ALLENTOWN ’S PROUD HERITAGE
By Miss Helen Milliman (1909-1997)
Copyright ©2004 BRAG** (Bolivar,Richburg,Allentown & Genesee Historical Preservation Society)
The Article below was written & originally published in June, 1980, by Helen in the last printed “The Derrick”– “Our Book of Memories”, named after the Allentown School Paper & Yearbook. Helen Milliman retired from teaching in 1976 after having taught in Allentown from 1943 to 1976. She made a positive lasting impression on many students including this webmaster.
Allentown ’s heritage is the many people who in one way or another have been touched by it’s school. From the people who tended its physical needs, the principals, and teachers who did their utmost to increase the mental alertness, the grocer who delivered the day’s supplies and always had time for a friendly greeting, the cafeteria staff which prepared the food and accepted with patience (usually), the praise or condemnations of the results, the people who served long hours without recompense on the board of education, the students regardless of whether they did their worst or their best to mature in accordance with the rules of society, they and many, many more are Allentown’s proud heritage.
Allentown , which began as a lumbering and farming community became very prosperous after the discovery of oil. It began growing with the development and took on the characteristics of a boom town. Stores, hotels and shops were rapidly built of wood. The streets were crowded with men and horses at all hours of the day and night and the local vocabulary soon included the oil field terms of leases, rigs, wildcatting, shooting, go devil, jack lines, tool dresser, etc. One lady whose father ran a drug store in the town often told of the “extra” education she and her sister received, as they listened through a floor register in their upstair living quarters, to the conversation of the oil field workers who gathered and visited the stove in the store below. This extra curricular education was suddenly halted when the druggist discovered the source of his daughter’s growing vocabulary. The one way intercom was quickly closed off.
Allentown had three small hotels, the office of Allen & Coyle oil producers, four stores, boiler and machine shops and a cheese factory. The cheese factory was built by a stock company but later owned by Riley Allen. The milk of 250-300 cows (remember this was before the use of automatic milking machines) was manufactured there. The product in 1893 was about 80,000 pounds.
The town’s religious needs were cared for by not only the churches in the village, but also a Seventh Day Adventist church on Niles Hill whose foundation can still be seen with a good guide and a lot of stamina.
The town was named for Riley Allen, the most prominent business man. Mr. Allen lived just over the Scio line but was so identified with Allentown and Alma that his biography was put in the town history.
Allentown has witnessed all the changes of an oil city, prosperity, a deep depression and all the other woes and joys of modern civilization, but its pride and joy has been its school. It has always strongly supported it, not only financially but in an even greater way, that of really caring.
A man by the name of Emerson granted a high school site in 1840, about the same place as today’s site. A log schoolhouse answered the educational needs for many years, until the new site, including the old site, was purchased from Marshall Phillips. The first frame school in Allentown was built in 1848. It was used for a school until 1886 and by the WCTU Society until 1903 when it was used for the Primary Department. At that time it was deeded to the trustees of the Methodist church and used by the Women’s Society of Christian Service. Then came the larger frame building built in 1885-1886 which stood the pressure of school affairs until 1903-1904 when a two story brick building was designed by the architects, Pierce and Bickford, and built on the present site. In 1933 a six classroom and gymnasium-auditorium addition was made to the older structure. The ramps, tempting as slides for the students but perils for high-heeled adults, connect what is kindly referred to as the old and the “new” parts of the building.
After the new addition was built, attention was turned to the playgrounds. Knights Creek which flowed through the schoolground was re-channeled through a six foot underground pipe. A three acre plot of land in the rear of the building was deeded to the school for a playground by Ward Withey, who was president of the board of education at the time. It was just another example of the towns’ citizens helping to build their heritage. For many years an oil well, fenced off and pumping, in the center of the playground became a conversation piece to visiting teams as well as a trap for stray soccer or baseballs.
In the year 1959 due to the decline in oil field revenue and the constant pressures of state and federal restrictions, Allentown took, what seemed to be, the best route. They decided to consolidate with Scio, with the stipulation that the first six grades would be kept in the Allentown building. It was a sorry blow for it meant losing many ties including the sports events and the high school music concerts. As they had before, Allentown responded and continued to build their heritage by filling the auditorium to enjoy the special concerts and gymnastic displays performed by the grade school. An Open House found not only the children and their parents but other relatives and friends as well as those who just came because they cared. The situation had its drawbacks but the pride of both students and the Allentown public was always alive.
With the additional room acquired by a building program in Scio and the wrinkles and creaks of senility beginning to show in the Allentown building, it was decided to close it permanently in the summer of 1980 and house the entire system in Scio.
To be sure, there may have been disadvantages to students from a small school entering large centers of higher learning but they must have been overshadowed by the close relationships of students, parents and school officials witnessed by the large number of teachers, doctors, nurses, and other successful professionals numbered among the alumni. It was a common occurrence for former graduates enrolled in colleges and universities to return to the Allentown school to “talk things over” with former teachers, always assured there was time and concern. They were stopped by local citizens on the streets, “just to see how things were going”. Allentown was building its heritage.
Many of the older citizens will remember the tolling of the old bell – once to arouse those late risers in time, with a bit of speed, to reach school as the clap of the last bell echoed through the town. They will look with many fond memories on it as it graces its new place of honor and its dedication to an outstanding part of its heritage.
This final closing has dealt another great loss but Allentown will survive and will continue its vital interest in its younger generation as well as the love and concern they have always shown for its older one. Oh yes, Allentown ’s heritage is a proud one!