Our House

The Dille's

Thanks to everyone who read the article in the February 10th Souderton Independent. I appreciate the feedback. I have scheduled interviews with several former students. Look for a site update early in March.


This page is where you can learn more about our house, its history and what we have done to it.


Our house was originally a one room school house located on Cowpath road in Franconia township. It was built in 1900 as stated on the limestone plaque located on the front of the house. The plaque says the original or official title was "Indianfield Public School" but in some of the local literature I have seen it referred to as Cowpath school and perhaps Barndt school. Click here to see a typical class picture. I am not sure what date the picture was taken, but I know it is between 1900 and 1941. I find it interesting that the school is integrated way back then. Also, the teacher does not look much older than the kids.

I am very interested in learning more about the school, the people that went there and how the school worked in general. I was able to learn a quite a lot from Mr. Harold Fly who went there in the early 40's. At that time there was about 50 total students from 1st to 6th grade and only one teacher. The teacher managed all 50 kids by leveraging the fact that the older kids could work with the younger ones keeping them in order and actually working with the younger kids on their lessons. The class day was very orderly and they marched in and out of the class to music played on a wind up Victorola. The older kids also had the chore of fetching water from the Allebach farm up the road and stoking the coal stove in the basement. The class also decorated the room for the seasons and had a Christmas tree in December.

In January 1999 I had the pleasure of talking with Martha (Heany) Yoder who was a student in at the school from 1937 until it closed and the class was moved to the Franconia consolidated school. The school provided grades 1-8. Martha spent just one week in first grade and was promoted to second grade which was more appropriate for her. The teacher sat in the front of the room with her desk on the stage that was in front of the class room. The American flag sat to the teacher's right. There was a trap door to service the coal stove in the cellar on her left. The class room was filled with double desks aranged in rows with an aisle down the middle. The students were grouped by grades in the rows. Grades 1-4 were to the teacher's right of the aisle, grades 5-8 were to the teacher's left. Grades 1 and 5 in the front and grades 4 and 8 in the back. A border showing upper and lower case letters was across the top of the black board. A picture of George Washington, and perhaps Abe Lincon hung on the walls. There were some sort of shelves for lunch pails and a facility for storing coats, but she could not remember the details. She did show me her dad's old lunch pail, which did look just like a small oval pail. There was an outhouse in the back of the school. It had two stalls and was made of brick. The teacher during Martha's time was Marie Barndt. This may be why the school is sometimes referred to as Barndt's school.

Martha described some of the typical happenings at the school. The school day ran from 8:30 to 3:00. The student body was a mix of kids from the area. Many were kids from the local farms. Some were orphans that were living under foster care. School life was not always idyllic. Little girls did get their pig tails dunked in the ink wells. Recess sometimes got rough. Fights among the boys in the playground were common. The teacher had to become the school nurse. Some of the older kids had to drop out of school to help on the family farm.

Martha did well in school and went on to finish high school. She was kind enough to let me put a copy of her forth grade report card on my site. You can have a look at Martha's report card pages 1 and 4, pages 2 and 3. I find the notes to the parents on page 4 most interesting. It is also interesting to see the students were graded from A to E.

Built in 1900, I believe this was one of the last 1 room schools to be built in the area as the schools I have seen of later construction were multi-room affairs. Comparing it to other 1 room schools it is of typical construction for the time. It is built of brick on a stone foundation. The school was heated by a coal stove in the basement which was accessed via a trap door in the center of the room. The original ceiling was about 10 feet high. There were three large windows on each side and two under the front porch. There were no windows on the back wall where the black board was located and the teacher had a small stage to teach from.

There was a larger than usual bell tower above the entrance that sat on its own three-sided foundation. (The typical one room school house had a smaller tower that sat on the roof framing.) The bell tower foundation also had a 3 foot round window. I believe the base of the bell tower made a light shaft so the light from the round window would enter the class room. The rope for ringing the bell would have hung down in the light shaft near the front door. There were shelves and a coat closet near the door for school supplies, lunch pails and coats in the winter. I believe there was a boys and girls out house in what is now our back yard.

In 1941 the school board closed the Indianfield Public School and other small schools in the area and opened the doors to the Franconia Consolidated School. The new school had 400 students in grades 1-8. This school is now known as Franconia Elementary school and has 550 students. Our house was sold to David D. Derstine on January 21, 1942 as indicated on the plot plan. I believe the house was an investment for Mr. Derstine and he turned it into a rental property. The renovations included removing the bell tower. ( I am sure the original was in sad shape by that time.) They also removed the 10 foot ceiling and lowered it more than a foot by cutting pockets in the brick walls and lowering the joists. This gave just enough room for two bed rooms. Stairs were installed to the new second floor. Two small window dormers were placed in the roof to let light and air in. A double hung window was put in the back wall and the round window was removed as well as the limestone plaque to make way for a double hung window in the front of the house under the former bell tower.

