History of Danville Main Page
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©2001. Terri Cook. All rights reserved.

Danville Past and Present
Danville, Montour County, Pennsylvania
A Collection of
Historical And Biographical Sketches,
By: D. H. B. Brower
Harrisburg, PA.:
Lane S. Hart, Printer and Binder

Old School Days

     The school houses in the olden time were rude and unpretending
structures.  Some had no glass in the windows -- oiled paper answered
the purpose.  Great logs were liked in the wide hearths, for stoves
were scarce.  The seats and desks were in keeping with the struc-
ture, so arranged that the largest scholars occupied positions behind
long desks which ran with either side of the wall, and faced the
"master," while the younger ones occupied the more uncomfortable
benches immediately in front, where their feet scarcely ever touched
 the floor.  So much for the house, and now for the school.  The
"master" was estimated according to his sterness, and the scepter
of his power was the symbol of brute force.  They didn't think of
teaching more than spelling, reading, and "cyphering."  There
were no free schools, but the poor could attend the school, and the
county paid the teacher three cents a day for each scholar on the
poor list.

     The "master's standing in the community was not alone meas-
ured by the dexterity with which he could "point a quill," but the
respect entertained for him was somewhat akin to that of the re-
vered "circuit rider," who was generally consulted on such matters
as related to civil progress, local government, etc., and whose opin-
ions thereon were highly esteemed and duly regarded.  The "mas-
ter" generally "boarded 'round" in turn among the parents of the
scholars, and his "week at our house" was looked forward to with
mingled feelings of pride and regret by the younger folks, but with
satisfaction by parents, especially the good housewife, as she
would take an inventory of her crocks of preserved fruits, or re-
arrange the "spare room" to give it an extra air of cozy comfort
and welcome.

     Don't you remember the time when you were wont to be startled
with the stern command of "mind your books?"  How it made
the little chaps jump and hold up their books before their faces,
whilst they made furtive side glances towards the frowning tyrant
who wielded the birch!  Don't you remember how the "big boys"
would sometimes cram their caps in their pockets, and, meek as in
nocent lambs, say, "Master, please let me go out," and to keep
things right a small paddle or shingle was hung near the door.  On
one side, in large black letters, was the word In, and on the other
Out.  This was to be turned on passing out and in.  Sometimes a
mischievous fellow would watch his chance, when one was out, and
turn the "pass" to "in," and then ask to go out, because he wanted
to join the one already out.  The "master," peering over his specs,
would examine the shingle, and satisfied that all were "in," would
grant permission.  How many of our readers remember the old
"pass" that hung beside the door?  They had no bells, but called
the scholars by rapping smartly on the door-frame with a wooden
 rule, accompanied with the word of command, "Books!  books!"
when every urchin scampered for his seat, took up his book and pre-
tended to study with wonderful earnestness, but all the time peep-
ing around to see what was going on.  Next, you would hear,
"Master, Sam's a'pinchin' me!" or "Joe's a'scrougin' me!"  The
mischievous boy, by way of punishment, was compelled to pass
across the room and take a seat with the girls -- a doubtful kind of
punishment.  Some blushed like lobsters, and others seemed to 
enjoy it.

     There was one day in the year when the "master's" anger was
braved, and that was in the time-honored custom of "barring out
the master" on Christmas.  On that great occasion, the plot being
previously laid, the scholars assembled long before school time, and
piled up the seats to barricade the door.  All preparations made,
they waited the coming of the "master."  At last he came, and
with threats alarmed the more timid, but the "big boys," no less
determined, withstood the onset.  An agreement to give free par-
don and a general treat to the school was slipped out under the
door, with the offer of opening the door if the "master" would
sign and return the paper.  Sometimes he returned it with his sig
nature at once, and other times he kept them imprisoned for the
day and punished them besides.  "Barring out the master" was a 
common custom all over the country, but is has long since been
abandoned, though many who read these lines will remember the
exciting scenes connected with this old time custom.

     In the winter time the "singing school" was also held in the 
school house.  These, as well as the "spelling matches," were the
great excitements of the season.  For miles around the young folks
joined in making the required number, at fifty cents each for the
quarter.  At the appointed time they assembled, bringing each a
singing or "tune book," tallow candle, and generally a sweet-
heart.  They were soon arranged on the rude seats, holding the
stump of a tallow candle, wrapped in paper, in one hand, and the
book in the other.  Those who were fortunate enough to own a 
singing book were regarded with something like envy, yet they
commanded a considerable amount of respect.  The "singing
master" was usually a tall Yankee, wearing a "churn on his head"
and a "swallow-tailed" coat on his back.  His pantaloons were a
 world to short, and his twang was of the nasal persuasion.  They
had no blackboard, but with a short stick the "master" sawed the 
air as he sang out fa, sol. la me, sol.  When he came to the end
of the space, he made a sudden turn as the tails of his coat described
a semi-circle.  "Old Hundred" was than a favorite.  When "sing-
ing school" was out the grand occasion was manifest in the scram-
ble for partners, and many a long walk home resulted in a match
     Once on a very dark night, when singing school was out and
some had gone quite a distance, an unpretending young man called
out, "Hello!  Becka!  Becka!" as loud as he could bawl.  "Hello!
Jerry!" came back on the night breeze and resounded through
the near woodland.  It was Jerry's "lady love," who had gone
some distance on the dark way homeward.  "May I go home with
ye, Becka?" was Jerry's next.  Again she responded, "Oh, well,
Jerry, I reckon!"  He did go home with her, and in due course
of time they were married and lived in a little frame house on the
outskirts of town.  He was a shoemaker, and fond of tobacco, and
was in the habit of taking very large quids, about the size of a 
duck-egg, and when exhausted would dry them in a bag that hung
in the chimney-corner.  When perfectly dry, Becky would smoke
them in her short clay pipe.  One morning, as a neighbor called to
have some cobbling done, he heard the following conversation:
"Jerry, any more old chaws?'  "Wall, I dunno, Becky, looky in
th' ba i-g!"  Thus, they lived long and happy together, and some
of their descendants may perchance be living in Danville to-day.

     There were no church choirs then.  All who could sing in the
congregation joined in the hymn, two lines of which were "given
out" at a time.  And when melodeons were first introduced, they
were refused admission into many of the churches.  Choirs were
another innovation that are no improvement, and the time may
come again when true worshippers will return to the old-time con-
gregational singing.

This page is maintained by Terri Cook as part of the USGenWeb Project.
©2001. Terri Cook. All rights reserved.