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GROWING UP IN LOUISA;  ONE-ROOM SCHOOLS!

 Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

A reader suggested that I write about one-room schoolhouses. Since I was a ‘town boy,’ I have always thought that since I didn’t have personal experiences to dreg up on the subject, I should write on other things. After giving it some thought, I remembered that several of my high school classmates had gone to those schools and had told me some stories that have given me more insight than I had thought. I know that history is important to them and millions of others who started their education under the tutelage of teachers so very dedicated as to take on the formidable task in a difficult environment. I also remember when school Superintendent Bill Cheek described those to me on several occasions when I rode with him in his red jeep to visit some of those small schools. In fact, those schools were the reason he drove a jeep. The agility and four-wheel drive was needed to get to many of the schools. I went into several of them to drop off supplies, but not while classes were in session. To put together this overview, I’ve also sought out input from several friends.

These schools, despite an unearned repetition of being somehow backward, turned out many successful citizens who continued their education and became leaders. This happened because of the special attention from a skillful teacher, fellow students, and the repetitive teaching methods of the day. Younger students were always exposed to the lessons of the older kids, often siblings, and they knew they would be under pressure to perform when their turn came. Undoubtedly, equipment was lacking, but spirit, gumption, and pride wasn’t.

The buildings themselves were not impressive. They had poor heating from a central stove, (wood or coal burning), had outdoor toilets, poor lighting, and were drafty in the winter. Summers were hot and muggy and the trail leading up to the school steps was either muddy, or baked hard by the sun and trampling feet, or iced over with frozen snow in the winter. These schools took students only through the early grades, usually six, but the teachers did their job to prepare their young charges for life, and high school that was to follow.

I know from some of the alumni that the old buildings always felt like home and were full of childhood memories. Classmates were, if not literally, family. Few, if any of these schools remain in service today, as far as I know. Most of the country roads are improved and school bus routings have been extended. Consolidation of schools into more modern structures has helped negate the need to continue with past practices. One-room schools are perceived as archaic and behind the times, putting students at a disadvantage. Perhaps some ghostly ruins of former one-room school buildings still dot the hills and dales, even if abandoned. They are in danger of nature totally reclaiming them as vines, weeds, and vandalism take their toll. I’m thinking that maybe some have been put to new uses, including churches, or even as private homes. For those who attended these small schools, they were the starting place of life’s adventure.

I have watched several TV programs and movies that portrayed the experiences many of children had with these wooden structures across American. One-room schools were common all across this nation, whether in the mountains, the flat-lands, or deep in the wildernesses of the Rockies. My wife and I visited a museum a few years ago, that was literally in one of the remaining one-room schools here in Virginia. The guide showed us sample lessons that a teacher had to handle while juggling a room full of students of various ages. No doubt a lot of learning occurred when younger kids had to sit still while older students had to read, write, and do figures on the board. Reciting lessons was a common method, so everyone got to listen and learn everyone else’s lessons. Sometimes one of the older kids might help in teaching the younger, too. It was a good system in its own way, because it did not emphasize peer groups, or age groups, but instead the commonality, or brotherhood of learning. There was no generation gap, but a good learning environment for all. Remember, too, that those usually only had classes from first grade through perhaps the sixth grade. Some schools went higher or lower, and some lacked students in certain grades. It made life interesting, I’m sure.

 Busseyville school Busseyville school One-room schools were placed near communities that had several school-aged children. Because the kids had to walk to school, it was important to find a place that had safe access that wasn’t too far away from the communities. We’ve all heard the joke about having to ‘walk five miles in the snow to get to school, uphill both ways.’ Well, the truth may have seemed that way, but surely there was some downhill along the way. My wife, who went to a slightly larger school in West Virginia tells me she would sit on her metal lunch box and slide down the hill to her home in the valley below.

