|The Lower Merion Academy is located at 501 Bryn Mawr Avenue in Bala-Cynwyd. The building is situated to the side of the Bala-Cynwyd Middle School.So many times parents have gone to outdoor school events and wondered why someone had a “house” built near the schools.Rather it was the schools that were built near the “house.” The Academy has stood there since 1812-1813 when it was built by Joseph Price and Nathan Lewis, who were local carpenters. The elementary and middle schools and surrounding school areas were built on the same piece of land as the Academy because by 1914 the Academy became too small to hold the expanding population of neighborhood children. Today the Academy is still used for educational purposes.To understand the history of the Lower Merion Academy, several topics will be examined. The bequest of Jacob Jones and others gave the impetus to establish a free school which predated the state laws for public schools (1834-1836).|
Jacob Jones – Devout Quaker
|Jacob Jones, a devout Quaker, seemed to believe in education for all children whether they could afford it or not. Since he had no children of his own, he left an enduring educational legacy to the entire community.Jacob Jones provided a trust and appointed trustees to make his dream become a reality. The Trustees fulfilled Jacob’s wishes by constructing a building, hiring teachers, governing the free school and admitting as many poor and orphan children from the Township as the proceeds of the trust would dictate.After the Township became part of the “general system of education,” the Lower Merion Academy became one of the first centers of learning. While the Academy has passed through as many changes as society has, the Academy always remained a constant symbol of education and benevolence.Through contemporary words of the 19th century, we learn the history of the Academy through primary sources and are able to witness again the real issues and events.|
|Where did the money originate to construct the Lower Merion Academy? Three wills provided funds for the building. John Roberts left 50 pounds in a will proved December 2, 1803 to
or the money was to revert to Pennsylvania Hospital. In the will of Elizabeth George, proved December 1, 1806, she directed that the residue of her estate be given to the estate of Jacob Jones, her brother for
It is, however, the will of Jacob Jones which was the most generous in funding the Academy. In his will of September 30, 1803, he gave not only 800 pounds to erect the school building, but another 500 pounds in trmst on landed security to employ teachers.
The interest from the monies was not only to employ teachers, but to instruct free of expense
He also included
The parcel was approximately 10 acres. Although the will was proved on Agril 26, 1810, the trust was not established until after the death of his wife, Mary, on October 28, 1811.
First page of the will of Jacob Jones, dated 1803, in which he established a trust and gave land to build the first free school in this township.
The 1887 Directive
|Jacob Jones composed his will of 1803 based on several Quaker principles put forth in the Yearly Meeting directive of September 29,1778 concerning the establishment of Quaker schools. In that directive (found in the Quaker Collection of Haverford College), it was recommended to start a fund
|Research at Swarthmore College of several years of the Radnor Monthly Meeting Minutes (of which Merion Meeting was a part) indicates that a committee, which Jacob was appointed to, was started on October 13, 1778. Although a lot of discussion was reported in the following years, there was not much progress. Not only was Jacob aware of the 1778 directive, but the Jones family knew Anthony Benezet who co-authored the directive. Benezet had also begun a Quaker school in Philadelphia. This directive offered constructive advice, for example, that
Early Photos of Israel Irwin (top) and Clifford Levering who were Headmasters of the Academy and Superintendents of the Union Sunday School.
Lease agreement (1828) between Headmaster Newton M. Boggs and Trustees; D. Roberts, P. Jones, I.W. Roberts and John Levering.
