Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Friday, February 26, 2010

Blairsville Collegiate Institute

The Blairsville Collegiate Institute held a good record for providing education for youth of the mountain region from 1905 through 1930. Its twenty-five years of operation touched many lives for good and provided the impetus for many to pursue education beyond what the boarding school offered.

During the school year 1928 and 1929, my uncle, Dr. Norman Vester Dyer, served as president of Blairsville Collegiate Institute. In publicity and the collegiate catalog he released that year, he had a history of the school. From his historical sketch, I have compiled this account of the school.

About 1904 a preacher named Rev. Theodore Swanson traveled through Union County and stopped in Choestoe at the residence of Bluford Elisha (“Bud”) Dyer to spend the night. Their conversation soon turned to education. Rev. Swanson was a “college man,” and much interested in lifting the level of the schools that then operated as one-teacher entities for a few months of the year in many of the communities Rev. Swanson visited. New Liberty School within the shadow of Enotah Bald was one of these schools. Mr. Dyer and Rev. Swanson talked of what it would take to expand New Liberty and make it into a high school.

Rev. Swanson took charge of New Liberty School and he and Mr. Dyer conferred almost daily about their dreams for the school. Dyer said he could furnish the lumber for any buildings necessary to expand the school.

A meeting was held at Choestoe Baptist Church. One of the men present, Mitch Swain, offered twenty acres of land on which to build the consolidated school. Rev. Swanson made arrangements with another friend to move a sawmill onto the Dyer farm. Volunteers eagerly went into the woods and cut timber to be sawed into lumber. It seemed that the school would soon be a reality.

Then in 1905 the Notla River Baptist Association met. The question arose of denominational sponsorship of the proposed high school. After much deliberation, and after hearing the report of a committee that had studied the proposal, the motion that Blairsville, a more central location to the whole county than Choestoe, be selected as the site.

Twenty acres of land were donated in Blairsville for the school campus. Colonel W. E. Candler and Colonel M. L. Ledford were strong proponents of the school and gave of their time, means and energy to bring the school to fruition. A building containing classrooms and administrative office was the first to be erected “situated on an elevated plain overlooking the little town of Blairsville.” Some of the lumber sawed at the B. E. Dyer farm was transported to Blairsville and used in the first building.

Mr. J. T. Walker served as the first principal. It was called Notla River Baptist High School until Professor J. R. Lunsford was elected principal in 1910 and served through 1913. The class of 1912 was the first to graduate, with Florence Bowling, Sallie Rogers and Ethel Walker as first graduates. It was during Mr. J. R. Lunsford’s tenure that the Home Mission Board began to lend support and the name was changed to Blairsville Collegiate Institute.

With help from the Board and from Notla River Baptist Association, a three-story dormitory building was erected in 1911. Instead of having to find places to board in town, the dormitory made it possible for several of the students to live in that facility.

In 1911, A. E. Brown, superintendent of the Board, reported that Blairsville Collegiate Institute had two buildings, five teachers and 233 students. Subsequent annual reports from the Home Mission Board showed student enrollment of from 150 to over 200.

A 1916 report listed faculty as H. E. Nelson, Mrs. H. E. Nelson, Miss Addie Kate Reid, Miss June Candler, Miss Etta Colclough and Mrs. Maud Haralson. It was then the only high school in Union County and had an academic building, a dormitory with forty bedrooms, a parlor, offices and a library with 250 volumes. In addition, wells, barns, stables and outhouses comprised the campus complex. The school term was for eight months and 150 were enrolled. Water was dispensed from covered coolers with individual cups. “Patent desks” (not homemade) made up the classroom furnishings.

Also included in the 1916 report on education in Union County, credit is given to Miss Etta Colclough who seems to have taught home economics at Blairsville Collegiate Institute and also worked under the “State College of Agriculture” and the U. S. Department of Agriculture. “Under her direction and influence,” so the report states, “nearly 25,000 cans of tomatoes and other vegetables have been put up by the Girls’ Clubs and in their homes this year. This work has also served to quicken the interest in public education throughout the county and to influence it in a proper direction.” (From report of M. L. Duggan, Rural School Agent for Georgia, October 15, 1916).

Continuing in his Collegiate catalog of 1929, Dr. N. V. Dyer, president, wrote: “The curriculum is such as will prepare the boy and girl to enter the best colleges and universities of the south. The faculty consists of well-trained and experienced teachers who devote their full time and talents to their work.

“The buildings and equipment consist of a large main building and a dormitory. The dormitory is the most completely equipped and architecturally arranged of any of its kind in the state. Any boy or girl wishing to obtain an education at the least possible expense will make no mistake in attending Blairsville Institute.”

Many students enrolled over the twenty-five years of the school. They studied, they went out to other institutions and did well. Among those who graduated and made a name in education were Miss Addie Kate Reid and Miss Dora Hunter (Mrs. Dora Hunter Allison Spiva) each of whom taught at the Institute; Mr. Charles Roscoe Collins, teacher, administrator, historian; Dr. James M. Nicholson, who led in the transition from Blairsville Collegiate Institute to Union County High School when the facilities of the Institute were bought by the Union County Board of Education for $1,000 and the county high school began in the 1930 academic year.

Mountain schools, among which the Blairsville Collegiate Institute was a major one, had their distinctive place in the educational history of the area.

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Jan. 29, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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