Greersburg Academy in Darlington, Pennsylvania

In 1799 Rev. Thomas Edgar Hughes arrived in a small community of white settlers living in a few log cabins located along the banks of Little Beaver Creek. The community was called Greersburg in what was then a wilderness occupied by wild animals and a few unfriendly tribes of Delaware and Wyandot Indians. This wilderness is now known as Beaver County located on the western border of Pennsylvania. Only four years earlier General Anthony Wayne had signed a peace treaty with the Indians which opened up all the territory north of the Ohio River for settlement. When the new settlers began arriving at Beavertown, located at the junction of the Ohio and Beaver Rivers, they headed northwest into the Ohio territory on a trail that first led to Greersburg, a distance of 10 miles. Then traveling another 20 miles on this same trail brought the settlers to the borders of the Western Reserve and another small community called Poland, Ohio.
Rev. Hughes was a graduated of Princeton, New Jersey and was sent by the Erie Presbytery in Washington County to be the pastor of the Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church in Greersburg. While preaching the word of God to the people in the new frontier, he saw the need for a school. In April 1802, at a meeting of the Erie Presbytery he presented his plans for an Academy where young boys would be trained for college and the ministry. With support from the Presbytery in 1806, a two story stone building was constructed on the southwest corner of Greersburg’s town square. The building was 33 feet square, had walls 2 feet thick and contained eight rooms.
The Directors of the Academy resolved: “That breakfast shall consist of bread with butter, meat and coffee while dinner shall consist of bread and meat with sauce and supper to be bread and milk”. The curriculum included college preparatory subjects, Latin and Greek grammar, philosophy and theology. Tuition was $10 a quarter and boarding was 75 cents per week. One father paid his son’s tuition with 8 gallons of whiskey. The students returned to their family farms when the time came for planting and did not return again until after harvest. The Greersburg Academy opened their doors to all young men interested in education decades before the advent of public schools. Those who attended for two years would later become ministers, lawyers, doctors, educators and even governors.

The present 200 year old Greersburg Academy Building is maintained by the Beaver County Historical Research and Landmarks Foundation and is the oldest public building in Beaver County. This Academy was chartered by the Pennsylvania Legislature in 1808 and was the first west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Greersburg began to grow and become an important stagecoach stop on the route to Pittsburgh, Youngstown, and Cleveland. Around the Academy numerous stores sprang up along with a hotel and several taverns. However, their US Mail kept being delivered to Greensburg, Pennsylvania. So in 1830 the local residents decided it was time to change the town’s name. Mr. Darlington, the Mayor, stood up in a meeting and said that he thought his name would be appropriate for the town. A vote was taken and Greersburg became Darlington, Pennsylvania.
The stagecoach route played an important role in the Academy’s early history. The 8-room Academy enrolled students from a wide area during its first three decades. The ardent abolitionist John Brown, best known for his famous raid on Harpers Ferry, was enrolled briefly. William Holmes McGuffey, author of the
Eclectic Reader published in 1836, was enrolled and lived with the Hughes family from 1818 to 1820. Historians like to tell the story of how Rev. Hughes was riding slowly along the highway in Coitsville Township, here in Ohio and north of Poland Township, on one of his periodical rounds on behalf of the Academy when he passed a log cabin half hidden from the road by trees and bushes. He heard a voice of a woman praying that some means might be found for the better education of her boy. Her petition was answered when Rev. Hughes opened the doors of the Greersburg Academy to young William McGuffey. He excelled in all the courses and later became president of Miami University of Ohio.
John W. Geary (1819-1873) attended the Academy in 1837 just prior to studying engineering at Jefferson College. He served in the Mexican War and became a general in the Civil War. General Geary’s statue is on top of Culps Hill in Gettysburg. After the war he became governor of Pennsylvania (1867-1873) and was politically noted for labor and educational reform. Another Civil War officer and graduate of Greersburg Academy was Colonel Daniel Leasure (1819-1886). He fought at Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Vicksburg. The citizens of Darlington erected a monument in the town square in his memory. It is similar in size to the Civil War monument in the Riverside Cemetery.
The adoption of public education in the late 1850s and the Civil War brought the end of classes in the old stone building. The building fell into disrepair and the ground floor was used as a stable. In 1853 the Darlington Cannel Coal Railroad laid tracks within six feet of the Academy and latter bought the property and converted the building into a station as four passenger trains a day shuttled the nine miles between Rogers and New Galilee. With the money from the sale of the stone building the Academy Trustees purchased land three blocks away. At this time, Poland’s Ira F. Mansfield was one of the Trustees and was responsible for the design and construction of a new red brick Greersburg Academy at the corner of Second and Plum Street in Darlington. Again teachers were hired and students attended classes in the red brick building. But slowly, public education began to take hold. By 1915, the Academy ceased to exist. The red brick building continued to serve the school district until it was given to the Little Beaver Historical Society in 1964. That same year the railroad abandoned the Old Stone Building and gave it to the Historical Society.
Today, both Academy buildings are open to the public the first weekend of each month. This year (2007) Darlington is having a street festival on June 2
nd and 3rd and everyone is invited to visit the two Academy buildings that are now museums dedicated to the history of Beaver County and Greersburg Academy. There are several exhibits in the museums illustrating the works of Ira Franklin Mansfield who lived for awhile in the nearby Village of Cannelton.