Thursday, August 19, 2004

To Consolidate Schools or Not? That was the Big Question in 1916 and Later ( A History of Education in Union County, Part 3)

I began my teaching career in the same school I entered as a first grader when the new two-teacher Choestoe school building opened. Back in 1936, we were so proud of our new white weather-boarded school building, a great improvement over the previous old building that stood on the same spot near Choestoe Baptist Church.

When the school had first opened there in the 1830’s, classes were held in the log church building. Then the two-room building specifically for school was built, with an upstairs where the Lodge met in “secret” quarters. I do not have statistics for many of the years of Choestoe School, but in 1933, three years before I began as a first grader there, 69 students had been enrolled and C. J. Dyer and B. H. Rich were the teachers.

I did not attend school in the old building but was a proud first grader in 1936 when the new building opened with its shiny white paint outside, its tall windows, the “lower” grades room for students in 1st through 3rd grades, and the “upper” grades room for students in grades 4th through 7th grades.

Each classroom had its own “cloak” and supply room where we hung our coats on pegs and put our lunch pails on shelves. Extra textbooks and a few school supplies were also stored in the cloak rooms. The classrooms were heated by a wood heater and patrons (including my father, J. Marion Dyer) supplied the wood for the stoves. We brought our water supply in a bucket from a spring on church property until, about my third year there, a well was dug in the schoolyard and a hand pump (which always had to be primed) was installed. We each took our own cups with our lunch pails in order to have one for water when we were thirsty.

Mrs. Mert Shuler Collins was my first grade teacher and encouraged me to read, read, read. I already knew how to read when I entered school, having learned at my mother’s and my older siblings’ knees, probably pestering them so much that they felt to teach me to read for myself would be better than to spend so much of their valuable time reading to me. My aim in first grade was to read every book in the cabinet in the corner of the classroom where extra books were housed just for the students’ pleasure. I didn’t reach my goal that year, but remember the chart with many stars that represented each book completed.

Several teachers held the wonderful Choestoe School together in my first through seventh grade journey. My beloved teachers were Mrs. Mert Collins, my sister, Louise Dyer, Mrs. Opal Sullivan, Mrs. Bonnie Snow and her husband (as a substitute), Mr. Lon Snow, and Mrs. Florence Hunter. These opened for me the remarkable world of learning.

When I entered Union County High School in 1943 as an 8th grader and freshman, I had not suffered one whit from receiving my elementary education in a two-teacher country school.

By the school year 1949-50 when I began as an eager first-year teacher at Choestoe School, enrollment was down so that it was a one-teacher school. I had pupils in every grade first through seventh, a total of twenty-five students in all, with the largest enrollment being 5th grade with five pupils. The school did not have kindergarten, but those just starting out were in “Primer,” where they learned in the first few months the rudiments of reading so that they could progress through Primer and First Grade in their first year at Choestoe. In retrospect, I wonder how I, a brand new teacher, managed seven grades and taught the students even the minimum of what they needed to learn at their specific grade levels. Looking back on my thirty-plus years as an educator, I still remember the wonder and challenge of that first year in what had been reduced to a one-teacher school. I had begun in that building as a first grader; my fist year of teaching was in the Choestoe School; and it was ripe for closure and inevitable consolidation which came at the end of that year.

Returning to the 1916 report, Mr. M. L. Duggan, Rural School Agent for Georgia, gave recommendations following his three-month survey of education in the county. He listed schools and gave reasons for and against consolidation of the 43 schools he found operating at that time.

The Blairsville Collegiate Institute was going well in 1916 with 150 pupils enrolled in eleven grades. H. E. Nelson was principal, and taught mathematics and English. His wife, Mrs. H. E. Nelson, taught history, science and Latin. Miss Addie Kate Reid taught the intermediate grades. Miss June Candler taught primary grades. Music teacher was Mrs. Maud Haralson and Miss Etta Colclough taught Home Economics and also served as a sort of county home economist, visiting in homes and assisting women in proper methods of canning and preserving foods from their gardens and farms. The private institute had eight full months of uninterrupted instructional time and was doing well, indeed. From 1916 through its closure at the end of the 1929-1930 school year, it was to have fourteen more successful years of operation before it became the Blairsville—and subsequently---the Union County High School.

In the district around Suches in 1916, Mr. Duggan found three schools: Zion had Mr. G. W. Garrard as teacher, classes were in a church building, he had no equipment and only seven students. Mt. Lebanon School had Mrs. Ray Pruitt as teacher, met in a ceiled, unpainted building, had oiled floors, homemade desks, blackboards, a sandbox, and maps, charts and pictures. The pupils in five grades numbered 55. The Mt. Airy School met in the church building with 27 pupils and C. T. Lunsford as teacher. Mr. Duggan highly recommended that these three schools be consolidated, that an increase in taxes make Mt. Lebanon a “standard school,” and that students all attend Mt. Lebanon, which would be only about three and one-half miles for those farthest away.

