Part one of this two-part series looks at the Pennridge School District’s birth in the early 1950s and the event that brought together eight different communities: the first two Pennridge-Quakertown football games.
Click Here To Read Part II at https://preservingperkasie.com/2021/08/17/running-a-new-school-system/
On March 14, 1949, a crowd packed into the Union Hotel dining room in Perkasie to hear a special guest speaker, Bucks County school superintendent Dr. Charles H. Boehm. Special guests at the Perkasie Chamber of Commerce meeting were representatives from five local school districts.
Boehm was a leading advocate of an effort to consolidate the county’s 51 school boards into a smaller number of school districts. Boehm told the local school leaders that state officials could not force school boards and districts to consolidate, but such moves would be rewarded with state subsidies.[i] As Boehm spoke, he announced recommendations from Bucks County about new school districts for Perkasie’s students and their neighbors.
Perkasie and Sellersville had jointly operated Sell-Perk High School since 1930, but each borough had separate school boards and primary schools. The Deep Run Valley school district that was formed in 1946 already included Hilltown, East Rockhill and Bedminster.
In the county’s plan for 12 Bucks County school districts, Perkasie, Sellersville, Silverdale and West Rockhill’s school districts were combined into the new Grand View school district. The Deep Run Valley school district remained intact. The county had a second plan for just eight Bucks County school districts that merged the seven municipalities in the Grand View and Deep Run Valley districts.
Boehm told the audience that merging the smaller school districts created a larger tax base and allowed for the construction of new schools with modern facilities that smaller school districts could not afford. Boehm also acknowledged the rivalries between larger and smaller municipalities in Bucks County, but he also warned that the state would order school-district consolidation if local deals could not be reached.
Thus started the rocky road that led to the creation of the unified Pennridge School District over the next 17 years. As Boehm predicted, the combined school district generated great public benefits for the region and the word “Pennridge” created a new regional identity. However, it took until 1966 to forge the eight municipalities and their local school boards into one educational unit.
Struggling To Create A New School District
The Deep Run Valley school district already faced problems in 1949. It lost one of its original members, New Britain Township, and it failed to convince Plumstead Township to join the district. Dublin school district, with its 57 pupils, was undecided about its own future with Deep Run Valley, Central Bucks, or the proposed Grand View school district as options. In April 1949, Dublin voted to send its secondary students to Sell-Perk High School, and not Deep Run Valley.
On July 8, 1949, talks started about a new venture between eight municipalities to create a joint secondary school system, complete with a new, modern high school. The Bucks County School Board called for the meeting with 30 local school directors at Deep Run Valley High School in Blooming Glen.[ii] Under the county’s “jointure” plan, the Grand View and Deep Run Valley school boards would run their own elementary schools and all eight municipalities would keep their local elected school boards.
Updates about the school consolidation dominated the local news for the next few years. One big question was how to pay for the new high school. The other question was about the new high school’s location. Initial estimates put the new school’s costs at $1.2 million. In January 1950, officials narrowed down the high school’s site to two properties: next to Sell-Perk High School or any location adjacent to Perkasie. Sellersville officials insisted their initial offer to take part in the venture included a free high school site next to Sell-Perk High School on the condition the old high school was used as a junior high school.
The Deep Run Valley group opposed Sell-Perk as the new high school’s location.[iii] Then in March 1950, West Rockhill dropped from the joint venture after residents voiced concerns about giving up part of their own consolidated school system.
On April 17, 1950, the group formed the Pennridge District Joint Board to operate the new high school and the junior high school, and to apply for $1.5 million in state financing.[iv] Dr. Paul Gruber, a former Sell-Perk principal, suggested the name Pennridge for the secondary school project.[v] Dr. Lewis N. Snyder, Sell-Perk’s principal, was named as the supervisor for the new joint school venture and John Grasse as assistant supervisor. The state initially denied joint board’s funding application in September 1950, voicing concerns about the project’s cost and the need for a 1,000-seat auditorium when the school only had 600 students. Snyder explained that the district planned to use the school for at least 35 years. The Pennridge Joint School Board also had settled on the Baumann farm property, just east of Perkasie, as the new high school’s location.
On February 15, 1951, the state approved the school’s funding. However, Sellersville’s Civic Improvement Association wanted Sellersville to withdraw from the high school project unless the new school was located adjacent to Sell-Perk High School.[vi] The Joint Board moved forward with the project anyway and signed a land-purchase deal, and the Sellersville group backed down after several meetings with the board.
By late 1951, the name of “Pennridge” had been adopted by local sports teams and civic organizations and the Perkasie News-Herald started to call the area the “Pennridge community.” In the following year, the plans for the new Pennridge High School were approved, and the building was financed through the Upper Bucks School Authority. In August 1952, the project was finalized, and the authority started hiring contractors. At this point, the project hit the $2 million mark. On September 15, 1952, officials held the project ground-breaking ceremony.
