The Unionville-Chadds Ford School District Celebrates Its Rural Roots

All photos courtesy Unionville-Chadds Ford School District

Now ranked among the top school districts in the state, Unionville-Chadds Ford had a humble start in Pennsylvania.

One might expect the first consolidated school in Pennsylvania to have humble origins—and such was the case with the Unionville Joint Consolidated School. “It was the hick school,” recalls Ray McKay, who was a student there in 1960. “It was all farms.”

Sometime later, McKay returned to the district, teaching there for 32 years. “The farmers all sold to developers, so it’s not a country school anymore,” he says.

Indeed. This past May, Unionville High School’s 100th graduating class celebrated the milestone in grand fashion with confetti cannons, the school’s marching band, its Lenny the Longhorn mascot, and the dedication of a large bronze longhorn statue. As part of the ongoing centennial celebration, McKay is coordinating a tour of historical sites like Locust Grove, a one-room schoolhouse restored to its 1890s glory. The plan is to incorporate the tour into opening-day activities for district personnel this fall, then offer it to the public throughout the school year. In 2025, the Chadds Ford portion of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District gets to host its own centennial celebration.

Buses lined up outside Unionville Joint Consolidated School in 1937.
Buses lined up outside Unionville Joint Consolidated School in 1937.

Unionville High School senior Jack Anderson has heard about the farms back in the day—and how a herd of cows might get out and make a kid late to school. “Things have changed so much,” he says. “we don’t live on a farm.”

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The last of four siblings educated in the district, Jack Anderson has a year to go at Unionville High. His father, Jim, is a 1986 Unionville graduate. Jim’s mother, Ruth, received her diploma in 1954, the year the U.S. Supreme Court ended school segregation. Two months after the court’s decision, seven townships combined to become the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District. Ray McKay, now 81, was in seventh grade that year, and his graduating class doubled to 92 as result. Ruth, Ray’s sister-in-law, had just 18 other classmates. Her grandson’s 2024 class at Unionville has 350. It’s now the sixth-ranked high school in the state, according to the latest data from U.S. News & World Report.

Students at Unionville Joint Consolidated School in 1946.
Students at Unionville Joint Consolidated School in 1946.

Jack has heard about the farms back in the day—how a herd of cows might get out and make a kid late to school. “Things have changed so much,” Jack says. “We don’t live on a farm.”

Now 87, Ruth grew up on a farm in Pocopson and was raised in a stone house dating to 1745. “I worked on the farm. I went to school with farmers,” she says.

The school orchestra in 1927.
The school orchestra in 1927.

A painting of Pierre S. Du Pont still hangs in the auditorium at Unionville Elementary. He was a major benefactor for the Unionville Joint Consolidated School, where it’s estimated that he funded as much as 70% of the construction costs over his years of philanthropy.

Ruth’s mother, Esther Pratt, was a seventh-grader in 1923 when the consolidated school opened. Unionville’s community fair began in its upstairs hallways as a “corn show.” Esther later taught in one-room schoolhouses at Wagontown and Copeland before returning to her alma mater, retiring in 1976. She sold the Pratt family farmland to the school district in 1999. Pocopson Elementary School now sits on part of it.

Esther’s father-in-law, W.J. Pratt, had a feed mill near Brandywine Creek, where the Brandywine Ace Pet & Farm is now. Esther likely milked cows before she went to teach. “You couldn’t have a dairy farm today,” says Ray McKay. “You couldn’t get cows across Route 926 twice a day.”

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Ray’s son, Don, still has slides of himself in diapers, surrounded by stacks of concrete blocks at the Charles F. Patton Middle School, which his father helped open 50 years ago. Ray was a head elementary school teacher for years. His wife, Mary, was an elementary teacher and a middle school librarian in the district. She died nine years ago.

The former K-12 consolidated building, Unionville Elementary has a round concrete date stone from 1921, when construction of the interlocking brick building began. A year earlier, four townships, East and West Marlborough, Newlin and Pocopson aligned themselves. In September 1923, 19 one-room schools closed, and the Unionville Joint Consolidated School opened for grades 1–12. To make it possible, a Peoples Bank of Unionville and Avondale Bank bond was secured for $175,000, and six acres of farmland was purchased for $4,000 from William R. Chambers, whose family had been in Unionville since the early 1800s.

Students in a music class in 1959.
Students in a music class in 1959.

A building originally designed for 635 students opened with 661. The student body was up to 759 four years later, when an addition was built to include a gymnasium, a cafeteria and six classrooms. By 1953, a second addition was needed, and the west wing was added to include an agriculture shop, classrooms and a new cafeteria.

The DuPont company gradually populated the area with employees, changing the culture of the district. A painting of Pierre S. du Pont still hangs in Unionville Elementary’s auditorium. He was a major benefactor for the expansion of local schools, including Unionville, where it’s estimated he funded as much as 70% of the construction costs over his years of philanthropy. “He wanted to create a legacy, but he also wanted to improve the lives where he lived,” says Don McKay. “Pierre was a catalyst for our schools.”

Sixth-graders in 1943.
Sixth-graders in 1943.

His brother Lammot du Pont II donated money for the original playground equipment at what became Unionville Elementary in 1959. When it comes to stunning architectural elements at the elementary school, few compare to the gymnasium, with its original wooden parquet floor and second-level athletic track. “I feel like there could be films made here,” says Christa Fazio, the district’s director of communications and community relations.

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There was once fixed wooden seating in the school’s auditorium, but it’s since been removed and sent to the high school. Ray McKay’s mother was in first grade when the consolidated school opened in 1923. He still has one of those original auditorium seats at home, and he once had three—sort of like salvaging a seat or two from old Connie Mack Stadium. “Pretty much,” says Ray.

There’s never been a town center in Unionville, so the old school serves that purpose. “We open the doors,” says John Sanville, the district’s superintendent. “A lot of schools shut down facilities on the weekends. We’re wide open for what the community needs.”

That sense of community is also ingrained in the dedication of the McKays and others. “It’s been harder and harder for each generation to afford to live here,” says Don. “But lots of those who stayed run generations deep.”

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