The Franklinville School

The Wissahickon Valley Historic Society has completed the first phase of its renovations to Whitpain Township’s Franklinville School, and the society is seeking donations for further work.

The 1858 Franklinville School is the only remaining one-room schoolhouse in the area that will be open to the public. Others have become private residences or have been torn down.

The school is located on Morris Road and was once part of the historic Normandy Farms.

The Franklinville School is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its role, not only as a school, but as an early 20th-century community center. Thousands assembled there each summer for community picnics.

The start of the renovation project, which began earlier this year, included a new electrical panel, improved drainage, and waterproofing of the foundation. 

Initial funding was obtained primarily through a $20,000 PA legislative grant, offered by the Keystone Communities Program, and made available through Representative Liz Hanbidge. Individual donors have also supported the project.

Several essential renovations are still planned for the school, including rewiring, a new roof, new HVAC, rebuilding the front and back porches, and painting, inside and out.

The work is important to ensuring the integrity of the structure and to making it accessible to visitors. When all the renovations are complete, the building, furnished as a 19th century, one-room classroom, will be used to educate students and the community about the history and customs of our area. 

To complete the renovations, fund-raising continues. “We certainly appreciate every donation, large or small, and we will make sure each one is recognized publically,” said Joe Langella, WVHS vice president. “The contributions are important because we still have much costly work to do! In addition, when we preserve historic buildings, we enhance our neighborhoods.”

Donations of any size can be made online at www.wvalleyhs.org  or by mail to WVHS, P.O. Box 96, Ambler, PA  19002.

The Wissahickon Valley Historical Society promotes and preserves the history of Ambler Borough, Whitpain Township, and Lower Gwynedd Township. Its headquarters and museum are located in Blue Bell at the historic 1895 Public School. The society welcomes new members.

The Franklinville School, c. 1990s after renovations

The Franklinville School c. 1858 is a white stucco one-room schoolhouse on an acre of ground, located at 1701 Morris Road, Blue Bell, between Normandy Farms Estates and the Windermere Community.  It is the only one-room schoolhouse open to the public in Whitpain Township.

Map of Whitpain Township School Districts, 1871

In 1858, the residents of Franklinville Village felt the educational needs of their children were being neglected.  The Whitpain Township School Directors responded by building the Franklinville School, which operated as a one-room schoolhouse from 1858 to 1916. 

Franklinville School Students in 1892, Miss Miller, Teacher

The Franklinville School closed in 1916 when the Whitpain Consolidated School, 775 W. Skippack Pike, Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, now known as the Blue Bell Korean Presbyterian Church, was completed.  By then the Franklinville School had become somewhat neglected over the years and might have fallen into ruin if Ralph Beaver Strassburger, the owner of the Norristown Times Herald newspaper and Normandy Farms, had not purchased the schoolhouse in 1917.  

Ralph Beaver Strassburger and his wife May Bourne Strassburger were passionate about saving local history and decided to repurpose the schoolhouse.  The Strassburger’s used the schoolhouse as a private school for their only child Peter, born in 1916, and called it Peter’s School House.

Postcard of Peter’s School House, Normandy Farms circa 1920, formerly known as Franklinville School

The Strassburger’s recognized the site could be used for other purposes and they made the schoolhouse and grounds a place for many local, social and cultural events.  People came from all over the county for a great feast and entertainment.  Those who had horses rode or came in carriages.  Others came by trolley or even by “shanks’ mare” (walking).

The most important and the major reason why the property is on the National Register of Historic Places was the Strassburgers’ creation in 1925 of the incredibly popular local history organization, The Fifty Year Club of Montgomery County.  Anyone who had lived in the county for at least fifty years and also subscribed to the Strassburger-owned Norristown Times Herald could belong. 

The Fifty Year Club medal received by members

The local history celebrations ended when Ralph Strassburger died in 1959. 

By the early 1980’s, May Strassburger and her son, Peter, were unable to maintain all of their many properties.  The schoolhouse was in disrepair and, as parcels of Normandy Farms were being sold off, it appeared the schoolhouse would be lost.  Fortunately, a group of Whitpain citizens, who cared about local history, formed the Historical Society of Whitpain in 1983 and began restoring the schoolhouse.  In 1997 the schoolhouse was acquired by the Historical Society of Whitpain. 

The Franklinville School, c.1983

The restored interior of the Franklinville School was furnished by the Historical Society of Whitpain to resemble a 19th century school.

Restored interior, c. 2000

The Franklinville School has been a community staple for years serving as a meeting place for social clubs, community events, school field trips, historical society open houses and other public functions.  The Franklinville School was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in December 2014.  The Historical Society of Whitpain merged with the Wissahickon Valley Historical Society in January 2015.

Scheduled Open Houses at the Franklinville School are listed in the Events Calendar.  Private tours may also be scheduled by contacting the WVHS directly.  

The Franklinville School is not handicap accessible and does not have heat, air conditioning or running water.  Parking is in front of the white wooden fence on Morris Road with the entrance to the left of the fence.

The registration (application) for the Franklinville School to be added to the National Register of Historic Places contains details about the structure and its history. The document is 61 pages long.  The bibliography begins on page 16, and the last 25 pages include maps or photographs.  (Allow several minutes for them to download.) 

Franklinville School NRHP nomination

Wissahickon Valley Historical Society is a certified 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization