I’ve been busy behind the scenes researching all I can on the subject often called, “One-room Schools.” The first problem I discovered is that despite their classification, they sometimes had more than one room. In fact, some had several rooms, but all had one thing in common. They were built and run by the Lawrence County Board of Education for the purpose of serving the many small communities throughout the county. Some were large enough they had teachers and principals and were used for different kinds of social gatherings, as well.
Of course, there were more of the ‘one-room’ type than the other, meaning that the students all were under to care of a single dedicated teacher. These schools were often heated by a ‘pot-belly’ or ‘Franklin’ stove in the center of the room. The walls of the room often had slate blackboards for writing lessons and problems, or in some cases allowing for a form of punishment for misbehavers. I can personally recall having to write sentences over and over such as “I will not talk in class unless asked,” until the board was filled, or I had reached the prescribed number.
There were worse punishments such as a smack with the wooden ‘board of education,’ as applied to the ‘seat of learning,’ or even being excused from that day’s classes. When these sentences were handed down the worst was yet to come. Our siblings were there as were the other kids in the neighborhood, meaning the word would get out quickly to our parents. I have heard stories of moms waiting at the door with switch in hand because the issue had gotten there before the poor kid even made it home. Double jeopardy and sometimes more was the parental punishment given. Two spankings for the single crime. This was certain to temper our behavior in the future.
My friend and fellow classmate, Delbert Caudill told me stories about growing up on ‘Watermellon Hill’ in High Bottom, where he was obliged to attend the Lick Creek school. He grew to become an avid reader while there. He had read every book on the limited shelves and was delighted when he finally arrived at good old Louisa High School as a seventh-grader. It was there that he discovered the library, a luxury not afforded in the outlying schools. He would spend hours perusing the volumes of classic writings, as well as the encyclopedias there for the reading.
Many of the teachers that I later would have started out in one or more of the community schools. Names that bring back tons of memories were persons who had a life different than any I had imagined. Whether they were a principal at Fallsburg, or taught in some of the backwoods on the dusty gravel roads that meandered over the hills and along side the streams, they were seen by me as sophisticated teachers with broad visions of things they taught so well.
I found a writing on the web compiled by the DAR with the help of William A. Elkins, Sr., and Lucy Elkins. http://lcplky.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/One-Room-and-Early-Schools-of-Lawrence-County.pdf that names many of the schools existing in 1938. Another article worth reading states that in 1907 there were 96 schools in Lawrence County. This included 95 white and one colored school. The latter was located in Louisa in the Little Italy area. My friend Fred Jones attended this school but later attended the newly integrated high school. Before that time black students had to attend schools in the Ashland area, which, of course, was a major imposition considering the commute or finding housing. To read more try: http://genealogytrails.com/ken/lawrence/pastschools.html .
As with school boards everywhere, it was normal to have multiple ‘teacher’s meetings’ from time to time. It was an opportunity to meet and greet counterparts and hear from the Superintendent and members of the school board. These sometimes would last more than a day meaning those from outlying areas would need to find overnight accommodations. Inasmuch as my Great Aunt Shirley Chapman was a teacher, she invited her friend from Richardson to stay with us during these times. Goldie Childress represents a member of what a ‘schoolmarm’ must have been back in the day. Always proper, lady-like, and polite, Goldie was also good with children. My family tried to keep me away so she could take time to study, read her books, have devotions, etc., but there I was in her face with millions of questions. She never showed frustration by the interruptions, but kept her demeanor and gave the best answers to at least some of the questions. Each conference, and each year, I would approach her at first as a novelty guest, but later as a highly favored friend and mentor. I’m thinking that those kids lucky enough to have been under her were surely blessed.
When all school-aged kids were brought under one roof for the season, it might well have been a traumatic event, but the brave teachers were equal to the task. They loved and were loved. Some students had conflicting emotions about attending a larger school and leaving the old one behind. Perhaps they did not want to see change or lose contact with the beloved teacher left behind. The idea of riding a bus and becoming a member of a larger student-body may have been intimidating to some. Some felt lost or at a disadvantage. Still, others were excited at new opportunities and greater resources at the new school. Looking back, one could not guess how the commuting kids felt or what their personal histories entailed. Some, not feeling welcome blended into the crowd. They didn’t feel at home away from comfortable surroundings. I write this because I’ve been told of stories with those over-riding negative feelings. I was clueless of negative feelings because life was too full of things that competed for my attention.
