Coaldale Schools are No More

Coaldale Schools are No More

by James H. Gildea

The Valley Gazette, August 1977

Coaldale schools were once the pride and joy of Coaldale people. We were proud indeed of the new high school dedicated on Armistice Day, 1930. The school system owed much to capable directors and teachers who loved their challenge.

It was not always so. Early residents will tell you about the boys who went to the breaker or to the mines as door tenders before reaching their teens. In fact, the average working boy who went into the mines as a door tender never saw the sun on working days from early winter until late spring. Teachers were at a premium in those days. Wages were at a minimum. Yet the early inhabitants wanted their children to grow up better educated by far than their parents. Coaldale had three school buildings prior to the high school dedication in 1930.

The 1902 mine strike saw the opening of the little red school house to men on strike. Samuel Boyle, later cashier at the Dime Bank, was the school teacher for strikers wanting to learn their ABC's.

The Scott and Foley families furnished teachers in the early days. In later years, John R. Boyle, John E. Gildea, William Jones and Joe Daley responded to the need.

It was a privilege to have attended high school in Joe Daley's time as principal. Daley was a teacher who reasoned with his pupils. His main objective was to make his students solve whatever problems came up. At that time the North American, a Philadelphia newspaper with a large reading public in the anthracite area, was the daily by preference of most mining families. The North American submitted to its readers a problem, "How Old Is Ann?" The problem read: "Mary is 24 years of age. She is twice as old as Ann when she was as old as Ann is now. How old is Ann?"

Algebra was a new study at Coaldale schools about the turn of the century and almost everybody seemed to have a different answer to the problem. This instance shows that education locally was in the primary stage. But conscientious teachers gave more than puzzling problems to the school children. They were proud of their profession and did everything possible to measure up. They did and while a Coaldale High graduate lacked the higher brackets they were well grounded in fundamentals.

As the years went by graduation exercises after three years in high school became the order of the day for high school students. The first graduating class from Coaldale High was in 1902 with three students having completed their education. They were Dora Davis, Franklin Jones and Samuel Boyle. It is possible there was a graduation class with one student in the class during Dr. Ryan's reign as principal. "Foag" Gallagher always argued that a Miss Murphy was graduated before 1902.


A three-year high school was the order of the day in that period. Classes continued at the Phillips Street school until the new high school was dedicated in 1930. A four-year high school class had been in effect prior to that time.

Track and field sports, football and basketball became part of the high school program. Andy Kalen and Danny Sneddon were outstanding in the 100 and 220-yard races. Other school boys went in for pole vaulting, distance running and the mile relay was an integral part of the yearly program. Coaldale High competed in the Pennsylvania Field Meet at Franklin Field and held their end up with a good measure of success.

Eventually football became the major sport at Coaldale High. Irv Murphy was pressed into service as coach. He had a measure of sagacity that brought success from the start. Lansford and Tamaqua remained as the foremost opponents and Coaldale showed exceptionally well against both neighbors.

The most outstanding player to come out of Coaldale High was George Welsh, Navy quarterback and now a very successful coach at the Naval Academy. Victories over Army in the last two years of his career at Navy testify to Welsh's stature.

A contributing factor to Coaldale success has always been a close proximity of the playing field and the high school. That feature has gone out of the picture, but the talent is just beneath the surface and, no question about it, Coaldale should shape up as good as ever if Coaldale boys had their own school and playing field.

In the days best remembered, St. Mary's High School fielded a worthwhile football team, good basketball teams and well seasoned athletes. St. Cyril's also had a parochial school with a goodly number of pupils. But all that seems out of the picture.

Gone are the days but not the memories.