Submitted By Tim Chase

Child of Depression Era recalls two-room school along Sinnemahoning path

(Editor's note; Wayne Caskey, who now resides in State College, was an Era newspaper reporter many years ago. A native of Port Allegany who is now retired, he wrote the following report about a two-room schoolhouse he attended in Wrights)

By Wayne I. Caskey

Special to the Era

From my age group came the kids of the great Depression. Many of us were deprived economically, some badly. But few of us knew it and even if we did, no one lost sleep over it. We were also the lucky, or unlucky, ones who were just the right age for military service in World War II.

Many of us survive who spent our first six years of school in a two-room wooden building along the Sinnemahoning Path, an Indian trail also known as Allegheny Portage.

The school was named Wrights, about five miles south of Port Allegany, on the road to Emporium. This valley was once the route of the most popular Indian portage between western North America and East Coast points. Few of us students had much historical knowledge when we attended school there.

The portage connected the Allegheny and Susquehanna River systems, the easiest grade to negotiate between rivers. Via land and stream the first Americans took this trail from the western United States to eastern places like Queen Esther's Town (now part of Williamsport) Peixtan (Harrisburg today) and Philadelphia or vise versa. These first Americans paddled Portage Creek just west of the future site of Wrights school.

The school served children from such nearby places as Cady Hollow, Comes Creek, Wrights, Liberty, the Chemical Works, Liberty Villa, Scaffold Lick, the Main Road, the Back Road, and the Hamilton.

Children named Sewell came from Cady Hollow; Anderson, Cox and Zlobec from Comes Creek; Boorum, Ayers, and Smith from Liberty; Stromberg Botera and Meacham from Wrights.

Palm and Kupper kids came from upper Main Road. Mantzes, Johnsons, Turners and Mannings came from lower Main Road; Kinneys from the Back Road, and Caskeys from both.

Nelsons and Duftons and Wetmores walked in from the Hamilton.

Comes Creek contingent rode to school in a pale green, wooden box-bus which was called the chicken roost. Mel Thompson's bigger box-bus, orange with black stripe, carried children from all along the Main Road from the Chemical Works to Liberty, a trip of some eight miles. Many kids, including me, walked every day in rain, deep snow or high water.

The school's two rooms were divided by a narrow hallway for storing overshoes known as "artics", head gear, lunch boxes, mainly called dinner pails, and wraps. Outer clothing took the name wraps at Wrights.

Later as seventh graders at the more sophisticated Church Street junior high school in Port Allegany, we were told to hang our wraps in the cloak room. Voila! We advanced from wraps to cloaks.

Grades one through three were taught in the room on the school's west side, while grades four through six occupied the room on the east. In moving from one grade to the next, except from third to fourth, we simply moved over to the nexy aisle.

Spending three years in each room, we in effect attended the first three grades three years in a row since we were all in the same room, ditto for grades four through six. For those who didn't pass, the stay was even longer.

Marie Kirkman Hermanson taught my class for the first three years 1928-31, Grace Razey, fourth grade, and Myra Guenter, grades five and six. All have passed on though Mrs. Hermanson lived well into the 1990s.

While all were disciplinarians, which current teachers seem to be afraid to be, Miss Razey was all business. Oh, how she laid down the law! Kids foolhardy enough to challenge her were likely to regret it.

A skirmish with Miss Razey was most unwise and sure to be costly to one's dignity. Dark haired and thin as a post, she rather often struck a bit of terror into our young hearts.

She easily intimidated everybody, even the biggest boys. Slight of build she was, But Miss Razey could pitch a full scuttle of coal into the furnace with a single heave-ho. For little more or less than a dollar a day, these teachers were housekeepers, doctors, nurses, guardians, chambermaids, psychiatrists, confidants, confessors and nannies five days a week to six dozen children who belonged to somebody else.

Their jobs included stoking coal furnaces, cleaning house, keeping records and doing details that had little or nothing to do with teaching. They were excused from knowing the arts of plumbing and electricity because Wrights school had neither.

Fat black round furnaces, one in each room, provided heat in cold weather, at least some of the time. They could belch like locomotives and were almost as big. Now and then one imploded, belching fumes and smoke, alarming all of us in a time when many things in our lives were traumatic, though none of us knew the meaning of traumatic.

Sparks from a furnace fell on the tinder roof and occasionally set it afire. Older boys climbed up, tossing water about, and soon all of us were back at our desks. Once in a while fire ate a sizable hole in the roof, giving gleeful children a day or two of unexpected vacation while repairs were being made.

Fire was indeed the old school's nemesis, eventually burning it to the ground, but after it had been remodeled into a private home.

Clara DuPaul, I believe her name was, came around now and then from the tuberculosis society or county health department. She checked our eyes, ears, teeth and such. Once a year she gave us tuberculin tests - a needle in the lower left arm.

My results annually revealed poor eyesight (amblyopia or lazy eye which runs in our family to this day) and enlarged tonsils. All such defects continued year after year since most of our families simply could not afford a trip to the doctor or dentist.

Every year my tuberculin test showed positive where a bright red spot formed where stuck by the needle. All of us with red spots were transported to the Rocky Crest Sanatorium on the hill between Bradford and Olean, unsure of what fate was in store.

Children carried all sorts of things to school such as chicken pox, bad colds, measles or worse. If they had them, some brought homemade toys or wagons. Once a schoolmate brought roller skates even though there was no place to use them.

Some kids brought friends or cousins now and then from Turtlepoint, Wolf Run or Bradford and we wondered why students would waste free time visiting somebody else's school.

A schoolmate once brought her mother and later the family cat to visit school for an entire day. In spring many a student came to school reeking of sharp essence of leeks. Teachers often sent them home.

Behind the school stood a woodshed which Miss Razey threatened to toss us into, right through a window, if we continued to whisper or disrupt her class.

Farther back were two well-spaced outhouses, one for girls and the other for boys. When a child raised a hand in class and asked to "leave the room", it was perfectly clear where the child had to go.

Red-haired Matilda, who often skittered merrily about, described a trip to the outhouse as a "trot to the privy". In those days children never asked to go to the bathroom. When a child asked to leave the room, the teacher knew. Everybody knew.

Once in a while one of the older boys would ask to leave the room and take off for home.

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