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Early Education in Prince Edward County
Always a Thrill in Elam"
"Crude Log School Didn't Deter This Serious Group from Success"
Bloomfield School, Darlington Heights area
Meherrin School, 1903
Pupils of Miss Marie Crawley proudly line up in front of Prince Edward School No. 20 located on the Fuqua farm in Elam. The school was in operation from 1876-1908. Caleb Spangler is the boy to the far left and next to him is Irving Spangler. Carl Spangler is the next boy on the front row. Minnie Spangler is the third girl from Irving and Della Spangler is the second from the right in the back row. The remainder of the children are unidentified.
Education Always a Thrill in Elam
by Marge Swayne The Farmville Herald, Friday, September 7, 1990
the following scenario: the school board meets to discuss the upcoming
school year; the schools are ready, the pupils are ready, but there is
no way of transporting the students back and forth to school. Does
this sound like a prediction of things to come–possibly the fate of a world
facing dwindling oil supplies? Perhaps, but it was also the state
of affairs in rural school systems a hundred years ago.
Although it may be difficult for the twentieth-century mind to imagine, getting to school was not always as easy as hopping on the school bus. If children of a century ago wanted an education, they had to employ a self-propelled means of transportation: they walked.
Consequently, it was the school board’s responsibility to provide conveniently located schools for all the pupils under their jurisdiction. It was not an easy task. Rural schools were built according to where the most children were located. If, however, the school age population shifted to another vicinity, the school board faced a dilemma, which they solved in a logical way–the board moved the school building.
One early school, established in the Elam area in the late 1800's, was a case in point. On September 5, 1873, School #10 was ordered to be established on the Fuqua farm with a Miss Mathews as the first teacher. In October Miss Mathews canvassed Mr. Fuqua’s neighborhood and found it deficit of the number of scholars required for a full school. The school board decided to locate Miss Mathews’ school at Bethpeor. Later, after the school was built, the board reconsidered and authorized a Mr. Elam to move School #10 north of the railroad to a location near Olive Branch Church.
School #10 prospered and is still remembered by local residents, but the Fuqua school was all but forgotten–except by a Mr. Caleb Spangler. About 20 years ago, Mr. Spangler, at the time a resident of Des Moines, Iowa, was passing through Virginia and decided to pay a visit to his childhood home. Mr. Spangler stopped at Elam at the home of Anderson Coleman, introduced himself, and asked about the old Fuqua school. Although a lifelong resident of Elam, Coleman had never heard of Fuqua school. Caleb Spangler promised to send a picture when he returned home, which he did.
Coleman filed the picture away in a trunk and forgot about it until recently when the question of whether a school ever existed on the Fuqua farm was raised. Coleman brought out his picture as proof, but it [seemed that no one in the] community could remember a school in that location.
Did the Fuqua school, in fact ever exist? The school board minutes of Prince Edward County were used to try and substantiate Mr. Spangler’s story. Faithfully recorded by Mr. George Hunt, clerk of the school board from 1872-1909, these records tell the story of School #20, the Fuqua school, and provide a fascinating in-depth look at a very different world from our own. For one thing, the school board of a hundred years ago favored a no-nonsense approach to financial matters. Teachers were expected to be content with their salaries of $20-30 per month. If the budget was a little tight in a given year, the board had a remarkably simple way of balancing the books–they voted unanimously to reduce all teachers’ wages by $5 a month.
The board spared no expense, however, when it came to building new schools. The minutes proudly recorded all the construction details of each new school. Atypical building was “18 by 24 by 10 feet, raised 12 inches from the ground on rock or brick pillars, weather boarded up and down with forest pine, inch thick joists sheets closely with and covered by pine or chestnut shingles, ceiling of thoroughly seasoned tongue and groove, brick flues for two chimneys, and a petition to divide the room for boys and girls.” The total cost for all this–$237.
Rural schools were also freely supplied with desks and blackboards, but in 1888 there was considerable discussion about purchasing copies of Webster’s unabridged dictionary. It was finally decided to purchase “½ dozen copies for the best schools.”
