Sodom Octagonal Schoolhouse

 


One of several octagonal shaped one room schoolhouses that were built in Pennsylvania, the Sodom Octagonal Schoolhouse on PA 45 east of Montandon, Pennsylvania may be one of the best preserved examples of such. While the schoolhouse is of a rather simple design that is said to be based on a design from a church in Scotland and features limestone quarried from nearby sources, there are some legends revolving the construction of the school and how the school got its name. The schoolhouse has a single chimney in the center of the roof, seven windows, and a single door on the south side facing the road. At one time, the front of the schoolhouse also had a belltower and a cupola. A vestibule was once attached where students hung their coats and a wood-burning stove stood in the center. On the north wall of the school was a blackboard with a 30 foot long, 10 foot wide, 10 inch high platform for the teacher. Six long rough desks were placed parallel to the walls and two more were placed in the center of the room. Students within a three mile radius attended of the school, sometimes as many as 100 children at one time, but on average, about 40–60 students were enrolled and attended the school.

I have come across two possible construction dates for the Sodom Octagonal Schoolhouse. One was approximately in the year 1812 and the other dates its construction to 1836. One of the stories regarding the school was that the building was being built during the War of 1812, and that two men by the names of John Voris and Tommy Corson were building the roof of the schoolhouse when a man rode up on horseback calling for volunteers to fight. The two dropped their tools and hurried home to bid farewell to their families so they could fight in the war. Another part of the legend is that in 1814 a teacher was instructing the class when she spied a troop of soldiers marching from Danville. It turned out that they were volunteers heading to Harrisburg to enlist in the war, passing the Sodom schoolhouse on the way. So the pupils were dismissed and they cheered the soldiers as they passed.

The other story about the schoolhouse that was it built a few decades later, during the 1830s. This may fall closer in line with some of the settlement that took place in this part of Northumberland County. The name of the school may come from the Sodom Tavern in nearby Montandon, and the tavern was in business from 1832 to 1855. Alternatively, the schoolhouse may have been named for the nearby settlement of Sodom, which was named by Lot Carson, who was the owner of a different tavern, who died by falling down a well while drunk. Carson may have donated much of the building material to the schoolhouse, which may have also gave the name of Sodom Schoolhouse to the building.

The rest of the history of the Sodom School and the Sodom Octagonal Schoolhouse may have not been as colorful as its origins. But the schoolhouse has held a number of functions over the years, not limited to schooling. Until 1858, the schoolhouse was also used as a Methodist Church for Sunday worship. It was also used at times for local political meetings and elections. No longer used after 1915 as a school, the schoolhouse sat dormant for years. In 1935, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) tried to restore the schoolhouse, and additional efforts at restoration were made in 1961 through the efforts of the Junior Historians Club at Milton High School. A major rebuild had to be performed in 1972 after flood damage caused by Hurricane Agnes. Efforts at renovation continued in 2008 as local efforts continue to also add period school furnishings, including old blackboards, and outdoor facilities. While not used as a school these days, the hope is to preserve the building as an example of local history, and there is a small primitive parking area where you can park and then check out the old schoolhouse for yourself.





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Sources and Links:
Walker Homeschool Blog - Sodom Schoolhouse
Valley Girl Views - Sodom One Room Schoolhouse
BobAnna.com - Pennsylvania
Society of Architectural Historians - Sodom Schoolhouse
The Living New Deal - Sodom Schoolhouse (Former) Restoration - Montandon PA

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