A Brief History of Penn Hall Girls' School

by John J. Aulbach

The long history of Penn Hall in Chambersburg began 92 years ago as the Penn Hall Company was formed on October 2, 1906.

The original incorporators were Thomas M. Nelson, Magnus C. Ihlseng, Matthew H. Reasner, then President of Wilson College, and William Alexander -- all residents of Chambersburg, and Sylvester D. Townsend of Williamsburg, Delaware. Mr. T. M. Nelson was Board Chairman from 1906 until his death. Ihlseng was the first principal of the school, serving from 1906 to 1911.

During this period, the original building for the school was constructed on land leased from Wilson College during 1908. That building today is "Alumnae Hall" on the Wilson College campus. During 1907 and 1908, the property on the corner of Edgar and Ramsey Avenues was acquired. A few years later, the "East Hall" property was sold to private interests which operated it as an inn for many years and is today known as the College Inn Apartments. (The old lettering can still be seen above the front porch.)

In 1916, Penn Hall bought the property at the corner of Park and Edgar Avenues and constructed "Nelson Hall," which served as the main building of the Penn Hall campus until 1921. The structure contained dormitory rooms, a swimming pool, a gymnasium and classrooms. The building was later sold to the Park Avenue Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1925. (The church is still holding services and today is known as the Park Avenue United Methodist Church.)

By 1921, massive changes were in the works for the school as a program was launched to rebuild Penn Hall farther north on Philadelphia Avenue, the last home of the school and the current site of the Menno Haven Penn Hall campus. During the summer of 1921, the front and north wings of the Main Building were constructed, as well as part of the Administration Building. One year later, in summer of 1922, the south wing of the main building and the infirmary were built.

In 1923, Penn Hall purchased the Pomeroy Farm, west of the school and renamed it the Penn Hall Farm. In the mid-twenties, the school erected the Arts Building, containing the auditorium, music studios, art studios, and additional dormitory rooms. All operations were moved from "Nelson Hall," East Hall," and "Alumnae Hall" to the new campus by the time "Nelson Hall" was sold to the Park Avenue E.U.B. Church. Later in that decade, the Administration Building underwent a major renovation and expeansion.

By 1939, stables were added on the northern end of the campus, and a solarium also was added to the Main Building.

From 1911 to 1947, Dr. Frank S. Magill served as principal and then later served as president of Penn Hall Girls' Preparatory School. During his first year at Penn Hall, the faculty was small with an enrollment of only around 45 students. During his long tenure, the school developed and grew with as many as 250 students attending at one time.

The first Penn Hall trip was to Atlantic City, NJ, in May of 1913. The entire student body was moved to the Jersey shore for the month of May through final examinations. Later, the Hotel Flanders in Ocean City, NJ, was the scene of this annual migration until the beginning of World War II, when the trip was discontinued.

As the school grew, so did the curriculum. The administration and faculty saw the need for more advanced education, so in 1927 Penn Hall began the Junior College while still operating the Preparatory School. During its day, Penn Hall had the distinction of being the oldest private Junior College in Pennsylvania.

The planning and organization of post-secondary courses, which when introduced in 1924 were of terminal character save only for art, conservatory, home economics, and secretarial studies. The curriculum later evolved into transfer courses for the first two years of college. During the 15 year period following 1927, up to 14 special department courses were added. By 1941, it was determined that 50 percent of all students enrolled in the Junior College had transferred to four year colleges. As a result of the desire for Penn hall to maintain its Preparatory School accreditation and to attain Junior College accreditation, the Penn Hall Foundation, a non-profit organization, was created and took over the operation of Penn Hall, which ended the existence of the Penn Hall Company.

After Dr. Magill's term as president ended in 1947, concluding 36 years of leadership, Dr. Sarah W. Briggs served from 1947 to 1956, at which time she married William Trentman of North Carolina and retired as president. Following Dr. Briggs, Dr. Clair Frantz served from 1957 to 1961, transferring from that position to later take on the task of Headmaster of the Charles Ellis School outside of Philadelphia. By 1961, Dr. Roger C. Cooley took over the reins as president and remained at Penn Hall until 1963. The last president was John J. Aulbach who assumed the position in August of 1963 and remained with the school until its closing in 1973.

(Mr. Aulbach is now a resident of the Penn Hall community.)

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