Smith County History: Rural Academy, An Institution of Learning

February 19, 2021

The following is an excerpt from the Smith County History Book. The book was published in 1986 by the Smith County Homecoming ’86 Heritage Committee. To purchase a digital copy of the Smith County History Book, contact the Smith County Chamber of Commerce or the Smith County Heritage Museum. 

By Lois Bennett

In the years just prior to and following the War between the States, it seems there was little regularity in schools being taught in this little rural community in the southern end of Smith County near Brush Creek. Albert Barnett mentions in his book, The Barnett’s of Smith County, that his father, John Barnett, had attended a school called Mount Holly in the community before the war and that after the war, Captain George Moore, who rode with Forrest during the war, opened a school which he attended. There were, no doubt, other schools of which we have no record.

Sometime between the war and 1869 John Alva Smartt, my great grandfather, donated a piece of land on which a schoolhouse was erected. He had a large family and was interested in seeing that they had the opportunity of attending a school regularly. John Barnett opened a school there in 1869.

Rural Academy School

This school was perhaps the result of a bill that was passed by the legislature to establish a number of rural schools to be called Academies, thus the name Rural Academy. Both my grandfathers, Turner Smartt and Lemuel Barnett, attended this school, as well as my mother, Sallye Barnett Smartt, uncles and cousins. I also attended this school in the first grade. Unlike today every child had to walk to school, and since there were no other children on my road, I had to walk the mile alone. I’ll never forget how afraid I was of the farmer’s animals, for in those days the roads were not fenced but had a gate across them at the boundary of each landowner’s prop­erty.

In these early days, especially before the war, the school buildings were heated by large fireplaces in the end of the buildings. Some of the more mischievous boys would bury buckeyes in the ashes and when they were heated they would explode, sending ashes and embers all over the house. Later the buildings were heated by pot-bellied stoves.

People of the community were very proud and appreciative of their school and their teachers. Many times when a teacher’s birthday happened to fall on a school day the mothers in the community would prepare food and bring it to the school and “spread” a lunch for the teacher and the children.

The children were taught to respect their teachers and to help out with community projects. One such example is the time a former student’s house burned, and the students, with the help of the teacher, pieced a quilt to be given to the family.

Rural Academy not only served as an institution of learning but on many occasions was the meeting place for religious services. Perhaps my great grandfather held services there since he was a Baptist minister.

The Academy served as a place of learning for many family’s children whose names are no longer found in the community. Some were the Barnetts, Smartts, Thomases, Ful­lers, Agees, Carpenters, Campbells, Dennys, Pritchetts, Wilkersons, Paschalls, Ashworths and many more.

There were many teachers in those early years of whom we have no record. My father, Francis Smartt, taught there in 1908 or 1909. E.B. Woodard taught there in the middle twenties. Others who taught there were Will Wilkerson, Herbert Maggart, Tabitha Davis Blair, my first teacher, Vera Skelton, Catherine Neal, Lassie Pendleton, Annie Lee Rose, Paul Frye, Norma Young, Lellie Craw­ ford, Leota Piper Wilkerson, Bessie Cheek, Overlla Beckwith, L.B. Barbee, Billie Reed Hix, Sadie Winfree Wills and many more whose names we do not know.

In the year 1924 the bigger boys at Rural Academy were smarting at the fact that other schools their size had basketball teams, and they had none. They took the matter up with their teacher, E.B. Woodard, and it was decided that Rural Academy would also have a team.

The boys, and some of the girls, helped clear a section of school yard, making it as level as possible. The backboard was built out of rough boards and a suitable pole was cut upon which to affix it.

The one ball owned by the school took such a beating that it was soon punctured and repaired so many times it finally reached the place where it could not be blown up again. Someone thought to stuff the ball with rags, and while they could not dribble, the players could throw it up to the hoop. Every boy wore overalls to school — and when playing other teams. No one had heard of uniforms, or dressing rooms, or tennis shoes. Records of wins and losses were not kept, and no one had heard of a referee, but then, who needed one!

In the late forties or early fifties this little school was closed, as were all the one room schools in the county, having served its purposes as an institution of learning. Today it still stands in the corner of a pasture as a reminder of days gone by, no longer filled with the voices of joyous children, but with bales of hay for the farmer’s cattle.