This is the first in a series of articles about the history of Norwin and its school system, written by Dr. Ronald B. Surmacz with original research by C.C. Pearsall.
The first public school in North Huntingdon Township was established along Panther Run, a small stream flowing from the south into Brush Creek, just below Ardara. The school was a small log house built in 1782, which stood midway between Brush Creek and the present Pike on the path leading from Cavitts and George Loutsenhiser’s Mill to the Braddock Trail. The school was known by two different names: Birch Spring School or Master Jack’s School. William Jack, for whom the school was named, was well known for his skills as a teacher, especially in penmanship.
When Master Jack’s school was moved, the settlers of Cavitt’s Mill built their own school on the hill above Fundistown in 1796. This small log school, without a chimney, served until another building was erected in Fundistown, just above Brush Creek.
The successor to Master Jack’s school was a log building located about three-quarters of a mile southwest. After the enactment of the School Law of 1834, a frame school was built near Carpenter’s Hill (Ardara.) The building was sold in 1857 to a private citizen and in 1875 a new one-room school was built and subsequently remodeled in 1898. The first Stewartsville School was erected in 1857 and was replaced in 1883.
In 1816, near Fort Walthour, another school was built, called Kunkle’s School, and served the western part of the Township, along with Cavitt’s Mill School. They were joined by the Byerly School in 1836, erected on land donated by Jacob Byerly. Byerly School served the community until 1859, when a second school was built.
One of the oldest schools was the Wray School or Master Wilson’s School, located near Circleville. It was a hewed log structure that was replaced by a frame building called Larimer School because it was located on General Larimer’s farm. A second Wray School, also one-room, was built nearby on the Jones Farm.
In 1853, the basement of the German Reformed Church in Irwin was outfitted as a school and, for a number of years, was designated as the Irwin Station Academy. The first public school in Irwin was begun in 1857 in a portion of a machine shop on Main Street where C. L. Palmer’s store stood, near the current Rite-Aid Store. This room was rented from John Irwin for $3.00 a month. S. S. McCormick, an uncle of Samuel Black McCormick, Chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, was the first teacher. The building was used until 1862, when two lots were purchased from John Irwin for $100.00 and a one-room frame school house was erected. The Irwin Borough Building now stands on these lots.
North Irwin’s first public school was located on the property of North Irwin Glassworks and, in 1888, was taken over by the glass company for a machine shop. From 1889 until 1894, North Irwin children attended either the Penn Shaft, Irwin or South Side schools. In 1894, a laundry building located on Broadway was converted into a two-room school.
PHOTO: Irwin area, 1897. Norwin Historical Society/Jean Soyke Collection.