Note: On the corner of Shafers Schoolhouse Road and Business 209, just outside of Stroudsburg, sits Grace Chapel. Also known as Shafer’s School House, a name held over from its past, the chapel has a prominent place in Monroe County history.
In 1900, John S. Biesecker of Brooklyn took a look at the early history of this rural Pennsylvania schoolhouse, which had been recently restored by a group of local residents. His finding were published the Stroudsburg Daily Record:
Landmark of the County
History of the Famous Structure Recently Restored.
This a story of famous Shafer’s school house. It is of great interest to natives of Monroe county, who will undoubtedly prize the accompanying picture which shows the building before and after the restoration. The landmark was erected in 1823 and restored in 1899.
Mr. John S. Biesecker, of Brooklyn, who is mainly responsible for the restoration gives the following history of the school house, which lies a few miles outside of this town.
The early history of Shafer’s school house is woven about the personal history of Philip Shafer, the donor of the school house and cemetery lots that to tell what is known about him is necessary in giving its history.
Philip Shafer was born in or near Heidelberg, Germany, in 1760, and with his father, Matthias Shafer and sister Catherine, emigrated to America and located on a large tract of land, his father purchased in this locality, some of the tract being bought direct from the Penns.
On the hill just north of the school house a little in from the angle of the public road and lane leading into the Biesecker homestead, Philip, the lad, and his father erected their first cabin, which, traditions says, had neither doors nor windows, only loop holes from which a look out could be kept and rifles fired.
The entrance was through an opening under the sill over which a large stone was rolled when all were safety in. This was undoubtedly true, as the whole surface now which this cabin stood is to this day a solid bed of stones, which were laid into the foundation with great care. This was done so as to make it difficult for hostile Indians to dig under the cabin in time of attack.
From this house, the sister Catherine was, a few years before the Revolutionary war carried away by the Indians. As far as known, she was never heard of afterward. That this cabin was frequently attacked the number of arrow heads found by the writer and others in the vicinity will attest.
Philip and his father held out against these attacks and continued to subdue the forests, and on January 1st, 1781, according to the muster roll, certified to by Col. Jacob Stroud, and sworn to by Captain Henry Shoemaker, Jan. 11, 1781 (the document now in the possession of John E. Shafer, a great grand son living in Scranton, Pa.,) was enrolled in the service of the United States as private Revolutionary solider in Captain Henry Shoemaker’s company at Fort Penn, Stroudsburg.
Having fought valiantly and well his country’s battles, he returned to his old home and married Ann Maria Lor, the fruits of this marriage being six children:
Susanna, the eldest, born July 20, 1786, died, Dec. 14, 1856, married John Rause; Eve married John Everheart; Anne C., born July 4, 1789, died, Aug. 24, 1861, married Col. John Huston; Mary, born Dec. 17, 1790, died Aug. 18, 1842, married Wm. Mosteller; Adam, born April 6, 1795, died May 2, 1875, married Mary Buskirk, and Philip, born April 22, 1801, died April 2nd, 1887, married Phoebe Phillips.
All these except Eve (Mrs. John Everhart) settled in homes on the original tract purchased by the grandfather or adjacent to it and reared large families. All except Eve are buried in the Shafer’s cemetery adjoining the school house grounds.
Matthias, the father of Philip, is said to have reached the aged of 105 years and is buried on a hill of the Biesecker homestead about two hundred yards from the site of his first cabin.
Philip appeared to have been imbued with the spirit of education, born in him through his Heidelberg ancestry. He took delight in teaching his children, but when he reached the age of 60 years and seeing his grandchildren about him, and others in the neighborhood who needed schooling, he, on January 1st, 1821, set aside and deeded in trust to his son Adam, and son-in-law Col. John Huston, Jr., the school house lot, as per deed recorded August 25th, 1823, at Easton in and for the county of Northampton, Pennsylvania, in Deed Book H, vol. 4 pages 116, etc. Also cemetery lot in trust to another son-in-law, William Mosteller, and Jacob Wolfinger, as per deed recorded Nov. 19, 1839, Deed book C. vol. 5, page 170, etc.