|It was possible Jacob was so frustrated over the years by the lack of commitment of his fellow Quakers in establishing a free school in Lower Merion that he initiated the first step to begin a fund for others to contribute to or, in this case, a trust to erect a school, to educate children, and to provide land and accommodations for the teacher(s).Jacob, however, went one step further than educating “…the poorer Friends’ children.” He included all the children in the Township regardless of their “religious Professions or Education.” Because of his and others’ generosity, the poor and orphan children of Lower Merion were allowed to receive an education free of charge and equal to the education that any other, more financially secure children could afford.|
Life of Jacob Jones
|Algernon Roberts, nephew and administrator of Jacob’s will, described Jacob’s life in the Minute Book of the Academy Trustees as follows:
Jacob Jones’ birth was recorded in the Merion Meeting book of births and deaths for 1682-1806 as “Jacob, son of Joriathan & Gainor Jones…Born…Day, 14; Month, 5; Year, 1713.” (This date is from the Julian Calendar). Jonathan was the son of Dr. Edward Jones, one of the founders of the “Welsh Tract,” and one of the original patent holders of Penn’s Experiment.
Little has been found about Jacob’s early life. His name begins to appear in the Radnor Monthly Meeting Minutes around March 14, 1752 when he and Mary Lawrence declared intentions [to marry] at Merion Meeting House, and Robert Roberts and Richard George were to inquire.
By June 11, 1752, Jacob and Mary were married. Merion Meeting proposed in 1759 a certificate for them to Philadelphia. Their three years in the city are unknown at this time since no evidence was found in city records or directories.
When Jacob did return, he became active in the Merion Meeting starting in 1763. That year he became an Overseer of the Meeting and held many positions from visiting wayward Friends (hoping they would return to Meeting), to membership on education committees, to Treasurer (January, 1772).
In March 1776, Jacob even counselled his nephew, Algernon Roberts, for his “military appearance” and reminded him of “our ancient and Peaceable Testimony.” Jacob was also confronted with difficult decisions such as expelling Algernon and others from Meeting since they persisted in “…the Practice of Bearing Arms” (May 10, 1776).
Jacob was part of the Committee of Suffering which helped those Quakers who refused to serve in the Revolutionary War by paying the fines that were levied against them (August 8, 1777).
He was also active in Monthly, Quarterly and Yearly Meetings in the 1790s. When Jacob died, Joseph Price in his diary (March 25, 1810) mentions Jacob’s passing, building his coffin and
(Price will later build the Academy.)
One feels compelled to call Jacob Jones a Quakers’ Quaker and a person who acted on his principles while finding the spirit of good in all.
From the tax records of 1786, 1788, 1793, 1795, Jacob was listed as a fanner with 200 acres, a dwelling, 1-2 horses, and 2-3 cows. He did not pay an occupation tax because he is listed as either “infirmed” or “ancient.” Jacob and Mary, apparently, had no children since none are listed in the wills or birth records. Knowing this, and his continued interest in education, it is easy to understand his gift and his generosity to future generations of children forever.
Details of Academy student’s copy books (1830s) showing problems and solutions of trigonometry and long division. Since books were expensive, boys and girls kept their copy books for future reference.
The Trust and the Trustees
|With the death of Jacob Jones in 1810 and the death of his wife Mary in 1811, his wishes and the trust were established. According to the Minute Book of the Trustees,
Jacob apppointed five men and their heirs and assignees to oversee the trust…Jonathan Jones, Algemon Roberts, Henry Bowman, Jonathan Walters and David Roberts.
Before Jacob’s death, Walters had died on April 1, 1806, but for some reason, no amendment for replacement was made in the will or its codicil (June 10, 1807).
This led to some confusion concerning whether the remaining Trustees could legally act to fulfill the last wishes of Jacob.
Edward Tilghman offered his legal opinion, dated March 3, 1812: He advised the Trustees that they could legally carry out Jacob’s wishes with a reduced number of trustees, but they should apply to the Yearly Meeting of Friends in Philadelphia to appoint the fifth and any future trusees as Jacob had requested in his will.
The Trustees applied to the Committee of Sufferings which was the primary step before an educational matter could be placed before the Yearly Meeting. The Committee decided not to represent the Trustees’ problem before the Yearly Meeting
This event did not stop the construction of the school or the determination of the Trustees to open its doors. Only three Trustees were functioning without a problem until the death of Algernon Roberts in 1815.
At that point, Jonathan Jones returned to help the remaining two Trustees, Henry Bowman and David Roberts. They again applied to the Yearly Meeting (April 15, 1816) and the Meeting decided
Apparently Jacob’s wishes were too liberal for 1816. The nature and direction of the Committee of Sufferings and the Yearly Meeting obviously had changed since Jacob’s participation in those meetings (almost 30 to 40 years before).
Replacing the vacancies of Roberts and Walters was not settled until 1819 when Jonathan Jones and David Roberts petitioned the General Assembly of Pennsylvania to have the Trustees appoint the successors with the consent of the Orphan’s Court, Montgomery County.
Governor William Findlay approved a legislative act (March 16, 1819). Because of this act, Jonathan Walters and Algernon Roberts were replaced by Paul Jones, Jr. and Isaac Warner Roberts (Algernon’s son).This act finally established the process of Trustee succession which will last forever, as the trust must.
The duties of the Trustees were numerous. In the beginning, they had to decide who would build the school, how it should be constructed, how the school would be governed, who would qualify for the “free of all expenses” schooling, and who would teach.
Constructing the Academy
In an agreement, signed on June 9, 1812, the Trustees selected Joseph Price and Nathan Lewis, contractors “for Building Lower Merion Benevolent School house.”
The memo stated that the Trustees would pay $5,700 which the builders would use to pay for the materials and the wages for the work men. The “architects” were to find the materials for building
“…a good and substantial stone house for a school and the accommodation of a Family fifty five feet front and thirty six deep three stories high in the front and two stories and a Cellar back.”
|The ground noor consisted of a 1 dining room, cellar, and kitchen with a bake-oven fireplace, sink and nues for “boilers.” The floor of the dining room and kitchen were to be made of heart pine. In the wall of the dining room there was a flue so a stove could be used for heat.The second floor was divided into three rooms…one for a large schoolroom, another for a small schoolroom, and the third room was for the “accomodation of a Family.”An entry and staircase was to separate the large room from the smaller rooms. The large schoolroom had a master’s seat and desk with enough seats and tables for forty “scholars.” Also detailed…
The memo also stated the terms of wages agreed upon to do certain work, and also a clause concerning how they would settle any disagreements among them. Tne matters would be “referred to disinterested Men whose determination shall be final.”
At the bottom of the memorandum, a notation was made about Henry Bowman donating all the stones for the schoolhouse and “…all the Other Buildings on the School Lott…”
An insurance survey done for the Green Tree Mutual Assurance Company by Philip Justus on October 13, 1814, placed an evaluation of $4,600 (1814 dollars) on the schoolhouse. It also gave details of the appearance of the building.
This schoolhouse with many rooms and levels was an unique example of public architecture for its time.
The Academy Teachers
The building also served as a residence for the Headmaster and his family, and other teachers as well. Academy teachers did not have to live with each student’s family on a rotational basis, as was customary for those times. They lived and worked in the same place.
Trustees agreed to hire only teachers who
“…unequevocally profess to be a believer of the Purity and Divinity of the Christian Religion as set forth in the New Testament but in all other cases they will give preference Only to such whome they esteem best Qualifyed by theire Moral conduct and Scientifick abilities.”
|An early teacher’s contract with Joshua Hoops (signed Hoopes) was for three years and five months, from the beginning of November when the school opened. Joshua was expected to farm the ground, keep the building in good repair, teach the “scholars” and notify them of the “Rules for the Government of the School.” Joshua had to pay the Trustees $.50 for each student he taught for each quarter, as rent for occupying the school house and using the acreage and the farm buildings.Joshua also needed the approval of the Trustees for any teacher that he hired. There was an unusual performance bond that each party was bound by: “…the penal sum of one thousand Dollars…” This bond was dropped in future lease agreements.Joshua left in 1817 to establish a boarding school in Downingtown and then one in West Chester which he operated for 28 years. He was known for his lectues on botany and astronomy.Noah Leeds was appointed “Superintendance of the Institution,” on April 11, 1817. The terms of service were usually short, one to three years, except for Israel Irwin who lasted 23 years, retired, and then built a home near the Academy.Teaching was not as secure a profession as it is today.|
The Academy Opens
|The Lower Merion Benevolent School, as the Academy was was originally named, opened its doors to students of both sexes on November 1, 1813.Girls were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, English grammar and plain needlework.The boys were taught reading, writing, English grammar, Vulgar and Decimal Arithmetic.Tuition was three dollars per quarter “with a reasonable compensation for firewood and stationery…”Master Joshua Hoopes informed the parents and students about the “Rules” of the school:
Those rules are very similar to those of modern schools.
