Old School Days

Posted 4/21/19

Several months ago when I was in the office of the Daily Mountain Eagle I entered into a conversation with Jennifer Cohron as she was researching history of the old Bankhead, later Cordova High …

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Old School Days


Several months ago when I was in the office of the Daily Mountain Eagle I entered into a conversation with Jennifer Cohron as she was researching history of the old Bankhead, later Cordova High school. It stirred my interest in learning more about the old schools of Walker County as I am a graduate of Cordova High School and realized that I knew nothing about it's history. I told her all that I knew about the school and recommended that she talk with Dr. Buddy Thorne who is the source of all information pertaining Cordova and much of Walker County. He helped to clarify that the spelling on the the entrance sign of the football field should be Kerby, not Kirby as it now reads, which substantiated my contention that he is the source of all knowledge. He was also able to shed light on more of the history of the Bankhead/Cordova schools. This was verified by my fellow classmate, Ralph Sandlin, who rates right up there with the doctor in his historical memory bank. Realizing that I had a whole lot of catching up to do with those two, I decided to embark on a study of the old Walker County schools. Little did I realize what I was wading into as I had no clue that there were over 150 schools which I have been able to document, with new names added frequently.  

Last week in reporting from history written by Dr. Hewett Johnston in his book, SALMAGUNDI, I recorded from his writings the names of  the early schools that he attended, none of which I had on my previous list of approximately 150 schools. His first two years was at the Smith schoolhouse, his third was at the Snow school, fourth at France Bradley's house, Fifth at Ab Knight schoolhouse, sixth back at the France Bradley schoolhouse.

Due to space limitations in my last column I gave only the names of his first six years in school He list these additional ones. His seventh year was at the Hurd Shoals Methodist Church which closed in September 1885, but home chores prevented his return to school until November 1888. It was the Buoy House which was a little one room residental house with one door, a fireplace, and one window. It was built by Bouy Handley who lived in it while making two crops on the land, 1884-1885, before floods prevented his continual farming it, leaving it empty. The house was then utilized as a school building. He records that his brothers, Powell and Flem were able to attend Jim Colvin's school at Liberty Hill church while his sister, Archevie and brothers Ira and Manly stayed with Pink and Kinney Waldrop while attending school at the John Richardson schoolhouse taught by Miss Lou Morris from Day's Gap. Hewett and his brother, Noah stayed at home to do the home chores—and pull fodder. In July, 1887, Hewett's brothers, Noah and Flem, attended school at the Fairview Methodist church. Again that year, Hewitt with his brother, Ira, were kept home to work in the fields. In 1888, Hewett, Flem. Manley, and sister, Archevie, boarded with their sister and her husband, Pink Waldrop, and again attended the John Richardson schoolhouse. Brother, Manley and sister Archevie entered school the opening day but Hewitt and Flem did not enter until the middle of July. As Hewitt did not attend any school from September 1885 until July 1888 he was far behind in his studies. At age fourteen he was reading in McGuffeys fourth reader and trying to learn addition and substraction.

All schools during the time that Hewitt Johnston attended were held in the summer, July and August and perhaps some into September. The people in the lower part of Walker County, Beat 10, Walker County had only a few weeks of school each year, not lasting more than ten weeks, with similar conditions existing throughout the entire southland. There were no schools in the winter. Many students attended only part time and others did not attend at all.  It is doubtful that many of the children at age ten knew the day of month and year.  Teacher were local men or women with practically no education. Hewitt writes that he doubts that any of his teachers before he was age ten had even a small school dictionary—perhaps had never seen one. This was due to the fact that they had no opportunity to get an education. They taught spelling, reading, writing, and very elementary arithmetic (ciphering). The spelling books were the old “blue back,” and the readers were McGuffy's First, Second, Third, and Fourth Readers.

It was a noisy education. The pupils studied their lessons aloud between recitations if so desired, while they were sitting on the benches. When several got enthusiastic enough, it became quite noisy. Hewitt recalls, “one might be reading 'The Boy on the Burning Deck”; another reading, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” while another might be spelling out loud” during “books.”

Margery Thompson Lockhart in her book, DIXIE'S DIVERSE DESTINY,  writes that her mother attended school at High Hill which is located in Beat Ten. This is a school which I know about. She also list Low Gap as being a school which was located somewhere toward the river area from High Hill which was also a Baptist church. She also list the Snow school which Dr. Johnston attended The Busby was a little Log schoolhouse with split “puncheon” benches. It was located on the Busby Farm near where Price bridge is now in the old Littleton/Chappell fish camp area. She also mentions the school at the Hurd Shoals Methodist Church  and one at the Old Hall down toward Taylor's Ferry. Another school was at her Uncle Bill Thompson's place. Her mother also attended school at the Miller Schoolhouse which was a typical log building which also served as a church house, located near Pumpkin Center. Another school was called the John Richardson school which was “somewhere up the river from Hurd Shoals.” Smith Schoolhouse was near the Tuscaloosa County line.

After learning about all these old schools, I am at a complete loss as to how I can possibly document the history of all the old schools in Walker County. However, I bet that Buddy Thorne and Ralph Sandlin know little more than I about these schools, so I will not agonize any longer about who knows what about the history of Walker County Schools.  

Next week, schools  that's more familiar to us.

Contact Wheeler Pounds at 3424 Kings Mill Rd, Oakman, AL 35579, or at wheelerpounds@gmail.com.