The Old Red Brick Schoolhouse
A memorial of the days spent there, together with a list of the teachers and scholars.
Charlotte Reeve Conover
Beside yon straggling fence that skirts the way,
With blossom’d furze unprofitably gay,
There, in his noisy mansion, skilled to rule,
The village master taught his little school;
A man severe he was, and stern to view;
I knew him well, and every truant knew;
Well had the boding tremblers learn’d to trace
The day’s disasters in his morning face.
Goldsmith: The Deserted Village
The Reunion at Far Hills
“Thou knowest that we went to school together.” – Shakespeare: Julius Caesar
It is a universal fact that the minds of men and women revert with more and more pleasure, as they grow older, to the years of childhood and youth. School days grow happier, brighter, in retrospect. Thoughts of the boys and girls who were companions in lesson hours and playtime become cherished as the years separate them from us. Sober men and women of middle age become hilarious as they talk of old times, of teachers, of games and lessons. Even the difficult and disagreeable parts of their early days are gilded with the effulgence of memory.
School days that were passed in a country school are in some ways more valuable than those in a city school. There is more elasticity, more play for individuality, more personal contact with the teacher. A big modem school is like clock-work; the children are the cogs. They do everything en masse. Everything is for organization, precision.
In a country school the classes were smaller; each pupil came into constant relations with the teacher. Not so much was done for the children, more by the children. They had no patent maps, improved school desks, illustrated text books or intricate schedule of study. Each child got at the principles of arithmetic by dint of his own hard work and a much-thumbed book. When an example proved too hard for him he carried his book and slate up to the teacher's desk and got help.
Some of the finest men the country has produced got their education in the simplest country schools, and most of them have looked back upon their school days with pleasure and gratitude. With the wisest of them the gratitude is felt not only for the advantages but the disadvantages of their schooling. They are grateful that things were not made too easy for them.
The hard knocks were doubtless not pleasant at the time, but they had their advantage in the development of character. If any proof of this is needed, one may point to the enervated childhood of the present day when any effort to learn or to do is considered a hardship and when children count as valuable, not what they do them-selves, but what they can get done for them by other people.
These modern children would doubtless look with more or less scorn upon the schoolboy of fifty years ago with his copper-toed boots, jeans clothes, old-fashioned slate and "speller." So would they compare their modern schoolroom of large windows, fine desks and wood-work, pictures and casts, with the little old schoolroom that their fathers went to, of uneven floors, desks that did not match, and big iron stove, much to the disparagement of the latter. But the proof of a school is like the proof of a pudding—the good that results. The men and women that the country school turned out will rank any-where with the product of city schools. And when they recall their school days, it is worth while to record it.
Such sentiments prompted a meeting that was held at Far Hills on Saturday afternoon, November 17, 1906. It was a reunion of the old pupils of the brick schoolhouse that used to stand at the junction of Main and Brown Streets many years ago. It has been destroyed, but in memory is still green in the hearts of the boys and girls who studied under its roof.
To commemorate those days, Mr. John H. Patterson invited as many of the old pupils as he could reach to be his guests for an afternoon and talk over old times. They assembled at the lodge of Far Hills, where the host met and welcomed them. Unfortunately it rained, which prevented as large a reunion as was wished. But the welcome was as wide and cordial as though there had been a thousand instead of about twenty.
By the time all guests had arrived at the lodge, Mr. Patterson, who had walked all the way down the hill from his home through the rain, carrying three or four umbrellas, took each of the schoolmates by the hand and warmly welcomed them to his home, then turned to the others who were present and shook their hands in such a hearty manner that showed he was happy indeed to meet them and have them present at this reunion.
At 2:45 p. m. the guests were escorted from the lodge over to the old Patterson Log Cabin just across on the west side of Brown Street. This old building, associated as it has been with the history of the Patterson family, was explained in detail; how it was built one hundred and thirty years ago in the wilderness of Kentucky by his grandfather. Colonel Robert Patterson. who hewed the logs with his own hands and rolled them into place; how some. years later he brought his bride. Elizabeth Lindsay, from her father's luxurious home in middle Pennsylvania, to share his humble home; how the neighbors at the settlement of Lexington got it ready for her, each giving skins to help furnish it; how she climbed the ladder to her bridal chamber, a little timid at her new and strange surroundings and the wilderness about her; how she kept house here, cared for the babies, kept a lookout when Robert was away fighting the Indians and at last in a letter to a friend called it a "happy home always." Later how the cabin fared when the Pattersons left it for a larger home, being then used as quarters for the help, and then as a tool house; how it was discovered to be the early Patterson home, taken to pieces, moved to Dayton and set up on its present site, where it remains a monument to the loves and lives of the pioneers. In it swings the old kettle in the old-fashioned fireplace just as it had been used more than a century ago. There are various other relics in the cabin, interesting to antiquarians and lovers of history, all of which were explained by Mr. Patterson.
Then the old schoolmates had their picture taken in a group at the east end of the old log cabin. In the discussion that followed, it was decided that the little red brick schoolhouse was about twenty feet north of where the log cabin now stands and on a line parallel with and about three feet from the hedge. The stone foundation on the west side was about two and a half feet high and on the east side about one-half foot.
