Brownie, Teachers, Fun and Games in Coaldale

Brownie, Teachers, Fun and Games in Coaldale

(by Tom Murphy, assisted by Harry Murphy, The Valley Gazette, March 1991)

The smartest dog in Coaldale was a middle-size mutt by the name of Brownie. Brownie attended school on a daily basis at the “Old Building” on Phillips Street (Tony Wargo’s former factory).

Each morning Brownie would faithfully follow his masters, the Winsko twins, George and Catherine Winsko. This dog would lie on the fire escape outside. Sometimes, when the coast was clear, with a little help from his friends, Brownie would sneak in and lie on the classroom floor.

During the 1937-1938 school year, when I was in the seventh grade, I got caught throwing snowballs. Mr. Jimmy Lithgow was the principal at the Old Building.

I was the smallest in the group of “Starting Pitchers” that got captured. My associates told me to go last, which sounded like a good idea then. Our reward was to be raced up and down the Old Building’s school steps while being paddled at the same time. And I was the finishing act that brought the paddle, I mean curtain, down.

Mr. Lithgow was a mild-mannered man, but he had paddles hidden at strategic locations throughout the old building and woe to the culprit that disobeyed.

We had very good teachers and not enough can be said about them. What they taught you, you’d never forget.

My all-time favorite teacher was Miss Alice Brennan. She was a very dedicated teacher, looking out for the best interests of her students.

Miss Brennan would tell our class, if we behaved, she would read us “Huckleberry Finn.” Low and behold, that was a treat.

Mr. Kramer was the janitor at the Old Building during my tenure there.

Coaldale had as many as 12 schools at one time or another. I can remember seven of them, while the others I read about.

The first school was on Jackson Street. (In 1846 six double block houses were built on Jackson Street, now known as First Street. The site is now covered over. In 1848 a second row of six double-block houses were built on Jackson Street. The schoolhouse must have been built somewhere around this time.) Forty students attended school three days a week under the guidance of Graham Kennedy.

The Centerville (Skintown) school was built in 1858, with William McLaughlin teaching the 3 R’s. Geography was added to the curriculum in 1885. At this time pupils were dismissed when the stagecoach came by. Hannah Davis and Leticia Early also taught in this building, which was destroyed by fire in 1904.

Eventually, all four rooms at this school at Fifth and High Streets were used for instruction. This building has since been razed. I do remember this particular school building. The above information was taken from the Coaldale Bicentennial Book published in 1976.

There is strong evidence for the existence of another school in Seek. I am not sure if it is the school shown on the 1869 Rothwell map. This was a little east and south of the settlement of Gearyville, which later was called Gearytown.

Or, the school may have been in the building which is now St. Patrick’s Chapel, located at the corner of Miner and West Miner Streets in Seek. This building was a schoolhouse before it became a church.

Maybe some of our readership can help us out on this one.

The next six schools are the ones I remember.

-The East Ward (the Old Building) School was built in 1889 on Phillips Street between Second and Third Streets. In my tenure there I remember first, seventh and eighth grades were taught here. But from what I have read all the grades were here at one time or another. This school was closed down in the early 1950’s when enrollment declined. This building was home to several businesses, the last one a garment factory.

-The Middle Ward (New Building) School at Ruddle and Fourth Streets was built in 1908. My son, Harry, went to school here for three semesters, in the first, second and third grades between 1956 and 1959. This school closed down in the early 1960’s. The building became the prooerty of Tony Wargo and eventually was razed.

-In 1915, a two-room building in the West Ward (Seek) was erected for the convenience of the Seek people. During the mid-1950’s I lived in the Seek section on Lower Greenwood Street with my family. My son, harry, attended kindergarten at this school during the 1955-56 school year. He can still remember the first day when I walked him up to school there.

-For the erection of schools in Coaldale, 1915 was indeed a banner year. This was the year a school opened on the corner of Second Street and Howard Avenue, across the street from St. Mary’s Church. This building was St. Mary’s Parochial School. The building was a complete school, with grades 1 through 12. St. Mary’s maintained the high school until June of 1954. In September of 1954, when Marian High School was formed, the juniors and seniors went to school on the third floor of this building. Freshmen went to St. Jerome’s in Tamaqua and sophomores to St. Ann’s in Lansford. This situation continued until June of 1964. In September, 1964, the new Marian High School opened west of Hometown. St. Mary’s grade school continued until June, 1966, when the school was closed. My three children, Harry, Patricia and Thomas, Jr., attended school here at one time or another.

