Just a few miles from Hawley and White Mills in Wayne County, Pa. is the old agricultural community of Swamp Brook. Identified today by the name of its principal road, the spot where generations of farm kids learned their A-B-C’s is now a corner of a grassy field.

BERLIN TWP. - Just a few miles from Hawley and White Mills in Wayne County, Pa. is the old agricultural community of Swamp Brook. Identified today by the name of its principal road, the spot where generations of farm kids learned their A-B-C’s is now a corner of a grassy field. For decades this was the site of Swamp Brook School.

Located in southern Berlin Township, closely Palmyra Township, most people may know of the area by a golf course referred to as Cricket Hill. The school was nearby, at the corner of Swamp Brook Road and Cricket Hill Road.

Dorothy (Schmitt) Kieff is well familiar with the spot. Like several other families at Swamp Brook, her family goes back several generations (to 1852) in that section. She still lives at the homestead, only a stone’s throw from where the school sat. Swamp Brook School closed before she was born but she remembers the one-room schoolhouse well.

Instead, in 1947 she started classes at Bethel School, another one room, one-teacher school a few miles away Berlin Township. She went there for her first five years of schooling, when Bethel also was shut down.

School No. 7

Swamp Brook School was erected soon after the school directors of Berlin Township purchased the corner lot from Ferdinand and Anna Schmitt (Mrs. Kieff’s great-great uncle and his wife) in October 1868. The school board paid $20.00.

The 1872 township map shows the school, plotted as “School No. 7.”

Hundreds of children in the Swamp Brook area received eight years of education there, until the school closed down in 1933. That was sufficient for many families of that period; some went to school for far less. They learned their reading, writing and arithmetic, and returned to work on the farm or marry and raise their own family. Those desiring further education would need to attend the high school in White Mills (opened before 1895) which was the closest, or Honesdale (1875) or Beach Lake (1913). (They were not sent to Hawley High School.)

At one time Swamp Brook School was referred to as “Rock Branch” due to a perennially dry creek that originates in a rocky ledge a few hundred feet from the school and leads to Swamp Brook.

There were numerous teachers serving at Swamp Brook, many staying only a year or two. They boarded at nearby homes. Female teachers were required to be unmarried.

Horace Budd, however, was a male teacher who served in 1901-1902. He taught 48 students. Herman J. Schmitt started teaching at age 18, the next school year.

Some other teachers that followed included M. Regina O’Neill, Anna M. Schmitt, Agnes Smith and Teresa L. Maloney.

Miss Maloney’s account

An account of Miss Maloney’s teaching career at local one-room schools was shared several years ago by her daughter, Mrs. Florence Southerton, of Honesdale. In 1973, who was then Mrs. Teresa Lau, recorded her memories of her teaching days.

The full account was reprinted in full at that time in The Wayne Independent.

Teresa Maloney Lau was born in Laurel in 1892. She began teaching the age of 18 and taught at Fermoy (Canaan Township), Laurel, Swamp Brook and Berlin Valley (all in Berlin Township). She later taught at Honesdale Catholic School. She married John R. Lau, a draftsman, in 1920, and eventually resettled in Luella, where they farmed. She died in 1990.

She taught at Swamp Brook in 1917-1918. She boarded at Jake Smith’s- the local storekeeper. Most of the men were working at Dorflinger Glass Company in White Mills.

“Early every morning before daylight I could hear the men walking on the frozen snow (in the winter time) on their way to work about three miles away,” she penned. “Their children came to school with me. There were 38 pupils, but we all got along beautifully. At Christmas time we had our Christmas program- there was only standing room.”

When weather allowed, her brother James took her over by car. When snow came, on Monday mornings she returned dot Swamp Brook by horse and cutter. Sometimes James, who worked in the woods nearby, picked her up on Friday nights with a team and lumber sleigh.

One Wednesday night she walked the seven miles home but had to slide on the ice.
“I recall so well Mrs. Flo Smith’s pancakes with blackberry jam. Also her cheese souffle’. In season we had delicious home grown chicken (fried)…”

“I became acquainted with many people who did not have children in school. Every one was so friendly. At that time [during Wold War I] the teachers sold U.S. War Bonds and stamps. People were very generous in buying them, although some folks were pro-German.”

Miss Teresa Maloney Lau was a sister of Mrs. Kieff’s grandmother. “ I called her Aunt Tessie,” she said.

School notes

Swamp Brook School hosted a special speaker in February 1905, Charles H, Wilmarth. He urged the students that if they were leaders in their schoolwork, they would be leaders in whatever field of endeavor they entered. “His talk was highly appreciated by all who heard him,” The Herald reported. “If every parent took as much interest in school work as Mr. Willmarth does we would have excellent schools, excellent scholars, and good citizens.”
In January 1902, the pupils and teacher at East Beech School visited the Swamp Brook School.

Teacher Anna Schmidt, in February 1913, treated her Swamp Brook charges to a sleigh ride. “The little folks had a good time,” The Citizen reported.

Attendance had declined to only 21 pupils in 1924; Milton A. Hogencamp was the teacher.
A picture dated May 7, 1930 shows Eunice Billard as the teacher with just 12 students standing with her outside the school. Two students appear to be peering out from the window.

When the schoolhouse closed in 1933, there were only 10 pupils. Ada Fisher was the last teacher at Swamp Brook.

Community life

Mrs. Kieff said that Swamp Brook was not really a village. As a community, however, life centered around farming, and the rural lifestyle it brings. A store was opened in 1909, run by Jacob F. Schmitt. The June 25, 1909 edition of The Citizen (Honesdale) reported,
“The Swamp Brook people have gotten J.F. Smith (Schmitt) to consent to start a grocery store. He intends to put in a fine line of goods and purchase the same of a first-class wholesale house. Mr. Schmitt’s place is centrally located, being near a blacksmith shop and school house. He will start business July 1st.”