George Hunt, clerk of the school board, meticulously recorded all these facts, but he ws also, in the tradition of George Washington, a scrupulously honest man. The entry on the page for the year 1895 was concise and to the point: “Owing to some cause or other the minutes of 1895 were lost and as the clerk could not recall them from memory he thought best not to record them at all.”
The next mention of a school on the Fuqua farm was in 1876. Miss Lodge was appointed as teacher. By 1880 the Fuqua school (numbered School #20) was apparently well-established. The board voted to supplement School #20, now taught by Miss Ella Marshall, $10 per month.
Nothing more is mentioned about the Fuqua school except for a succession of teachers: Miss Lelle C. Reynolds, Miss Lizzie Binford, and Miss Louise Forbes, the teacher identified in Mr. Spangles’s photo was Miss Crawley. In 1905, Miss Margie Crawley appeared on the roster of teachers assigned to School #20, final confirmation of the authenticity of Mr. Spangler’s photograph.
In 1907, Miss Crawley, joined her father, Thomas Crawley, at School #4 in Prospect, and the following year the Fuqua school was closed with the following statement in the school board minutes: “The question of opening School #20 was discussed and the board finally decided not to open this school again owing to the proximity of a large majority of its pupils to school #10 (Olive Branch) coupled with the fact that there seemed to be an aversion on the part of some teachers to accept that position. The cause of this is not known to the board.”
In spite of its ups and downs, Prince Edward County school #20 broadened the horizons of young minds for roughly 32 years. The old Fuqua school was, in all probability, never considered one of the “best schools” and may never have received one of the coveted “½ dozen copies of the Webster’s unabridged dictionary.”
Yet the serious expressions of the pupils of Caleb Spangler’s photograph, it would seem, deny that this was anything but a first-rate school. Perhaps the members of the school board were wiser than they knew when they voted against buying all those dictionaries. The thrill of a good education, after all, is almost impossible to define.
Crude Log School Didn’t Deter this Serious Group from Success
The Farmville Herald, date unknown
is worth a thousand words, the saying goes.
Study the 1899 picutre accompanying this bit of Prince Edward history for which The Herald is indebted to R. Aumon Bass, of Rice.
How many words would it take to: Describe construction methods of small country schools at the turn o the century; or tell about the dress, hair styles, footwear of elementary and secondary school youngsters of Southside Virginia as the Commonwealth ushered in the 20th century?
What words would be used to describe the obvious decorum and seriousness of purpose mirrored in these youthful faces and in those of the adults at the rear of the group , including Miss Annie Cox, the teacher (# 15)?
This rare photograph was taken at the “Bass School” on Route 696, the Green Bay Road, four miles east of Route 460. Its name derives from the fact that it was built and donated for public schooling by the late Charlie M. Bass, father of R. Aumon Bass, loaner of the picture. (#1 at left among the boys.)
The school had been in use several years before the picture was made, according to Mr. Bass. Already having attended the school and gone then were John Clark, who became sheriff of Prince Edward County, his sister Fannie Clark and James T. Bruce, according to Mr. Bass’s reckoning.
He reports that all are deceased except five. The living five are J. Hugh Gilliam (#2), Annie Gilliam (#27), Meda Gilliam (#17), Ruth Gilliam (#9), and Aumon Bass (#1).
Mr. Bass reports that schools then had limited terms, with sessions starting “in October and running through April or May.”
A few years later than the 1899 picture another school was built just across the road on the Bass farm. When the busses came, the same framed school building was transferred up the road to “somewhere near Green Bary.”
Charlie M. Bass, the building donor, ws on the county school board for some years, his son recalls.
The names are listed on the back beside each number, and the last names read like a true historic log of the Sandy River area families. They’re either a Bass, Gilliam, Bruce, French, Garland, or Crawford, except the teacher.
Bloomfield School, Darlington Heights area
house located on Bloomfield Road (Hwy 667) in Prince Edward County, near
Darlington Heights. Mr. John Anderson, deceased, was a student there.
Teachers slept above. School was heated by wood stove. There was
another room, not visible here, but it has fallen in.
- contributed by May Shorter
Meherrin School, 1903
- contributed by Mary Holt
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