I remember when I first ran into kids in the Fallsburg gang in high school. I had gone to the grade school and didn’t know any of the county students. I could not help but notice the pretty girls from Webbville, Fallsburg, and other places. Many joined various clubs and the band, so soon became friends. We all mixed well at camp and later in school plays and other activities. All of our lives were enriched by the diversity, not so much race, but rural and town cultures that didn’t clash, but enriched us all. I remember Cookie, Karen, Clara, Glenda, Carol, Ruth, and Doris coming in noisily and attracting our attention. These and many, many others had gone to smaller schools and were all brothers and sisters to each other. In town we, too, had our classes and were kindred spirits indeed. Johnny Bill, Stanley, Billy, Joan, Betty, Cora, Louis, Sandy, Linda, Sue, Paul Herman, Teenie, Sammy, Kay, Kaye, Harry Richard, Claudia, Wanda, Jimmy, Joe, Tommy, and many others added their bit to the melting pot that made life better.
Teaching multiple ages in multiple grades all in a single room must be difficult but considering that the younger could listen to the older and learn ahead of their time had to be helpful. Likewise, the older could actually help with the younger. Accomplishments could be celebrated by all, and everyone could be encouraged. That’s not a bad model for learning and getting along in life. Life on Walton’s Mountain, or in the Little House on the Prairie had its good points.
In the old days, school sessions where often based upon the farmer’s needing their children for planting and harvesting each year. School was out during those times. Semesters made sense considering fall harvests and spring plowing. In addition, some took only the first six years of education and then got a job. They were working in mines, on tobacco farms, dairy farms, and on the railroad making what they could to help the family and build a life. Those first years in the small community schools helped. They could read, write, and do their figures.
Classes in the schools often began with a prayer, then the reciting of the pledge of allegiance and singing ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee.’ Students stood with their hands over their hearts tying themselves to the history of this great country. The teacher sometimes wrote the lessons for the day on the blackboard, which allowed groups to begin their studies as work began with others. There were different levels of math, then called arithmetic, and sentences to diagram. In the early days McGuffey Readers were used for the lower grades. Some of those are available still from collectors and in the attics across America. Reciting poetry, participating in spelling bees, playing semi-organized games, hearing about historical events, having stories read that whisked imaginations off into foreign lands, and sharing in the hurts and celebrations of life built a strong bunch of caring people. We all benefitted from the results.
In cooler weather the stove had to be filled and stoked and a pan of water was sometimes put on top to produce humidity in the otherwise dry environment. Some of the boys would get the job of taking out the ashes, being careful not to collect hot embers that could cause a fire outside. Erasers were cleaned and the chalkboards washed with a damp cloth, finally removing the ghosts of lessons past. Girls would sweep the wooden floors free of dust and the dirt tracked in from the outside. There was usually a privy or two out back for necessary use. Most of the time each gender had their own, but not always. At schools with more students an outhouse may have been a two or three-hole facility, allowing use by several boys or girls at once.
These community schools were placed to be within walking distance of the students. There were those who rode horses to school, and some rode bicycles where it was possible. As roads became paved and had the appropriate bridges, schools were consolidated. Some of the schools of the day adopted the name as a ‘consolidated’ school. Those bright yellow school buses were added to the mix, sometimes making stops for younger kids at community schools and taking the older ones into town at the larger high schools. I have seen several of the old one-room school buildings turned into museums so the current generations can visit and see what the old way was like. They give an idea of the environment, for sure, but nothing replaces the real experiences of this kind of training. Kids learned how to socialize, help others, and take responsibility for their own education. The games, the comradery, the sharing, and the love for each other gave these students a head start in fitting into a diverse world.
While I was personally a ‘town kid,’ I became aware of the benefits gained by my county friends. I listened to the stories and understood at least to some degree the loyalties developed by my out-of-town friends. I didn’t attend these small schools, but I benefitted and still do. We taught our children at home, together in much the same fashion as described. Our grandchildren are home-schoolers, too. As such, we can still pray, we can celebrate our nation’s forefathers, and our kids can help and encourage their siblings with the course of study.
Better highways have pretty much done away with these schools, but I’m told that the skeletons of these building still dot our county if you know where to look. Used in some cases for community events, for church services, as a home to a family, or maybe Halloween’s haunted house, some are there yet providing a purpose and reminding us of what it was like growing up in Lawrence County Kentucky.
“School days, school days, dear old golden rule days. Reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic, taught to the tune of a hickory stick. . .” Well, it won’t be long now and the old education machine will crank up again. Back to school sales have begun in the shopping malls and over the web. Kids are trying to adjust as they say good-by to summer break. Already ball teams are practicing, bands relearning how to march, and the bookstores are stocking up with new textbooks. Maybe it’s time for a final nap or a quick visit to those friends we meant to see during the summer, but never found time. If that’s our intent we’ll have to hurry. A new, exciting school year is about to begin. We can’t wait to meet both old and new friends.
Coming up I have more to write on the out-lying schools. You can help make it even better if you have pictures you are willing to share. We’d like to see the old rural school you attended, as well as your fellow classmates of the day. Please send them to me so I can help share the good memories. Just attach them to email and send them to: firstname.lastname@example.org