The Trustees held quarterly examinations of the students with their parents, guardians, or masters present. Attendance was often poor.
The girls school was closed for a time in 1814 due to declining enrollment. Subscription money to sustain a teacher was therefore lessened. Girls’ tuition was lowered to $2.50 per quarter. The Trustees added to the subscription money to help the shortfall.
A new teacher, Mary Passmore, was hired on a one-year contract for the girls school…subscription money plus $30 per quarter, provided by the Trustees.
The next quarterly examination on February 22, 1815 was better attended. The Trustees hoped more regular attendance by parents would aid them in improving
Another problem for the Trustees seemed to be the “opposition” mentioned in the Minute Book.
The opposition might have been neighbors who felt that Jacob’s money should have gone to Quaker projects instead of a project that benefitted the community. The first Trustees would be proud to know the “opposition” did not win, and the Institution continued to serve the community for 184 years and beyond.
The study of comparative religion was encouraged. To further this mission, library holdings included a wide range of beliefs, including this 1840 edition dealing with Jewish history, and the 1868 book of the founder of the Quakers above.
General System of Education
|In 1834, Pennsylvania enacted a law to “establish a general system of education by common schools.” Until that time, several types of schools were operating within the Township. Schools were run by churches, by Trustees who held the school as real estate for the benefit of the neighborhood, by a teacher for profit and by bequest.Although the state had passed the 1834 law, many counties were reluctant to join and levy taxes necessary to fund the school systems. Montgomery County was an example. Our Township School Directors as found in the School Directors’ Minutes from 1834-1856 wanted to receive state funds, but the rest of the county did not. Lower Merion School Directors petitioned the General Assembly to join the educational system.By November 1835, six schools (including the Academy) formally joined as “common schools.” The next year the School Directors built their first schoolhouse, called “Wynne Wood.”From the beginning of the Lower Merion School District, the School Directors approached the Academy and its Trustees in a different way. On December 31,1835, the Directors appointed a committee
For the year of 1836, the Directors agreed to pay $150 to use the Academy unless the school law changed. It did with section 17 which allowed the Trustees to control the school and use public funds to support the school if “conducted in conformity with the common school system of this commonwealth.”
This joint administration of the School Directors and the Trustees governed the school until 1914, when the Academy closed formally as a school. The larger Cynwyd Elementary School was built on the Academy grounds, due to an increase in the stable school population.
An unhappy library patron (and fierce patriot) expressed his views about “John Bull in America” by writing in his ‘review’ and defacing the title page.
Union Sunday School
|While the Academy took care of the educational needs of our community, the Union Sunday School provided the spiritual needs. Before there were enough people to support separate congregations, the Union Sunday School filled the void. It was started by the American Sunday School Union of Philadelphia, and from 1861 to 1915, it provided a place for non-sectarian worship. At last, the Trustees allowed the Sunday School to meet at the Academy, since the purpose of both institutions was to educate and enlighten the youths of the community.Two of the headmasters of the Academy, Clifford Levering and Israel Irwin, served as Superintendents of the Sunday School.Around 1876, at the conclusion of the Centennial Exhibition in Fairmount Park, several of the houses that were constructed by the different states were available. Several members of the Sunday School, including Israel and his son Hervey Irwin, went to dismantle a house, returned to Bala Cynwyd to reassemble it, and used it as the Union Sunday School. The building sat near the Academy, approximately where the bus circle and the front entrance to Bala-Cynwyd Middle School meet.The Union Sunday School was the center of social activity in the community: strawberry festivals, oyster suppers, picnics, a speaker on Anniversary Sunday.Some families, such as the Irwins, were very involved in the Sunday School. Israel was Superintendent; Hervey and his wife, along with Aunt Cora, taught classes; Aunt Della played organ; and Evelyn and Florence, Hervey’s daughters, attended classes.|
Song book used in the Sunday School, published by Lippincott, 1873, in Philadelphia.
