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Nearly One Hundred and Fifty Years of Canton Schools

Almost three years after the first settlers were established in Canton, in the year 1803, Samuel Griffen built a schoolhouse on his farm near the old fairground.  This was the first school in Canton township, and Miss Emma Segar, whose family had settled near East Canton, was the first teacher.  The second was Isaac Campbell.

No mention of any other school appears until 1830, when Mrs. James Parsons, wife of a circuit riding Baptist minister who had recently moved to Canton, started the first school in Canton Borough.

Mrs. Parsons had three young children, too small to trudge two miles to the Griffin school, so she secured the cooperation of several neighbors and started a summer school in her newly built barn, employing Miss Eliza Wheeler as teacher.  Undoubtedly some of the other pupils were children of Deacon Greenleaf, Stephen Landon and Samuel Rockwell, all of whom lived nearby.

The Parsons family moved away in 1832, and their log house then became the school.

In his recollections of Canton in 1837, Simon McIntosh recalled this school and told of the upper grade pupils using the loft as a school room, being obliged to climb a ladder to reach their classes.

Mrs. Emmaline Leavitt also told of this school but mentioned the loft as housing both small and advanced pupils, the younger ones sitting on the ends of the benches near the wall and the taller ones in the center of the room.  Even at this early date Canton pupils were attracting students from other towns, as pupils attended this school from what is now Grover.

The second public school in Canton was the “Red Schoolhouse” and stood where Center Street meets Main.  This was a very good building and a great improvement over the log house on Troy Street.  Miss Anna Griffin was one of the first teachers of this school.

About this time and for many years, there were private or “Select” schools, taught by different teachers.  One of the best remembered of these “Select” school teachers was Harriet C. Hunt, who taught young ladies school here for many years.

Some years later, probably about 1853-54, when the railroad was built, the old church which stood near the Main Street cemetery and which had not been used for a church for a number of years, was moved to Center Street and then to the lot where the present grade school building now stands.  Here it was repaired and used as a school until the brick schoolhouse was ready for occupancy in 1870.  This wooden building was equipped with homemade desks and benches, and two large wood burning stoves, one upstairs and one down, furnished heat when needed.

This was a township school until Canton was incorporated as a borough in 1864, and as such, school was held three months in winter and two months in summer.  The first teachers of the summer school were Philah Griffin (Mrs. George Bristol) and Augusta Wilcox (Mrs. Henry Warren).  The winter school needed a well muscled man as teacher for the larger boys who attended then, so John Hazelton was employed for the upper grade and Augusta Wilcox for the lower.

The salaries for summer school were $10.50 per month.  For the winter term, Mr. Hazelton was paid $31.00 monthly and was to board himself, while Miss Wilcox received $16.00 each thirty days and was to board with patrons of the school.  This custom continued for some years.

Following the Civil War, Canton began to grow and this school became very crowded so the need for larger quarters was soon felt.

The Board considered repairing and enlarging the old wooden building at a cost of $2500.00, but this seemed impractical, so in 1869 it was decided to erect a new four room brick building at a cost of $9000.00, including equipment.  There was much opposition to this and it was argued that Canton would lose a large part of its population if taxes were raised sufficiently to finance the new school.

However, the building was built and was first occupied in the fall of 1870.  About this time the school year was lengthened to eight months and the teachers were paid larger salaries.  Again a little later the term was lengthened, this time to nine months and summer school was abolished.

For some years the principal of the school was a local minister, usually from the Methodist Church.  The Rev. Harry C. Moyer, pastor of the Methodist Church was principal in 1873 when the first class was graduated from Canton High School.

The accompanying picture, taken March 1, 1873, depicts the members of the A class.  Only three members of this class actually graduated in 1873; they were Julia Spaulding, Mary Spaulding and James. W. Parsons.  At that time it was necessary to pass a teacher’s examination as well as the required school subjects in order to graduate, and the balance of the class did not take the teacher’s examination at that time.

