Gilbert Polytechnic School in Polk Township

By Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association

From the many one-room school houses active during the earlier years of Monroe County to the colleges and universities of today, the citizens of Monroe County have always had a high regard for education. For students interested in pursuing their studies beyond a general high school education, attending a post-secondary training school was necessary.

One such continuing-education school that was important in educating students in Monroe County during the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries was located in Gilbert, Polk Township. The Gilbert Polytechnic Institute was founded in 1886 by Reverend Frank W. Smith. For several years, Gilbert Polytechnic was located in the Salem Reformed Sunday School chapel, until a new, larger annex was built in 1895 near the church. While the school was non-denominational, strict emphasis was placed on “moral character and a Christian influence on education.”

The school was established to prepare both men and women for the teaching profession, but courses were also offered to those interested in pursuing careers in business. Indeed, shortly after opening its doors, the Polytechnic began offering courses in several disciplines, including strict academics and college preparation as well as agriculture.

Gilbert Polytechnic Institute advertised its school throughout Monroe County and the Lehigh Valley. Its competitor school, Fairview Academy, was located only five miles away in Brodheadsville. Gilbert Polytechnic boasted an “extensive campus in a safe environment, excellent furniture featuring the Chandler adjustable chairs and desks, and thorough training on limited means.”

School was held throughout the year, and according to a 1913 directory, tuition depended on the term in which a student enrolled. The 10-week spring term cost $10, the 8-week summer term was $6, the 10-week fall term was $8, and the winter 14-week term was $11. These amounts covered tuition only. Room and board were an additional $3 per week, or $126 per year. If washing was needed, an additional $10 was required.

First year lessons taught at Gilbert Polytechnic included grammar and reading, mental arithmetic, drawing, penmanship, Latin, methods of teaching, bookkeeping, vocal music, and morals and manners. The second year of study focused on a continuation of the first year’s subjects and included elocution, geography, civics, Caeser, zoology, and Latin composition. Books were required for all classes and could be rented for 10 to 15 cents per term.

Gilbert Polytechnic Institute was forced to close its doors in 1922. A change in the Pennsylvania state regulations required Normal Schools to issue certificates for teaching. Over its years as an educational establishment, more than 1,700 students attended Gilbert Polytechnic Institute.