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Croton School - New Castle, PA

In about 1826 a Revolutionary War veteran named Abraham Crowe and his son William, a veteran of the War of 1812, came from Bucks County and settled a tract of land in Neshannock Township, Mercer County, Pennsylvania. Abraham’s other two sons, George and Moses, followed along about a year later. The area they settled became known as Crowe Town, but was contracted to “Croton” by 1847.

At some point, possibly in the mid-1830’s, the Crowe family donated a lot of land to the township, which would retain control over it as long as a schoolhouse stood on the property. If a school was closed for any length of time the property would revert back to the Crowe family, and it’s possible this agreement is still in effect today. A small school was subsequently erected on the property – now on Croton Avenue (at intersection with Cascade Street) – and fell within the confines of Lawrence County when that entity was formed in March 1849.

In early 1901 the New Castle School Board decided to replace the aging schoolhouse with a new two-story building (after some debate of whether to seek a new location) at the same site on Croton Avenue. Local architect W. G. Eckles, who became well known for his work throughout New Castle, designed that school with a projected cost of $25,000 plus other expenses. By early July 1901 demolition of the old schoolhouse was completed as workmen prepared to start construction of the new building. It was estimated that the work would take about four months, but incessant delays put the project way behind. The school board had to rent other buildings to house the pupils of the Croton Avenue area for the entire 1901-1902 school term. School officials were not happy.

Delays (some dealing with issues acquiring the proper stone blocks) dragged on through the summer of 1902, but the eight-room school finally opened for classes in September 1902. One of the features of the fine school was a large bell atop the roof that was rung to announce the start and end of the school day. Professor J. W. Skinner, a graduate of Grove City College and an aspiring Methodist preacher, was elected to serve as the first principal. He held that post until he departed to head up several Methodist churches in the Volant area in August 1906, at which time he was replaced by accomplished educator Miss Carrie Jeffrey.

One of the most enduring memories of this school was the Croton School Band, originally founded in 1914 and composed of only four boys. The volunteer band was led by school teacher and band leader W. Asa “Hoffy” Hoffmaster, who also took over as school principal in early 1916 after Miss Jeffrey, who was married in 1913, stepped down. The band was famous throughout western Pennsylvania and for a time was the only elementary school band in New Castle. The band entertained people at various building dedications, holiday celebrations, sporting events, and other festivities around the region. Among the many varied events it took part in was seeing off the Doughboys at the train stations during 1917-1918, as the young men were headed for action in the Great War (World War I) raging over in Europe.

Under Hoffmaster’s reign the small band, known for its sharp uniforms and musical talent, grew to about fifty members who usually came from the seventh grade. The ensemble became well known throughout New Castle and this excerpt from the Friday, September 21, 1922, edition of the New Castle News illustrates that: “Everybody within a radius of fifty miles has heard of the Croton band. For the past six years or more this band of boys from Croton school has put this section of the city on the map.”

In 1922 Croton lost it seventh graders – and the core of its band – as they were absorbed into the new Ben Franklin Junior High School. The band was reorganized and carried on mainly with sixth graders. Hoffmaster unselfishly donated his time and oversaw the band for almost thirty-five years, until he retired in 1948. Due to a change in school policy involving the music department, the volunteer band was sadly disbanded for good in 1957. Hoffmaster passed away two years later in late 1958.

The Croton School, which underwent a major remodeling effort in the summer of 1927, served the local community for many years. My father, who grew up on Scott Street, attended this school up until the third grade when he transferred to the new Harry W. Lockley Elementary School in 1955. In February 1961 the decision was made to replace the aging school and state approval for a new Croton Elementary, and a new Highland Avenue Elementary School, was received in August 1961.

The new Croton school was to be built right next to the old building and further property was needed. A dispute with property owner Giacomo Casciato, who owned a neighboring house, was settled in July 1962 by either a settlement or through condemnation proceedings. Ground was broken for the new school building on Tuesday, January 22, 1963, and construction kicked off in earnest. The new thirteen-room Croton Elementary School, which cost a total of $547,000, was completed in December of the same year.

