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

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Saturday, March 13, 2010

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.

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