The Garlock-Elliott Family

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Yellow Creek Stories


Chapter 1

The Old Log Schoolhouse

Note: Wesley B. DERRICK, who attended this school in 1842 wrote, "this schoolhouse so completely changed the moral and intellectual standing of the Brushcreek country, that it furnished more successful teachers, to say nothing of legislators, preachers and professionals, than any other district in the county. Whatever the morale of that neighborhood was, and it was bad enough, this school inculcated a laudable ambition and praiseworthy deportment that characterized nearly all the inhabitants."

Built in 1814, the old log schoolhouse had as its first teacher, Samuel CLARK, hired to teach the three-month term at ten dollars per month.

James Clark and Chas. MARSHALL were the architects and boss carpenters who erected the building for twenty-three dollars—and during that one day the men employed consumed twenty-three gallons of whiskey.

The first election for school directors was held September 8, 1830, at Martin Adams’ distillery, when John Adams, Wm. KERR and Elasha BROOKS were elected.

This brief adapted story is taken from Alexander Clark’s "The Old Log Schoolhouse" written in 1865.

This famous old log schoolhouse, noted in Alexander Clark’s book by that name, was built in 1814, the first temple of learning built in the Brushcreek region of this county. The Scotch and Irish settlers soon found that it took force to coax and pet the earth for food to feed the physical body. The intellect was also insisting that it not starve, but share equally in the results of their toil. There were other wants besides bread and warmth, and when in 1814, these hardy thrifty people concluded that the time was ripe, they went to the work of building this first log schoolhouse. They worked with a strong determination to furnish a place where the little ones could be gathered for instruction, and the older people brush the mould of forgetfulness from their earlier cultivation.

The idea of a new schoolhouse rushed over the Brushcreek community like a blaze over a prairie. They turned out in such numbers and worked with so much energy that out of the nearby standing trees, that same evening, the temple of knowledge was completed and ready for the schoolmaster if he cared to occupy it the following day. It was a day of merriment for not often did a thinly spread population assemble for any purpose.

The site selected to build the schoolhouse was not chosen for the loveliness of prospect, but rather for the convenience of access to the various interested parties. It was on a little rise of bare yellow ground where nothing but an intellectual growth could be expected, nature scorning such a spot for any of her herbaceous children.

The house was but eighteen feet square, with a low, rough ceiling, unwhitened and unadorned with the least hint of art or luxury. There were six small nine-light windows, near enough to the ground to permit the children to feast their curious eyes on the traveler, who at very long interims passed that way. It was with quite an excited throb of the young pulse, that a new face was seen, bringing fanciful pictures of the outside world, whose sounds, scarce comprehended, now and then penetrated their quiet homes.

Along two of the sides of this room, with one edge fastened to the wall, ran the writing desks, fronted by long benches of oak wood without a back for the comfort of the growing bone and sinew of the children. Then there were lower benches, graduated to the physical development of the boys and girls. A huge chimney fronted and gaped at the master, with an iron bar for its upper lip, and firedogs lolling their tongues of flame that lapped up Jack Frost, and swallowed him down like an anaconda, those cold winter mornings. Monstrous logs hissed, and smoked, and crackled their lives away in ruddy gleams and glorious warmth.

The external appearance was not unlike any of the other buildings in the surrounding country, but it was an indication that the subtle influences of truth and the spirit of progression were at work. Although smouldered somewhat by the heretofore actual of their lives, yet they were destined to flame forth from this unique temple, and light many another altar of knowledge.

The doorway was small and deep of necessity, because the oaken and mortar walls were so thick. The threshold, sloping outward as if prophetic of the many it would pour forth into the world to better its inhabitants, is now worn to thinness by the foof falls of so many pilgrims to and from its altar.

The second day found the creation of this stripped house of rough brown bark and white plaster almost complete and ready for its uses. But there were tare sown that day that some time would be gathered with much weeping.

No cornerstone was laid; no set speeches enlivened the occasion of the completion of this schoolhouse. The gallons of whiskey, and the dollars in money expended to the enterprise were about equal. The entire district was assessed ten mills in an effert to get fifty dollars for this institution of which only twenty-three were expended.

Could the hardy settlers have looked forward fifteen years later, they would have little thought that the first Temperance meeting in all this region was to be held in this old log schoolhouse that its builders required twenty-three gallons of whiskey to build, how wondrous would be the revelation!

Then the Holy Sabbath was a day of wild gaiety, and profaned by hunting and fishing, but now the work of God is proclaimed so that all who wish may hear it. But to the first morning!

It was one sparkling autumn morning that the children, tall and short, gathered in compact clusters at a respectful distance from the schoolhouse door. The first schoolmaster came over the hill from the southward leading his little daughter and son to school. Like a priest the master entered the house and lit the fire—sacred now in many a memory, and soon a warm glow crept over the wide room. Shortly the master approached the window and with a steady hand rapped three distinct times upon the little nine-lighted sash, and took his seat—to them a wonderfully strange thing, but the children obeyed the summons with the utmost solemnity, save here and there some nervous child would smile and fidget in order to ease the tension.

The boys took one side of the room, and girls the other, the tallest at the writing desks, and the trundlebed size sat on the benches, with their faces toward each other.

When all was quiet the master folded his hands and said "Let us pray" and then in deep solemnity he spoke to the heavens throne, and every listening child heard words the meaning for once he could not comprehend. When he slowly uttered the word "Amen" they all sat down, and then the master had them to come to his desk where he look at their stock of schoolbooks, many were old family possessions, as divers in name as they were in number. Scarce two were alike in all the schoolroom. The children were now apportioned lessons for the day, which only included readin’, writin’ and ’rithmetic.

One of the children was the half-witted child of a very poor family who did not have the faculty of remembering the same letter of the alphabet from one day to the next. The master tried to change his dull mind with no success, so this child kept the fires going and kept the hearth in scrupulous order.

The same winter, Sandy MCLAIN came to school. His family consisted of his father and mother and eight other children, very poor and all crowded into a one-room cabin erected by the communit6y for them. Sandy was a stout happy Highlander with a broad brogue that was a never ending source of amusement to the pupils of the old log school. He had a large brain whose machinery required an immense amount of propelling to get started, but marvelous in its capabilities and endurance when once in motion. Often the school would be convulsed when the master would ask Sandy a question, which he could not comprehend and the boy would exclaim in an intensely pitiful tone: ‘Aweel, aweel! I’m daft—an’ dinna kin!"

The summer term was taught by a girl from a village sixteen miles distant who taught the girls the mystery of arranging their hair, while the boys made saw teeth of the edges of the benches and wrote hieroglyphics on the smooth spots of plaster or unpainted boards.

That same year was exceedingly hot and dry during the summer, and the winter proved to be very cold. The people disheartened by lack of crops, and the cold winter was followed by epidemics of sickness and many deaths. The only doctor was half farmer, half physician and a great deal fool, but he pretended to be learned in the ways of life and death.

The next teacher was a strange elderly man, once a hard drinker, now reformed, and a temperance lecturer. This teacher was a good singer and taught singing school during the summer afternoons and winter nights, and "boarded round." Although eccentric of mind and quaint of dress he was best remembered because he was the owner of a gaunt "yellow dog" who often pilfered their dinner baskets so that they nicknamed him "Crusty."

The next teacher was hired not because he was fit for the job, but the district had grown "wise in its own conceit," and the school board hired the lowest bidder. When his term of teaching was over he failed to pay the board bill, also to keep his promise to marry the daughter of the lady who boarded him during the term—much to the great grief of all parties. Following this young worthless teacher, came one so tight fisted that at the Christmas holiday he refused to treat the pupils to apples and cider. They carried him out of doors and only allowed him to re-enter the schoolroom on his promise to furnish five gallons of cider.

Teachers came and went, some good, some lazy, some strong drinkers, until a new order of things was inaugurated in the log schoolhouse. The lads of the first winter were now young men and had "ciphered through the ‘Western Calculator,’ and had got answers to all the sums," and therefore in their own estimation were eminently fitted to be schoolteachers. They would do it cheap—the honor was something—so the good teachers retired, and the cheaper type often had mastered the "Western Calculator" but scarcely able to write or read.

The teachers came each term for a half century and the old log school still stands perched on the corner of soil, as barren and yellow as in the early times. It rears its stone chimney, though not so proudly, for the storms have lessened its heighth by many a stone, and the windows rattle in the winter winds, like bones from which the plumpness of youthful flesh had fallen, and the shingles are curled and imbricated by the tears of summer rains and the jewels of winter snow.

How or why this one relic stands in the midst of plenty and by the side of garnished homes, it might be unkind to say. True, a poor house is better than no place in which to gather the little ones, but the marked contrast between the houses in which they live, and the schoolhouse in which their young souls draw their draughts of the cup of wisdom is suggestive of termporal instead of spiritual—that the growth of the soul is of little import compared with the growth of the purse and power.


Janice Garlock Donley
700 Tenth Street • Oakmont, PA 15139 USA


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