Oddly enough, just prior to its opening, the school almost took on a new name. In response to the assassination of U.S. President John F. “Jack” Kennedy on November 22, 1963, the New Castle school board decided to honor him by renaming one of its schools after the charismatic leader. The new Croton Elementary has under serious consideration for the honor, however descendants of Abraham Crowe and other Croton residents waged a spirited campaign to avoid the name change. On December 11, 1963, the new Highland Avenue Elementary School, which opened back in September, was renamed in Kennedy’s honor.

On Thursday, December 12, 1963, sixth grader (and uncle of mine) Bill “Jinx” Hake, the son of Mr. Paul Hake – who ran a service station in Croton, was given the honor of helping Principal Arthur H. Walker ring the old bell for the last time. Afterwards the students from the old Croton School gathered up their belongings and proudly walked over to their new school for the first time.

During the ensuing holiday break the demolishing of the Croton School was began, but the old bell was saved and put on display outside the new school. An article in the New Castle News of Tuesday, February 4, 1964, reveals the aftermath of the demolition: “The only thing that remains at the old Croton School site is the leveling of the ground. All that remains of the once proud school structure has been removed and now in the prominent spot is the new building.” The ground was cleared and soon became a play area and parking lot. The school, in conjunction with the original Harry W. Lockley Elementary School, faithfully served the elementary level pupils of the Croton area for many years.

Beginning in the fall of 1988, as part of a reorganization plan, the school – renamed the Croton Kindergarten Center – became the home of all city-wide kindergarten children. The administrative offices of the New Castle Board of Education were also moved into the building as well. In the fall of 2014, with the opening of the newly rebuilt Harry W. Lockley Early Learning Center, the Croton building was redesignated as the Croton Pre-Kindergarten Center. The old bell still sits outside as a proud reminder of the old Croton School that once graced the location.


A postcard from c1902 showing the Croton School, which opened along Croton Avenue in 1901 and served students up to the seventh grade.


Postcard showing the old Croton School, which actually fronted Fern Street – with its immediate rear to Cascade Street. Croton Avenue runs behind the trees on the left. Photo taken not long after the school opened in 1901. (c1902)


A view of the newer Croton Elementary School that opened in 1963, now a pre-kindergarten center (on right), and the offices of the New Castle Board of Education (on left along Cascade Street). The old Croton School sat right behind where the basketball courts are now situated. (Nov 2010)


The former Croton School sat in this general location (off to the right a bit) and faced west towards Fern Street. Croton Avenue is seen running up from the left. (Jul 2010)


A photo from 1939 showing the Croton School Band, mostly made up of sixth graders, posing in front of the school. School principal and band leader “Hoffy” Hoffmaster is standing in the back in the white suit. This band was known throughout the county and was in operation from about 1914 until 1957.


A photo of principal Hoffmaster that appeared in the New Castle News on February 19, 1916. The previous night his students had put on a entertainment show at a packed Croton Ave M.E. Church to raise money for a library fund. Among the acts was ole Hoffy putting on a magic show.


A closeup of Hoffmaster with some of his band members. (c1925)


The bell from the former Croton School is on display outside the new school. (Jul 2010)


The Croton Elementary School, which opened in December 1963 and now serves as a pre-kindergarden school. The old Croton Public School sat off to the left of this photo and was demolished once this newer school opened. (Jul 2010)


The admin offices of the New Castle Board of Education in the back of the former Croton Elementary School. The original Croton School sat in the basketball court/parking lot to the right of this photo. (Jul 2010)


Across the street from where the old Croton School sat is the impressive Croton Honor Roll, dedicated on June 3, 1945, to the military veterans of the Croton area. It replaced an older memorial that was much smaller. Principal Hoffmaster served as master of ceremonies at the dedication, and his school band took part in the festivities as well. (Mar 2016)

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Comment

  1. Lived on Croton (1942-51) attended Croton School, played trumpet in the band that marched up Croton to Hawthorne St. turned right, used the bus turn-around and marched back to the school – we called him “the Hoffmaster” – fond, fond, memories of a golden past – Croton was the place!!!!!

