The earliest form of education in Delaware was a colonial version of what is now called home schooling. Children learned only as much
as their parents knew unless they lived in a village fortunate enough to have an educated resident willing to be a tutor. Money was scarce
and tutors often traded their teaching skills for food and lodging or whatever products farm families could provide. Some villages elected leaders to interview and recruit a teacher from places such as Harvard or Yale. Wealthy families sent their children away to boarding schools but this was not an option for most children of farmers and tradesmen. Judge Willard Hall described conditions in Delaware in 1803:
The teachers frequently were intemperate, whose qualification seemed
to be inability to earn anything in any other way. … But even in the best
neighborhoods, teachers of the young frequently were immoral and
incapable; and in the country generally there was either a school of the
worst character or no school at all.
The one-room, one-teacher schoolhouses built in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s were the first attempts to organize and improve rural
education. They were originally numerous, ideally placed no more than two miles from any center of population, two miles being the
accepted distance a small child could be expected to walk.
The New Castle County School Convention Report of September 2, 1849 lists four schoolhouses in Pencader. One is described as being
eighteen by twenty-four feet, a second, twenty by thirty feet, the third simply as “incommodious”, and the fourth had, “no report from school committee, but it is represented by two respectable school voters of the district, to be in deplorable condition.”
Pencader Historic Area has lost several of these one-room schoolhouses as a result of road improvements, construction, and sometimes nothing more than time and decay taking a toll on neglected wooden structures. Fortunately, some of the later buildings continued to be occupied long after the children left to attend larger consolidated schools. Four of these reminders of the early Pencader schools are within the Pencader Historic Area: Iron Hill School, Number 112 C, Pleasant Valley School, Number 92, Columbia School, Number 103, and Glasgow School, Number 56. Unfortunately, the school named after the area, Welsh Tract School, Number 54, failed to survive highway expansion. Pleasant Valley School, built in 1869, is located on the southeast corner of Old Baltimore Pike and Pleasant Valley Road and is now a private residence. Built for
white children, the minimum enrollment in 1921-1922 was eighteen students.
Glasgow School dates back to January 27, 1803, when an act was passed to incorporate trustees of “Glasgow Grammar School, in
the County of New Castle.” John Hyatt, William Cooch, Jacob Faris, Solomon Underwood and Robert Middleton were trustees authorized to take subscriptions. Also a white school, the enrollment for 1921-1922 was twenty-seven students. The building is located on the west side of South College Avenue in Glasgow, a section of road bypassed by the new Route 896 highway, and is privately owned.
The building date for Columbia Schoolhouse, Number 103, is still undetermined. Listed in 1911, it later appears on a 1919 map of the
State of Delaware and was no longer in use by 1923, when a deed states it was sold for two hundred dollars. The present owners recall
a family member finding schoolbooks dated 1892 behind the old walls during renovations. Unfortunately, they were not preserved. Some historians have suggested the building was moved from another site; it presently sits on a stone foundation. It does not appear on the attendance chart of 1921-1922, which suggests it was no longer in use at that time. It is presently privately owned.
The Iron Hill School located on the north side of Old Baltimore Pike at the foot of Iron Hill is the second structure to occupy the site. The earlier school was evidently located to the west of the present building as is evidenced by the remains of a foundation. This structure was purchased
and moved to Route 40 by the Grinnage family of Glasgow, who occupied it for several years. Mr. E. O. Grinnage and William T. Grinnage served as School Commissioners for Iron Hill and Williamsburg Schools respectively. The original schoolhouse is no longer in existence.
Pierre du Pont built the present Iron Hill School for the black children in 1923 as part of his effort to improve the quality of schools and education in the State of Delaware. Presently serving as the Iron Hill Museum of Natural History, the one room schoolhouse is visited by over ten thousand students a year. Outdoor programs give the children a chance to explore and examine the remnants of a once thriving iron industry.
Plans are underway to restore the schoolhouse and build a new museum nearby to preserve the heritage and artifacts of rapidly developing Pencader Hundred.