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September 01, 2015

For the September blog, I wanted to focus on schools in some way since children and teachers have returned to school by now to begin another new school year.  I was looking through an edition of the American Spirit magazine that Mom had given me and my eyes quickly fixated on an article about historic schoolhouses.  The article focused on the preservation of one and two room schoolhouses in the state of Montana.  There has been a great push there to keep history alive, so about sixty one and two room schoolhouses are still in operation today in that state while other one and two room schools in that state and around the country (even in our local area) have been razed or abandoned.  This got me to wondering where these buildings were once located in Henry County and if there were any left.  Having been an elementary school teacher for twenty one years, I have seen education and school environments change in that somewhat short period of time.  It is always difficult to write about something if you haven't experienced it, but I AM in the epicenter of local history!  I have also watched a few episodes of Little House on the Prairie in my time!

I first looked at the book by Jean Hairston entitled "One Room Schools in Henry County" and became amazed at the number of these schools that were once in existence in our area.  There seemed to be a school within only a few miles of the next one.  The Center also has history files on most of these schools, but, unfortunately, they do not hold a lot of information.  There are, however, pictures of some of the students that attended - ranging from first to seventh graders in the same class.  I quickly found out there were still a few of these schoolhouses in existence here in our area just right down the road.  One such school is still located on Carson Lane once known at Carver Lane.  It was called Carvers Lane School and was thought to have been established around the 1930s.  Wanting to see it for myself, I took a quick ride down the road and there it was!  The schoolhouse which still stands on a small hill is an aged dirty white color and sadly has lots of weeds growing around it.  There are two doors to the school both being located on the same side separated by a row of windows of which several are missing panes of glass.  There is a sign on the building that signifies that it was recently (and I use that term loosely) used as a Ruritan building, but obviously there has been no love and care there for quite some time.

The Rock Run School in Fieldale is also still standing but is hidden somewhat by the woods.  I am not sure what I was expecting to see, but learning that this schoolhouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register really got my attention.  The vision that I had formed in my mind was tarnished by the overgrowth and wooded area keeping it from my view.  I am not sure as to what shape the school is in today, but reading several articles about it there seemed to be a tremendous amount of work on it to restore it.  This school supposedly closed in 1954 when Henry County consolidated schools operated for the black students.  I would very much like to take another field trip to have another chance at catching a glimpse of it. 

And of course with all things having the Bassett name at one time or another in this area I wasn't surpirsed to find out that there was even a Bassett Elementary School.  I had heard about this since my great uncle Ernest Clay had talked about walking to and from school across the swinging bridge.  He lived in one of the North Bassett company houses since his father, James Gaither Clay, was the boiler man for the JD Bassett Manufacturing plant.  I remember in his stories that the school was referred to as "Chocolate Bottom" but couldn't remember exactly why.  Mom told me that the school acquired that nickname because of the color and appearance of the land after being drenched by the Smith River.  I was fascinated to find out that this school still stands today, hidden behind the walls of the old Bassett Walker building!

Believe it or not, the schools of today, even though quite different, share some similarites to the schools of long ago.  A single teacher teaching a class of over twenty-five students must use differentiated instruction to individualize instruction for each student just like teaching a class of first through seventh graders.  Supplies are still limited and there is never enough money.  Each day is started by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and the curriculum, although more rigorous, is still centered around the same core subjects - reading, math, history, science, and geography.  In my opinion, there should be a local history class taught in schools today and students should have the opportunity to visit one of these "forgotten" schoolhouses.  Local history has a huge purpose and students need to become familiar with the people and contributors to their heritage.  It astounds me when people visit the Center and do not recognize Patrick Henry in the portrait behind the circulation desk.  We all, large or small, grown-up or still growing, need to appreciate those who came before and endured hardships (like those who attended one room schools) to make our lives easier today.  We need to know the names of those who made contributions, large or small, that help to make our area a much better place in which to live and learn!

"The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet."  Aristotle

Fran Snead










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