Brookline Elementary School Garden

Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1916
Children from Brookline Elementary School working in the school garden in July 1916.

In 1909, the year Brookline Elementary School opened, the Pittsburgh Playground Association and the Board of Public Education began a new initiative to introduce local school children to nature studies and gardening.

There was a belief that children in the heavily industrialized city of Pittsburgh had lost touch with any practical knowledge of the rural activities of gardening and nature study. Professor Joseph F. Moore, principle of both Brookline and West Liberty Elementary School, said "School gardening not only brings material benefits but gives the youngsters a better knowledge of nature, and acquaints them with the problems of the farmer."

The gardening program was piloted by Professor Joseph F. Moore, the principal at Brookline Elementary School. The site chosen for the project was a large plot of undeveloped land that bordered Wedgemere, Rossmore, Gallion and Pioneer Avenues. Located next to a baseball field and playground, the school garden measured 273 x 372 feet.

Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1916

Under the supervision of a member of the Pittsburgh Playground Association and teachers from the elementary school, the crops were planted and cultivated by the student population, along with some volunteer parents. The children grew a wide variety of vegetables. The planting season began in the summer, and teams of students spent their vacations planting and maintaining the garden.

It didn't take long for the kids to master the art of growing their own food. They tended to the crops both in their spare time and during school breaks. After the school year ended, the kids continued the gardening program, taking time out from their summer vacation twice a week to work in the field.

The crops they harvested were used for school lunches, with the excess either sold to local merchants or donated to local food kitchens. Competitions were also held with other Pittsburgh Public Schools, with prizes handed out to those with the prize green thumbs.

The overall gardening experience became an invaluable part of the student curriculum and a favorable selling point for prospective families moving to the area, as highlighted in real estate ads from that time period.

Real Estate Brochure - 1924.

Most families at the time had home garden plots to help supplement their food stores. The school gardening project taught the kids about responsibility and accountability in addition to giving them valuable insights into the Brookline community's rural agricultural roots.

The Brookline Elementary School Garden was mentioned in the City's 1912 annual report on Pittsburgh Playgrounds, Vacation Schools and Recreation Parks. John Randall, the Supervisor of Nature Study and Gardening, reported on the status of the project. Some excerpts from his report are reprinted here:

"This has been the most successful garden season. The heavy rainfall increased the production of leaf and root crops and the early, short dry spell came in just the right time to give a good yield of beans. It has been reported by one teacher that local farmers have stopped carrying vegetables and beans that were grown in the neighborhood at the time that crop was ripe in our gardens."

"Mr. Wiseman, the coordinator assigned to the Brookline garden, reported student attendance throughout the year at 4680, and submitted the following list of products raised through September 15th. He estimated that as much more was harvested by the end of the growing season."

Beets - Eleven hundred dozen.
Radishes - Thirteen hundred dozen.
Cucumbers - Two thousand.
Corn - One thousand ears.
Carrots - Fourteen hundred dozen.
Turnips - Eighty dozen.
Beans - Four hundred eighty-two pecks.
Lettuce - Two thousand heads.
Tomatoes - Four hundred.
Cabbage - One hundred heads.

"On the evening of September 18th, a corn roast was given by the children of Brookline to their parents. Over five hundred old and young people met at the garden to dance about the fire. Over eight hundred ears of corn were served and all were pleased with the work of their young gardeners."

Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1916    Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1916

Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1916    Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1916

Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1916    Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1916

Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1916    Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1916

From the looks of things, these kids were first-class farm hands. The photos above were taken on July 18, 1916. The garden remained at its original location until the early-1920s, when residential development along Gallion and Rossmore forced Brookline Elementary to move the garden to a field adjacent to the school building, where it remained for many years.

Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1920
Children working in the Brookline School Garden in 1920.

On September 23, 1920, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on a Garden Show hosted at Brookline School, featuring a joint exhibit of the best selections from vegetable gardens maintained by pupils of the Brookline and West Liberty Schools.

"Rose Metz, aged 14, a pupil in the West Liberty School, won three first prizes, one each for cabbage, tomatoes and beans. Other first prize winners of the West Liberty School were Lucille Berger for carrots and Ruth Hixenbaugh for summer squash. The West Liberty school garden is located along Pioneer Avenue across the street from the school."

The Brookline school garden contest was also marked with a fine show of vegetables. The winners of first prizes were Ralph Thompson for beans, Esther Schmidt, beans; Olive Alwes, tomatoes; and Edward Boltenfield for carrots. Harold Dumbell is captain of the Brookline School garden, located along Pioneer Avenue at Rossmore."

Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1920

The September 26, 1920, the Pittsburgh Daily Post ran a long feature on the 1920 competition, which we've copied here:

A garden produce exhibit was hele in the Brookline public school last Wednesday night. Now that in itself is nothing remarkable, to be sure, but it wasn't an ordinary exhibit. All of the members of the vegetable tribe were present - all that are listed in the seed catalogues, and then some. There were tomatoes that looked like balloons, beans large enough to choke the most gluttonous of thieving fowls, cabbages, peppers, radishes, potatoes, squashes, onions, beets, carrots, cucumbers, egg plant, lettuce, Swiss chard and all the rest of the garden aristocracy.

The exhibits filled two long tables, which trembled under the weight of them. Each article was polished until it glistened in the electric light. Some were placarded and bedecked with blue, red or white ribbons.

Pupils of the Brookline and West Liberty schools raised the produce on the plots they worked during the summer. The exhibit was held under the Department of Nature Study and School Gardens of which John A. Hollinger is the director.