Developments unfolded rapidly during 1953. In March, West Rockhill decided to rejoin the Pennridge Joint School Board, rejecting a proposed move to the Quakertown School District. In Perkasie, most new home building permits that spring were in the First Ward, the area closest to the new high school.[vii] But in May 1953, a carpenters’ strike derailed plans for the new high school to open later that year. Sell-Perk High School would host Pennridge High School for one year. Deep Run Valley High School would host that area’s 8th, 9th, and 10th grade pupils.[viii]
A Community United by Football
The big news that fall was the debut of the Pennridge High School football team. Led by head coach Ray Whispell and assistant coaches Bud Hollenbach, Wayne Hellman, and Lloyd “Poppy” Yoder, expectations were high for the combined squad of the former Sell-Perk and Deep Run Valley teams. The first Pennridge football game saw the team beat a visiting Bensalem squad 27-6 at the Sell-Perk field, in front of 2,500 spectators. Pennridge then travelled to Souderton and put up 39 points against their local rivals.
Just before their crucial home game against another rival, Ambler, the school announced Pennridge’s team would now be called the Rams. Ambler had not lost a league game since 1950. The Pennridge team prevailed, 14-7, and seemed headed toward a title. The football team’s success had united the new school district. “Above everything else, the Pennridge Jointure needs that intangible something that will submerge the former public-school loyalties and weld together the entire community,” said the News Herald.[ix]
The unbeaten Pennridge team rolled toward a November showdown with their long-time rivals, Quakertown High School, for the Bucks-Mont league title. But the Quakers slipped heading toward the annual big game, with a tie and then a loss to Ambler. The best Quakertown could do was to deny Pennridge an undisputed championship.
There was also controversy between the Quakertown squad and the former Sell-Perk players because of the 1952 Thanksgiving game. Quakertown was heavily favored that day and a win would have clinched the team’s best record in school history. Sell-Perk had just two wins that season and had not scored on Quakertown in four previous games. Sell-Perk’s Jimmy Souder scored a late touchdown to make the score 7-6 for Quakertown. But the goals posts had been torn down during the game. By one later account from a Pennridge player, Quakertown alumni took down the posts after their team scored the game’s first touchdown. Pennridge coach Whitsell insisted his team kick the extra point where Souder had scored.[x] People from the crowd rebuilt the goal posts and Sell-Perk made the extra point to end the game as a tie.
On Thanksgiving Day 1953, the Rams appeared wearing their new Dartmouth Green and White uniforms on the Sell-Perk field in front of 7,000 fans. Quakertown scored first, but Pennridge won a hard-fought 13-7 game for their first league title. The last time Sell-Perk won a league football championship was 1936. All-league halfback Ken Hager scored both Pennridge touchdowns. Following the game, the Joint School Board declared a holiday for the following Monday for Pennridge’s students.
A New Era with a New High School
The new Pennridge High School’s official dedication on November 9, 1954 marked the end of an era dating back to Perkasie’s first school house on Chestnut Street in the 1870s. The merger of Perkasie and Sellersville’s high schools in 1930 had started the movement to a grander educational system. However, after the Pennridge era began, Perkasie’s grand schoolhouses designed by Milton Bean and Oscar Martin in the Victorian era faded away or in one case, faced demolition.
During 1954, construction moved steadily forward on the new Pennridge Joint High School facility designed by architects Albert Mickleright and Samuel Mountford of Trenton. The new school’s auditorium was completed early and hosted Pennridge’s graduation ceremony in June. Builders added the cornerstone at a separate ceremony in June, using the year “1952” to make the project’s start date. In late July, the Joint School Board announced classes would start at the new school on September 6, 1954. The high school started its first day at its full capacity of 750 students.
At the time of Pennridge High School’s dedication, Perkasie and Hilltown were the two largest municipalities in the joint district, with the two areas contributing one-third of the needed tax dollars to run the district (not including state subsidies).[xi] The 1,000-seat auditorium complete with stage lighting and the double gymnasium were the school’s showpieces. The school also received more than $10,000 gifts from the public, including musical instruments and a painting from artist Walter E. Baum.
The dedication lasted for three days in November with an official ceremony followed by two open houses. Estimated attendance for the events was 6,000 people.[xii] Dr. Boehm happily declared the new school ended the difference in educational quality received by rural students, who now could experience facilities only available to urban students.
Click Here To Read Part II at https://preservingperkasie.com/2021/08/17/running-a-new-school-system/
[i] Perkasie News-Herald, March 12, 1949.
[ii] Perkasie News-Herald, July 14, 1949.
[iii] Perkasie News-Herald, January 12, 1950.
[iv] Perkasie News-Herald, April 20, 1950.
[v] J. Dale Yoder, “The Pennridge Schools Through The Years: A History of Excellence,” Perkasie, Pa.: Pennridge School District, 2004, Yoder, 55.
[vi] Perkasie News-Herald, March 29, 1951.
[vii] Perkasie News-Herald, April 23, 1952.
[viii] Perkasie News-Herald, June 25, 1953.
[ix] Perkasie News-Herald, October 8, 1953.
[x] Scott Huff, SOL Football Forecast (11-26-20).
[xi] Pennridge Senior High School Dedication booklet, November 1954.
[xii] Allentown Morning Call. October 19, 1954.