Pennridge South Middle School Teacher Brooke Burgy asked me to do a brief review about the early history of her school for her students. Here is a profile of one of Perkasie’s most-important buildings.
The old part of Pennridge South is historic for several reasons, including why it was built and who designed the building. A third part of the old Sell-Perk High that is historic is outside and in Perkasie Borough: the former football field.
Perkasie was the fifth-fastest growing town in Pennsylvania during the Victorian era because of the cigar trade. Neighboring Sellersville wasn’t far behind Perkasie, and both towns had new, younger families with children. By the 1920s, schools in Sellersville became overcrowded, while Perkasie had built three schools: one on Arch Street, where the fire department is today; one on Third Street, which is now an apartment building; and one in South Perkasie.
By 1924, Perkasie and Sellersville started talking about a “consolidated” high school that would have students from both towns in the same building. Building schools became too expensive for just one town to pay for. In fact, Perkasie had $30,000 in debt for building its three schools and needed to raise another $75,000 to pay for its half of the new high school.
On November 7, 1927, voters in Perkasie and Sellersville approved the project by a 2-1 margin in an election referendum. The school project was the talk of both towns. And in 1928 came more exciting news: E. William Martin was hired to design the new building.
Martin was a Scottish-American architect from Wilmington, Delaware. He designed a lot of schools in Delaware, but he also worked for the DuPont family. Martin designed much of Longwood Gardens, and the Delaware state capitol. Martin came to visit Perkasie and he interviewed the new joint school board. He found a way to add the new 1,000-person auditorium at no extra cost.
The new consolidated high school would sit in an area called the Wert track, which bordered Fifth Street extending from Menlo Park into Sellersville. The Wert tract properties were first sold in 1905 and snapped up by local investors who bought land but didn’t build on the lots. The school board bought undeveloped Wert lots and placed the high school on the border between Perkasie and Sellersville. The border between the two towns ran inside the school.
“The [school] is attractively designed, substantially constructed and provides in minutest detail perfect ventilation, heat and light. The large auditorium and gymnasium occupy the center of the building. Around this spacious center are corridors in the walls of which are hundreds of steel lockers consecutively numbered. Around the corridors on the first floor and balcony are 14 classrooms and offices for the Supervising Principal and High School principal. The basement is devoted to the workshop, cafeteria, boiler rooms and storage,” said the Perkasie Central News in 1930.
To be sure, the citizens of Perkasie and Sellersville put aside their differences to make the building, which became known as the Sell-Perk High School, the pride and joy of both towns. And there were differences between the two towns in one important area: football.
Perkasie and Sellersville were bitter rivals in baseball and later football since the 1890s. However, the new high school in 1930 combined athletes from both towns to oppose one common opponent: Quakertown High School.
On October 4, 1930, the Sell-Perk football team debuted, beating a strong opponent, Coplay High School, in a shutout. Sell-Perk also shutout Quakertown, 13-0, in their first contest, played in November 1930 on Thanksgiving Day at Quakertown at a temperature of 15 degrees at game time. The following Thanksgiving in 1931, Quakertown came to town and suffered a 27-0 defeat, with 2,000 fans attending at Perkasie’s playground on Second Street.
The Sell-Perk Blue and Steel took its first Bux-Mont football title the following year, winning at Quakertown 25-0 on Thanksgiving Day in 1932, led by star running back Henry Gutekunst and captain Charles Apple. Sell-Perk followed up with a 18-0 shutout of Quakertown in 1933 at the first Thanksgiving game held at what later became known as Poppy Yoder Field. It was the sqaud’s second Bux-Mont title and another undefeated season. Quakertown scored its first points against Sell-Perk in 1934, in a 13-6 win for Quakertown. The loss was not reported by the Perkasie Central News. Perkasie got its revenge the following year, beating Quakertown 13-6 in the first contest featuring the new bleachers at Sell-Perk High School.
In later years, Sell-Perk High School became a junior high school and then a middle school after the new Pennridge High School opened in 1954. The school remains iconic because of the joint effort to build it, its architect, and the hallowed grounds of Poppy Yoder Field.