The Octagonal Schoolhouse is located at Swamp Road and Second Street Pike (Rt. 232).
Education has always had a high priority in Wrightstown Township. The early settlers were mainly Quaker, who believed strongly in the education of the children. Schools have existed here since c.1721. These early schools were organized by a Board of Trustees and parents paid a tuition for their children to attend. Often the Quaker Meeting would pay for those children whose parents were not able to afford the necessary fees.
In 1802 a group of residents banded together to lease this land (at what is now the corner of Swamp Road and Second Street Pike) for 99 years from Joseph Burson. They decided to build a stone structure in the octagonal shape which was considered very appropriate for classroom use. The eight-sided form allowed the maximum amount of light to enter at all times of the day. Artificial light, which is so commonly used today, was not as efficient in 1802. Oil lamps (it was before the days of kerosene lamps and electricity) and candles provided meager light for young eyes but these sources were all that were available. They also added greatly to the exspense of operating the school. The eight-sided building usually had a door in one of the sides and a window in each of the other seven sides. As in this building, the windows were usually higher up on the wall. This brought in the light but did not provide distracting views as the children could not see out of the windows when seated on their benches. The windows were also not large, because the cost of window glass would be prohibitive.
As heat in the winter was provided by a small stove in the center of the room (with a stovepipe at the peak of the roof), the warmth would be distributed evenly throughout the interior space. The interior walls were usually whitewashed which gave a cleaner, lighter environment.
The octagonal, sometimes called “ink bottle,” shape accounted for over 100 schools in the Delaware Valley of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Starting in 1773 with the 8-square building at Oxford Valley, Bucks County and ending in 1851 with the construction of the Harmony School, near Flemington, Hunterdon County, NJ, the buildings served a useful life but most have succumbed to age and “progress.” This Wnghtstown Township School is the only remaining octagonal school in Bucks County. It functioned as a school from 1802 until 1850. At mid-century, local government entered the education field and Township School Districts were forined to build and maintain schools, hire teachers and provide an education for all children in the area. The private, subscription schools were no longer needed.
After its life as a school was finished, this octagonal structure served the toll keeper, whose house was built in the 1850’s, in many ways, including as a chicken house in 1899.
In 1976, during the bicentennial, the interior was freshly painted and students from the Wrightstown Elementary School were bused here to attend classes. Appropriate clothes were worn by the teacher and the students. The children were amazed to find how different school was 170 years earlier. History became alive to them!
The octagonal schoolhouse has been renovated and is open to the public on certain dates. Please call the Township Office on 215-598-3313 for more information.
Wrightstown Township Historical Commission