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Wrightstown aims to repair roof of historic Octagonal School


Wrightstown officials are taking steps to preserve an important part of Bucks County history.

At a recent meeting, the three-person Board of Supervisors that locally governs the municipality authorized township professionals to solicit bids for roof repair work at the Octagonal Schoolhouse, a structure built in the early 1800s that’s the only remaining octagonal-shaped school in Bucks County, according to a township history.

Officials had previously received a preliminary estimate of $29,600 for the specialized roof repair. If a township project is expected to cost more than $21,900, municipal officials must publicly seek bids from contractors, supervisors said. Now, that process has begun.

“We would expect to see bids sometime in the next four to six weeks,” said Supervisor Chairman Chester Pogonowski in mid-April.

According to a history from Wrightstown, the octagonal, sometimes called “ink bottle,” shape accounted for more than 100 schools in the Delaware Valley of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

The first such eight-sided structure was built in 1773 in Oxford Valley, Bucks County, and the last in 1851 near Flemington in Hunterdon County, N.J., the history says. “The buildings served a useful life, but most have succumbed to ‘progress,’” the township history states.

The Wrightstown Octagonal School’s roots stretch back to 1802, when a group of residents leased the land (at what is now the corner of Swamp Road and Second Street Pike) for 99 years from Joseph Burson.

The locals built the tuition-based school on the site in the octagonal shape in significant part for practical reasons: It allowed, for instance, the maximum amount of light to enter the building at all times of day.

The shape was also optimal for staving off the cold.

“As heat in the winter was provided by a small stove in the center of the room (with a stovepipe at the peak of the roof), the warmth would be distributed evenly throughout the interior space,” the history notes. “The interior walls were usually whitewashed which gave a cleaner, lighter environment.”

The building served as a school until 1850. It became obsolete for that use as government became involved in education and township school districts formed.

After its life as a school concluded, the octagonal structure served a toll keeper, whose house was built in the 1850s, in many ways. Uses included being a chicken house in 1899.

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