Since buses couldn’t run to these schools, walking was the only way to get there. I’ve read that some rode a horse, or maybe biked.  Going uphill on a bike is a tough way to go. Snow days were unheard of back then, but those walking in from further out may have been a bit tardy. The lessons would go on with any of the students that showed up. I’ve read that during spring planting and fall harvesting, some schools closed, or generously allowed kids to stay home to help. I have no idea if Lawrence County schools did that, but wouldn’t be surprised. Lunch was carried in a metal lunchbox with a thermos, but some just packed a ‘poke,’ or bag with nuts, fruit, and a sandwich. Lunch time was a midday break from academics, and often left kids time to run around the ‘school yard’ in play. Whether tag, dodgeball, or an organized game, it was a good time for bonding and using pent up energy. I’m guessing they slept well when they got home.

Some of these one-room schools were placed quite a way back in the woods and hollows of the County. I remember visiting one that was just uphill, on the banks of a creek. I have no idea of the school’s name, but it was a good walk from town, up over Pine Hill, and back toward Smokey Valley. I wouldn’t want to try and find it today. I remember this one had a yard hydrant (pump) over a well in the front yard, and a bald playground that was apparently void of vegetation from the rough play at recesses. I remember seeing that the creek bank had been used as a dump for old school books, trash, broken toys or sporting goods, and great piles of paper. There were also tin cans, broken glass bottles, some bed springs, some automobile tires, and some indescribable metal that had rusted and threatened to give passerby’s tetanus infections. Such were many creek banks during the time, so the refuse dump was not a surprise, but common in the hills.

old school desk complete with ink holeold school desk complete with ink holeWhen I went into the school I remember seeing several school desks, some in larger size and some smaller, each gathered as if to divide students into classes. The teacher’s desk was in the back-center of the room, with a real slate blackboard running the length of the wall. Above the blackboard were several sets of pull-down maps. I noted that because history and geography were a favorite subject of mine. I’m sure they were the same as the ones used in my classroom in town. Common to all, they were mounted on a heavy oil-cloth so they wore very well. I remember some were cracked, but the image was still clear enough to learn how the nation and world was shaped. I suppose there was a world map, and national map, and maybe one of Kentucky. Of this, I’m not sure.

My memories of other things seen have slipped away, but I guess there were books, chalk and erasers, a trash basket, and lots of drawings and pictures on the wall. I know my grade-school classroom had a long banner showing the letters of the alphabet in both upper case and lower case, printed and cursive. I’m thinking the one-room schools had the same. I don’t remember, but I assume there were two outhouses; one for the girls and the other for boys. Those may have been behind the school. They may have had only a single outhouse to share.

I remember seeing a big, pot-belly stove in the center of the room. The stove pipe ran up through the roof in a chimney structure I suppose. Likely, there was a wood-pile outside. The teacher would arrive early and get a fire going. The older boys would keep it hot on those cold days.

I remember in the younger grades that kids tended to have accidents, so wet breeches that were hung near the stove would give off an unmistakable smell. That became embarrassing for that child and their friends.

I’m sure spankings happened. After all, that would bring the rowdy ones under control. Everyone I’ve spoken to on that subject says that once they got home they would ‘get it’ again. It was hard to keep secrets when kids from all ages witnessed the event. I heard that Jim Cheek had a wood-shop and turned out paddles for teachers and principals when needed. That might not be true, but I never met a principal that didn’t have one in plain sight in their office. I can assure you that they stung.

School-life there I’m sure had things in common with schools everywhere, like shooting paper wads when the teacher wasn’t looking. I expect they started every school day with prayer and reciting the pledge of allegiance to the US flag. I know we took turns leading the pledge, and sang ‘My Country ‘tis of Thee...’ Every classroom had a US flag and the state flag, as well. Today, we have turned from God and are swift to declare our nation in a less favorable light. Kids are loyal to their team’s mascots, but not so much to their nation. We will pay for that in the years to come.

