The Township of Towamencin was formally established in 1728; local landowners (including Edward Morgan) petitioned Philadelphia County to create the township (Montgomery County wasn’t established until 1784). Early settling families may have been taught at home or by their local church.
In the early days, schools were built and supported by churches. Christian denominations like the Mennonites and the Schwenkfelders had their own schools. Children learned the basics of reading, writing arithmetic, and grammar. Some schools also included foreign languages. The primary language used in these schools was German, with Latin likely used as a secondary language, allowing students to be able to read church publications.
The school year varied, but generally lasted six to eight months in one-room buildings where multiple grades were taught. Schools taught grades one through six or one through eight. Students used textbooks and workbooks to study and advance through grades. The art of fraktur is an example of practicing penmanship that was passed down from teacher to pupil. These workbooks or sheets needed to be completed in order to advance through the curriculum. Students, often boys, missed school during planting and harvesting times in order to help their families with their farms.
A school typically had one teacher and wages were low. Some schools paid a teacher monthly; some averaging $20 to $40 a month. Some teachers were paid on a daily basis and received small amounts per child. These salaries did not change much when municipalities took over schools in the 1850s..
A Mennonite Meeting House was built circa-1728 along Forty Foot Road and a log school house was established in the same location. At that time, Forty Foot Road ran west from Hatfield to Kulpsville, then north across what is now the turnpike and west again at Old Forty Foot Road so that the school was actually at what is presently Old Forty Foot Road. The log building was destroyed in 1804 by a fire and a new building was erected in 1805. It was in service until 1861.
The Schwenkfelders opened a school at Salford Meeting House for area children. In 1765, they built a school in Towamencin Township. At that time, families paid for their children to attend school.
An important figure for education in Towamencin was Christopher Dock (circa 1698-1771). He immigrated around 1714 to Pennsylvania from what would be Germany. Dock, a Mennonite, and prominent teacher and fraktur artist in the area. Dock conducted two schools for Mennonite children. The Skippack Mennonite School was started in 1739. He also taught in Salford on Allentown Road and spent three days a week at each school. He continued to teach at both schools until 1771 when he died.
Additional religious schools cropped up in Towamencin.
- The Kulpsville Academy or the Brunner Academy was established on October 14, 1867. It moved to North Wales in 1871.
- The Christopher Dock School is located on Forty Foot Road, east of Kulpsville and was established in 1952 with classes beginning in 1954.
- Calvary Baptist School at 1380 Valley Forge Road, was established in 1968, initially as a private elementary school that later expanded to include high school.
Both Christopher Dock and Calvary Baptist are still operating today.
The Pennsylvania Legislature passed a law in 1801 mandating public schools and Towamencin Township opened what were called “Pauper Schools.” Students whose families could pay for their children’s schooling did so and poorer students had their expenses paid by the county. The Directors of the Poor, a board that was in existence from 1751 to 1886, was charged with the education of the poor and also for their care. Pauper Schools continued until public schools were established in the 1850s.
As previously mentioned, public schools were mandated in 1801, but actual local school districts were not mandated until 1834. The law provided some state funding for local school districts and boards that met certain requirements. Some townships viewed themselves as having better ideas on education or had better schools and did not comply. Gwynedd and Hatfield townships did not automatically agree with the 1834 terms until several years later.
A public school along Allentown Road was built before 181,4 but we have no additional information on it although we believe it was the old Tennis School. It was later torn down for a new building when one-room schools were being built in the 1850s.
The first public schools in the township were erected about 1850. They were one-room school buildings and included:
- Fry’s School, built circa 1850 on Kriebel Road east of Kulp Road (This school was replaced in 1862 and again in 1896).
- Kulpsville School, built circa 1850 on Sumneytown Pike east of Forty Foot Road. The second Kulpsville School was built circa 1909 and included a three-room configuration on Forty Foot Road, north of Sumneytown Pike.
Other schools included:
- Pleasant Valley School, built circa 1862 on Forty Foot Road, north of Rittenhouse Road on land owned by Henry Katz. It operated until World War I. It is now a private residence.
- Airy Hall School built circa 1869 at Troxel Road, southwest of Avalon Way, south of Allentown Road.
- Kriebel Road School, built circa 1876 on Kriebel Road near Anders Road and is still standing. It replaced a previous Schwenkfelder school that is visible on an 1860 map.
- Krupp School, built about 1883. It’s location is unknown at this time.
- Sunny Hall School, built circa 1885 at Tomlinson and Reinhart roads, is now a private residence. It was located in Isaac Gotshalk’s woods.
An 1860 map of the township shows a school house on the west side of Sumneytown Pike north of Valley Forge Road across from the North Penn School District property, however, we have no additional information on it. The 1871, 1877, and 1893 township maps show a school on Sumneytown Pike located next to the German Reformed and Lutheran Church, but we have no additional information on it at this time.
In 1884, the local school board furnished free textbooks to all students and in 1894, the school year was extended to seven months.
During World War I, the Pleasant Valley School closed and students were transferred to the Kulpsville School. This was probably the first school consolidation in the township. The Pleasant Valley School building was sold in 1921.
All township schools were consolidated in 1929. Previously, the district expanded the school year to 8 months in 1903. Grades nine and ten were added to the Kulpsville School in 1919. By 1937, all students attended Kulpsville and the individual schools were closed; buses were used to transport students. Students who wanted to continue their education beyond tenth grade attended Lansdale High School for their junior and senior years, until in 1955, when the North Penn School District was formed.
The Kulpsville School has four distinct parts that were built over a period of about fifty years. Electricity was installed in 1922. Four additional classrooms were added in 1929 and another four were added in 1926. The last addition containing six rooms plus a cafeteria/auditorium was built in 1957. The school was renamed the J. Henry Specht School in 1963 in honor of his long service to education in the township.
The school eventually became a part of the North Penn School District but it was closed in 1979. Students were transferred to either the Inglewood Elementary School on Allentown Road north of Lansdale or to the General Nash Elementary School on Bustard Road and Liberty Bell Drive, west of Kulpsville.
The Inglewood School was built in 1963 and the groundbreaking ceremony for the General Nash School was held on July 10, 1974.
The North Penn High School is located on Valley Forge Road west of Lansdale. It opened on September 9, 1971. The North Montco Technical Career School is along Sumneytown Pike and is one of four in the county; it opened in 1967.
We’ve set up a driving tour of the community’s surviving one-rooms schools. Hop in the car and check out your township’s history!
Take the driving tour here: