A Portal to the Past

by Eden McEwen ’17 
I am a history nerd. Not the kind that can tell you the name of any war and the date it started and ended. Far from that, actually. I have a horrible time with names, and even worse with dates. But what I love are the stories. I love learning the ins an outs and the why and the how. And so when I came to George School I felt a little adrift, not knowing much of the history of the place. I saw the dates on the corner stones of the buildings, and I wondered. I wanted to know what this school was, and how it became what it was.

Ironically, I felt so disconnected from the school itself when the school has always been so good at connecting people.

My first clue into the history of George School–besides the one-off rumors and the two sentence summary by admissions–was at the back corner of the library during a very slow freshman weekend. Tucked behind a wall there is a glass case with a bunch of small artifacts with short little blurbs. A baseball, a wooden sign, a picture of this and that. Basically the things you’d find in your grandparent’s junk drawer. I spent time looking through it, and it was exactly the things I had been wondering about. I learned where the land came from (a donation by John M. George). I learned that the green and white colors weren’t decided on until the 90s, when buff and brown became too difficult to order on sports uniforms. I learned that the library had initially been in Main in what is now the Barash room, then moved to McFeely, and finally to it’s present location across from the meetinghouse. What else in its 120 years of history did I not know?

As it turns out, I had missed a ton. My second dumping of GS info came in the form of a walking tour my Grandparents wanted to do during visiting day last spring. The tour had all of the buildings listed, not only with their current purposes, but their past as well. Most everyone knows that the meetinghouse was moved brick by brick from its original place in Philadelphia, but not that the move happened in the 70s. I can’t even imagine George School without it’s center of worship, and yet the school spent a majority of its history without it. After many epiphanies during the tour of the GS campus, and after showing my grandparents my favorite buildings, I felt safe and secure knowing that my campus was no longer a mystery. Boy was I in for a surprise.

This fall I made a discovery that has been the best source of my GS info so far. And it was sitting under my nose, right on the GS website. This goldmine goes by the name of “History Timeline”, and it has news from every year of the schools operation. Sure, some of these tidbits really aren’t the most fascinating in the world. In 1916, for instance, a silo blew over in storm, and a large number of pigs died. Not that I don’t feel for those pigs, but their death doesn’t tell me bundles about the student’s lives a century ago. Other facts in this neatly sorted collection of bulleted lists, however, are better than any rumor I’ve heard so far.

For example, in the early 1920s, a group of boys take a large quantity of grease from the kitchen and apply it to the railroad tracks at the George School station, so that when the 5:30 a.m. train from Philadelphia arrives it slides halfway to Newtown. Gathering the culprits to assign their appropriate punishment, Head of School George Walton informs them, “Before we begin I want you to know that I think that was the funniest and cleverest prank ever pulled at this school.”

Other facts really put in perspective the rates of growth the school has undergone in it’s brief history, like this one in 1922 – “The school now has dormitory space for 257 boarders. Ninety years later, the school’s boarding capacity rises only 11 percent—in 2010, there is space for 286 boarding students.”
There are so many more stories that just make my day. It’s my preferred reading material and I’ll read through a decade before bed. The campus farm, the student pranks, the delayed breaks because of disease, are what brings George School alive for me, both past and future. I recommend a taking a stroll down memory lane at George School if you ever get the chance.

-Your sentimental student,

Eden

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