McGuffey Reader McGuffey Reader I remember my great aunt, a high school math teacher, telling me all about the McGuffey Readers that were used at different levels in her day. She had some that she let me read. At the time, I was past the level of those particular books, but she instilled in me an appreciation of their importance to the beginning readers. Reading, the first of the three R’s, was the most important, I was told. The second (not an ‘R’), writing was second. ‘Arithmetic (pronounced rith-ma-tic) was the third. I’m sure everyone had to stand up and read. They were required to memorize poetry and recite poems to the whole class, and at PTA meetings. There were spelling bees and contests involving the multiplication tables. Some schools used flash cards to learn math, the names of places, English, and other things that had to be memorized. Cake-walks were held on occasion and musical chairs were played. I won a cake once, but I wasn’t allowed to eat the whole thing. Rats!

The school’s small library was mostly text books, but they also had some classics like Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Washington Irving, and maybe others. I remember I loved ‘Landmark’ books that told exciting stories about Daniel Boone, Wild Bill Hickock, the Wright Brothers, Tom Edison, and many other subjects. I don’t know if those were available in one-room schools. There was a movement once to have a ‘book-mobile’ get on the road to insure those students had adequate access to literature, but I don’t know if the roads allowed them anywhere near these backwoods schools. I suppose they would give advanced notice and have the kids walk out to a meeting-place. Literature were like windows to the world and inspires everyone to grow in the knowledge on those hallowed pages. Sometimes, teachers would read to the class and at other (quiet) times the students would read to themselves.

In my research for digging out more on this piece of history, I discovered that in 1907 Lawrence County had ninety-five white schools and one colored school. I think the number was lower when I was there in the forties, but I really don’t know.

I remembered the colored school in town that was over in Little Italy. I asked my friend, Fred Jones, to tell me about any memories he has from when he attended this school before integration took effect. He has published a couple of articles on the subject and was willing to share them so I could include excerpts in this article:

In the early 1940s, schools were segregated. White children attended one school while the blacks were sent to another. Also, in many churches, movie theaters, and Fred JonesFred Jonesrestaurants, sections were reserved for black patrons that were separate from the white customers. In Louisa, Kentucky, the black school was opened many years before I was born and later attended. My father, Curtis, and my uncle, Coke Jones, attended that same school along with many other children from the Burgess, Wallace, Allison, Freese, Sweatman, Collins, Polly, and other black families who lived in the Louisa area.”

“At that time in Louisa, black children were only educated through the sixth grade. Following that elementary education, families who wished for their children to have a higher education sent them to the homes of relatives or friends who lived in either Ashland, Kentucky, or Huntington, West Virginia. There they could be educated through high school My mother received a very good education in Huntington, and she taught school during my first and second grades.”

“My reason for writing “Memories of the Black School” is to share with you the memories that I have of the era that began in 1948 or 1949, when my father worked hard at Wells Motor Company and always brought home something sweet to eat, where the evenings were spent around the radio my father loved to play with, getting the antenna just right so that we could listen to shows like Amos and Andy and Red Rider. It is also in that era that things began to change, and it is my hope to share this history.”

“Well, I was just thinking about my days at the Colored School, located at the end of Lackey Avenue in Louisa. You see now days I sort of get mixed up about the name I should call it. When I first came in this world in 1944 at the Riverview Hospital my birth certificate showed me as “Colored” and when I started school I had to check the Colored block “C” on where you signed your name just inside the book that you were issued.”

“I started in at the Colored School, when I had to leave that school and go to the “White” School I was called “Black” and had to put a “B” in that block. Then when I got into High School I had to check “African-American” in that block at the library. So, when some would ask me just what are you, well I would say, “that sort of depends on about the time you are talking about.” Most of them would say you are not an Indian I know, I would reply to them, if there was another school then to attend I guess I might have been one, if there was a block for it.”

“One thing to remember is that years ago the school books have a page in them where you put your name and grade. Just above it there were 2 blocks, one for Black and one for White, you checked the one that you were. All of our books came from the White Schools and were not in any good condition at all.”