-And who could forget the Coaldale High School building, dedicated in 1923, standing on the corner of Phillips and Sixth Streets. The last graduating class from Coaldale High School was in June of 1964. In September, 1964, when the Panther Valley School District began classes, grades 4, 5 and 6 came to the former Coaldale High School. In the spring of 1971, the Philip Ginter School in Summit Hill burned down, necessitating half day sessions for grades 4 through 9 at Coaldale. For the 1971-72 school year Coaldale High became the junior high and grades 4, 5 and 6 went to this school again. In the fall of 1972 problems were alleviated by the opening of the new Panther Valley High School on Route 209 between Lansford and Nesquehoning. In January of 1974 the Panther Valley School Board offered the vacated Coaldale High School to the borough of Coaldale to use for community or recreational purposes. In February of 1974 the Coaldale Borough Council held a public meeting in the high school building to hear what the people had to say on whether to accept the building. After considering the cost of renovating and maintaining the building and after considering the needs of the people, a committee which had been formed recommended that council accept the building and adjoining field areas from the school board. The committee informed the council that they would assume all the responsibilities to renovate and maintain the building. Council accepted the building. In June of 1974 the committee asked council to make them into a commission as they could function as a legitimate body. Council did so, thus forming the Coaldale High School Complex Commission. The commission voted to keep the Coaldale High School colors, orange and black, and adopted a theme of “Save the Tiger.” All of the work has been a success and this building still functions today.

-SS. Cyril and Methodius Parochial School opened in 1928 for grades 1 through 8, located in the basement of the church on the corner of Third and Ruddle Streets. This school was closed in June, 1968.

I can never forget the Coaldale High School Alma Mater, with lyrics by Oscar Keebler and music by John J. Horn.

Alma Mater

Oh, the wind thru the trees blows cheerful,

It sways them in their glory,

It whispers a little earful,

It tells a wondrous story

Of spirit true and athletes, too,

Of deeds both brave and gory,

Of courage that has been true blue,

Our Alma Mater’s glory.

Every class in Coaldale High School on a Friday usually would put on a play or something. One time a hypnotist was invited to our high school. He brought some of the students on the stage in our auditorium and hypnotized them. Some of them were told they had toothaches and they were holding their jaws and grimacing in pain. He told the other group they were singers and they started to sing. Two of the best unhypnotized singers I went to school with were the late Tommy Willing and Gordon Oransky.

Some of Coaldale’s teachers I remember were Miss West, Blanche Brode Valuch, Ruth Parfitt Neifert, Ruth Boyle, Winifred Melley, Althea Hoffman, Blanche Simpson Felker, Helen Roshay, Mary Ann Rodgers Monahan, Gwennie Erbe, Annie Murphy Schneider, Ruth Sneddon, Catherine Bavolack, Alice Brennan, Grace Foster, Veronica Bonner, Anna Breslin, Gwen Pascoe, Helen Pascoe, Ann Maury, Kate Evans, Alice Sharpe, Berna Hoben, Neil McIntyre, Nora Melley, Charles Revtyak, James Lithgow, Sue Riley, Marion McElhenney, Cecelia Sharpe, Oscar Keebler, Pearl Filer Watkins, Mrs. Dolan, Mary McElhenney, Ted Lithgow, Leonard Melley, Mr. Plansky, Mr. Zaleha, Steve Martinec, Sam Pascoe. Sammy was my 11th grade homeroom teacher and Miss Gildea, daughter of John E. Gildea, Coaldale’s supervising principal, was John “Gid” Gildea’s sister. After the death of Mr. John E. Gildea, Randolph Harvey became supervising principal with Wilbur E. Berger as high school principal.

In the summertime most of the boys got their heads shaved (moonies). The first week or two it was advisable to wear a hat and don’t pass by a pool room. We used to play “Nips” when we were kids. You would hit a piece of wood, pointed on both ends, as it lay on the ground. It would fly into the air and you would strike at it again with a stick. Another game we played was “Sheepie, Sheepie, Eyelow.” It was something like “Hide and Seek.” Then we had “Red Light.” You’d say, “One, two, three…Red Light.” Then you had to stop and if you didn’t you had to go back and start at the beginning. King of the Hill was another game we played. There was no winner in this contest. The man on top got no royal treatment. He got the hell beat out of him by the guys on the bottom trying to capture his throne.