Thursday, September 4, 1997

Friends' Schoolhouse

In 1779, members of the Friends' Meeting in Burlington founded a school to ensure that their children received a proper education. The school was originally conducted by Joseph Clark in a house on Broad Street which was owned by the Meeting. Although the house was expanded in 1780 to provide lodging for the schoolmaster, it was not well suited for use as a school, and in 1792, the Meeting opted to sell the house and its grounds, using the proceeds toward the construction of a school.

That summer, workers demolished the old hexagonal wooden 1685 Meeting House, which still stood behind the current brick 1784 Meeting House. Some of the materials were saved and used in the construction of a schoolhouse at the corner of York and Penn Streets. While construction was underway, classes were temporarily held at 206 High Street, in a building which had previously served as the office of Samuel Jennings and the print shop of Isaac Collins.

When completed, the new one-room schoolhouse had 800 square feet of usable space, with a ten-foot ceiling. In 1794, Dr. John Griscom became schoolmaster, instructing three pupils. During his teaching career, he started a reading club for foreign journals. Griscom was regarded as a very good teacher, and when he left in 1807, the school was filled. In the 1830's Griscom, with brothers John and Samuel R. Gummere and John's son, Samuel J. Gummere, founded Haverford College. His friends in the literary community included Charles Dickens and Washington Irving.

The Friends' School pioneered racially integrated education in Burlington, counting among its students in the 1840's brothers James and Patrick Healy, who went on to become noted African-American clergymen.

The schoolhouse is now owned by the City of Burlington, and maintained by the City of Burlington Historical Society. It serves as a museum of sorts, containing historical school furniture and books, along with yearbooks and historical information from other schools in Burlington.

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