A History of the Norwin School District, Part Six

This is the sixth in a series of articles about the history of Norwin and its school system, written by Dr. Ronald B. Surmacz with original research by C.C. Pearsall.

In 1916, with the opening of Norwin High School, the Irwin school, located on Sixth Street, became used as a grade school until January 22, 1931 when the building was completely destroyed by a fire of unknown origin. Nothing was saved from the building, including all student records, supplies and the personal belongings of pupils and teachers. Within a week, the pupils returned for classes at various locations: second and third grades in the Moses Temple; all other grades in the new Methodist Church on Oak Street.

The School Directors used the $92,000 insurance money to help rebuild a new building on the site to accommodate both elementary and junior high school students. The new school, costing $155,000, was ready for occupancy in April 1932, and dedicated in May of 1932. The school was a change from the previous structure - gone were the great halls, replaced by corridors with no lost space. Ten classrooms occupied each of the two floors; there was a combination gymnasium/auditorium, principal’s and nurse’s office, home economics lab, art room and library.

The period between 1908-1910 marked the beginning of organized programs of athletics at Irwin High School. The basketball program quickly became a dominant force in the District. However, it was not until 1912 that supervised coaching by faculty members was introduced. Norwin took over the program in 1916 and continued the strong basketball tradition established by repeatedly winning various championships and representing the District in W.P.I.A.L. competition from 1916 through 1920. In 1924, the Norwin football team won the Pennsylvania state championship. During a seven year period from 1922 through 1928, Norwin football achieved recognition for powerful and successful teams. Ironically, physical education did not play an important part in the school program until the establishment of Norwin High School in 1916 and its up-to-date gymnasium. Physical education was offered to students on an elective basis and proved to be so successful that the facility had to be expanded.

Music played an important role at Norwin High School from the beginning. Concerts were given using the choruses from well known operas and soloists. Early on, a mixed chorus, a girls’ glee club and an orchestra were organized. Public performances were given in assemblies, during dramatic programs and for commencement activities. Operettas were performed as early as 1922.

In 1924 Miss Ida Smith (later Mrs. Richard Winter) organized the band, which began a tradition of appearing at football games, Memorial Day parades and other community events. The band began its tradition of holding concerts in 1926. Mrs. Winter was responsible for writing the Norwin High School Alma Mater.

On September 4, 1914 a new six room building was constructed in Westmoreland City. It was not until 1932 that a school was built to specifically serve the Penglyn area of the Township. Scull School then opened as a 15 room building on land purchased from the Scull heirs. It also initially housed the District General Office, Superintendent’s Office and storage for school supplies.

PHOTO: Irwin Public School on 6th Street, Irwin, Pennsylvania. Norwin Historical Society/Jean Soyke Collection.