History of the J.S. Bunnell School

Old East Stroudsburg High School, which became the J.S. Bunnell School, as it looked in 1894.

By Amy Leiser
Executive Director, Monroe County Historical Association

During the 1800s, many students attended one-room schoolhouses throughout Monroe County. Students began school in the first grade, and by grade eight, they had completed their education.

In 1870, East Stroudsburg School Board officials unanimously voted to establish a high school in the borough for students who wished to continue their education beyond the eighth grade. A two-room building was rented for $100 per year from Joseph Zacharias. This school was located on North Courtland Street (currently the Kidney Dialysis Center next to the East Stroudsburg Methodist Church) and offered a diploma to students who completed the 10th grade.

It was not until 1891, 21 years later, that Charles Teeter completed the 10th grade and became the first graduate from East Stroudsburg High School. The newspaper reported on Teeter’s accomplishment and challenged high school officials to “build a new building to take the place of the old dilapidated rooms that we now have which are not worthy of the name of a school house.”

School officials rose to the challenge and began construction of a new building on North Courtland Street. Joseph Shiffer won the contract to build the new school for $17,500. The dedication of the East Stroudsburg Public School (later renamed the J.S.Bunnell School) took place on September 24, 1894 with classes commencing the next day. The school, with grades one through 10, opened with 330 students, eight teachers, and one principal, Mr. Unger. The total cost of the new school was slightly over budget at $25,000. The first graduates from the new East Stroudsburg Public School were Rose Burnett, Mildred Edinger and William Gish. Graduation remarks were made by alumni Charles Teeter, the school’s (but not the new building’s) first graduate.

In 1896, school officials added a third year of high-school study, requiring students to complete an 11th year for a diploma. By 1909, the school’s enrollment rose to 530 students and an expansion was unavoidable. One year later, ground was broken to add a six-room wing to the existing structure.

In 1911, the East Stroudsburg Public School adopted Pennsylvania’s educational recommendations and increased the school requirements to 12 grades. Over the next four years, student enrollment continued to rise, and by 1915, 835 students were attending the school. School officials had no choice but to approve another addition to the building. Another high school wing with an 800-seat auditorium and a separate gymnasium building was added for $50,000. This new addition was extremely beneficial to both the students and the community. Before this second addition, all school functions including plays, assemblies, and graduation ceremonies were held in the Grand Theater in downtown East Stroudsburg, and sports, such as basketball, were played in the Armory. With the addition, everything could be held at the school.

By 1930, enrollment rose to 1,200 students, and school officials were faced with another expansion project. Instead of yet another addition to the original structure, officials chose to build a separate junior high school to be located “across the railroad tracks on East Broad Street.” This structure is the present-day J.M Hill Elementary School. At the time, H. Berger received the contract to build the new junior high school that would remove grades 7, 8, and 9 (approximately 250 students) from the existing high school wing of the Bunnell building. The new East Stroudsburg Junior High opened in September 1932 and prolonged the life of the old high school for another 30 years.

The old high school graduated its last class in 1960 when a new high school was built on the neighboring property, known as the Maplewood Flats (currently the East Stroudsburg High School South). The 1916 addition to the old high school had to be razed to build a parking lot for the new high school. It was at this time that the school board members voted unanimously to rename the old high school the J.S. Bunnell School.

J.S. Bunnell (1887-1980) was a 25-year member of the East Stroudsburg Board of Education who served as president and secretary through his tenure. Bunnell was born in East Stroudsburg to Gershom and Mary E. (Singer) Bunnell. He attended the East Stroudsburg High School and was graduated in 1904.

From 1960 to 2008, the J.S. Bunnell School housed junior high students and special education classes and served as records storage. In recent years, the structure has fallen into disrepair.

The J.S. Bunnell School spanned three centuries, the 19th, 20th and 21st, and it was never vacant during its 114 years of service. As of the writing of this article, the J.S. Bunnell School has been scheduled for demolition. The Monroe County Historical Association has collected photographs and articles to help document the Bunnell School’s impact on the community and to help preserve the memories of those that attended the school over the years.

Information for this article was provided by Jim Werkheiser.