A look at the 1933 county school statistics reveals that his recommendation was not accomplished to that date. Mrs. F. F. Pruitt was listed as teacher that year at Mt. Lebanon with 33 students and Mr. J. H. Lunsford, also there, with 30 pupils. Mt. Airy was still operating in 1933 with 20 pupils, and Zion with 23 pupils had Ms. Eula Berry as teacher. The schools at Suches were finally consolidated when Woody Gap School opened in the fall of 1940 near the homesite of Georgia’s Civil War governor, Joseph Emerson Brown. Today Woody Gap is considered an “isolated” school because of the mountains separating the district from Blairsville and the distance in travel prohibitive for pupils who would be transported.

[Next week: Continuing the look at 1916 and later school developments.]

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published August 19, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Continuing the History of Education in Union County (Part 2)

With school beginning for the 2004-2005 school term, it seems appropriate to review some of the history of education in Union County over the 172-year period since the county was formed in 1832. Last week’s column brought us roughly to 1916 when Mr. M. L. Duggan, Rural School Agent for Georgia, visited the county and submitted a lengthy report with recommendations for improvements for the school system of the county.

Mr. Duggan began his report by giving information about the county: “The taxable value of the county, as returned for 1916, totals $1,003,879.00, of which about one-third is owned by non-residents. Most of this non-resident property consists in large tracts of original forests held by foreign corporations. The United States Government also has acquired a considerable area for the Appalachian Forestry Reservation.”

Population in the county in 1916 was reported as 6,918. Of that number, 2,114 were white school children and 19 were Negro school children. Mr. Duggan commented that “the mountain slopes are covered in hardwood timber, and abound in mineral wealth.”

He noted the “water power that goes wasting everywhere.” Cattle and hogs abounded and the valley soil was fertile. Apple trees grew to large size and produced immense crops of finest fruit with a minimum of care. He lamented that few of the rich resources of the county had been tapped, and that no railroad “touched the county” for easy transport of products to market. “The one greatest need of the county is first-class public highways,” he wrote. “Good roads will facilitate consolidation of the schools and in many ways bring prosperity that will enable the people to support their public schools more liberally. Good roads and good schools always go together, and neither will much precede the other,” he concluded.

He made no mention of the fact that people in the southern portion of the county still hauled their farm produce in covered wagons drawn by mule teams over the Logan Turnpike through Cleveland, Georgia to markets in Gainesville for sale and barter for needed goods not grown on their mountain farms. Those trips took two days going southward, one day for trading, and two days for the return trip.

Those in the northwestern part of the county likewise hauled their goods by mule team but went to the train stations at Culberson or Murphy, NC, or perhaps to Blue Ridge or Mineral Bluff, GA. It was not until 1925 that Neal Gap opened and the first paved road over the mountain to Blairsville was available for the few motorized vehicles available.

The 1916 report on education revealed 43 public common schools (for white students) in the county, and one high school at the county seat in Blairsville, partly supported by the State Baptist Mission Board. This was the Blairsville Collegiate Institute [the subject of previous columns], founded in 1904, and jointly supported by Notla River Baptist Association, the Georgia Baptist Convention, and the Home Mission Board. This boarding school operated from 1904 through 1930, when properties were deeded to the Union County Board of Education and the public high school opened in the fall of 1930. Tuition and board were charged, but students also had opportunities for work-study programs.

Mr. Duggan stated that the “common schools” were located too close together, some just a mile and a half apart and seldom more than three miles, and that there seemed to be no delineation of school districts. The County School Superintendent, T. E. Patterson, was paid “the minimum wage allowed by law,” and could not be expected to do much supervision, receiving such small remuneration for his services. Besides the superintendent, elected members of the Board of Education in 1916 were A. T. Sullivan, chairman; Bart Swanson, Norman Allison, James Seabolt and C. E. Rich.

Mr. Duggan’s report indicated that “teacher elections” were held by patrons in the various school districts. These appointments of teachers, evidently not necessarily approved by the County Board of Education, “degenerated into political contests, and have worked serious injury to the schools.” He recommended standard opening and closings of schools. Much of his survey was done in August of 1916, the month he was told that “most of the schools would be open.” However, he found that many communities were also having “protracted meetings” at the churches—with buildings used also as school houses---and that school could not go on simultaneously with revival meetings. In his third recommendation about schools, Mr. Duggan stated that a uniform opening of schools should occur, and that “the school term should not conflict with the protracted meeting season.”

Item 5 in Mr. Duggan’s recommendations urged “the citizens of the county to vote a local school tax of two or three mills for the further improvement of their schools. “Their children are worth it.” He further noted, “Much of this (tax) burden would fall upon non-resident property owners who will willingly bear it. The entire county would benefit greatly.”

In assessing Mr. Duggan’s report and recommendations, I thought how the millage has increased through the years, but how “non-residents” still bear a portion of the “burden” of taxes and “willingly bear it” for the privilege of owning mountain property within the confines of Union County. Certainly the county schools and students have benefited from this upward progress for education.