    Chuck Cagno · 10/16/2011 05:31 PM · #

  2. (EDITOR’S NOTE) My father attended the Croton School for a few years until he was transferred to the new Lockley school (probably when it opened in September 1955). He grew up on Scott Street in Croton and often spoke fondly of the place. It just does not seem the same around there anymore. Thanks for sharing your memories! Jeff

    Jeff Bales · 10/21/2011 04:58 PM · #

  3. I was one of those kids who in Dec 1963 (2nd grade)made the walk from my old classroom in the old school and walked over to the new elementary school. I’ll never forget all the wonderful memories and friends living on croton ave, it was a great place to grow up
    Great to see the pictures

    Mark Spigler

    mark spigler · 01/27/2012 11:05 AM · #

  4. I was in 3rd grade when the new school was built. We moved into the new school and watched the old one be torn down from our new classroom…

    Denise Micaletti Carney · 05/04/2013 10:14 AM · #

  5. My Grandfather and my father took care of the Honor Roll for years. Nick Memo and John Memo
    I attended croton school in the 60’s the best school ever

    sherry esser · 06/20/2013 09:44 PM · #

  6. I find all this information about my ancestors fascinating. I lived in Scott Twp. until I was six. My father and my uncles (who are in photos on this site) told me about the land that was donated to the city as long as there was a school on the property. Is this agreement still in effect? I still make it a point to drive through Croton when I visit during the holidays.

    Billy Crowe · 08/04/2013 03:24 AM · #

  7. (EDITOR’S NOTE) I want to thank Keith McFarland for informing me that the old school – its front entrance that is – actually faced west towards Fern Street. Jeff

    Jeff Bales Jr. · 08/08/2013 01:02 AM · #

  8. I started first grade at the “old” Croton school in 1937 and went there for one year,after which my father took a job in Youngstown OH and we moved there. Cynthia, one of my father’s younger sisters taught at Croton school in those days and was my first grade teacher. I always called her “Aunt Cyn” both in class and out.

    Harry Blaine · 08/31/2013 02:53 PM · #

  9. I started at Croton School in 1951 and remember my first grade teacher Miss Aiken. She would sneak up behind you if you were distracted and snap your ears with her fingers. Hurt like heck but got the point across! My fondest memories include playing marbles in the dirt alley adjacent to the school and cleaning the chalk erasers after school. Wow, that was long time ago…

    Vern McGaffic · 11/12/2013 11:25 AM · #

  10. I STARTED CROTON SCHOOL 1960 HELPED MOVE TO NEW SCHOOL 1963.PLAYED BASKETBALL FOR SCHOOL 65/66 GREAT TIME HAD GOOD FRIENDS DANNY COOK & LARRY PATTERSON

    EUGENE HOOVER · 12/28/2013 12:22 PM · #

  11. Does anyone remember Dorothy Perdue? Will be 101 in may 2014.Taught many years at Croton and was leader in the band.

    Patty Boyer · 04/07/2014 10:43 AM · #

  12. Talk about staying in one place.Went to Croton along with my friends all the way through NeCaHi .families did not move as the do today. Does anyone remember the creaking wood floors, and steps going up to next floor?
    Does anyone remember during war years when farmers would bring in bushels of apples and Ms Sargent stood by the bushel and watched us dutifully pick one out. Don’t wait too long or you had to go to back of line.
    Lived on Dewey ave.and my 91 yr.old brother still has a home there .
    Croton Ave. was one street shopping.
    Jameson ice cream
    Orlando corner store
    Crisci meats
    Darts dry goods
    Isalys
    Memo shoe repair and barber shop
    Joy gardens
    DeJoesph groc.and beverage store

    Gemma ( rubeis) casteel · 05/26/2014 12:40 PM · #

  13. Does anyone know how I can find old Croton yearbooks from like 1935-1941? My Dad attended that school and has passed away and I’d love 2 see pics of him as a child..His name was Kinsey David Michael. Thank you so much for any info. Any info can b sent to my Gmail account above..

