Every June, the Harford Historical Society sponsors an interesting and informative day of local history at the Soldiers Orphan School in Harford.
This year, History Day will be held on Saturday, June 10, at the Soldiers Orphan School on Orphan School Road from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
The museum for the school is open on this day and members of the Society are available to help you get a sense of the history of the unique Harford community which was founded in 1790. The school itself began as the Franklin Academy in 1817 and became a school for orphaned children of the Civil War in 1865.
Many of the artifacts shown in the museum are original to the school and every year, the Society adds and displays new items.
One of the Harford Historical Society’s recent projects was to clean out some of the old foundations of the original foundations of the school. There were over 12 original buildings of this school including boy’s dormitories, girl’s dormitories, classrooms, chapel, hospital, kitchen, bakery, food storage, girl’s privy, boy’s privy, and maintenance and more. Today only one building remains, known as Franklin Hall. The downstairs of Franklin Hall was a dining room (food was prepared and carried to the dining room). The upstairs of Franklin Hall was a boy’s dormitory.
The foundations of three of the larger buildings were cleaned out from years of bushes and weeds by Mark Cross. Some of the walls are intact with stacked foundation stone and some of the walls have fallen years ago.
These buildings were built in the 1820’s and 1830’s, so with that perspective, it is amazing that portions of the wall remain intact.
The three larger buildings were called: Susquehanna Hall, Newark Hall and Columbia Hall. Susquehanna Hall was originally built to be a chapel and it had a belfry and steeple. The Susquehanna Hall was a chapel downstairs and classrooms upstairs.
Later, a new chapel was built right next to the original chapel. At that point, Susquehanna Hall became a girl’s dormitory. The Newark Hall was probably classrooms. Columbia Hall was originally a girl’s dormitory but it became too small for the attendance. When the new girl’s dormitory was built, Columbia Hall became classrooms.
Inside the museum is a reconstructed model of the complete orphan school built by Margery and Alan Rhodes. The Rhodes family had been involved with the orphan school since its inception. Chauncey Rhodes, Alan’s grandfather, brought fire wood to the school in the 1880s and 1890s.
The property was bought by his son, Glenn Rhodes, and Leda Adams Rhodes in 1916. Margery Rhodes decided to build the model to show the importance of preserving Harford’s history. Thanks to her efforts, visitors can see how the newly unearthed foundations fit in with the original plan of the school down to the covered walkway that joined the newly converted Susquehanna Hall to the new chapel.
For a fun day, tour the museum and view the model. Then walk the grounds around the old foundations to get a deep appreciation of the efforts made by Pennsylvania to support its orphans of the Civil War. Have lunch and visit with friends and neighbors. Talk with Brian Swartz, a Civil War historian, and view his collection of Civil War artifacts. Shop and take home a unique find from a craft vendor or a good read from the used book sale.