From one room to two stories – the early history of Atlanta schools

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By Kate Stow

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Early School Administration

The earliest records of school administration was in 1849, when it was shown that the County School Commissioners had acted on locating the four leagues of state school land.

The earliest schools did not have trustees. Prominent citizens of the school community assumed the responsibility; however, judges were appointed by the court to hold elections for school trustees and trustees were elected for the five districts in 1873. Appearing on the list of the first county trustees in District 1 was the name of Daniel Boon, grandfather of our County Superintendent, D.H. Boon.

By an act of the Legislature on May 22, 1873, the County Judge acted as County Superintendent.

Community Schools

The earlier schools were formed in a rather odd way. A few good citizens would feel the need for a school and would contact the parents who had children that might attend. A subscription rate of $1.50 per-month enabled a child to attend school. A teacher was then obtained and log cabin was erected or an old building was rented for the purpose. Then again, an energetic and unemployed teacher would go into a community and get subscriptions and establish a school himself.

These earlier schools were not in certain districts. There were five beats in the county and as many schools were established in any one beat as the need for same was felt.

First School Bond

The City Council in session, August 17, 1889, passed an ordinance issuing $6,000.00 in bonds, to buy ground, build and improve a building for a female academy in the city of Atlanta. Twelve $500.00 bonds, bearing 6% interest, payable at Third National Bank, St. Louis, Missouri, with interest on September 1, 1890, and each succeeding year until paid. This ordinance was signed by G. O. Albright, Mayor; and G.W. Robinson, Secretary.

The contract for the new building was let to W.A. Stuckey for $4,750.00 on August 28, 1889. This building was erected on the present school site.

The male school was named the Atlanta Institute and the female school was known as the Female Seminary. It was in a large frame building located just east of the Presbyterian church on Hiram Street.

School Always Came First

The City Council in session, June 3, 1889, was presented a petition signed by a number of Atlanta women, asking the Council to build a 40×60, two-story building for the establishing of a female school in the City.

A.Miles, R.M. Harp, and R.E. Boyles were appointed as a committee to solicit funds and see what could be done in the matter.

School Salaries Paid Early Teachers

The City Council in session on August 8, 1889. Professor Madden was offered $1,400.00 to teach the male department of the Atlanta grade school for eight months, with the agreement that he furnish two good assistant teachers.

Professor Horsley was employed to teach the female school at a salary of $125.00 per month for eight months.

Early School Superintendents

The County Judge and Commissioners Court attended to school matters until the appointment of a County Superintendent. The County Judge approved the vouchers issued by the school districts and the County Treasurer paid in cash the amount of the vouchers. Monthly reports were required as they are today.

Vol III, page 259 of the Minutes of the Commissioners Court shows that the Commissioners Court met on Monday August 12, 1907, and appointed Mr. M.G. Bates as the first County Superintendent of Public Instruction in Cass County. This Court was composed of: V.D. Glass, County Judge; J.P. Fant, H.C. Abernathy, H.O. Greene and R.R. Cobb, Commissioners.

The next County Superintendent, who then was elected by the people was Mr. Drew Porter of Marietta. Mr. Porter served from 1912 until October 1914. He resigned and at this time the Commissioners Court appointed Mr. Hicks Harvey, who later became Judge of District 7. He served until 1919. J.B. McClung was then elected as County Superintendent and served until 1923. Mr McClung later served in the State Department of Agriculture at Austin. Mr. J.L. Lovelace, of Linden, was next elected County Superintendent and served for four years. W.A> Barber was elected and served until 1931 before becoming Superintendent of Schools at McLeod. Mr. Mabern Humphrey served from 1931 until 1935 before serving as Vocational Agriculture Instructor at McLeod. In 1935, D.H. Boon was elected County Superintendent.

The County Board of Education was created by an act of the Legislature. A board for Cass County was appointed by the Commissioners Court on June 26, 1911 and composed of the following men: I.C. Weaver, A.M. Wommack, B.D. Long, John D. Bryant, and D.P. Duncan.

A remembrance of Atlanta’s first school

The following story was written by Mrs. Onie Willis and appeared in a 1929 issue of The Citizens Journal:

Sixty-four years ago, Atlanta’s first school was taught in a little building constructed of rough boxing lumber. It was possibly 20 by 24 feet, with four windows and one door, with shutters made of the same rough lumber. The building was covered with two-foot boards hewn from pines that grew nearby. The furniture was crude, long, rough benches for the children, and a home-made desk for the teacher. This building was located on a little knoll just east of where the C.H. Hefner resident now stands.

The first school of twelve or fifteen pupils was taught by a Mr. Lilly and afterwards by “Uncle Billy” Crawford, a pioneer Methodist preacher.

In 1877, Dr. R.L. McClung moved from Lafayette, Upshur County, to Atlanta, and bought the block of ground upon which the schoolhouse stood. Dr. McClung and family lived in this building until his new house could be built. At that time the whole block was covered with forest except a small clearing that had been made around the schoolhouse.

The school was moved to a little house near where the C.W. Newkirk resident is now located, after one or two terms there taught by a Miss Jennie Hearne. This little house burned, and school was resumed in a building near the J.G. King home. A Mr. Stafford was in charge After two years this house and lot was sold to the colored people who used it for a church.