    trina darbey · 06/15/2014 12:40 PM · #

  14. My great-great grandmother was Lydia Anne Crowe b.May 1822 d.March 16 1888 in New Castle Pa, she was grand-daughter of Abraham Crowe and daughter of William Crowe. She married Albert Armstrong Wilson on June 11,1846 in Beaver Co. Pa. Our family history is that Abraham Crowe was given the land from the King of England and the land was donated for the school. Lydia’s husband my gggrandfather Albert Armstrong Wilson was a mason and built the stone wall that surrounds the Masonic Lodge in New Castle. I am blessed to have been born into a family with such wonderful ties to New Castle and have wonderful memories of my visits to my grandmother Sergeant’s(granddaughter of Lydia Crowe) home on East Garfield Ave. Thank you for the work you do on the history of Lawrence County and New Castle and for this wonderful website.

    Debbie Bevis · 11/12/2014 10:24 PM · #

  15. 57-58 started left in Dec. 1963.

    Timothy J Byler · 11/16/2014 09:37 PM · #

  16. I am looking to verify information that I have. My ggg-grandmother is Catherine Crow(e) who married Sidney Morford, on the 3 Sept 1843. She had a daughter Lydia Ann Morford in 1852 in New Castle, Pennsylvania. Does anyone know if she could be the sibling of Lydia Ann Crow born 1822? Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time and help.

    Beth Graham · 04/02/2015 09:00 PM · #

  17. I attended Croton School from 1943 till Jun of 1950. I was in the band from second grade through grade 6. First played the drum and then Hoffmeister decided I needed to play the clarinet and I did all through High School graduating in 1955.My father was a friend of Hoffmeister, a talented musician in his own right and expected all of us to play an instrument. My 2 brothers, Jim and Bill were also in the band and sister Nancy was a majorette. We participated in all of the parades and some of them were a long distance for our little legs. I was in the fifth grade when Ms Pardue took over. I have a picture of my father (American Legion Band), Jim (High School), Bill (Ben Franklin), and Nancy and I in our Croton uniforms. School started at 9am and band practice was at 8am. My least favorite memories at Croton were of Miss Seargeant. She would paddle a student at the drop of a hat and was just plain mean. My favorite teacher was Mr. Hamilton who was my 6th grade teacher. It was such a novelty to have a male teacher. School was from 9am until 4pm with an hour for lunch. We all walked to school, walked home for lunch, and again after school. I remember the ice cream socials and the time we did the May Pole dance and it was a disaster. I lived on Harding St.

    Joan Foster Porter · 08/28/2015 10:51 AM · #

  18. Anyone wishing to get in touch with me may email me at Porter_b@hesenergy.net

    Joan Foster Porter · 08/28/2015 11:21 AM · #

  19. Thanks for the memories.

    Linda DeJoseph Smith · 05/01/2016 10:35 AM · #

  20. I recently learned that Dorothy Perdue/ne Patch is still living at the Greer House, as of June 13, 2016! She is 102 years old and when I talked to her she remembered me and my place in the band!! I attended Croton School from 1941 Through 1946
    I remember Joan Foster and her family. Bill and I went all through school together!
    Somewhere I have a picture of the Corps taken in 1946.
    I grew up on Martin Street until after the war and then moved out to Neshannock Twp.

    Lee Winter · 06/13/2016 12:37 PM · #

  21. Hello,
    My father, Jim Caparoula, went to Croton School in 1937. If anyone knows & went to school with my father I would love if you got in touch with me at
    Caparou4@aol.com
    My father would love to see and talk about the good old days. My father lives in New Castle.
    Thank you much,
    Patricia Caparoula

    Patricia Caparoula · 10/02/2016 10:10 PM · #

  22. I have fond memories of my years at croton. With my pals Dickie Eckles,David Young, Bobbie West, Louie Carvalho, Dyurk&Darrell Spiker,and the Stiffer brothers, Jay,Jerry,Jack and Jim, Bobbie and Dickie Caparoula It was a very sad day when my family moved to Buffalo New York in 1957 the year I graduated from Ben Franklin jr. High.

    Ron Vecchio · 12/11/2016 02:42 PM · #

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