 Busy Bees copyBusy Bees copy“In the mornings, we would walk down the street to that school and our mother would watch us from the house, once we got up the steps to the school we would wave at her and she would throw us a kiss, then we would turn and go in the door. Our teacher would be sitting at the desk, on cold mornings she would have the big stove in the center of the floor putting out some really good heat, and you could smell the coal as it burned and to me that was good.   I sat close to the stove all of the time as I stayed sort of cold all of the time. We had a big sand box table that we could walk around it and play in the sand with some of the toys in the box, I used a little yellow bull dozer all the time making roads in the sand, it was lots of fun.”

“Our teacher was from Ashland and she rode the train up every morning and back every afternoon. We were the only students that she had in the school. When school was out at 3:00 p.m. she cleaned around there some and put in a few more lumps of coal to keep the fire going that night. Then sometime she would walk up to our house and talk with my mother or sit over at Carl Butler’s grocery store till time to go to the train station. We would be walking home and our friends would be getting home to from their school and we would talk about what all we did. They would invite us to come up to their school and see what all they had to play with, but we were not allowed on the school property our parents told us. And they were not allowed to come into our school and see our big sand box table, never did figure that one out at all. But we were always told now that is the law made by the Federal Government and you cannot break that law, I heard that almost every week as I grew older.”

 One room negro schoolOne room negro school“Some of the kids would ask “Where does your older brother goes to school? Well, he stayed in Ashland with Aunt Kate and my older sister was in high school in Columbus, Ohio. She stayed with my Grandmother Ewing there. Once I would make it to the 6th Grade I would be going to school in Ashland at Booker T. Washington and staying with Aunt Kate... Our father would tell us about when he went to that school with his brother and sister and a few others in Louisa, they had school plays and ball games behind the school all of the time. My father told me that I would go farther in school than he did as he had a job and could afford to send me. When he was growing up and his father was working for the Coke Plant and grandma was ironing and doing washings for others he said he had to leave school to work. At this time in Louisa there was not much for a colored person to do to make money, but seems like we always got by from time to time and the main thing we were happy.”

Thank you, Fred, for sharing. He is just a couple of years younger than me so I knew him when I was in high school at LHS. Thank goodness, times had changed and Fred didn’t have to go to Ashland for additional schooling. I remember his brother, Falls Branch schoolhouseFalls Branch schoolhouseCharles, later a decorated Army Warrant Officer, who served and was killed in Viet Nam. He was one of our LHS stars in football and basketball, and was one of the first colored kids to attend LHS. Many of my friends and I thought the world of him.  His little brother, Fred, was a drummer in the LHS Band when I was Drum Major. The percussion section was made up of some talented fellows, and fun-loving, too. I can still hear the ‘rim-shots’ when the teacher wasn’t looking.  Again, Fred, thanks for sharing your memories.

I’m guessing that one-room schools had times where they put on plays, or concerts for parents to attend. I know that happened in the big schools in town. The ‘special’ get-to-gathers would fill the school with folks from the community. This was usually to celebrate holidays, or events the kids had worked on under the leadership of the teacher and maybe a mother, or two.

Cursive handwriting was often emphasized from about the second grade on. Music and art were two subjects that varied depending upon the skills and interests of the teachers, I suppose. I’m sure there were differences between those schools, but I never saw anyone from the county come into our high school that was behind in their studies. I think education happens in spite of low funding, or without lab equipment and big libraries. Students with these things should have a potential advantage, but those without soon catch up.

It’s the character of the person that counts. In fact, we as a people are much the same in body, but very different in attitudes, personalities, intellect, and faith. In my experience the kids in Lawrence County come from some pretty, good stock. There are things that can be influenced even if one is deprived of material advantages. Success is for those who seek answers and apply what they learn, and the product of one-room schools prove that notion to be true. Is it ‘overcoming’ or just wisely using the things that you have?

Wisdom, after all, is about the application of knowledge. Intelligence is about insight and understanding relationships. In the end, whether that important knowledge is gained through lessons or insight into lessons, while one attends a one-room school, or studying on a big, consolidated campus, what matters most is applying that which is learned. I know that Lawrence County has turned out a lot of highly successful men and women despite the low budgets and the shortages of learning tools. Many professionals, including US Presidents, started off life in a one-room school. There is no reason to hang your head and feel deprived, because the evidence is that you earned a great education through these early experiences.

