Smith County History: Schools

November 19, 2020

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 Mabel Thompson and Rhoda Lee Hailey

(1800- 1986)

The history of Smith County schools is one of slow, unsteady growth, dating back to the 1800s. The first teachers were private tutors who were taken into the homes of those who could afford their services. Many of the early preachers, such as Daniel Burford, also served as teachers.

Under the Second Treaty of the Holston Act in 1806, a tract of land was to be reserved for two colleges, one in the eastern and one in the middle section of the state. Another 100,000 acres were to be reserved to support academies in each county. Where possible one out of each thirty-six square miles of land was to be set aside “ for the use o f schools for the instruction of children forever.”

The supporters of education were pleased, thinking this might become a good founda­tion for public schools within the state. They were soon disappointed as the money failed to appear. Finally, Smith County received enough money in 1810 to establish Geneva Academy in Carthage. A site on the east side of and adjoining the town was selected for erecting a building (where Citizens Bank now stands). William Walton made a gift of two acres to the school.

For the next several decades very little State support for the schools was forthcom­ing. The Subscription Academy became popular during this period, but always, it was only the more affluent who could afford the costs of educating their children.

It was not until 1854 that Tennessee levied the first general tax for public education. Counties were also authorized to levy school taxes. To qualify for the money an annual census was taken of the students in each school district in the county. The state paid about seventy cents per student. Smith County received $3254 for the year 1857 for the entire county. No census records have been found for the years during the Civil War. The county court did not meet, and it is presumed that what few schools may have remained open did so at the expense of the parents.

Dr. John W. Bowen, representing Smith County in the state his efforts, the Academy Act was passed. In the years that followed several academies were established in the county. Three commissioners for each school district were appointed by the county court. The charters for the academies were granted if interested citizens and their respective commissioners made application. There were no uniform guide lines for the schools, and the court-appointed superintendents acted more as overseers than innovators. The grounds and buildings were furnished by the citizens of the community, and school terms lasted anywhere from three to seven months, depending upon the amount of money avail­ able.

In 1898 the legislature passed the high school act, providing funding for three schools in each county. Smith County was to have a high school north and south of the Cumberland River and one in the “forks of the river.” The county court refused to vote the monies needed to match the state funds so the schools did not materialize. Finally, the county justices succumbed to the tactics of the “weaker” sex and money was appropria­ted for the funding of the three high schools in 1914. Gordonsville had a new academy so there was no problem about locating the school in that area. Carthage and Monoville tied for the north side school with Carthage winning. Thomas Fisher gave the land on the hill and Ed Myer contributed the additional ten acres required for agricultural studies. The city erected the building. In the Forks of the River, Chestnut Mound won out over Elmwood for location of the school. However, after one year of failing to comply with the necessary requirements, the location was moved to Elmwood.

In 1944 Smith County had sixty-three schools in operation, including two high schools. The lunchroom program had been initiated under the supervision o f Mabel Thompson, and numerous cloakrooms were turned into country kitchens from which delicious hot meals were served — the most popular being pinto beans, potatoes and cornbread. Prices started at $3 a plate, later going to 5 cents and finally to an all-time high of 20 cents.

Transportation was hard to come by. Most pupils walked or rode horseback, sometimes two and three deep, for many miles a day. Buggies and Model-T Fords also served their purposes on a sharing basis. The first bus service carried a charge of $2.50 a month after much consolidation of schools, were free buses made available to students of all schools.

The first superintendent drew $60 a month, but by 1866 this had been raised to $250. Those who have served as superinten­dents over the years are: Joe Nicholes, E.L. Huffines, Leslie Gold, Albert Gore, Sr., Earl Oldham, J.B. Gore, Woodrow Piper, Clark Meadows, Homer Lewis, Joe Anderson, and Wayne Langford.

Below is a list of institutions that have served to educate our children during the past two centuries:

Thompson Academy; (1800), Trenton Col­lege (1805), Geneva Academy (1810), Porter Hill Academy; (1830), Clinton College (1834), Female Academy; (1842), Black Gnat College (1867), Haywood Academy (1878), Chestnut Mound (1878), Oakley Academy (1881), Enoch (1882), Enigma Academy (1882), Oak Hill (1884), Cornwall’s Chapel (1890), Joseph W. Allen (1898), Knob Springs (1906), Carth­age High (1914), Gordonsville Academy (1880’s), Defeated Academy (1916), Cartwright Academy, Falling Water Acad­emy, Franklin Academy, Gill’s, Ogles, Green Valley, Cooper’s Academy, Huffine’s Acad­emy, K Beech Academy, Union Hill Acad­emy, Dillard’s Academy, Barnett’s Camp Ground, Hale’s Seminary, Robinson’s Acad­emy, Pea Ridge Academy, Dillard’s Creek Academy, Elbow Academy, McClure’s Bend Academy, Oak Wood Academy, Dean Hill Academy, Sunny Plaines, Campbell’s Insti­tute, Central Point Academy, Green Hill Academy, Macey’s Hill Academy, Sander­ son’s Academy, Kittrell’s Academy, Piper’s Academy, White Sulpher Academy, Knobton Academy, Clubb Springs Academy, Fairview Academy, Bowling’s Branch Academy, Rural Academy, Friendship Academy, Tanglewood, Sykes, Brush Creek, Stonewall, Hickman, Maggart, Horseshoe Bend, Buf­falo, Helm’s Bend, Difficult, Kempville, Defeated, Beasley’s Bend, Dixon Springs, Riddleton, Rawl’s Creek, Flat Rock, Grant, Paine’s Bend, Haynie, Grant Colored School, Hogan’s Creek, Rewoda, South Carthage, Bluff Creek, Lancaster Colored, Monoville, Turner Elementary, Turner High, Gordon­sville High, Carthage Elementary, Pleasant Shade, Smith County High.