Associated with Philip Shafer, his sons and son-in-law in the movement were the families of John Ernest Kern, John Kunkle, Jacob Lesh, the Storms, the Shoemakers and in fact all the families in a large radius of county. Although the lot was conveyed Jan. 1, 1821, enough money for the erection of the school house had not been pledged to warrant going ahead with the project till the summer of 1823. The material was mostly given by Philip Shafer, and was hauled together by the neighbors who names have already been mentioned, and the two hundred and fifty dollars of a cash that was subscribed was paid out for the mason and carpenter work on the building. The plan was combined school house and church. Col. John Huston, Jr. was the committee on building. On a warm night in August, 1823, at eleven o’clock p.m., he appeared at the residence of David Edinger, at Kemmerertown, Hamilton township, called him up and made the contract for building the wall of the school house, which was started a few days later and rapidly carried to completion. The writer of this article, who is a grandson of the aforementioned David Edinger, had the pleasure to see the account in the time book used when the school house was building.
That the work was well done, the old wall itself bore evidence when the recent restoration took place.
The first school session was during the winter of 1823 or 1824, as all the old records were lost or destroyed, it is impossible for me to state the name of the first teacher.
This place was noted for its well taught and progressive schools both before and after the adoption of the public school system. The teacher of early days most talked was Mr. Hasbrouck, a man considerable above the average county school teacher, a good Latin scholar and severe disciplinarian. Owing to space I can mention the names of but a few of the teachers. Those yet living remember James Gannon, Sara Hasbrouck and Seth Nicholson. Charlton Burnett, Abel Storm, J.D. Shafer, Isaac Teeter, men now advanced in years, taught here. Those teaching while the writer attended school at this place were Lizzie Garris, Patrick Clark, Nathan Lesh, John Willis Ransbury, Omar Huston, being the last teacher after which the building was abandoned for school purposes. From the erection in 1823, for 30 years or over the English and German Lutherans and Reformed congregations met here, and carried on their services, having keep a regular book of records which were destroyed by neglect.
About 1866 to 1870, a Rev. Hembright and Rev. Leopold, of the Evangelical church, often preached at this place. About this time Henry R. Biesecker, assisted by Geo, Snyder and others, started a series of revival meetings, at which scores sought and found the Saviour, a Methodist society was formed and was an appointment of the Cherry Valley Circuit. I remember Frederick Illman, W.F. Howell, Sam’l Risener, Geo. Shafer, Mr. Brady and Amos Johnson, Rev. Brady, being the last in charge. The first Sunday school was organized by Benjamin Dungan in 1846, who as superintendent successfully carried it on for a number of years, till succeeded by his son, Charles Dungan, as superintendent. After him came Geo. Snyder, who is said to have prayed for twenty years for a revival there. His prayers were answered in 1867-1868 when the revival already referred to took place. In the spring of 1868 Henry R. Biesecker was elected superintendent and for an number of years was found in that capacity; Andrew Houck was the last superintendent.
1879 found the building abandoned as a school and church. The Bible which had been bought by public subscription collected by Mrs. Julia Ann Kunkle, wife of Peter Kunkle, was taken charge of in 1879 by Mrs. Catherine J. Biesecker (daughter of David Edinger, who laid the wall) and returned by her to the restored school house, Oct. 1st, 1899, 12 days before her death, she having kept it for the 22 years, returning it in perfect state of preservation, thus while the years of neglect was carrying the school house to ruins, the Word of God was protected.
Year by year the condition of this place became worse and worse until many considered it beyond redemption. The movement started July 4th, 1899, tells its own story. There is now a regenerated, a restored school house, men and women are again flocking to this, the shrine of our forefathers, to the meetings being held and souls are being borne into the kingdom of God.
Thus the idea of the founders, as a centre of education and religion is being perpetuated and God will surely bless every one entering or interested in this hallowed old place.