Down stairs the middle window on the street side was removed and replaced with a door. This window was relocated to the back wall where the black board used to be. A well was placed in the back yard near the wall and the house had water on site for the first time! One of the windows to the basement was removed and replaced with walk in steps. A concrete floor was poured in the basement to make it useable space.

The house was rented until David Derstine decided to retire in the late 60's. At that time he offered the house to his grandson Mr. Leslie Swartley. Mr. Derstine also owned a stone quarry on the other side of Telford known as D. D. Derstine's quarry where he had used the old school bell to ring out the warning for the blasting. Since he was retiring he offered to return the bell to the house. Les accepted and the bell ended up on display in front of the house. The limestone plaque was also returned to the house after spending 25 years as a stepping stone in his grandmother's garden. The plaque was left on display in various parts of the property.

Les lived there for a while with his family and did several improvements. The biggest was the installation of a large shed dormer on the rear of the second floor. This allowed the addition of several more windows for ventilation and made the upstairs much bigger. He also added a second full bath upstairs.

In 1980 Les sold the house to Wayne and Donna Mugrauer. Which is when this aerial photograph was taken. The Mugrauers raised three children in the in the 8 years they lived here. In 1987 they sold the house to Ernest and Nellie Zigler so they could move into a larger house across the street. Ernest and Nellie only lived here a year before selling it to us. They loved the house but the upkeep on an 89 year old building and its landscaping was more than they planned for in their retirement.

Patti and I purchased the house in the spring of 1989. Here is how the house looked from the back yard where the rear dormer is located. This picture shows the front of the house where the poor workmanship on the removal of the round window and the plaque and the installation of the double hung window can be seen. The basement door was also in sad shape as the wooden door was rotten and the side wall had split and shifted. My goal for the house was to restore some of the simple splendor it had as a school while maintaining its livability.

Before I could work on the aesthetics I had to attend to a few functional details. As part of the settlement I had a deeper well dug in the front of the house. The next summer I had a 1250 gallon septic tank installed. In the fall of 1990 I put in a 200 amp electric service. This made the house mechanically sound.

During the winter of 1992 I took the class photo that Harold Fly loaned me and had the bell bell tower section enlarged. This allowed me to use the bricks of the house to carefully make a scale drawing of the front facade and the bell tower. I also used this old photo to figure out how the top of the chimney used to look. In 1992 I hired Rodney Rettstadt, a local mason to help me restore the front of the house, chimney and basement door. He had great experience working with old brick buildings and he would allow me to put sweat equity into the restoration.

The basement door was repaired by digging out the broken wall and placing drainage stone next to it so would not freeze in the winter. Rodney then built a new, stronger wall in its place and I capped it off with a new steel door and a small roof so the angle was better. Rodney showed me how to use the small angle grinder to remove the old mortar and I went to town for hours and hours removing the mortar from all of the joints on the front so he could repoint them. I also removed about 100 bricks that were spalled and broken.

Rodney removed the old double hung window and installed a 3 foot round window in its place. Talk about putting a round peg in a square hole. He matched up the missing old bricks with new ones from a variety of production lots. I had the limestone plaque refinished to remove years of etching at a stone shop. This was placed back where it belonged after being away for 60 years. Here is what the outside looked like now. The round window looked much more in place on the front of the house. The inside now looked much better than it did before. Patti and I enjoy the new window. It is fun to watch the round bit of sunlight move around the room during the day.

The next phase was the restoration of the bell tower proper. The original rope that operated the bell would have fallen through our master bed room, so this could not be used. During the window restoration I took the opportunity to run a pipe down the wall to eventually carry a cable to operate the bell from a pull on the front porch.

In the fall of 1994 I started to make a reproduction of the bell tower. Using the enlarged picture of the bell tower section and actual measurements of the building I made a scale drawing of the tower. I had to guess at the construction for the parts that I could not see. I made a preliminary list of material and figured that I would have about 2000 lb. (900 kg) of material in the bell tower. Once it was designed I had to figure how to construct it. There were three choices

A Build the whole thing in place.

B Build sub assemblies on the ground and assemble them on the house.

C Build the entire tower on the ground and have it lifted up as a unit.