One day last May the ground adjoining the Brookline institution was divided into miniature farms, each 8 1/2 by 16 feet, under the direction of Principal J. F. Moore. There were just 104 of the little plots, and they were apportioned to as many pupils. The same procedure was undergone at the West Liberty school, which started 88 embryo farmers in business. Each young tiller of the school soil then decided upon a vegetable that he of she favored, and lo! the race was on!

Through the spring and the too quickly terminated vacation the young agriculturalists plowed, hoed, raked, trapped bugs in their lair, gathered weeds when they got ripe, and did all of those things which have given hours of pleasure (?) to most every enterprising suburbanite. In the course of time queer things began to shoot up out of the ground which were not weeds, gratification was brought to young hearts and a bumper crop was predicted.

And while the youngsters were busy, their parents caught the fever and began to steal the farming paraphernalia after bedtime. They made home gardens and community gardens, and in their spare time went over to talk with the kids about the possibilities of a drought. Brookline and West Liberty were farming!

Last Tuesday the children's toil ended. The final trip to the gardens was made (the last before the end of the competition) and the young ones gathered their choicest products for the exhibit. Then, after weeks of hopeful waiting, the awards of the judges were made.

Out of the eager throng of youthful farmers and farmerettes there emerged one Rose Metz, 14 years old, champion agriculturalist of the two schools. Rose, with the beans, tomatoes and cabbages that she had protected throughout the long summer against bugs, weather and West Liberty's domestic animal tribe, won three first prizes. With the ribbon-winning vegetables before her, Rose shyly explained the great secret last Wednesday.

"It's not hard," she confided. "All you've got to do is keep the weeds and bugs away. I've had lots of fun doing it." - she stroked the cabbage head fondly - "these are my pets."

All of the children appear to have had "lots of fun" doing it. In the school hall, as part of the exhibit, were the garden utensils which were used. Hanging on the shaft of a diminutive plow was a placard marked "Our Field Artillery." More than one potato used in the exhibit is a household pet, and several of the spuds have been christened.

Other prize winners are: Brookline school - First prizes, Captain Harold Dumbell, Esther Schmidt, Olive Allwes, Edward Bottenfield and Ralph Thompson; second prizes, Theresa Shervenski, Alice Fisher and William Davis; third prize, Clifton Bradshaw. From the West Liberty school - First prizes, Rose Metz, Ruth Hixenbaugh, Lucille Berger, Jean Francis, Mary Edmonds and Charles Magnani; second prizes, Edward Walter, Helen Bartsch and Mary Edmonds; third prize, Edith Nordquist.

Part of the garden produce raised will be given to the children to take home. The rest will be distributed among the schools of the city that did not have gardens of their own, for use in the cooking departments. In addition to one day's harvest which resulted in the great quantity of vegetables used in the exhibit, $516.65 worth of produce was sold during the summer. This amount was gotten from the crops of the school and community gardens.

On June 12, 1938, the Pittsburgh Press ran a full page article on the Public School gardens and featured photos of the kids from Brookline Elementary. The photos show the more recent garden location, next to the school, with students preparing the garden for the summer season.

Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1938
Children working in the Brookline School Garden in June, 1938.

Brookline Elementary School Gardens - 1938

The three photos above (clockwise from upper left) show John Whetsell and Betty Hoyle doing some planting; Students marching back to school after their time in the garden; Ruth Stiff gathering an armful of iris. Learning how to card for flowering plants was a part of the gardening course. In some instances pupils plant and tend shubbery surrounding school buildings.

West Liberty Elementary School Gardens

The December 9, 1928 Pittsburgh Press reported that West Liberty Elementary School in Brookline came in second place in the competition for best school garden in the City of Pittsburgh. Woods Run Elementary came in first place, and the third place prize was shared by Fairywood and Lincoln schools. The photos above show a portion of the West Liberty garden and some of the crop.

Approximately fifty students in the West Liberty School took part in the gardening program during the summer and fall months. The school had just obtained permission to garden on a new lot, located across Pioneer Avenue near the school. The new location measured 160 by 140 feet. Due to the hard work and dedication of the students, a crop valued at approximately $528 was harvested. More than 2300 ears of corn were reaped in one week.

West Liberty School Gardens - 1928

Mary J. Harkins was the head teacher at West Liberty Elementary School. She and Professor Joseph F. Moore, principal of the school, led the students in making the surprise effort for a school just entering the contest.

One of the challenges that confronted both West Liberty Elementary and Brookline Elementary, as well as other schools around the city, was obtaining a suitable location for their garden, most of which were planted on undeveloped lots. Over the course of years, as developement increased, the gardens of both schools moved from one location to another. The final location for the West Liberty school garden was next to the new school along Dunster Street, next to the new school building.

West Liberty School Gardens - 1951
Brookline's West Liberty Elementary School garden in 1951. The three photos below are cropped off this picture.

West Liberty School Gardens - 1951   West Liberty School Gardens - 1951

West Liberty School Gardens - 1951

Some Other Pittsburgh Public Schools With Gardens

Professor Moore's pilot program at Brookline Elementary School was so successful that student-run gardens soon became a popular attraction at most of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, including Brookline's West Liberty Elementary School.

In 1910, the second year of the program, there were three school gardens in operation. The following year that number had increased to six. By 1912 there were fifteen school gardens throughout the city. The Nature Study and Gardening program continued until the late-1950s.

Bane Elementary School Gardens - 1917   Dilworth Elementary School Gardens - 1917
Bane Elementary School on the South Side (left) and Dilworth Elementary on Mount Washington, both shown in 1917.

Beechwood Elementary School Gardens - 1916
Beechview's Beechwood Elementary School garden in 1916.

Holmes Elementary School Gardens - 1951   Mifflin Elementary School Gardens - 1951
Holmes Elementary on the North Side (left) and Mifflin School in Lincoln Place, both shown in 1951.

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