In 1880 or 1881, the increase in population and improved financial conditions were factors in deciding the citizens to erect a more commodious building. The trustees called a mass meeting of the citizens of Atlanta, both men and women, to consider the possibility and wisdom of such a step. The enthusiasm of trustees was so contagious that at that same meeting, in no time at all, enough donations were secured to begin operations at once. Some subscribed money, some lumber and other building materials, while others subscribed labor. At this meeting plans were materialized by which a lot on Hiram Street could be bought to be used as school grounds This block of which the Presbyterian church lot is the northwest corner, extended from street to street giving plenty of room for all playground activity.

A long step forward was taken when the trustees secured the services of Professor and Mrs. M.V. Looney, among the best educators of Georgia, to teach the first school in this new building, and for several yeas after, they raught there implanting the highest ideals in the minds of the children of Atlanta’s pioneer citizens. These children are old men and women now Some have passed on, but most all of them have wrought well, each in his chosen line of work. Some of them are nationally known, while others are honored men and women of Texas. The accumulated influence of these two teachers can never be measured.

By 1892, the need of a larger building was met by erecting a five room, two story brick building on the sight of the present high school on Louise Street. For a few years only girls attended there with Mr. and Mrs. Looney in charge. The new building was called Atlanta Female Seminary. The boys remained at the old schoolhouse. It was renamed the Atlanta Male Institute. Professor and Mrs. M.G. Bates, two more of Georgia’s great educators, were employed to teach there.

After three or four years the two schools were merged into one, with Mr. and Mrs. Looney still in charge. This was in the two-story brick building on Louise Street.

Talk of merging Atlanta and Queen City schools

In 1939, the progressive leaders of Atlanta were looking forward to consolidating all of the outlying community schools to form a bigger district. There was even talk of combining Atlanta and Queen City high schools. As you read this reprinted article, it’s easy to imagine this could still, some day, happen.

PRESENT STATUS AND POSSIBILITIES OF THE ATLANTA PUBLIC SCHOOL

In a democracy such as ours, the function of a school is to assist in developing talents, abilities, and powers of its students along socially approved lines. An educational institution can have no other; for any other purpose is too vogue and indefinite. But one’s native intelligence and ability remain practically the same throughout life. It is a concrete definite something and can be trained to play its part more effectively in the scheme of life. It can neither be added to nor subtracted from, to any appreciable extent. The sum total of one’s powers, abilities and talents constitutes his intelligence. It is the fundamental unit with which the teacher works; and the purpose, if correctly interpreted, of the teacher is to aid in developing it to the greatest extent possible.

A public school system does not become full grown over night. Like every other social institution, it develops gradually. The varying forces of the community which it serves push it this way and that. But in the more progressive communities its progress is conservative but sure.

During the past seven years in particular, the Atlanta Public School has made rapid progress. An excellent building has been constructed and equipped. Approximately twenty-five units of affiliation have been secured. Commercial, fine arts, home economics, library, science, and vocational agricultural departments have been introduced and maintained. Intelligence and achievement tests have been used to assist in determining as far as possible the best manner in which to render aid to the students.

Wherever possible, business methods have been substituted for the old hit-or-miss, more or less haphazard methods of a decade ago and more. It has assisted in operating an amateur broadcasting station. Considerable attention has been given to improving the appearance of the campus. More than 130 transfers attest to the service the school is rendering adjacent communities.

In brief, the Atlanta Public School is today the biggest school its size anywhere. Shall the Atlanta Public School rest content with its present achievement? The answer is NO! To do so will be to retrograde. The progressive citizens of this and contiguous neighborhoods, who have made possible the great progress already achieved, will never consent to a backward step.

Rather will they demand even greater progress in the future than in the past. They will ask for, and rightly so, a more effective service. The school as an institution will seek to perfect the varied activities already begun. The amateur broadcasting station will, it is hoped, become a permanent one with an allotted wave-length. The excellent central and grade libraries will grow into a still greater library. In short, every undertaking now in progress of completion will be carried through to a successful conclusion. Again, today is an era marked by cooperation and consolidation of business organizations throughout the country and even the world. Railways, motor companies, wholesalers, retailers, corporations of every conceivable kind—all are combining into larger organizations.

Even schools are consolidating and forming larger and more effective units of administration. This is no new movement in the field of school administration but is a tried and proved method of increasing the efficiency of the schools while decreasing the expenses under the old method. Schools are everywhere adapting themselves to a more efficient business administration.

In an educational way, nothing except the best will satisfy the progressive citizens of Atlanta and her neighboring communities. That means, in the first place, the consolidation for high school purposes of Atlanta and Queen City. Except from a legal standpoint, these two communities are already practically one in a high school way. Secondly, it will mean the eventual consolidation, either directly or indirectly, of Unity, Stewart, and possibly, Liberty Grove with the Atlanta – Queen City Independent School District.

As soon as permanent highways become more common, other schools will likely join in. The people of these districts will maintain a big central high school in Atlanta to provide the best educational facilities possible for their children. Petty prejudices and jealousies will play no part in this undertaking; for every parent will realize that he is most
effectively aiding his own children to have a better chance and opportunity in the game of life.

So the Atlanta-Queen City Public School System of the future will include a big central high school and seven or eight junior high schools. There will be thirty or forty teachers and 1,200 to 1,500 students. Are you one who wants to see this vision come true, to have available for your boys and girls, your brothers and sisters, finer and better educational opportunities than you yourself had? If you are, then you belong to that great army of citizens who are quietly but persistently pushing forward.

This program, like all other undertakings in this progressive section, can and will be realized. Thus will greater efficiency be introduced into and less expense attached to the administration of schools round about. Do you not want a part to play in such a glorious achievement?