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.