The visitors were then taken in automobiles and carriages to the Far Hills stable, where they were shown the carnages, saddles, harness and horses.
From there all returned to Far Hills, where Mr. Patterson took advantage of the opportunity to welcome each one by a hearty handshake, and assured them of his desire that they make free use of his home and its service. Gathered in the spacious rooms, the guests began to recall their school-day experiences to remember old teachers and to call by name those fellow pupils who had bee prevented from attending the reunion. If a roll had been called, as in the old days, it would have shown as answering “present” the following names:
T. Urie Chambers, Dayton
Mrs. Jennie Wead Davis, Foster
Chas. F. Kramer, Dayton
Wm. F. Kramer, Dayton
Wm. H. Lohman, Dayton
Wm. McKnight, Miamisburg
John H. Patterson, Dayton
John H. Shroyer, Dayton
These were also present:
Mrs. John H. Shroyer
Mrs. Wm. F. Kramer
Miss Fay Cavanaugh
Mrs. Wm. Knight
Mrs. Chas. F. Kramer
Mrs. Ida Ward (daughter of Mr. and Mrs. McKnight) and son
Pearl, Frankie and Lillie McKnight
Some of the old schoolmates whose absence was spoken of with regret were:
Alonzo Reeves, Dayton
Lawrence Reeves, Dayton
Parker Rusby, Dayton
Benjamin Moorman, Dayton
Robert McKnight, Miamisburg
Stephen Patterson, Dayton
Amanda Shroyer McKnight, Miamisburg
Lucy Chambers Schnebly, Peoria, Ill.
Laura Ditman, Dayton
E. A. Fry, Dayton
John McKnight, Miamisburg
Mr. McKnight, being president of the society of old schoolmates, was called upon to reside. As the secretary was not present the minutes of the last meeting could not be read; and the only report from the treasurer, Mr. Wm. Kramer, was that there had been no money paid in or out during the year.
In spite of these parliamentary omissions the president was evidently glad of the opportunity of meeting his old schoolmates again. He said so, and everybody agreed with him. Then followed the reading of friendly letters from the absent ones, from Mr. Moorman, Capt. Perry Garst and others.
This opened the way for everybody to talk about times in their childhood. Each had some particular memory or experience to live over, and the interest and sympathy of the hearers helped to make it all mighty interesting. The utmost informality marked each speaker's contribution. They were not talking for print, but to their boy and girl friends. But a stenographer took it down just as it was spoken, and here it is.
Mr. Patterson opened the reminiscences by saying: "I hoped there would be a great many children here, and I suppose there would have been if the weather had not been so bad, as we wanted to show them and my son Frederick here (my little girl is in school in Boston) the trials and tribulations we had when we were attending the little red brick schoolhouse. It was a better school for our purpose than the school in the city. We learned more there. We had chores and things to do on the farm, and that was our salvation. It taught us to be industrious and better, and we were happier than if we had been reared in town. What great pleasure we had here compared with one-half or three-fourths of the boys and girls of Dayton! What peaceful, sweet sleep we got in the country compared with the boys and girls in town where the whistles blow and there is so much smoke and dirt!"
Mr. Kramer said: "A great many years ago John Patterson, Steve Patterson and Bob were all over here in sugar camp, boiling sugar. Those days were very pleasant to us. The camp used to run day and night. We used to sleep under buffalo robes and straw. About two o'clock in the morning we would have a good time eating bread and butter, potatoes and eggs that we had hid in a big oblong hole in that old hickory tree and covered them with leaves; and sometimes eggs were not good enough and we would have a chicken. The changes from that time to the present day have certainly been wonderful. I think John Patterson has done more than any other man in the city of Dayton to improve conditions."
Mr. Patterson: "I didn't do it all alone, you know. A great many others down here helped."
Mr. McKnight: "Talking about brown sugar, I do not think any boy enjoyed it more than Frank Patterson. We used to keep a supply on hand and we could carry it in our pockets just like candy and enjoy it immensely.
"We used to put pieces of bacon in the syrup to keep it from boiling over, and then one time we put in a ham instead of a piece of bacon and when it came out it was fine.
"For the benefit of the young here today, I want to say there were some things about the old educational system mat a man really got more permanent knowledge from than he does the present day, I believe. It was in this way: when we used to go to school when I was a little fellow, I remember when me older classes recited I would be taking in all that was going on, and when the time came for my advancement I had the thing by heart, so that I was ready for it; and then there were the review classes, which gave us lots of help.
"Of course, we had our times as most boys used to have in the country, locking out the teacher, etc. One of the last acts of Frank Patterson, Urie Chambers and myself was locking the teacher out of the lower (new) schoolhouse to make him treat. He got the swing on us in some way and got in and it was the most outrageous thrashing Sam Wilson gave me and Urie Chambers that we ever got. Those things were pleasant. We enjoyed it all up to the whipping.
