Lower Merion Academy: A Legend in Learning

General System of Education

woodcut: A small girl confers with the teacher in a classroom with 5 other pupils

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

to wait on the Trustees of Lower Merion Academy to ascertain whether and upon what terms the said Academy can be obtained after the 16th of March next.” Another committee was appointed on the same day “to obtain legal advice in regard to the power of the Trustees of the Lower Merion Academy to transfer the said house to the Directors of Lower Merion Township

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.

building viewed through leafless trees, stubble field in foreground
1880s photo of the Academy and the Union Sunday School (at right). Note the corn crib at left and the barrels in front.