By Mary Ellen Eller
Excerpt taken from the June 26, 1991 issue of the Cecil Whig
Although the staff, students, and members of the community are looking forward to the opening of the new Rising Sun High School next fall, many do not realize this change is just another chapter in the history of education in the area which had its beginnings two centuries ago.
Much of this land was settled by Quakers, who were extremely dedicated to education, and established the first school in 1730. Then known as Dr. Finley's Nottingham School, the school was built near the Brick Meeting House on Penn's Lot 20, a little over a mile southwest of Rising Sun. This school is currently known as West Nottingham Academy.
In 1870, the old Stone School was founded. Located at the corner of Md. 273 and Stevens Road, this private school charged a tuition of two and half to four cents a day.
However, those who could not afford to pay were not denied an education. If the teacher could find at least two responsible citizens to testify to the family's inability to pay, money for tuition was taken out of the county's "poor fund." Families were also expected to pay an additional charge for fuel based on a student's attendance.
Records show the first school on the present property was built in 1829. Little evidence can be found on what the school actually looked like. Records indicate the first teacher was William Topham, an Englishman who supposedly upset many of the Quakers whose children attended the school. He would often instruct the students in "military tactics" around lunch each day, which ran counter to the Quakers' pacifism.
Another private school for Quaker girls was located on the corner of Main and Walnut streets. This school, founded by Job Jackson of Chester County, Pa., lasted only two terms.
According to old stories, Job Jackson agreed to offer room and board for the teacher, but she quit or was dismissed when she refused to pay a higher amount charged by Job, who thought she had eaten more food than he had anticipated.
The Cecil County Public School System was established in 1845 and built the Rosebank School in the Calvert area. About 20 years later, Rising Sun's second school but first public school was erected on the present school site in 1864. To distinguish this school from the other private schools, the townspeople referred to it as "The Public." According to records, this two-room school house was located partly on the present driveway.
Because the school included grades one through seven only, those who wanted to continue their education had to attend a private school. The area was not without secondary education, however. In 1876 the Friends Normal Institute began in Rising Sun, followed by the Friends Select School in Calvert. Another private school dedicated to the college bound, Miss Mabel Reynold's School, operated in Rising Sun from 1900 to 1940.
In 1906, the Friends Select School was leased by the Cecil County Board of Education and became the Calvert Agriculture High School. In 1920-21, high school courses for grades nine through eleven were added at Rising Sun High School. Grade twelve was not added until the fall of 1950. The Rising Sun "public" school was torn down in 1915 after a new four-room school was built. This modern building contained one spigot which was used by students to get drinks and wash their hands. Because sewage was not introduced until 1932, students had to use the one outdoor toilet.
According to records written by students who attended school in the building, conditions were less then desirable. Classes, met in the basement under "very difficult circumstance." The limited equipment was in very poor condition. On rainy days, the basement was cold, damp, and dark. Only academic courses were offered because students attending high school at that time wanted to go to college. The library, located in the principle's office, was limited; no dictionaries, encyclopedias, or other reference books were available.
In 1922, many improvements were made. Walls were plastered, floors improved, woodwork was painted, and the faculty grew to a total of four with the entire school population reaching about 90. The first graduating class in 1924 contained four students, Richard Hanna, Jeanette Reed, Mildred Snyder, and Leona Umberger. The class of 1925 doubled in size to eight students.
In the next five years, the student body grew steadily. The high school classes became overcrowded, and the need for new school became evident. This new building, which is now the old section containing the faculty room and the library, was completed in time for 27 members of the 1931 graduating class to hold commencement exercises there.
The four-room structure was converted to service grades one through six. This building served as the Rising Sun Elementary until Jan. 5, 1958, when the current Rising Sun Elementary was built.
According to Mr. William C. Graham, principal of Rising Sun High School from 1938 to 1952, RSHS had an enrollment of 180 students and a faculty of nine teachers when he became principal. The students were limited to general and academic schedules with no electives. Home economics, industrial arts, and French were added in the 1930's. Most students and faculty members brought their lunches and ate in the home economics rooms. The Home Economics teacher and her students also prepared soup and sandwiches for those who wanted to purchase lunch.
The principal's office was located in the small room currently used by the athletic director. The guidance office was located in the bookroom next to Mr. Swisher's room. The gym was located in the present library. Because dancing was not allowed until the late 40s, some students tried to dance in the gym while the principal and other faculty members were not around.
Teachers in the 1930s made about $105 dollars per month; the principal in 1938, Mr. Graham, reportedly made $2,200 a year. Teachers were expected to live in the community to make themselves more available to help students. There were no snow days. Because there were 28 one-room school houses in the mid-1930s, most students were able to walk to school. Even in severe weather, those teachers who made it to school would teach those students who could come.
Those who lived too far away to walk rode crude buses to school, many made out of old trucks. There were no heaters and, in many cases, no doors. Curtains were used to cover openings where students entered and exited the buses.
Some of the stories told by former students seem to prove the old saying that "kids will always be kids." According to the now older and wiser alumni, students who wanted to sneak a smoke ventured across the street to a cemetery and hid behind the tombstones. Tired of the soup and sandwich menu, they often went uptown to get something better to eat and sometimes "got lost" and failed to return for the afternoon.
Because of the growing enrollment in the late 1940s, a new addition was planned and completed in l951. When construction was finished, the main office and guidance offices, the wings now known as the seventh and eighth grade halls, the combination gym and auditorium, the cafeteria, and the science wing were added. Looking out of the library window, a student in the 50s and early 60s would have seen an open breezeway leading down to the parking lot.
The northwest addition which currently houses the business, home economics, shop and art classes was added in 1966.
Editor's Note: Mary Ellen Eller is a retired English teacher at Rising Sun High School.