Education expanded beyond the walls of the Academy into the community when, in 1842, the Trustees established the “Lower Merion Literary Company” which resided in the third floor Committee or Library Room.
This Township-wide library was established by individuals who donated their own books. To supplement this small collection, funds were raised by selling stock shares. The proceeds were used to purchase the entire “Harpers’ Family Library” and the “Harpers’ Classical Library” of 434 volumes at a cost of 50 cents per volume. Other series-type collections were added, for example, the “Library of Useful Knowledge.”
To this core Quaker collection, other book titles were selected to give the library an uncensored window on the world. Such thought-provoking authors as de Tocqueville, Dickens, Darwin and Harriet Beecher Stowe were liberal additions to the library holdings. To better reflect this broader coverage of topics, there was a change in name to the “Lower Merion Library Company” by 1849.
Each book was carefully protected by a hand-stitched, brown bookbinder’s cloth cover with a distinctive book plate on the inside. The books were shelved by Accession Number and a Library Holdings Book was on display for the public to use. This book was an alphabetical list of the book titles with reference to the Accession Number. A Docket Book was also maintained by what book was borrowed and by what patron. This Docket Book is a Who’s Who of Lower Merion, with such family names as Bowman, Evans, Jones, Levering, Lodge, Price, Ott, Roberts and Scheets, to name a few.
Upon review of the library holdings, there is a traditional coverage of the Classics, Biographies, Comparative Religion, Science, Fiction, Travel and Self-Improvement. Lower Merion was primarily a farming and mill community at this time, so we see “How To” titles on: diseases of the horse, a recipe book for manure, the art of farrning, an introduction to geology, designs for cottages and farm houses, and a mill-wright’s guide.
By 1874, the collection had grown to over 1,400 volumes and the Academy was becoming overcrowded. In 1876, after the Union Sunday School had its own building to serve the community, the entire library collection was relocated to this new facility. Having larger quarters in the community center allowed the collection to grow and to remain an educational resource.
With the construction of the Cynwyd Elementary School in 1914, students were transferred from the Academy into their new building. The Union Sunday School was removed, which left the library without a home.
The “Academy Library Association of Lower Merion” was then formed with the intent to return the library to the Academy. But because of a new lease agreement between the Lower Merion School District and the Trustees, this was not possible.
To the rescue came the Bala-Cynwyd Women’s Club who took on the project of preserving the library for our community. In July 1915, the Bala-Cynwyd Library Association was founded. The older books in the collection were put in boxes and stored in the Academy where they are today.
|We have examined the events that led to the beginning of the Academy through primary documents as a way of understanding the motives for the bequest of Jacob Jones and others.Through 18th and l9th century sources we have shown how the ideals of Jacob Jones were rooted in Quakerism and how Jacob, through his will and his vision of a free school, was able to accomplish what contemporary Pennsylvania laws could not do.We have also learned, through the Trustees’ Minute Book, just how difficult it was to start the Academy and the effort it took to keep it going. We comprehend the pivotal role that Algernon Roberts played as administrator of the three wills and as a dedicated Trustee. We witnessed how our present-day public school system began, with the Academy as a keystone in the Township school system. It is amazing how one building and its early history reconects the history of our community, past and present!|
Research and Text: Jo Anne Debes
Design: Dick Jones
Scanner: Sigrid Berkner