In the 1880’s the village of Mahoningtown, founded back in 1836, was a thriving little community located in Taylor Township in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. In December 1890 the settlement was elevated to become an independent borough. At that time several one room schools were in use, but they were soon deemed inadequate for the needs of the local community.
The consolidated Mahoningtown Public School, usually referred to as the Mahoning School, was built on North Cedar Street (at East Madison Avenue) in 1893. Professor James Lostetter of West Middlesex was elected to serve as the first principal of the new schoolhouse. The building, located right next door to the Mahoningtown Presbyterian Church, served the children of the local residents, mostly Italian immigrants who spoke very little English.
The New Castle News of Wednesday, July 5, 1893, reported, “According to the financial statement of the Mahoningtown school district for the fiscal year ending June, 1893, there are 4 schools, 4 teachers and 212 scholars enrolled, with an average attendance of 173… Mahoningtown citizens are proud of their school building and teachers. The borough has the finest school house in the county outside of New Castle and the best schools. The new building was built and furnished at a cost of $10,273.85.”
In early 1898 the borough of Mahoningtown was annexed and officially became the Seventh Ward of New Castle, and the Mahoning School became part of New Castle School District. Marion C. Turrell served as principal of the school beginning in 1899 and was succeeded by W. A. Moore, previously teaching at the public school in New Wilmington, in June 1901. The teachers hired for that fall were Elizabeth Johnston – first grade, Lizzie Ritchie – second grade, Harriet Cooper – third grade, Ella Patterson – fourth grade, Maude Daugherty – fifth grade, Mayme Artherholt – sixth grade, Zora E. Hunter – seventh grade, W. A. Moore – eighth and ninth grades.
Mahoningtown continued to thrive at the turn of the century and as the population increased more classrooms were needed. The Lawrence School, located on North Liberty Street (at Moravia Avenue), was opened in March 1901 in the northern section of Mahoningtown known as “Tubetown.” The two-story building housed elementary level students up to 6th grade.
Seventh Ward students attended elementary school in the Mahoning or Lawrence Schools, and then attended junior high classes (grades 7-9) exclusively in the Mahoning School. Those wishing to continue their education could attend the New Castle High School, housed in the North Street School until the new high school opened on East Lincoln Avenue in the fall of 1911.
In 1906 a four-room annex, designed by local architect W. G. Eckles, was built alongside the Mahoning School to accommodate the continued increase of the student population. By the start of the Great War (World War I) in 1914 the school was home to about 600 children of all grades. The old Woods Building, located just behind the school, was soon purchased for additional classroom use.
By late 1914 school officials were planning further upgrades and improvements to the school. However, before that could happen, the worst case scenario took place. On the night of Saturday, January 29, 1915, a raging fire swept through the main portion of the school and gutted the entire structure. The adjoining four-room annex building suffered minor damage as well. Inadequate firefighting equipment in Mahoningtown, particularly the lack of a ladder truck, led to a delay that might have saved the main school building from becoming a total loss.
The New Castle News of Wednesday, February 3, 1915, reported, “As an after result of the destructive fire in the Seventh ward on Saturday night, when the school building was laid waste, some of the needs of the New Castle department in the way of equipment and facilities couldn’t be kept out of the discussion at the annual meeting and banquet of representatives of all city departments held at the Central fire department building last night… It was because of lack of facilities for fighting a big fire that the school house blaze got away from the firemen, and not because of any lack of effort on the part of the firemen, all of those present last night who had been on the scene Saturday night asserted. Mahoningtown should have a more efficient department, and more equipment and better apparatus, and as was demonstrated on Saturday night, a ladder truck by all means, the general department men declared last night. Members of the Seventh ward department who attended the banquet were exceptionally cast down in spirits over the result of the fire and the subsequent disposition to criticism and censure.”
For several weeks the students went to school for half-day sessions at various locations in Mahoningtown including at the Woods Building and in four different churches. On February 22, 1915, when the annex building was cleaned up, students started back at full-day sessions at all six locations. Meanwhile, the remains of the demolished school were cleared away.
In June 1915, the school board awarded contracts for $83,391 to build a modern schoolhouse at the same site. The new red brick school with gray stone trim, which would incorporate the existing four-room annex built in 1905, would consist of two floors of eighteen classrooms and a basement with playrooms and a gymnasium. It was built by the W. H. Chambers Company and designed to hold about 1,100 pupils. A public contest offering $5 was held to name the new school. Apparently a suitable moniker was not submitted because school officials simply choose to keep it as the “Mahoning School.”
The school, although still undergoing finishing touches, was opened for public inspection and a dedication ceremony on the evening of Friday, September 1, 1916. The New Castle News of Wednesday, August 30, 1916, mentioned the upcoming event with, “Prof. Thomas Johns’ eighth grade orchestra will furnish music for the occasion. Rev. S. T. Davison of the Mahoningtown Methodist church, will offer an invocation, while the address of dedication will be delivered by Rev. W. Charles Wallace, D. D. president of Westminster college, after which visitors will be welcome to further inspect the building and to meet each other in a social way. A large attendance of residents of the Seventh ward and of other interested citizens is looked for.”