Consolidation was a strong word used by Mr. Duggan. He thanked the School Board, the Superintendent, and the Grand Jury for complete cooperation in his August, September and October, 1916 survey of the schools in the county. We can almost imagine his progress through each district of the county as he visited the 43 scattered schools, and as he was present at the court house in each of the three monthly meetings of the Board of Education to hear their plans and to present his findings. Knowing the scarcity of roads and of vehicles in which to travel in 1916, Mr. Duggan probably went from place to place by horseback—or perhaps by horse and buggy. He found lodging in the homes of patrons within each school community. He wrote, “Every encouragement and facility was cordially offered me in making a very thorough educational survey, and there is strong and growing sentiment all over the county for better schools. The Grand Jury strongly endorses any serious effort to that end, and the county Board of Education is awake to the situation. The county is ripe for educational progress, and we confidently predict immediate and rapid improvement in the system and in the schools.”

[Next week: A look at recommendations and problems of consolidation.]

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published August 12, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 5, 2004

Education in Union County

The yellow school buses are running and students gather in classrooms at Blairsville’s primary, elementary, middle and high schools and at Woody Gap School in Suches. Two locations now mark the public education arenas of Union County schools. Administrators, teachers, students and parents are anticipating good results from the 2004-2005 school year now beginning, with “no child left behind” as the major motto for operation. Learning will be promoted with the latest innovations to entice and motivate students to achieve.

A brief review of education in Union County can only elicit the old evaluation of “We’ve come a long way” since the early days of public education.

Union County was formed in 1832. In 1833, a year later, the Georgia Legislature permitted Union County to take a census in order to determine the potential school population and the portion of the tax funds that should be devoted to education. That census report was released in 1834 as the first census of the county. The legislature approved a school for the county to be known as the Blairsville Academy. A sum of $335 was set aside in 1835 designated for the academy. It was incorporated in 1836. Records show that the first trustees of the Blairsville Academy were John Sanders, Richard Holden, John Butt, Jr., Moss Anderson and Thomas Collins. Even though established in part by the $335.00 in tax monies, the school was also sponsored by churches of the Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian denominations in the county. The academy went along rather well for a time, but eventually dispersed because of differences in how to operate it.

Also in those early years of the 1830’s, one-room schools were provided in certain areas of the county, as the Blairsville Academy was not accessible for students who lived in the outlying districts unless they could go to Blairsville and board in homes to attend the school. Some of the one-room schools were held in log church buildings with someone in the community who could pass the teacher’s certification test (mainly with an ability to “cipher”—do arithmetic--- and who had adequate facility in penmanship, reading and spelling) to head the school. If no church buildings were available for the one-teacher community schools, they might have been held in the home of a concerned citizen of the community, with neighboring children going to that home, paying a small fee, and being instructed. At most, instruction periods were only for a maximum of four months per year, much of that arranged around periods of farm work.

In 1880 and 1881, two schools were operated in Union County that were supplemented by funds from the George Peabody Foundation. In 1882 a boarding school at Blairsville began operations. This may have been a resumption of the earlier academy incorporated in 1836.

Records are incomplete on School Commissioners (as the chief administrative officer was called before about 1875) and School Superintendents. However, the following names and their approximate terms of service have been preserved: Before 1888, Thomas Butt served as Superintendent of Union County Schools. Others following him and their approximate terms of service were Frank Duncan, 1888; A. V. Clement, 1896; C. S. Mauney, 1900; T. L. Patterson, 1912.

John B. Black who served as Ordinary of Union County showed in his February 19, 1865 report that 1,000 children between the ages of 6 and 18 were enrolled in Union County Schools. Eight schools were operating, with five male teachers and three female teachers in employment. The academy was in session in 1865, but no specific enrollment for that school was given. This report, coming near the end of the Civil War, is somewhat amazing in its scope and shows that, despite the hardships of the war years, Union County citizens still managed to provide educational opportunities in eight schools for 1,000 children.

In 1916, an extensive visit to Union County and a survey of its scattered schools was made by M. L. Duggan, Rural School Agent for Georgia. He signed his report on October 15, 1916. In future articles, I will pinpoint some of the highlights of his 1916 report. Within his report was an appeal for free textbooks for the children. It was item # 6 in his recommendations:

“Much of the funds paid for maintenance of the public schools is being wasted because so many of the children are unsupplied or poorly supplied with necessary text books. We would, therefore, recommend (if the local school tax is adopted) that necessary text books for the first four grades be supplied (loaned) to all children. This can now be done under the recent Yeoman’s Bill.”Mr. Duggan ended his report with this appeal: “We submit the bulletin to those interested in the better education of ALL of the children of the county with the earnest hope that each will be willing to make serious efforts and considerable sacrifices to that end. The future of the county depends directly upon the character of its public schools. Better public schools and better public roads are the prime needs of the county, and the attainment of either will powerfully accelerate the accomplishment of the other. With general interest in the welfare of the children. -M. L. Duggan.”
From 1916 to 2004, eighty-eight years have passed—over eight decades of progress on working at the weaknesses Mr. Duggan cited in his 1916 report. Since Union County was formed in 1832, there have been 172 years of upward struggle. Today the county has a school system of which citizens can be justifiably proud. Progress has not been easy, nor has it come without “serious efforts and considerable sacrifices.”

May 2004-2005 begin with high hopes and noble purposes for present-day Union County schools.

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published August 5, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.