remote past which cause almost side splitting laughter.
When old John Barleycorn would dethrone the man Cameron, then came the time to be hilarious, and the season was hugely enjoyed. So demoralizing was this mans administration, that it became necessary to have him vacate the premises after two years of tumultuous uproar. Then followed a teacher beloved, by the name of B. T. Rodgers who taught but three years and resigned, and moved to Chester County and became a tiller of the soil, and is pursuing said calling at this time.
Then came one of Chester County’s sons in the person of Israel Irwin, a gentleman of taste and literary ability, and by far, the finest scholars that ever presided over the Institution. This teacher served in his calling a period of 13 years, the longest term of any of his predecessors, and relinquished the duties of Tutor during the present season. He has located himself to spend the remainder of his days where he will be surrounded by very many of those to whom he endeavored to impart such instruction as would fit them for responsible positions among their fellow men. During quite a number of years, the Tutors of this Academy were compensated from the income of certain investments in addition to the products of the land, and were chosen by the board of Trustees, until the passage of the Act of Assembly in 1854, establishing free schools, and authorizing the different counties of the Commonwealth to provide for the remuneration of the Teachers. At this time, the use of the school rooms was turned over to the board of school Directors, they providing for the pecuniary support of the teachers, and making the appointments. The Trustees still continue to keep an oversight of the property. The building though somewhat antiquated in externals, when compared with some buildings erected for such purposes during these later years, is substantially built, and all the property is in good repair. The appointments about being made within, will be in keeping with the present age, and when completed, will make it one of the most desirable of all the school properties in the Township. The grove of evergreens and deciduous trees that adorn the center of the yard, was designed, and planted by John Levering in 1847. He in his declining years oftimes came to enjoy the shade of their leafy canopy, while the winds entangled his silvery locks. The Trustees of this ancient classic Institution have appeared in the following succession. Algernon Roberts served the very short term of three years, he departing this life in 1815. He was succeeded by his son Isaac W. Roberts the father of Geo. B. Roberts of railroad fame. He served forty three years until the infirmities of age made it necessary to choose a successor. Then, in 1858, Anthony L. Anderson was appointed, he serving six years. At his death, Jonathan Jones was appointed, and is the Treasurer of the board at this date, having now served twenty three years. Henry Bowman served twenty two years. He was one of the victims of the terrible scourge of yellow fever in 1832. He was succeeded by his friend and neighbor Anthony Zell who served about fourteen years. He was followed by Wm. W. Roberts now in service being only the third in succession, having now been in service forty one years. He is the owner of said Testators homestead and plantation, upon which, is the only Indian burial ground in the Township that the writer has any knowledge of. Jonathan Walters was succeeded by Paul Jones in 1822, and he served 35 years, departing this life in 1857 aged 81 years. He by his son Davis Jones who has now served 30 years. Jonathan Jones was succeeded by John Levering who served half a century. He was followed by his son Clifford Levering who served six years. He was succeeded by Perry L. Anderson. David Roberts was succeeded by Owen Jones. He after being a member of the board several years, and only meeting with them but once, resigned. He was followed by Isaiah Thomas. The present board, as can be learned from the above, is composed of the following named persons. — Wm. Warner Roberts, Isaiah Thomas, Davis Jones, Jonathan Jones and Perry L Anderson. Tis a source of very great satisfaction to the Trustees and the public to take a retrospective view of the usefulness of the Institution, and in so doing, to find that from its walls, have gone forth quite a number who have adorned the professions they adopted in after years, and to find somany having risen to positions of prominence in the professional, commercial and social walks of life. Of the professions, we notice among those who made a study of Blackstone, the name of Charles Naylor, who in his day not very remote in the past served the ( ? ) district of Philadelphia in the National Congress. Also Joseph Fornance who became a noted barrister at the bar of Montgomery County, and served two terms in Congress from 1839 to 1842. Of the medical profession, we recall Dr. Thomas of West Chester, Dr. Isaac. W. Anderson, Dr. Jonathan Clark, Dr. Harvey and Dr. Jno S. Lodge. All these men excepting Harvey lived to enjoy lucrative practice. Dr. Harvey departed this life quite young, and the last named, Dr. Jno S. Lodge, is still with the living, and is a person of high standing in his profession. One who became distinguished as a Teacher was Professor Rhodes late of the Phila. High School. Of the ministerial profession, was the late J. Rush Anderson of the M.E. Church, who was called to his reward Nov. 8. 1863, and John Porter of the Episcopal Church and who long since laid aside his surplice to enjoy the society of the blessed; and Wm. G. Russell now the esteemed pastor of the Baptist Church of Long Branch , New Jersey. Of the Civil engineer Corps was the late Jno. H. Levering, one of the District Surveyors of Phila; and the present Wm. Maney Levering, well known throughout the State at present, and he who now presides over the destiny of the greatest railroad system in the world, namely the Penna., and who is a grandson of one of the first Trustee – Geo. B. Roberts. Of those of commercial pursuits, were the late firm of Wm. D. Jones & Isaac T. Jones, Jones Try, Nehemiah Evans, Jacob L. Stadelman, and the late Algernon Robert who was the projector and senior partner of the Pencoyd Iron Works, and what is now the second largest establishment of the kind east of the Alleghanies. Of other professions and callings it is possible to name quite a number who have been and are acquitting themselves creditably in the arena of life, and not a few enjoying the fruit of the labors of their earlier years, whilst their locks are whitening with the frost of many winters. Quite a large number have passed from this sphere of action. Some of them espousing a noble cause, laid down their lives that the nations flag should be preserved from dishonor – and be permitted to continue floating over the “land of the free and the home of the brave”. Some few also have gone down to fill ignoble graves, and there are a few, who, sad to relate, are following in their footsteps. Of the great assembly of those who he received instruction here, many remain, and are often heard to speak with reverence in behalf of heir Alma Mater.
Pencoyd, February 17, 1888