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

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Saturday, March 13, 2010

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.

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