Most of the schools listed above have long since disappeared from view and from the minds of many. Most were one-room, one- teacher schools, equipped with the standard pot-bellied stove, the water pail with a single dipper, and outdoor plumbing. To the educa­tors the teaching profession was one of hard work and long hours and to most of the hundreds of students, unappreciated. Stu­ dents, rebelling under the watchful and severe eyes of many of the educators, later learned to love and appreciate their fine work. It was ever thus . . . and will continue as long as the teaching profession exists. Even though the passage of time has destroyed even the remnants of most of the buildings, the influence of these primitive institutions upon the cultural heritage of Smith County will never be lost.

The Smith County Teachers Institute was organized in the 1880’s, usually holding their annual gathering in mid-summer at the courthouse in Carthage. They came together to discuss latest teaching methods and relate problems encountered throughout the differ­ent school districts in the county. In the accompanying picture the teachers gather on June 19,1892, before the courthouse for their annual meeting. (The picture is one of the few ever taken showing the front of the building before the center doorway, porch and steps were added. The window in the extreme right was remodeled and is now the large doorway entrance to the courthouse).

Smith County Teachers Institute meets in Carthage, June 19, 1892. (Courtesy Frances Lanius).

Although not specifically identified in the picture, following is the list of teachers who received certificates to teach in Smith County schools for the year ending June 30, 1892, with their post office address: Enoch, Tenn. – H.B. McGinness, W.H. Sayles, Authur Carter, Euda Carter, Georgia Boul­ton, Eliza Kenney, Naomi Beasley, Maggie Manning; Chestnut Mound, Tenn. – W.B. Wyatt, J.P. McDonald, W.F. Sanders, E.D. Gross, Ada Thackston, Alice Glover; Carth­age, Tenn. – A.J. Redditt, R.H. Lankford, J.L. West, Harrison Highers, Hughes Jordan, H.B. Geubelt, Lena Redditt, Bettie Dillard, Lavinia Burton; Enigma, Tenn. – John H. Apple, L.C. Thompson; Stonewall, Tenn. – J.L. Coffee, W.R. Perkins, Claude Cooper; Defeated, Tenn. – Minnie Reece, Lillie Hance, Nettie Hance, Mattie Warren; Rid­dleton, Tenn. – R.H. Washburn, Overton High, Turner Bradley, J.W. Moss, Angie Washburn, Ada Allen, Maude Bradley, Carrie Bradley, Susie Jolly, Rena Ferguson, Nora Perkins; Hickman, Tenn. – W.B. New­ by, Clyde Potter, Creola Flippen, Daisy Flippen; Dixon Springs, Tenn. – Mrs. J.L. DeBow, Minnie Cox, Naomi Cox, Sarah Chambers, Emily Stevens; Grant, Tenn. – J.W. Morris, J.B. Curtis, C.A. Oakley, C.B. Allen, Mentlo Allen; Hogans, Tenn. – J.W. Baily; Maggart, Tenn. – D.H. Hudson; Lan­ caster, Tenn. – B.N. Hicks, Lizzie Askew; Temperance Hall, Tenn. – T.J. Driver; Pleasant Shade, Tenn. – J.L. Dickerson, D.J. Oldham, J.J. Beasley, J.A. Jenkins; Elm­ wood, Tenn. – Z.D. Ford, L.P. Ford, Lula Ford, Alma Ford, Mary Gann; Monoville, Tenn. – Walter Garrett, G.D. Key, J.R. Bridgewater, Robert E. Key, J.W. Mathews, Minnie Key, Mary Bridgewater; Kempville, Tenn. – A.H. Herring; Difficult, Tenn. – L.T. Kemp, J.A. Kemp; New Middleton, Tenn. – E.E. Turner, W.E. Wilkerson, D.M. Johnson, A.H. Carpenter, Sadie M. Agnew; Defeated, Tenn. – W.R. Warren, W.B. West, S.B. Morman, T.H. Sanford, E.L. Huffines; Wat­ertown, Tenn. – James O. McKee; Brush Creek, Tenn. – John G. Mitchell; Sykes, Tenn. – J.E. Reasonover; Gordonsville, Tenn. – N.L. Gold; Bluff Creek, Tenn. – Sallie Stevens; Rome, Tenn. – S.C. Shipp.