2008-10-30 / Local & State

Lehigh Valley Schoolhouse Makes The Grade


BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) - From her place on a wooden bench at the back of the classroom, Peggy Fluck watched the students seated in even rows listening to the instructor at the blackboard and had to smile.

Some 75 years after she herself sat in one of those desks, memories flooded back to her in a torrent, and she was a little girl again.

"It seems like yesterday,'' she said.

Along with docents from the Lower Saucon Township Historical Society, Fluck, 84, greeted thirdgraders from the Moravian Academy at the Lutz-Franklin Schoolhouse on Countryside Lane and gave them a taste of what it was like to attend class there during the 1930s.

Once abandoned and forgotten, the schoolhouse is going through a renaissance these days, providing a venue for youngsters to experience what school was like before iPods and the Internet.

Preserving the past is important to folks like Fluck and Sue Horiszny, president of the historical society, who doubled as "schoolmarm'' for the Moravian Academy students one day earlier this month. And they were delighted to learn that the schoolhouse, which was where children from Lower Saucon studied from 1880 to 1958, has been nominated for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places by the Pennsylvania Bureau for Historic Preservation.

Since the state bureau standards are high and the vote was unanimous, placement on the registry is a given, said Fran Robb, vice president of the historical society's board of directors.

Once on the register, the schoolhouse becomes eligible for grants for upkeep of the 128-year-old structure.

"It will open the doors for us to be recognized nationally,'' Horiszny said.

Not too long ago, the schoolhouse - dilapidated, broken and largely exposed to the elements - was slated for relocation to the Saucon Valley School District campus on Polk Valley Road. But the cost of taking it apart and reassembling

it, stone-by-stone, was deemed prohibitive, and after much grumbling

from the community, the district sold the schoolhouse to Lower Saucon Township.

The historical society formed a partnership with the Lower Saucon Township Council, and concerned citizens - with the help of a $150,000 donation from Lehigh Valley developer Lou Pektor, who grew up in the community - got to work.

"The floor was like a roller coaster,'' said Karen Samuels, one of the historical society's past presidents. "It was moldy; paint was peeling.''

Work was completed in 2006 and now the building welcomes youngsters for hands-on glimpses into the past. Moravian Academy's students were the first from out of the district to visit.

Horiszny called groups of students to the front of the class to work arithmetic problems in chalk and to practice penmanship. In Fluck's time, students were grouped by grade level in the single classroom and were called to the blackboard together to answer questions.

Once, Fluck recalled, she was five minutes late returning from lunch because she'd been picking wild persimmons. Miss Amy, her fourthgrade teacher, paddled her five times in front of the entire class, one strike for each minute she was tardy.

"It was more embarrassing than anything,'' she said.

Fluck walked the nearly two miles to the schoolhouse each day with her two brothers and two sisters, and didn't get a free pass during bad weather.

In the wintertime, Fluck recalled, a neighbor would start a fire in the schoolhouse's potbellied stove on Sunday night, then return the following morning and stoke it to keep the students warm.

Students attended school from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and had one hour for lunch and two 15-minute breaks. There were no ceiling lights, so students sometimes moved their desks closer to the windows, Fluck said.

As the children gathered on the grass alongside the school's front porch, Fluck smiled. The Lutz- Franklin schoolhouse, beauty rendered in mortar and stone, was a safe haven for children again.

"Not much has changed except the color of the trim,'' she said. "It looks exactly the same to me.''

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