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School at Chestnut Grove held former students once more

By Staff | Aug 28, 2012

Former students returning to the newly refurbished Chestnut Grove School in Franklin Township include (front l-r): Glennis Farnsworth, Wanda Farnsworth Langdon, Audrey Smith Smith, Ruth Ann Ritter Minnick. Row 2: Vivian Gardner Keller, Lonna Farnsworth Bacon, Vivian Crist Zeisloft, Ilene Crist Wagner, Joan Snyder Swisher and Harold Gardner.  

According to a mid 1800’s map of Franklin Township, an area noted as Chestnut Grove lies due west of Pine Summit along Funston Road. This information was shared by Ruth Ann Ritter Minnick, president of the Chestnut Grove One-Room School Reunion group during their gathering on Sunday, August 26.

The ten former students present represented a time span from 1927 until closing in 1947. Some of the students had a parent who’d also attended the school and they were Ruth Ann Ritter, Orangeville, daughter of Harry Ritter; sisters Vivian Crist Zeisloft, Hughesville and Ilene Crist Wagner of Muncy, whose father Chalmer Crist attended; and the children of former pupil M.K. (Madison) Farnsworth who are Wanda Langdon of Hughesville, Glennis Farnsworth of Birdsboro, and Lonna Bacon, Orangeville.

Other former students were Vivian Gardner Keller, Florida, Harold Gardner, Muncy, Joan Snyder Swisher, Muncy and Audrey Smith Smith, Williamsport. Smith who entered first grade in 1927 was the eldest and after eight grades moved to Williamsport and graduated high school there. During the last year of 1947, first graders were Vivian Gardner, Doris Whipple and Max Smith.

For more than 20 years the group had been meeting at various sites. The 2012 reunion, which numbered 26, were invited to cross the school’s threshold after its refurbishing by owner/ host/ preservationist Barry Farnsworth. The host said, “I wanted to preserve a piece of the past,” and revealed the school is situated on part of a farm purchased by the Farnsworth family in 1850. Barry had instructed the Amish carpenters to leave intact as much as possible, hooks and spot in the center front where maps once hung. The blackboards were brought in from another East Lycoming area school. A sign noting the schools name was designed and erected courtesy of Wilson’s Signs of Unityville.

Part of the afternoon was spent sharing memories. Wanda Farnsworth Langdon, next to the eldest in her family, said she attended from 1929-1938. She displayed a strawberry shaped ceramic jar, a gift from a former teacher. “There were no buses and most farm children did not advance beyond the eighth grade,” she said. Younger brother Glennis Farnsworth had polio and was sent for a time to live with Aunt Ina Farnsworth in Hughesville. Their grandmother Sarah Alice Runyan Farnsworth lived on Academy Street in the borough. Glennis did return to Chestnut Grove for he said when playing baseball, “John Ritter ran the bases for me, everyone wanted to be on Ritter’s team. We had a diamond in Mr. Neufer’s field.”

Games included Prisoner Base, Andy Over, Fox and Goose, Stick ball, Squirrel in Tree and Fords and Chevy’s a variation of the tug of war game.

There were few memories of anyone being paddled for according to Langdon, “children were taught to behave at home.”

Keller reminded all of the pledge of flag and Bible reading. “I never thought that would be taken away from us,” she said.

The teacher was in charge of ringing the bell. The original is not in the tower, but another had been donated from Mrs. Watts School in Lairdsville by ( )

Minnick was the only one to recall a poem which was “Stopping by Woods on Snowy Evening” penned in 1923 by Robert Frost. Of the four stanzas, the last is the most well known. “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

Directly across the road from the school lie ones in eternal sleep. Among the few illegible grave stones is one on a baby brother of Chalmer Crist.

References to unusual episodes included one of young Harry Ritter and Harold Gardner. According to Gardner the teacher took the pupils to the bottom of Funston Hill near Route 442 a day before the funeral to view the body of Mrs. Neufer. The next day, Ritter and Gardner were in the windy school yard raising their coats above their heads catching the wind. Just as the Grittner hearse passed, a gust swept Gardner toward the vehicle where his face collided with a fender, denting both. Brother Ralph Gardner was sent to the nearest phone at the Gardner home. Dr. Renn was summoned and Gardner was carried to the recitation bench to be examined. “They put a hog ring in my lip, I guess you’d call it a clamp to pull it back together,” Gardner said.

Another story which had been a mystery to Minnick was recently solved. Together Minnick and Joan Snyder started first grade with Ralph Poust in second. The next year the three were in the same grade and Minnick hadn’t known why. “After 55 years we connected through email. Poust revealed he’d missed school after being struck by lighting while sitting on a wooden stool milking. The cow was killed and young Poust was attended by Dr. Jesse Gordner of Jerseytown.

Teachers recollected included Pearl Houseknecht; Mrs. Lena Diltz; Mrs. Don Bangs; Thomas N. Smith and his son-in-law Ray App; Harry Reece Sr, who’d owned reindeer brought back from Alaska where he’d worked; Catharine Shipman Ritter and Mrs. Copenhaven. No one could recall substitutes, “if the teacher was sick school was cancelled which didn’t happen very often,” according to Glennis Farnsworth.

As the numbers of students are diminishing, it was voted that next year children of former students may consider themselves invited. The 2012 reunion will be held again at the school on the last Sunday of August. Current officers continue and they are Ruth Minnick, president; Ilene Wagner, secretary and Vivian Zeisloft, treasurer.