Nearly 50 years ago, Tom Donmoyer helped channel the energy of students at Northern Lebanon High School into a positive direction. Today, the fruits of the students – and Donmoyer’s – labor stands proudly on the grounds of Fort Indiantown Gap, in the form of a fully refurbished Lindley Murray School.
The school will be opened for tours every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in August from noon to 4 p.m. It’s a chance for the public to see inside this self-contained time capsule to an age when education was very different, and it’s the first time the school has been open since 2019 when more than 300 people attended – a record year for both attendance and donations.
Money raised during the open house goes towards East Hanover Township’s maintenance of the property and insurance costs.
Named after a Harper Tavern native who left an immense educational impact, Lindley Murray School was one of the last one-room schoolhouses to still be used as such in Lebanon County, serving that purpose into the early 1940s. At that point, the military purchased the land and began to use it as a paint shop.
Fast forward some 30 years and Donmoyer, then a government and history teacher for juniors and seniors at Northern Lebanon, had the idea of restoring a one-room school house. After a couple of false starts, Donmoyer asked if the military reservation might allow Lindley Murray to be used for the restoration project, and they eventually agreed to the idea. Today the school is rented by East Hanover Township from the state for $1 annually, and is made available to a local group for the public tours.
Donmoyer said that the project received pivotal support from a number of sources, most importantly the students who took the idea and ran with it, helping to fundraise for the effort through slide presentations to local civic groups.
Donmoyer also credited the late Sally Walmer who had attended Lindley Murray in the 1890s. Walmer had a “fabulous” mind, said Donmoyer, and gave the restoration team a breakdown of exactly how things were setup when the building was a schoolhouse, like the location of the chimney (which had been moved by the Gap when the building was a paint shop) or the setup of the desks.
Walmer even kept her homework and test papers from the 1890s, materials now on display inside the schoolhouse.
“We wanted to restore it exactly as she said,” said Donmoyer, noting that the portrait of Washington ended up being the most expensive item procured for the project. Washington’s portrait, Donmoyer explained, was always hung alongside Lincoln’s portrait at the front of the room.
Donmoyer even secured a large pot belly stove with a skirt around it – a metal shield that protected students from the actual stove – through a donation from a Fredericksburg church which was being torn down.
“The thing that I feel is so unique about a one-room school – you weren’t just students, it was almost like family,” said Donmoyer. “You were all neighbors, you knew each other.”
The school open house is organized by the Golden ’50s group, which was founded by the late Wayne Anspach and the late Herman Heck. When Anspach passed away a few years ago, Vernon Schriver took over the organization of the annual tour events.
Schriver said that if the event is advertised in the Merchandise he expects attendance to be good. “You gotta advertise it in the Merchandiser, and if they advertise it in the Merchandiser, the people come,” said Schriver. “If you want to advertise today, that’s the way to advertise.”
Sundays are typically the most popular day to visit, said Schriver.
Schriver said that he and other volunteers were out at the school on Saturday, July 9, to begin cleaning it up for the tours – mostly dusting things off.
Also available for purchase during the tours will be Wayne Anspach’s book, “One Room Schools in East Hanover, Union, Swatara, North Annville, North Londonderry, and Surrounding Townships.”
Both Schriver and Donmoyer themselves attended one-room schoolhouses, although not the Murray school. Schriver attended the Harrison School and Donmoyer attended the Webster School.
“When people go into the school, it brings back memories,” said Donmoyer. “When the public goes in, hopefully they ask questions of the volunteers, because they have a lot of really nice memories.”
“That’s what it’s for – the public to see, and some to reminisce.”
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