The new Mahoning School, housing students up to the ninth grade, opened a few weeks behind other local schools in late September 1916. The New Castle News of Friday, September 29, 1916, revealed, “School opened very auspiciously this morning at the handsome new Mahoning school building, which is not only the newest school building in the city but the best and most complete. Nearly all the children expecting to attend this year, were in attendance at the opening session and the teachers were kept busy all day enrolling them and arranging for the pupils to get their books and get started on their studies.”
The New Castle News of Saturday, September 30, 1916, mentioned, “Enrollment for the first day at the Mahoning school was 666. This is a decided increase over that of last year, when it was 617 on the first day… There are five rooms not now used regularly, which can yet he used before the building will he crowded. Classes change every 45 minutes. Four classes return to their regular study rooms and four go to the physical culture and recreation rooms in the basement at the expiration of each 45 minutes.”
There was a major reorganization of schools for the semester starting in the fall of 1922. At the time the new Ben Franklin Junior High School was opened on the South Side and many city-wide students in grades 7-9 started attending that facility – or the junior high held in the old North Street School. Despite the changes 7th and 8th graders remained at the Mahoning School, while 9th graders from Mahoningtown were transferred to the North Street School. The following year, due to the work on the new Mahoning Avenue Viaduct, the 9th graders were back at the Mahoning School.
W. A. Moore, who also in charge of the Lawrence School since the fall of 1917, served as principal of the Mahoning School until he retired in June 1924. Moore was succeeded as principal of the two schools by Dwight H. Connor, who departed in 1926 to take an assignment as principal of the junior high school in Ellwood City.
The New Castle News of Wednesday, June 23, 1926, reported on his replacement with, “Miss Nannie Mitcheltree, for many years a successful teacher in the New Castle schools, was given a well merited promotion Tuesday evening when the New Castle board met in special session. Miss Mitcheltree was appointed as principal of the Mahoning and Lawrence schools… During her years of service in the New Castle schools Miss Mitcheltree has been most efficient, and for the past several years has been at Benjamin Franklin Junior High school… During the time James M. Hughes acted as superintendent of the New Castle schools Miss Mitcheltree acted as principal of Lincoln-Garfield, Pollock and Thaddeus Stevens school and her splendid work in his capacity, in addition to her work as an instructor, led to her promotion last night.”
A junior high school was operated in the Mahoning School throughout the decade. In June 1929 it was announced that the 9th grade would be discounted at the Mahoning School for the coming school term. Those students going into the 9th grade were given a choice of attending Ben Franklin Junior High School or the new George Washington Junior High School, which was opened on the North Side in September 1928. Mahoning School remained in operation for students up to the 8th grade.
The city school system swelled and before long the Mahoning School was again hosting 9th graders. The New Castle News of Saturday, September 15, 1934, relayed the following: “A total of 860 students are enrolled in classes at the Mahoning school, Miss Nannie Mitcheltree, principal, said Friday. This number is close to average and includes students from 1B classes through 9A. In order to avoid crowded conditions about 25 ninth grade pupils were transferred to the other junior high schools for the concluding term of Junior high school work.
In May 1945 longtime principal Nannie Mitcheltree was promoted to assume in a similar post at George Washington Junior High School, while Fred Y. McLure, a teacher from New Castle High School, was named as her successor at the Mahoning School.
The Mahoning School was damaged by a fire on the night of Tuesday, May 3, 1955. A small fire, believed to have been caused by defective wiring on the second floor, likely smoldered for several hours before flames were noticeable by local residents about 11:00pm. Several crews of firemen fought the stubborn blaze for several hours before it was contained. Damage to the second floor was estimated to be about $5,000.
The New Castle News of Wednesday, May 4, 1955, reported, “Seventh Ward fire company was the first at the scene of the blaze since it is located within a block of the Mahoning school. Within a few minutes, six city fire trucks and all off-duty firemen were called in to fight the blaze… Three firemen Jack Rose, Zach Allerton and Herman Steinbrink were slightly injured while fighting the blaze. Steinbrink was slightly scalded by water splashing off the hot walls, proof of the heat generated by the fire. The supply room on the second floor in which the fire originated was completely gutted by the flames. An adjoining room on the second floor and a supply room directly below, on the first floor, were badly damaged. Another room partially damaged by the flames is the records room on the second floor of the building. Records of every student who attended the school since 1923 were stored in the room. Most of the rooms on the second floor of the building and the first and second floor halls were heavily damaged by water.”
Classes were held on the first floor and at temporary locations while the school was cleaned up. Classes were resumed in the school for about 450 students in the fall, but the damaged portion of the second floor remained untouched awaiting an insurance settlement. The auditorium was used for classrooms until the second floor was renovated beginning in November 1955. Less room was actually needed at that time because all local students in grades 7-9 were permanently transferred to the George Washington Junior High School. Meanwhile, the aging Woods Building, used as auxiliary space for many years, was also torn down in September 1955.
