1896-vintage Fissel’s one-room school helps illustrate past and present

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Fissel’s School is one of York County’s most prominent one-room school houses. It’s been restored, and it’s modest size is contrasted against nearby modern schools. The Glen Rock, Pa., Historic Preservation Society wrote about the school: ‘Today, Fissel’s School stands as a monument to our system of education. It’s location offers an excellent contrast to the past and present, for it stands just a short distance away from Susquehannock High School, Southern Middle and Southern Elementary School.’ Also of interest: Two tales of four schools teach lessons about York County.

The tentative plans are that in May 2014 the Glen Rock Historic Preservation Society and the Southern York School District are making plans for an open house at Fissel’s School, possibly in May 2014.

John ‘Otts’ Hufnagel passed along this detailed background on the one-room building taken from a history of Fissel’s School, written by Clarence B. Seitz and Joseph B. Hicks in 1961, and “Glen Rock – An Historical Review,” written in 2010:

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This photo, courtesy J. David Allen and Buchart-Horn, contrasts the new and old – Fissel’s one-room school v. Susquehannock High School.

“The progress of mankind was never more advanced by any instrument than by the great American institution known as The Little Red School House. Never in the world’s history has a nation’s people received an education so completely without regard to race, creed or color as they did in these little country schools which used to dot the whole countryside.

“Fissel’s School in southern York County is just one of hundreds of one-room schools which served as the foundation for our present day system of education.

“Fissel’s school, built in 1896, stands in the shadows now, a proud relic of the past. For more than half a century students learned their three R’s in the present Fissel’s eight grade, one room school. It is estimated that at least 1,500 boys and girls attended classes at Fissel’s. Today, Fissel’s School stands as a monument to our system of education. It’s location offers an excellent contrast to the past and present, for it stands just a short distance away from Susquehannock High School, Southern Middle and Southern Elementary School.

“Actually, the history of Fissel’s Schools goes back past the year 1896. While the present building is just in its 117th year in 2013, the story begins in the year 1830, when a Marylander, Michael Klinfelter Seitz, purchased 240 acres of land in the area of Shrewsbury Township around where Fissel’s School is located.

“Mr. Seitz was the father of several children of school age and it was his greatest desire that they have an education. Nearby neighbors wanted the same for their own children. Mr. Seitz felt that only by full community action and cooperation would their dreams be realized. So he called a meeting of his neighbors at his home and presented the matter of their children’s education to them.

“Among those attending the meeting were the Kerchners, Zieglers, Naces, Warners, Wherleys, Klinefelters, Gantzs, Sweitzers, Deckers, Hunts, Cockers, and others. Mr. Seitz was chosen chairman of the committee to develop the idea for establishment of a school. He later served as manager of the school and was its treasurer charged with collecting the money to operate it.

“At first two rooms on the first floor of the sexton’s house (still standing) were rented and each member of the group who had children in attendance was assessed dues to meet the expenses. The rooms were equipped with the bare necessities, all hand made. Mr. Seitz and several friends in the carpentry trade made the desks, recitation bench and coat racks. A pot-bellied stove was purchased along with teaching materials and texts.

“A majority of the schools being built today have brightly gleaming cafeterias where students consume scientifically prepared foods. Contrast this picture with the one presented well over 100 years ago when a wooden rack at the rear of the room held the lunch pails or bags of the students. And the children from back then probably got as much nourishment from their lunch pails as today’s youngsters get from their modern stainless steel cafeterias.

“Probably the origin of the expressions “readin’, ritin’ and rithmetic’” and “the three R’s” came from the fact that the three major studies at the beginning were just those. Very little else in the way of subject matter was taught because text books were scarce and expensive.

“However, in spite of its modest beginning, Fissel’s School began to grow. Due to the increase in the number of students attending classes (they were even asking for permission to send children out from the Glen Rock area) it was decided to build a school. Mr. Seitz donated a plot of land across the road from Fissel’s Church and Fissel’s School number two came into being in the 1880′s. A few years later a one-room school was built at the village of Seitzland and the Glen Rock area students transferred there. At that time Fissel’s School enrollment was 65 pupils in all classes.

“Now, progress was being made in the expansion of the school’s curriculum. Spelling, geography, history and grammar were added to the three R’s. The school term was expanded from five to six months and a library, which included two luxury items of the day, a Webster’s Dictionary and a set of encyclopedias, was started.

“During this period of transition a literary society was formed at Fissel’s School. This, according to available records, was about 1885. A number of the upper grade pupils decided to start a group with school board permission.

“Captain N. Z. Seitz ( a son of Michael), Editor of the Glen Rock Item, had an extensive collection of books. And he was moving to Washington, D. C. So, not wanting to burden himself with their transport, he gave the books to the group, giving it new life.

“The third and last Fissel’s School built in 1896 was closed finally in the very early 1950′s when the Southern Joint School District went into operation. No longer was the Little Red School House at Fissel’s needed. No longer would the bell atop the picturesque institution ring out across the country-side in anticipation of eager youngsters coming from nearby farms and villages in quest of knowledge.

“It is, however, to the great credit of the people of Southern York County that the school system was modernized when the needs of the whole community became apparent following World War II. It was with great foresight that Michael Seitz started and continued as the guiding light of the first two local schools at Fissel’s. And following in his footsteps, the people who took over after he was gone. They made progress in education their watchword right up to the closing of Fissel’s School.