Option C was the only viable choice. Building it on top of the house would be quite dangerous and difficult. Even if I made sub assemblies they would be very heavy and it would be difficult to lift them up a ladder. Both methods would also leave the roof of the house open for a considerable amount of time. Assembling in the yard and having a crane lift it would leave the roof open for the minimum time and it would let me work only a few feet off the ground. I would have to make provisions in the design to allow for it to be lifted.

The project started by making up 12 large columns out of 1x8 pine. These were assembled with biscuits and then primed inside and out. I then made a square frame of 2x12 treated lumber that would serve as a sill plate for the tower. I built a plywood box on the sill. The columns were then screwed and glued to the box to make the lower assembly. All of the columns had an upper and lower vent to prevent moisture buildup. I used 1/2" threaded rod trough the columns to clamp he top plate to the sill plate. This would allow me to lift the completed structure from the top plate.

While I was making the bell tower I took the opportunity to rebuild the bell. I took the bell assembly apart and had it sand blasted. I replaced the 94 year old fasteners with stainless ones and made new rubber dampers for the clapper to replace the leather ones that had disintegrated. I painted the bell bronze and the cradles black. With the help of my neighbor Brad Landis and his tractor I placed the refurbished bell into the cradles that I found in the garage which had been mounted to the bell tower base.

The roof framing was quite a challenge since it was a hipped roof with two angles and decorative exposed rafters. It was also my first attempt at roof framing. Each of the rafters was attached to top plate with metal plates in addition to the nails. With the help of my brother-in-law Bill Burdick, I sheathed the roof. Each piece required a real odd cut to fit the roof shape. Shingling the roof was a real chore too because of its shape. There are only 4 whole shingles on the roof, one on each side. All of the rest of the shingles had to be cut. I used copper step flashing to cover the shingle edges where they met on the edges.

One of the more important features of the tower would be the weather vane. The only photos that I had of the bell tower stopped short of the very top. I figured that since it was a school house the weather vane would not be too fancy. As I drove around I surveyed the weather vanes on old buildings. I learned that farms had fancy vanes with cows, roosters or other decoration on them and directional indicators. Churches just had a plain vane with no directionals and schools fell in between with a plain arrow and directionals. I purchased a plain copper weathervane locally and made a copper base which emulated the part I could see in the old photo. I made the weathervane removable so I could place it on top after the tower was in place on the house.

I had to make a temporary cradle for the crane to lift by so the tower could be lifted. I made this out of 2x12 lumber and designed it so the weight of the tower would keep it together. Only a few drywall screws were needed to keep it in place before the lift. The big day was December 2nd 1994. I was very lucky as the weather was clear and about 60 degrees. The crane arrived around 10:00 am and proceeded to get set up. Jim, the operator, looked the situation over and pronounced "this will work" with amazing confidence. The crane put down 4 outriggers with stop sign sized pads on the bottom. These lifted the whole crane up about 6" so it was hanging with its wheels in the air.

After one practice lift and some readjustment of the slings the crane was able to pick the tower up and move it precisely. Once the slings were in place I climbed up on the roof and stood in the place where the tower would go so I could guide it into place as it came down. Communication was difficult because of the noise of the engine. I have since learned that crane operators have a fairly standard set of hand signals. On the first try the tower hit the existing roof and would not sit straight. Jim picked the tower up and I trimmed 1/2" off the roof. On the second try it fit perfectly. Jim had the crane packed up and ready to go in a jiffy, he even took a moment to say hi to our son Joey who was taking his morning nap. All tolled the Jim and the crane spent just 45 minutes at my house.

With the tower in place there was still a lot of details to complete. I had to put on the trim band to cover the joint where the tower rested on the house, flash the roof joints and place the weathervane. Putting the weathervane on was tricky since I had to get on a ladder on the top of the roof. On December 3rd the weather was unseasonably nice and I got to install the cable for the bell. It felt great to ring the bell on the completed tower after over 50 years. The house looked great too! Especially when it had a 7 foot snowman in front of it. We celebrated with a champagne and bell ringing party in January 1995. Former student Harold Fly was kind enough to come and sing "School Days" for us.

Ring Bell Please take a moment and ring the bell for yourself.

Adding the bell tower was one of the most satisfying projects that I have done. It makes the house look complete again and many people have complimented me on it. On August 30th 1995 it was featured along with other local school houses in the living section of the Souderton Independent. In 1996 I got the ultimate compliment when local artist, Tom Miller approached me to ask if he could draw our house as a one of the six school houses he was commissioned to draw for Pennview Savings Bank's 100th anniversary. Once completed the drawing of our house was the one featured in the bank advertisements.

Our house as it looks now.


I would love to learn more about the history of the house when it was an active school. Please E-Mail if you can help.


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