This was welcomed news, according to The Herald (also a Honesdale paper). The June 21st issue states that, “…no doubt Mr. Smith will have good success, as so many are afraid to drive to town on account of their horses being afraid of automobiles.”

In April 1901 Schmitt put up an attractive sign and was said to be offering “first class goods at reasonable prices.”

A news brief in November 1910 stated that Schmitt was doing a fine mercantile business. Schmitt was a cousin to Mrs. Kieff.

There was also time for dancing and other social occasions, at the local Ahren’s Hall in Swamp Brook. An April 1910 news items told of the ladies at Swamp Brook enjoying a quilting and sewing party, complete with refreshments. A ball was held there in May 1910, and another dance one Saturday night in July. Likely there were many more that didn’t reach the columns in the newspapers. There was also a well-attended Sunday clam bake in September 1911. “Chas. Wegge took a load from this place,” The Citizen added.

There was also Liberty Hall at Swamp Brook, with reports of dances found in 1905 and 1911 editions.  

The community also sported a baseball team. An August 1910 news brief reported that Swamp Brook played at Beach Lake on a Saturday and scored 11 to 4, in favor of Swamp Brook.

A telephone line came to Swamp Brook in the spring of 1912, courtesy of Bell. The May 29th issue of The Citizen said that Swamp Brook line started out with nine patrons.

Another news briefs tell of farming activities, including a meeting held by the fares at these schoolhouse in February 1911, to discuss starting a cheese factory.

A first attempt at raising winter oats in Swamp Brook, by Mr. Kunhart, was reported in January 1913.

Albert Kittner lost his barn in June 1912 when lightning struck.

Like other rural communities, Mrs. Kieff reminded that folks did not go to they store like they do today. Farm families were far more self-sufficient and raised their own food.

Swamp Brook Road was once known as the Honesdale-Masthope Plank Road. In the 19th century it was one of several in Wayne County paved with planks. The road was a principal route extending from Indian Orchard to the busy lumbering village of Masthope on the Delaware River.

Nicholas Houth was the local “path master” in 1909; he resided in Swamp Brook and was complimented for his excellent care for the roads in that vicinity.

In July 1911 it appears that the Methodists from White Mills started a Sunday School in the schoolhouse, with 11 students.

Mrs. Kieff noted that a lot of the local families are of German extraction; so much do, Swamp Brook was also called a “German Settlement.” Some of the family names are Miszler, Bassney, Nonnemacher and Schmitt.

Varmints

Swamp Brook is noted for its brook by that name, as well as its swamps and at least back in the early 1900’s, its rattlesnakes.

July 28, 1911, The Citizen declared on page one: “Large Rattlesnake Caught.” A local trapper, Albert Kittner, assisted by Lewis Mosher and M. Conklin were credited with dispatching “a large seven foot rattlesnake” which “nearly frightened Jacob Smith to death at Swamp Brook.” It stated, “The snake has been the terror of the neighborhood and people in the vicinity were afraid to venture out of their homes owing to its presence along the roadside.”

Kittens killed it instantly with the blow of a well-pitched rock. The viper was measured at 6’3”. Kittner hoped to make the snake skin into a vest.

A few days before, Kittner was berry picking near his house and spotted a “large wild cat with three kittens.”

August 15, 1913, The Citizen reported that Mrs. Mary A. Schmitt of Swamp Brook is the “champion snake killer of the season.”  The snakes were very numerous in the area; three had been killed on one property the other day.

At age 70, Mrs. Schmitt was out working in the field and was carrying a drink to her son when she saw a large black snake in her path. “Not being timid she immediately killed it,” the newspaper states. “The snake lacked a few inches of measuring six feet.”

Summer home

After the Swamp Brook School closed, the Berlin Township school board sold the property in 1934 to Herman Botens, a school director. The price was $50.00.

In 1947, a family from Long Island bought it, and the schoolhouse was turned into a summer residence, subdivided inside into four small rooms. They even installed a bathroom (the school of course, used outhouses).

Mrs. Kieff said she remembers going inside, as the family had children about her age.

Mrs. Kieff said that her father and his three siblings were educated there, and several of her ancestors taught school at Swamp Brook.

She went on to become a teacher, spending 37 years with the Wallenpaupack area School District. She taught third and fourth grade.

There at least one former Swamp Brook student still living, Cecilia Bassney Klinkiewicz. She is 96 and still lives in Swamp Brook.

The former schoolhouse sat empty and forlorn in the 1990’s. It began to tilt, and finally collapsed. The Kieffs had purchased the parcel, and Dorothy’s husband Robert Kieff removed the debris in 1998.

Unlike the Bethel School, owned and having been restored by the county for posterity, Swamp Brook has gone the way of most old one-room schools.

Today, as Education Chair at the Wayne County Historical Society, Mrs. Kieff conducts public programs a few times a year at Bethel School to show a new generation what the experience of rural schooling was like.

Swamp Brook’s farming activities have dwindled. Mrs. Kieff said there were once many dairies in the area. A few residents still raise hay and sell it; David Nonnemacher raises organic vegetables.

What was once a farm became a nine hole golf course in the early 1950’s, which has since changed hands and expanded to 18 holes.

A couple hunting clubs border the area.

Several local families trace long roots in the Swamp Brook area, a place still quite rural, a place fairly less traveled where a meandering brook yet babbles.


Main sources:
Mrs. Dorothy Kieff
Wayne County Historical Society
Damascus Historical Society
Old newspapers found at Fultonhistory.com