“The closing of the dozens of Little Red School Houses in the Southern District did not pass without the shedding of tears of remembrance. Who can forget – those who attended one-room schools – the once or twice daily chore of fetching a large container of water for washing and drinking from a nearby farm or store. One can recall changing sides with his partner every few steps on the way back with a full bucket to ease aching arms. And who was to know that a blade of grass, a stick or even a fly or bug had been fished out of the water with hands that were not as clean as they should have been. It was always a mystery how, no matter how careful you were, something always had to be fished out of the water before it was taken into school for the other children to use.

“Since there was no electricity, even in later years in many instances, nighttime activity was kept to a minimum. No PTA meetings, and such. As a matter of fact, there was no PTA. If something needed doing the whole community did it without committees or meetings or fund raising drives and such.

“But there was some nighttime doings at least one time a year in spite of the fact there was no electricity. That was at Christmas when the whole school presented some kind of Christmas program for parents and friends. Usually the presentation was Charles Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Carol.’”

“There probably was no memory of the Little Red School House so vivid in ones mind as the recollection of that traditional Christmas story being portrayed by the light of oil lamps by children from grades one through eight. In the dim, yellow light of the lamps the characters came off better than they ever could have on a New York stage. The rural atmosphere, the closeness of the audience seated at desks much too small for them, and the spirit of the play and the season made this activity one of the most looked-forward to of the year. There was always a packed house that night.

“Either in the first school which was the 2 rooms at the Sexton’s home at Fissel’s Church, or the second school built in the 1880′s, three sides of the room were painted black and on this the teacher would write with crayon the work for the scholars, as slates and slate pencils were used to copy same by the scholars at their desks. Sometimes this was taken home for homework. Next morning, teacher collected slates and checked the work – no paper at all was used.

“A complete list of the graduates of Fissel’s School is impossible to compile. In the more than 50 years the last school was used there have been at least 1,500 graduates. Add to that number others from Fissel’s Schools number two and the two rooms in the home of the church sexton which operated from the mid 1830′s to 1896 and the number is an unbelievable number of students.

“It is with regret that a list containing only a few names of graduates of Fissel’s School has been compiled. The names on the list are: Levi Hershey, Samuel Nace, Jacob Nace, Albert Nace, Edwin Nace, Fillmore Hunt, L. Clarence Hunt, Spurgeon Hunt, Nathaniel Seitz, William H. Seitz, Elmer E. Seitz, Clinton Bailey, George N. Dise, William Z. Ziegler and William Sweitzer became teachers. William C. Seitz, and Sylvester Ziegler became doctors. Elmer Seitz became a veterinarian. Albert F. Nace, L. Clarence Hunt and Claude R. Baublitz, became Ministers of the Gospel. Roland F. Seitz became a composer. Clarence B. Seitz, was a successful businessman with wide community interests including music. Joseph B. Hicks, attended the school and after serving in World War II, returned home for additional schooling and became a newspaper reporter and photographer. L. Clarence Hunt for seven years was head of the Evangelical College at Myerstown, PA., and for one year wrote the Evangelical Sunday School Literature.

“The founder of the old Fissel’s School. Michael Klinfelter Seitz, would be pleased to know that the school built in 1896 is being maintained by the school district and work has been done to turn it into a museum to represent the Little Red School House of bygone days. Little did he realize that the task he started in the 1830′s for the education of his and his neighbor’s children would grow to what it has become today.

“He was born in Northern Maryland at Gorsuchs Mills, Baltimore County, along Deer Creek on November 30, 1809. He was the third child of Andrew Seitz, who reared a family of 11 children. He attended school in that locality and studied similar subjects to what the schools he later founded taught. He worked on his father’s farm and flour / chopping mill. At the age of 16 his grandfather, Squire Klinefelter, took him to learn the milling trade at the Glen Rock Valley Mill near Glen Rock.

“After two years of apprenticeship he worked for two years at Graybill’s Mill at Rockville. In the meantime, he married Mary Zeigler and purchased 240 acres of land near the Fissel’s Church and later-to-be Fissel’s School. He began improving the property by taking out stones. These he used to build the large stone farmhouse – still standing.

“Mr. Clarence B. Seitz has compiled a list of teachers, but it is unclear if they were from all three schools or just the last school built in 1896. Mr. Seitz’s list is: John Ruhl, John H. C. Manifold, Josiah L. Trout, Miss Anna McDonnell, Ella Ehrhart, James Dise, J. A. Shaffer, Charlotte Seitz, Harby Koller, Irwin Grove, Edwin Seitz, Babe Bortner, Claudia Hampshire, Wes Taylor, Molly Malone, W. Scott King, W. H. Seitz, and Erma Sechrist who was told she was the last teacher at the third school before it closed.

“Almost all of the Little Red School buildings were disposed of and converted into dwellings. Fissel’s School is one of the few, or only school which has been untouched by the conversion process and remains almost as it was when it was used for schooling.”

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Mr. And Mrs. Michael K. Seitz, pioneers in the starting of Fissel’s School circa mid 1830′s.

Also of interest:
Check out this site for info about a Glen Theater plaque presentation and a program about the former CCC camp in Glen Rock.

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. East Region Editor, Digital First Media. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.
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