Imagine the challenge of seven grades and sometimes seventy or more students managed by one teacher in a one-room schoolhouse. In those years, the classroom was tightly disciplined and those who attended school had a desire to learn. Students could accelerate as they listened to lessons of the grades above them. All was not gloom and doom in the poorly furnished, inadequately lighted and ill-equipped classrooms of the country schools. Most of the students wanted an education. If they were disciplined by the teacher for an infraction of the rules, they likewise received discipline and reprimands from their parents. Parental support was a strong positive as mountain citizens wanted a better life for their children than they themselves had received.
In 1916 the educational inspector, Mr. M. L. Duggan, began a section of his report headed “A Problem of Consolidation. Study the Map.” Under this segment he listed six schools:
Track Rock had Miss Ida Self as teacher with six grades and 54 enrolled. By his calculation in distance, it was two and one-half miles from New Liberty School and three miles to Old Liberty. Track Rock had good church equipment with long benches.
School two was New Liberty with J. W. Twiggs as teacher, with six grades and 40 enrolled. The building was of heavy hewed logs, weather-boarded with good poplar lumber, ceiled with walnut lumber, and had small windows which let in only a small amount of light. The benches were not good. It was located one and one-half miles from Pine Top School, three miles from Choestoe School and one and one-half miles to Old Liberty School.
The third school in this listing of six was Pine Top. Allen Dyer was teacher with forty-four pupils in seven grades. It had a blackboard and sandbox, but like the other buildings it was poorly lighted. The church members kept the building in good repair and benches were comfortable.
The fourth school, Old Liberty, had Herschel A. Dyer as teacher and principal with Watson B. Dyer as assistant teacher. These two teachers had an enrollment of seventy-two. Old Liberty was a distance of three miles from Choestoe School, one and one-half miles from New Liberty, two and one-half miles to Track Rock, and three miles southwest was Henson School. The church building at Old Liberty was large, ceiled, painted and with long benches, and blackboards were available.
Choestoe School had seven grades with thirty-seven pupils and W. J. Sullivan was teacher. The building was one room, painted and ceiled, but had no equipment. It was a distance of three miles from both Old and New Liberty Schools and three and one-half miles from Hood School (also called Hood’s Chapel).
Hood School had fifty-three enrolled with H. E. Jones as teacher. Classes met in the church building. It was from one-and one half to three miles to the other schools in Choestoe District.
Mr. Duggan recommended consolidation in other school groupings, even though the mileage was greater for some than what he noted for the six schools listed in the Choestoe District. He commented: “It is hardly probable that these six schools can well be consolidated into one, but very likely two properly located would be accessible for all patrons. County school officials and citizens should give earnest consideration to consolidation.” The only place Mr. Duggan mentioned the Henson School was in its distance from the Old Liberty School. No teacher, appurtenances, enrollment or other data were given for Henson.
By 1933, some of the six schools listed in this grouping had been combined. Town Creek Consolidated had been formed from Old and New Liberty, Pine Top and some of the patrons from Track Rock. (Later, however, Pine Top seems to have been reinstated as a one-room school.)
At Town Creek Consolidated School in 1933, Charles Roscoe Collins was principal with seventy-three pupils; Mrs. Bonnie Collins was a teacher and seventy-three was listed as her enrollment; and Mrs. Ancel Duckworth was another teacher with forty-six enrolled. [Note: This made a total enrollment of 192 for this consolidated school for 1932-1933, its first year of operation.]
Track Rock was still functional in 1933, with Ethel Wimpey and Ethel Collins as teachers, and sixty enrolled. A little later, Herschel A. Dyer was listed as principal and teacher at Track Rock with Irene Penland as associate teacher and 105 enrolled. Hood School (Hood’s Chapel) still operated in 1933 with J. H. Wynn as teacher and twenty-six enrolled.
A personal account is noted from the memoirs of Charles Roscoe Collins, first principal of the Town Creek Consolidated School, who proceeded to become a noted educator and superintendent of Union County Schools. He tells how the school began in 1932.
It was in the height of the Great Depression, but under the supervision of the then county school superintendent, Mr. C. R. Waldroup, from 1928 through 1932 the building with four classrooms and a small office was planned and built. Sawed lumber was used in the construction. The building was one in which the community took great pride.
Mr. Collins was in Colorado with relatives and it was almost time for the new Town Creek School to open. He had gone west looking for work, but because of general hard times in America, was unable to find a job in Colorado. His father, James Collins, sent Charles Roscoe a telegram informing him he had been elected principal of Town Creek School. He was to return to Choestoe immediately if he wanted the job. Roscoe had no money nor did his relatives in Colorado. A friend, Ms. Rose Martin, loaned him $35.00 for a bus ticket and $15.00 for incidentals on the long trip east.
To get from his father’s home to the school, it was a three-mile walk, one way, six miles per day. C. R. gladly made the walk daily. His teaching staff consisted of himself as principal and lead teacher, Ms. Bonnie Collins (Lance), Ms. Sarah Duckworth and Ms. Pauline Davis. The schools that had been combined to form Town Creek were Old and New Liberty, Pine Top, a portion of Track Rock, and Center School (this may have been the Henson School mentioned earlier).
The teachers’ contracts were for a salary of $52.50 per month for a six-month term. This was for the first-class teacher certification license. However, there was no money in county coffers to pay teachers, so they met their classes, month after month, without pay. Just before Christmas in 1932, Mr. Collins received $10. He rode to Gainesville on the back of a truck owned by Rev. Aaron Souther. The truck was loaded with crossties. The weather was bitterly cold and snow covered the ground. With the $10 he bought each of his 7th grade pupils a Christmas present. He spent the remainder on clothing he badly needed for himself. The teachers did not receive their back pay until the summer of 1933 when WPA funds and other monies allowed at least partial payment.
Those were hard times. Much of the country was standing in long soup-lines to prevent starvation. At least the teachers and pupils had food grown on the farms in Choestoe Valley.
Mr. Collins recalled that he walked over 1500 miles while he served as principal and teacher at Town Creek. He went early to build fires in all four classrooms every cold morning. He commented, “The school served a great purpose. Many fine boys and girls finished seventh grade at Town Creek Consolidated School.”
When the next major consolidation was completed in Union County Schools in the 1950s, two school sites were delineated: Blairsville and Woody Gap. All the country schools were closed and busing made it possible for students to attend the centralized schools. Multiple improvements and advancements in buildings, equipment and resources have resulted in state-of-the-art facilities. Students who proceed from Union County Schools to colleges and technical schools hold their ranks among the best.
As a graduate of a two-teacher country school (Choestoe) and of Union County High School, I can attest to the excellent education I received in the public education system there. My first year of teaching was in Union County at Choestoe School, which by then, the 1949-1950 school term, due to small enrollment (25 pupils) qualified for only one teacher for seven grades. That experience gave me impetus to continue as an educator in Bibb, Hart and Fannin Counties and also to teach in colleges.
I observed many great teachers in action as they taught me. They became my inspiration, motivation and example to become a teacher. I reach back to touch them and thank them for their influence upon my life. And to the citizens of Union County, past and present, thank you for placing priority on education. It has made and is making a difference in countless lives.
c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published September 9, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.