The teachers we had back then, as well as now, were dedicated and beloved by their young charges. As students grew older over time, some would return on a visit and be certain to see their ole’ teacher. In some cases, these educators were real family, but in many others, they were surrogate parents and a important guide in life. They were the model that kids would emulate, and a kindred spirit, as well. Those teachers earned their keep as they captured the hearts of the children. In the end, no one took more pride when their charges went on to bigger and better things. Those who had the experience of attending a one-room school, can safely take pride in that experience. Home-schoolers today, emulate that same pattern of old, taking classes with siblings, and applying lessons learned. Both groups, one-roomers and homeschoolers, typically excel in life.

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Comments  

0 #7 Rachel Rose Clark 2017-11-30 09:40
My mother went to the last one room school in Lawrence county. When it closed the Ashland paper did a story on it and posted a few photos. My mother can be seen in the back at her desk. Horrible 1960s bell bottoms and all, lol. The photo that was included in this article that says colored school is mislabeled. The photo is of the summit school. It is the same picture as in the article
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0 #6 Bernard 2017-10-02 20:17
Great article Mike. I'm always pleasantly surprised when reading them and my memory button goes back to the late 30 & 40's. Fred is a great friend of mine and I enjoy talking to him and this world could surer use a few more like him.
Thanks for the memories, and God Bless.
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0 #5 Joe daugherty 2017-09-29 21:46
I'll put the old 8th grade edu. These kids got a 100 years ago up against most university b.a , bs , degrees . You go Amish country watch those boy 12-14 years old walk out on log yard and fig, 1000 ft out raw timber . In 2 min, most kids today get out high school could not for their life tell who bombed peril harbor 1941.
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0 #4 Stan Beown 2017-09-27 02:22
Mike,
A great story with Fred's part.
My sister. Ruth Evelyn taut in the old one room school on the rout 23 . just beyond the power plant, I know that Glenna O'Daniel and her brother Robert went there.
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0 #3 Diane 2017-09-25 22:44
Mr. Coburn, I enjoy reading the stories about how people lived back in the "good" old days. Grandma and Grandpa made a living while raising thirteen children at a time when there were no conveniences like we have today.

It's interesting to study where we all came from. I like reading in Luke Chapter 3 verses 28 through 38 that follow the ancestors of Noah back to Adam's third son, Seth.
At the time of the flood, as described in Genesis Chapter 7, the only survivors were Noah, his wife, Noah's three sons and their wives.

All of Adam's first son Cain's children died in the flood; if Abel, Adam's second son had any children, they all died in the flood.
All of Seth's children, if there were any besides Noah, died in the flood.

Genesis chapter 10 describes the three sons of Noah and their descendants; Japheth, the Gentiles; Shem, and Ham. Their tribes are listed in that chapter for an interesting study.

While we are all made of one blood, God set the boundaries of our habitation. See Acts 17:26. I like Red Green's comment, "We're all in this together. I'm pulling for you."

I hope you keep up the good work of sharing peoples lives from those "good" old days!

I made the determination when I was about ten years old and my mother sent me with a pail to put manure on tomato plants, to grow up and get a professional job that didn't involve putting manure on garden plants. I kept that promise, too!
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0 #2 Diane 2017-09-25 14:37
I remember carrying my lunch to our small school in a one pound lard bucket. My mother would also use the bucket to stretch her husband's railroad engineer cap over it after she starched it.

I am grateful for my first grade teacher, Ms. Pansy Walker. I can still hear her saying that in polite company you always put the other person first. As in. "He and I have gone fishing." She also taught us that one never used have, has or had with went. it is, "We have gone fishing." I went to the store." Never, "We have went." Sad to hear even national news anchors mis-using the English language. They should have had Ms. Pansy for their first and second grade teacher!
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-4 #1 Terry 2017-09-24 17:16
I really like to read stories about old memories but the “African American” part I definitely DO NOT like, but that’s my opinion.
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