I felt it timely to write last week about the Byron Herbert Reece Cultural Center and the grant received to assist with the work there. Today, I continue with the life and work of Mrs.Chastain, outstanding teacher, and her husband.
The work begun in the Academy founded by Zenobia Addington in Morganton, GA, was to continue. Even in those days the quality and extent of the Academy’s outreach enabled a grant from the Peabody Foundation and for a time it received funding and was known as a Peabody School.
Following her husband’s ordination to the gospel ministry on May 17, 1884, the couple’s interests continued in “Zenobia’s Academy,” but began also to take another turn. Rev. Oscar Chastain was one of the founders of the Morganton Baptist Association, and the group of churches assumed leadership of a high school already organized but needing some help in Mineral Bluff, GA.
Then, in 1899, the association voted to found the North Georgia Baptist College in Morganton. Unbelievably, the school opened in the fall of the same year. In its 26 year history, from 1899 through graduation of 1925 (when it closed, with buildings and grounds deeded to the Fannin County Board of education) the school offered classes from first grade through two years of college, with an outstanding “normal school” for training teachers. It was a natural transition that the already established “Zenobia’s Academy” could be absorbed into the new school. Classes were held in the old Fannin County Court House at Morganton as the county seat had moved to Blue Ridge in 1895.
Zenobia Chastain continued as a teacher there, with her husband a strong supporter, business manager and chairman of the Board of Trustees. At one time, the couple mortgaged their own house and land in order to provide necessary income to keep the college open. In 1906 the North Georgia Baptist College was named one of “The Mountain Schools” of the Home Mission Board. Funds were received for a new administration/classroom building, and later for a dormitory. A companion “Mountain School” was operating in Blairsville from 1904-1930 as the Blairsville Collegiate Institute.
Zenobia and Oscar Chastain opened their home for relatives and others who needed a boarding place so they could attend the North Georgia Baptist College. The couple had three children of their own, daughters Mariam E., Mary E. and Nettie A. The girls were listed as ages five, three and one in the 1880 census. The daughters preceded their parents in death. Two married, and evidently died in childbirth or shortly thereafter.
It has been said of Zenobia Addington Chastain that she was the “educational mother of the mountain area.” In a time when women’s work was mainly as a homemaker and helpmeet to her husband, she was establishing and maintaining an academy and later supporting and teaching at a college that touched countless lives. Records show that graduates of both Zenobia’s Academy and the North Georgia Baptist College went out to be teachers, lawyers, businessmen, ministers, doctors and nurses, all giving credit to an industrious and visionary mountain woman who worked hard to help them attain their goals.
This noble lady, born in Union County but spending productive years in education in Fannin County, did not deviate from what she considered her mission and calling. Her husband, the Rev. Oscar Fitzallen Chastain, died in 1906 at age 62 and Zenobia died in 1907 at age 60. They were buried near the graves of their daughters at the Morganton Baptist Church Cemetery, not far from the site of what had been “Zenobia’s Academy” and of the North Georgia Baptist College. The epitaph on the joint tombstone for Rev. and Mrs. Chastain reads: “They loved God and their fellowman.”
Zenobia and her husband had a vision and worked to make it a reality. Indeed theirs were noble lives, nobly lived.
c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Feb. 9, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.