The New Castle News of Tuesday, June 7, 1955, had remarked, “This marks the close of the 105th school term in the City of New Castle, using the erection of the Union School house, later known as the Martin Gantz school, in 1851 as a starting point… It also marks the close of an era in the city’s Seventh Ward, where the Mahoning junior high school has been in operation since 1923. Grades 1-8 were operated in the ward school up until that time. Then when the Benjamin Franklin junior high was opened, New Castle high school changed to a three-year senior high school, and Mahoning became a combination junior high and elementary school. Beginning next fall, all Seventh Ward pupils from grades 7-9 will be transported to George Washington junior high by bus, and Mahoning will revert back to strictly an elementary school.”
The school, afterwards known as the Mahoning Elementary School, remained in operation for many years. Principal Fred McLure departed in June 1956 and took on a new administrative post, as a student welfare counselor, in the school system. The New Castle News of Wednesday, June 6, 1956, mentioned his pending departure with, “Mahoning school children bid farewell to principal Fred Y. McLure with appropriate ceremony on Tuesday with a big sing, held in the main hall of the school at 2 p.m. The 450 children gathered singing farewell and at the end of the singing, Tommy Rainey, representing the school presented to Mr. McLure, a clock radio, purchased by the children as a farewell gift. Mr. McLure responded with his thanks and this morning took the radio around to each room for each class to hear music. This is the last full day of school for the students.”
Subsequent principals at the school included Peter Grillie Jr. from 1956-1958, John Matthews from 1958-1959, Lewis A. Grell from 1959-1963, and John Ellefson from 1963-1967. The New Castle News of Thursday, June 15, 1967, reported, “Pat J. George of 318 Highland Ave. was named last night by the New Castle Area School Board as principal of both the Mahoning and West Pittsburgh elementary schools… George, a native of New Castle, has taught for seven years at the Croton school and for the past four months had been serving as a temporary principal at the Rose Ave. and Lockley schools.”
In the fall of 1975 the school board began considering an initiative to build a new gymnasium for the Mahoning School. The ambitious project was estimated to cost in excess of $200,000. The city applied for various federal grants as plans were drawn up by the architectural firm of W. G. Eckles. The project remained in discussion for several years, before it was shelved for good.
After a reorganization plan was approved in the summer of 1987 the Mahoning Elementary School, along with the Arthur McGill, Rose Avenue, Lincoln-Garfield, and West Pittsburg Schools, was closed for good in June 1988. The school (through several buildings) had served the local community for about ninety-five years. The neighboring Mahoningtown Presbyterian School had previously closed and was demolished beginning in December 1984.
All five schools were advertised for sale beginning in October 1987. By February 1988 sealed bids had been received for all the schools except for the Mahoning building. In April 1988 local developer James J. Gabriel openly offered $5,000 for the Mahoning School, with the intention of converting into an assisted care facility for senior citizens. The deal was agreed upon but soon fell through. In September 1988 a small lot of property beside the school was to a local resident for $1,500. A month later the Lynch Brothers development team offered $2,500 for the school with a plan to convert it (and the Rose Avenue School) into an apartment building. The deal was contingent on them making specific improvements over the next few years, but this arrangement also fell through in early 1990. Another buyer, Dominick Grant (and associates), purchased the Mahoning School for $1,000 in July 1990 with plans to renovate it into an apartment building.
In June 1993 the non-profit Cedarcrest Housing Corporation began efforts to acquire the school property with plans to open a 38-room low income senior citizens home. Eventually, the project received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to build a new apartment complex. In early 1994 the city – utilizing stipulations in the contract – gained the cooperation of Dominick Grant to sell the property. The Mahoning School was razed beginning on April 13, 1994, with the city paying for the asbestos removal costing $18,950 and the demolition costing $32,500. Meanwhile, work on the housing complex began in August on property just behind the school along Newell Avenue. The school property was officially sold to the Cedarcrest Housing Corporation in late October.
The Cedarcrest Apartments opened sometime in the summer of 1995. Curiously, with all the previous discussion, the complex was not built on – nor ever expanded over – the actual location of the Mahoning School. Today the former site of the Mahoning School is nothing more than a grassy lot.
To read a 1906 article about the planned installation of a heating system click on: HEATING PLANT ARTICLE. After the devastating fire of January 1915 the school annex was closed for a few weeks. To read about the students returning to classes in the annex click on: ANNEX REOPENED ARTICLE. To read more about the plans for the new Mahoning School click on: SCHOOL PLANS ARTICLE. To read about the remodeling effort in the annex in February 1916 click on: ANNEX WORK ARTICLE. The new Mahoning School was and dedicated in September 1916. To learn more about the dedication ceremony click on: DEDICATION ARTICLE.
The Mahoning School was built in 1893 and a four-room annex, seen on left, was added in 1906 to deal with the growing population of the area. By September 1914 the school was home to about 600 students of all grades. (c1910) Full Size
A postcard showing the Mahoning School shortly after the devastating fire of January 1915. The main portion of the school you see was razed and rebuilt, while the annex on the far left was restored.