The Old Schoolhouse in Mount Holly, NJ was built for one thing – education. And over 260 years later, that founding purpose remains as strong as it was in 1759. A visit to the oldest one room schoolhouse in New Jersey still standing on its original site is to take a step way back in time.
On September 21, 1759, a group of 21 Mount Holly men banded together to buy land and build a schoolhouse for the education of the town’s youth. Over time, these men made quite a mark on their town: they were among the founders of St. Andrew’s Church in 1742; they organized the Brittania Fire Company in 1752; and, in 1765, they became charter members of the Mount Holly Library Company.
At the time of the school’s founding, education was casual and perhaps a bit haphazard. Classes for children—if they happened at all—were usually held in private homes, such as the schoolmaster’s house or the home of an important private citizen. The Old Schoolhouse is significant because it was a built exclusively for the act of learning. The schoolmaster, by custom, billed a parent directly for “schooling thy child”.
The Female Benevolent Society was deeded the school in 1815, at which point they proposed to teach “in a public school, all the poor children of Mount Holly and its vicinity gratis.” Thus, the school became a free public school thirty-three years before the establishment of the public school system in New Jersey.
In the twenty-first century, the long history of education continues. Groups of fourth grade students visit the schoolhouse for an experience in colonial education practices, led by a costumed instructor. Students may miss their calculators when asked to work eighteenth-century math problems on slabs of slate. And they can forget textbooks and the internet – reading from traditional horn books is in order at the Old Schoolhouse.