There were no formal graduation exercises in the years between 1873 and 1878, though the pupils doing the required work received their certificates, but in 1879 graduation exercises were held and have continued to be held each succeeding year with the exception of 1894.  In that year the course was lengthened for four years in high school, and thus the class of 1894, consisting of two boys, graduated in 1895.

By 1876, the new school which was thought to be large enough for all the time to come when built six years before, was badly overcrowded and agitation was started to double the size of the building.  Instead of doing this, however, a two story wooden building was erected across the street and some of the grades were placed there.

The first commencement was held at the school, as far as can be ascertained, but subsequently the exercises were held in the churches or in Citizen’s Hall, which occupied the third floor of the Manley block, afterward the Hendelman building, and now razed to make room for the Ben Franklin store.

The graduation exercises were open to the public and were elaborate affairs, participated in by pupils from all grades of the school, but Class Day was the graduates’ own ceremony and admission was by invitation only.

The young folks then, as now, had their favorites among teachers, and the class of 1880, in which three graduated, was no exception.  This class would have numbered five but for the fact that Professor Raesley accepted the position of principal at Wellsboro, and two members of the class were so determined to graduated under his tutelage, they boarded in Wellsboro that winter and graduated from the Wellsboro school in the spring.

The class of 1881 also deserves special mention, for when death has decimated the ranks of all the older classes and many of the later ones, the four girls who comprised this class are all alive as their 70th anniversary approaches.

Until 1889, little change had been made in the courses of study, but during the 1899-90 term special attention was given to the preparation of students for scientific and technical courses in the best American colleges, and negotiations were pending for the admission of Canton graduates without further examination to Lehigh, Bucknell, Lafayette, Syracuse and Cornell.

Prior to 1892, need for room again became urgent, so the brick building was remodeled to about its present proportions and continued to serve the needs of Canton until 1916.

Photo Caption – page 101p:
Canton High School 1870
Photo Caption – page 102p:
This photograph was taken about 1907 and shows the addition to the high school which was added about 1892.

Rural Schools

Before the Canton Schools were consolidated into the Canton Area Schools, those students living outside of Canton Borough attended a rural one room school.  Some of these schools had two rooms, but most had only one.  These schools included grades one through eight and were taught by one teacher who taught all subjects to all grades.  They were administered by a local Board of Directors which was responsible for the operation of the school, including hiring a qualified teacher.

These schools were quite primitive when compared to modern building codes, but students were able to get a well balanced education in these one room schools if they applied themselves to their lessons.  I remember seeing these students coming from rural schools in the ninth grade, and they were capable of taking high school courses as well as those who graduated from the Canton graded school.

These schools were heated by a wood stove, which was the responsibility of the teacher, although older students assisted in keeping the fires burning, as well as doing other chores.  The teacher and students were responsible for the cleanliness of the school as there were no janitors.

The parents were responsible to get their children to school by any means possible, which often meant a long walk.  The yellow school bus was a scarce commodity at this time.  If a student wanted a high school education after graduating from a one room school, there were a few options available.  Some of the girls would work for their room and board for a local family while attending high school.  There were two yellow school busses which brought students to Canton High School.  A bus operated by Lloyd Landon brought students from the Ogdensburg and Gleason area, and a bus operated by Tracey Stone brought students from the Leroy, West Leroy, East Canton area.  These busses were also hired by the Canton High School to transport athletic teams to away games.

At that time, changing courses and increased enrollment forced the building of a new High School, so the wooden grade building was razed and a new modern yellow brick high school building, complete with an auditorium, class and assembly rooms and modern equipment, erected on the site.  The old red brick building was then used only for the first eight grades.

Again the Town Fathers, School Board and Taxpayers thought they had solved the schoolhouse problem for all time and again they were wrong, for in 1924 a wing larger than the first building had to be added to the new high school.  This was hoped to be ample, but for some years past the schools have been unbearably crowded, and with the formation of the Tri-County School District during the past summer, a new building program will have to be undertaken in the very near future.

Changing educational methods have brought new courses and many more teachers and pupils, so while Canton itself has grown only a little in the past thirty years, the school has grown a great deal.  At present the first grade is housed in the upper room of the Scout building, the lower room of this building is in constant use and both the other school buildings are bursting at the seams, so it only remains for final plans to be approved before Canton will be launched on another school building program.

Through the years athletics have played an important part in school activities.  Canton has had a football team as early as 1896, and some of the early track teams boasted stars that shone on college fields.  Our football and basketball teams offer stiff competition to all the contenders.

A history of the school seems incomplete without the names of the teachers whose untiring efforts have given youth of Canton a thorough grounding in the necessary branches of learning, but such a list was almost impossible to compile, so only the name and terms of service of the Principals of the school are given.

The first principal was S. P. Barker.  He held the office for the 1870-71 year, and presided over three teachers.  He was followed by the Rev. H. C. Moyer who was here from 1871-1873.  Next came E. J. Angle and his stay was from 1873 to 1876.  H. E. Raesley followed Mr. Angle and left in 1879.  Next in line was J. L. Burritt who stayed until 1881.  F. S. Porter was the next incumbent, his term of service lasting until 1885.  Either U. G. Palmer liked Canton or Canton liked him better than his predecessors for he presided over the school from 1885 to 1893.  Following him came C. M. Harding who is remembered by many.  He left the school in 1895 to be followed by W. L. Rowlands who stayed until 1902.  James A. Christensen, known as “Cressie” by the disrespectful pupils of the years between 1902 and 1909 is still remembered by a number of his old pupils.  F. S. Woolson, red haired “Wooley” stayed only one year, and was followed by Orin W. Jaquish in 1910.  Mr. Jaquish was at least six feet tall, and advocated 30 inch military steps for every one when marching or walking.  This was a trifle difficult for the younger girls, and all promptly walked as before after he left in 1912.

E. A. Quackenbush succeeded Mr. Jaquish and remained until 1918.  The new high school was built during his administration, and during this time also the “three minute talks” of hated memory marred many an other wise pleasant morning “assembly.”  R. L. VanScoten took over the reins of government at Canton High after Mr. Quackenbush’s resignation, and during his regime the new building received a large addition.  Mr. VanScoten guided the destinies of the school for ten years, being succeeded in 1928 by Thomas E. Hillyer.  Mr. Hillyer remained until 1935, leaving Canton for a position with the Atlantic Refining Company.

Russell A. G. Stetler, known variously as “Stet” and “Rags” followed Mr. Hillyer and remained until 1942 when J. T. Williamee, Jr. assumed the responsibility of the education of the youth of Canton; may he long be with us.

It seem too bad to gloss over the fine work of these various principals with a flippant sentence or two, but perhaps they will forgive us and know their good deeds are remembered in the lives of the many fine men and women of our community who have been influenced by their teachings and precepts.

Another of Canton’s school buildings which deserves mention is the “little red school” which stood on upper Troy Street for many years and is now a part of the C. & M. A. Church.  This was usually referred to as “The Academy,” and pupils have gone into the world from this small hall of learning.

Probably no other institution in town has shown greater growth and progress in the last 80 years than the school system.  From the four room brick school of 1870, with three teachers and a principal to preside over the destiny of perhaps 110 pupils, the school has expanded until there are now several large buildings, a supervising principal, high school and elementary principals and 35 teachers who have nearly 900 pupils under their supervision.

New buildings and further expansion are just ahead and it will be interesting to watch the future progress in all departments of the Canton school system.

--Eleanor PARSONS Keagle

The photographs of the Fuller school and the McIllwain school are representative of the rural schools of the time, and the photograph of the Beech Flats school on page 284 shows the last rural school to operate in the area.

Photo Caption – page 103Ap:
Teacher at right (rest of sentence is hard to read)
McIllwain School
Big one with overalls uncle Lawrence McIllwain
Crawford Holmes
Photo Caption – page 103Bp:
This photo compliments of Crawford Holmes
Fuller School
Canton Twp (Troy St)
Photo Caption – page 103p:
5th and 6th Grade Rooms
Canton Graded School
Photo Caption – page 105p:
First Graduation Class – Canton High School – March 1873

Seated, left to right – Jennie Fox, James W. Parsons, George O. Griffin, Clark McClelland, Jennie Thompson

Standing, left to right – Julia Spaulding, Willis V. Bacon, Mary Krise, Mary Spaulding

This photo was taken March 1st 1873.  Of the nine members of this class, only James W. Parsons, Julia Spaulding and Mary Spaulding took the rigorous exams and received the diplomas.

Photo – page 106p:
Graduating Exercises Of the Canton High School
At the First Baptist Church, Canton, PA.,
Monday, May 31, 1886, At 7:45 P.M.

Overture, Orchestra.
Invocation, Rev. C. A. Babcock
Chorus, “O, Italia, Beloved,” School
Essay, “the Works of Nature Superior to Those of Art,” Kitt Spencer
Oration, “Hero Worshipers,” J. S. Walter
Instrumental Duet, Messrs. Clark and Westgate
Essay, “My Seventh Birthday,” Nettie M. Randall
Oration, “The American Dollar,” Benj. H. Westgate
Four-Part Song, “High School March.”
“An Ovation to Jeff. Davis,” Messrs. Whitman, Gleason and Lewis.
Song, “Finnegan’s Wake,” Chas. Gleason
Essay, “Ambition,” Mate Cowl
Valedictory, Thad. S. Hickok.
Presentation of Diplomas
“Parting Song,” Female Chorus

Class of 1886.
Miss Mate Cowl,
Miss Nettie Randall,
Miss Kitt Spencer,
Mr. T. S. Hickok,
Mr. J. S. Walter,
Mr. B. H. Westgate

Photo – page 107p:
Fourteenth Annual Commencement
Of the
Canton High School
At the
Opera House
Friday Evening, May Twenty-Second,
At eight o’clock.
Photo – page 108p
Class of 1891.
Academic Course.
Goldie Biddle,
Libbie Brigham,
Laurinda Ferguson,
C. V. Gleckner,
Herman Griswold,
Mary Lynch,
J. J. Preston.

English Course.
A. E. Landon,
Cornelia Randall,
Will Riggs,
E. J. Wynne.
Ushers:  Class of 1892.

Photo – page 109p:
Canton, Pa. High School
Your presence is requested at the
First Annual Reunion of the Alumni,
Friday, June 28, 1889.
3 P.M.
Preliminary Meeting of Alumni at High School Rooms.
8 P.M.
Reception and Banquet at Mountain View House.
Exercises by Class of 1879.
Address of Welcome, Pres. E. M. Lake
Solo, “O Happy Day,” Prof. H. E. Dann
Poem, Mrs. S. F. Hammond
History of the Alumni, Mrs. E. M. Moody
Toast Master, L. L. Lewis.
James W. Parsons, M. D.
Mary Spaulding (Mrs. J. O. Whitman).
Julia Spaulding (Mrs. W. T. Lawrence).

Elisha Newman,
Hollis E. Dann,
S. Frances Harding, (Mrs. John Hammond).
Mary Lewis,
B. G. Foss,
Ettie M. Little, (Mrs. L. H. Moody).

Maggie Leahy, (Mrs. P. J. Ronan).
Bertha Butler, (Mrs. L. H. Dye).
Fred D. Fox.

Sadie L. Parsons,
Ella A. Beers,
Lizzie E. Manley, (Mrs. E. S. Lindley)

E. M. Lake,
J. B. Bowman,
Dell Butler.

M. G. Ronan,
Jennie M. Jennings,
Maggie M. Gorman (Mrs. M. J. Ryan).
Carrie A. Jennings, (Mrs. U. G. Palmer).

Arthur Porter, Ph. G.
W. H. Bennett,
Minnie Cranmer, (Mrs. J. G. Crippen).

Fred. W. Benedict,
Miriam A. Guernsey,
Eldaah H. Landon,
Adda Randall,
Belle Sellard, (Mrs. Solon Andrews).