"I can remember John Patterson as the leader at that time, and he has been a leader ever since. I do not want to speak anything flattering, but I think that everybody knows it. The first balloon I ever saw go up was down here on the school ground, and John Patterson had that balloon. I used to wonder how in the world that thing could be, and lit up by a sponge with alcohol. The balloon was then in its infancy. I do not know where he got the idea, but he brought the balloon out and gave us an exhibition. Sometimes we would go almost to the sawmill following it up.
"I never studied Latin in my life, but still remember some of the Latin sentences that the Latin class learned in the old school-house just by hearing others say them, all because we were in the same room and heard what the advanced class said. I think we had a pretty good school system.
“Then we used to have fox chases, or something like that every day, in the way of exercise. We would start out at noon on our fox chase and run sometimes until recess. And the same way with skating. We would skate down to the six-mile lake and back on the canal and sometimes congregate on the sawmill pond Saturdays and skate there.
There is not space for all that was said that day at Far Hills; everyone spoke, and each speaker seemed to arouse new memories in the others. When they were all laughing over some amusing reminiscence it was hard to realize that they were all sober "old folks. Some were grandfathers and grandmothers. It might have been only yesterday that they were spelling each other down in the old schoolhouse and playing circus or Indians in the very woods that surrounded Far Hills.
The girls recalled the cold winter days when they had to help with the washing before they went to school. The boys told how they milked cows and fed the pigs and tramped in the snow to school. It was a lesson of value to the present generation of children, some of whom were there, to listen to the brave struggles of their fathers and mothers to live and get an education.
Speaking of the value of the old education over the new, Mr. Patterson said: "I have watched people a great deal that we hire at the factory, and many of them from college have failed. They can speak well, but they can't overcome difficulties like a boy who comes from the farm and has only a fair education. The boys in college learn a great many things, but fail to learn the value of a dollar or how to make one. They are instructed but not educated, not resourceful.
Mrs. Davis: "Do you remember, John, you used to take egg shells and fill them with sugar and take them to the girls?"
Mr. Patterson: "Yes, and the eggs we had on Easter day. How did we use to color them?"
Mrs. Davis: "We sometimes used onion peelings, green wheat or a piece of calico put around the eggs to color them."
Mr. Patterson: "All these things taught us to be resourceful. Nowadays when we talk to the boys and girls about coloring eggs, they say, 'I'll go down and get some coloring.' They do not know there is a piece of calico in the rag bag that they could use for that purpose."
Mrs. Davis: "Mr. Patterson, do you remember you sat by the water bucket, and I sat angling across the schoolroom ? Do you remember that a big rat ate a hole in the floor? One of you boys brought a steel trap and set it behind me. We were all deeply interested in our studies when the trap sprung, and I remember you sat there completely absorbed and never moved. The teacher said the one who put the trap there must get it and take the rat out, and I remember you carrying it out and it was squealing all the time.”
A unique luncheon was then served on the porch, which is enclosed by glass. A flash-light picture was taken and all repaired again to the assembly room and enjoyed the stereopticon views beginning with the little, old, red brick schoolhouse and covering many important scenes familiar to those present, up to the present day, and closing with a large number of the slides showing Mr. Patterson’s trip around the world. Mr. Patterson explained each and every picture, which made them most interesting and instructive.
At the conclusion Mr. Chambers spoke: "We can never express our thanks to Mr. Patterson for our fine time this afternoon. I move we give our rising vote of thanks. I do not suppose there is another man in the United States or in the world as busy as he is, who would put in an afternoon entertaining us as he has done."
Motion seconded and carried and all arose.
Mr. McKnight: “We will never be able to repay him as long as he lives, and I hope Mr. Patterson has enjoyed some part of this afternoon. He has seen a great many things we have never been permitted to see and we enjoy hearing about them."
Mr. Patterson: It has been a very great pleasure I assure you. I have never had this kind of an entertainment before and I have always regretted not being able to be at the meeting before, and I thought as it was late in the season this time we could meet up here under the shelter and have kind of a variety entertainment.
“We will get out a description of this visit, showing a few pictures, and hand it to our children and it will be interesting to them to know the experience, we had when we were children and the difficulties we underwent. I take great pride in them because they were very valuable experiences to us. We look around and see how many of us are left and how well and strong we are compared with the people who did not live in the country at that time.
“If we are all here another year I wish we could have a real old-fashioned supper down at the camp in the woods and cook it in the old-fashioned way. Make arrangements beforehand, one bring apple butter, another something else and so on, and cook it in the skillets and pots.
In the evening supper was served, and about 8:30 the farewells were said. All expressed their profound delight at Mr. Patterson’s entertainment and warm welcome.
He replied that he could only hope they had really enjoyed the evening as much as he had. He said that the next year if it were possible for him to be here he certainly hoped to join them in an even more enjoyable reunion than this one.
The automobiles and carriages were again pressed into service and all were taken home or to the street car so they could go to their train or traction car. Notwithstanding a downpour of rain all day Saturday and most of the night, not a hitch occurred in the program which had been outlined and prepared.
As the party broke up many were the expressions of pleasure for the day’s hospitality and hopes for a reunion another year, when if possible every living representative of the classes in the old brick schoolhouse will be present.
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