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McAlisterville Academy
Soldiers’ Orphan School

Paul, James L. "Pennsylvania's Soldiers' Orphan Schools",
Lane. S. Hart, Harrisburg, PA, 1877, pg 196.

It began as the Lost Creek Valley Academy in 1855 and offered secondary education for those interested in entering the teaching profession. In 1858, the stockholders sold the three story brick building and property to Professor George F. McFarland, then principal of the Freeburg Academy, in Snyder County, PA.

“He immediately initiated improvements and enlarged the accommodations. The range of subjects offered included Mathematics, Science, Music, Language, Art and Physical Education. The academic year was composed of two semesters of 22 weeks. The campus encompassed 5 acres with spacious buildings, complete with a gymnasium. The student body varied in number from 43 to as many as 70 students from all parts of Pennsylvania and from other states including Illinois and Ohio.” [1]

In 1862, after the defeat of Union troops at the Second Battle of Bull Run, President Lincoln issued a call for more troops. George McFarland answered this call and after considerable effort raised a company of men, many of them teachers from the academy. They were designated Company D of the 151st Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers and were mustered in for nine months service. [2] After regimental training they were assigned to the First Army Corps and joined the army which was stationed near Fredericksburg, VA. Though they played only a minor role in the battle of Chancellorsville, at Gettysburg they suffered the highest loses of any regiment in the Union Army during the battle. [3]

McFarland suffered serious injuries to both legs at Gettysburg, which resulted in the amputation of his right leg, and the permanent disability of his left, from which he never fully recovered. However, he returned to re-open the academy. [4]

During this same time, the Pennsylvania Legislature, after many debates passed an act accepting from the Pennsylvania Railroad $50,000 given for the “education and maintenance of destitute orphan children of deceased soldiers and sailors”. [5] The following November of 1864, the academy, at the request of Dr. Burrowes, newly appointed as Superintendent of Soldiers’ Orphans, became the first soldiers’ orphan school effective November 3, 1864. [6]

“To accommodate the growing number of children the academy built a kitchen with a large range, added a cistern, enlarged the dining room, and procured new desks and sewing machines. When it became apparent that the number of orphans to be provided for was larger than first anticipated and that better accommodations had to be secured, twenty acres of land were purchased and an additional brick building was erected. It was larger that the original academy building, was four stories high with a finished attic. The cornerstone was laid, with interesting and appropriate ceremonies on July 23rd, 1866.” [7]

The McAlisterville Soldier’s Orphan School continued operation until 1899.

On August 26, 1937, a tablet was erected on the site of the McAlisterville Academy to honor Colonel George F. McFarland and Company D of the 151st Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers, as well as to recognize the site of the first Pennsylvania Soldier’s Orphan School. The Juniata County Historical Society and the Society of the McAlisterville Soldiers’ Orphan School erected the table.

From Mifflintown square take Route 35 North/east towards McAlisterville. At the Square SR 1004 [School Street] turn left. Former dormitory building and tablet are on the right hand side of the road.

By 1965, the dormitory building was in terrible condition having lost the stately porches on the front and sides of the building. At that time, Gwen Dress Industries, the owner, removed the top two floors and rebuilt the remaining two. The above picture shows its condition in 2003.

Roster of Children in the Soldiers' Orphan Schools of Juniata Co Pennsylvania
June 1, 1895

Students in the Soldiers' Orphan Schools from Juniata County, Pennsylvania
June 1, 1902

[1] Dreese, Michael A., An Imperishable Fame: The Civil War Experience of George Fisher McFarland, Juniata County Historical Society, Mifflintown, PA, 1997, pg. 6.

[2] Ibid., pg. 7.

[3] Dreese, Michael A., The 151st PA Volunteers at Gettysburg, McFarland & Company Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina and London, 2000, pg. 6.

[4] Dreese, Michael, An Imperishable Fame: The Civil War Experience of George Fisher McFarland, Juniata County Historical Society, Mifflintown, PA, 1997, pg. 9.

[5] Paul, Jules L., Pennsylvania’s Soldier’s Orphan Schools, Lane S. Hart, Harrisburg, PA, 1877, pg. 42-43.

[6] Ibid. pg. 196.

[7] Ibid. pg 197.

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