B. H. Westgate,
J. S. Walter,
T. S. Hickok,
Nettie M. Randall,
Kitt Spencer,
Mate Cowl, (Mrs. W. H. Bennett).

C. B. Kelley,
Fred. O. Wright,
Fred. E. Whitman,
Minnie A. Van Dyke,
Mattie P. Tracy,
Cora E. Van Nest.

L. L. Lewis,
Alice J. Bristol,
Maggie M. Watts,
Mary E. Walter.

Charles L. Fellows,
Clarence J. Jones,
D. T. Lindley,
Willis R. Perry.

Football teams of 1895 and 1896
Photo Caption – page 112p:
Canton High School Basketball Team of 1918

From left to right:

Everett Quackenbush – Coach and Principal
Ed Thomas – Guard
Don Dann – Guard
Roy Bixby – Forward
Bob Randall – Center
Les McFadden – Forward
Theo McFadden – Forward
Ivan Segur - Guard

Photo Caption – page 114p: Canton Junior-Senior High School

The original building was built in 1916 with the addition on the right in 1924.  This building served as the Junior-Senior high school until 1970 when the new school was built on Main Street.

New School Being Built for Canton

Canton, Nov. 21 – The new high school being built by the Canton Area Joint School Authority is rapidly nearing completion.  It is the largest school being built in this area by a local school authority.

During the period of construction, J. T. Williamee, Jr., supervising principal of the tri-county joint district, has been consulted by many other districts in this area and other areas about the planning, financing, and construction of the building.

During the summer a group from the Wyalusing Joint Area representing the board of education, the administration, architects and engineers spent some time with Mr. Williamee and L. R. McDonnell, secretary of the tri county district, about problems arising in the building of their own school.

Purchases Furnishings
Within the last two weeks representatives from the Athens Area School District, of which Dr. George Fitch is supervising principal, conferred with Mr. Williamee on the details involved in the planning of their own new high school.

The Canton Area Joint School Authority has awarded contracts for $47,000 worth of furniture and equipment for the building.  This equipment was recommended to the authority by the building committee of the tri-county district and a committee comprised of several teachers from the high school.

Co-chairmen of the committee were J. T. Williamee, supervising principal, and Emerson Lewis, chairman of the building committee, which includes Mack Hagar, Charles High, Jack Huffman, Curtis Wright, Charles Kline, and James Adams.

Williamsport Grit – November 22, 1953

Photo Caption – page 117p:
Canton High School 1970

First Canton High School, Built in 1870, Coming Down

Canton-Many Cantonians are saddened these days as the demolition of the old red brick school at the corner of Minnequa Ave. and E. Union St. becomes a reality.  The old building is a storehouse of memories, both pleasant and otherwise, for anyone over 12 years of age who attended Canton grade school.  To all long time residents who went to Canton High School prior to 1916, the old school was the scene of their education, preparatory to college.

Built about 1870 and first used in the fall of that year, the structure originally comprised four rooms – two upstairs and two down, presided over by a principal and three teachers.  The first graduating class, numbering three, Julia and Mary Spaulding and Dr. J. W. Parsons, received their diplomas in 1873.

This building cost $9,000.00, including equipment.  This was considered by many taxpayers a sinful extravagance, and they threatened to move out of the borough if taxes were further increased.  By 1876 the new school was badly overcrowded, so a two-story wooden building was erected nearby and some graded transferred there.

In 1892 need for more space became urgent and the brick building was enlarged to about its present proportions and in 1894 the three year high school curriculum was increased to four years.

The old building continued to house both grades and high school until 1916 when a new yellow brick high school was built across the street and the old building was used as a grade school only.

It was closed permanently in 1954 when the huge new high school was completed and the yellow brick structure became the elementary school.

Since then it has stood abandoned, and alone, prey to vandals who stoned out most of the windows, though the school is in the center of a fine residential section.

The Towanda Daily Review July 16, 1959

Photo Caption – page 119p:
Demolition of the Old Red Brick Schoolhouse
September 1959
Bradford County PA
Chemung County NY
Tioga County PA

Published On Tri-Counties Site On 30 JAN 2008
By Joyce M. Tice
Email: Joyce M. Tice

The History Center on Main Street, 83 N. Main Street, Mansfield PA 16933