yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee

From Lillye Younger, People of Action (Decatur County Printers, 1983). Special thanks to Constance Collett and the estate of Lillye Younger for permission to make this web page.


Lillye Younger

Title Missing

By Lillye Younger, Decatur County Historian

The first school in Parsons, Tennessee was a one room, 40 x 60 feet frame building, located at the corner of Tennessee Avenue and Fifth Street where Glennie Colwick's house is now located.

The building, constructed by Ollie and Ike Buckner, had a petition dividing the beginners and older students. A stage graced the west end of the building where school plays and other types of entertainment were presented.

Mrs. Vada Warden, 84, of Parsons, was one among the first to attend the two teacher school. "My first teacher," Mrs. Warden recalls, "was W. H. Long. Other teachers who taught here were Miss Lillian Roberts, Dorsey B. Gossett of Sugar Tree and brother, Zack Amerson. Professor Gossett taught his first school here during the 1894-1895 school term, at which time Miss Roberts taught the lower grades."

"Our subjects were reading, writing, spelling and grammer," Mrs. Warden continues. "I enjoyed spelling because every Friday we had a spelling match to see who could 'stay head' and become champ. It was very disappointing to have someone 'trap' you by spelling a word you had misspelled."

Fashion in those days were quite different from today. "We girls wore black stockings, lace or buttoned high top shoes and dresses ankle length."

 Discipline was also of a different tune. "The teacher punished us by thumping us on the head," she pointed out, "however, when the boys became unruly they got a taste of 'Peach Tree Tea,' which was a lashing with a peach tree limb."

Carl Partin, another scholar who attended this school a bit later than Miss Vada, recalls the school's heating system. "It was what we called a 'School room heater' and was caste iron with a door in the front and two eyes on top." he explains. "It was the boys' chore to keep the fire going during the cold winter months. Sometimes it got so hot it danced a jig in the middle of the floor. Hallie Adair was the chief fire builder since he lived across the street from the school building."

"Neither did we have running water," Mr. Partin continued. "We had a water bucket and dipper and carried water from Hallie's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Jim Adair, well. It was a real treat to go to the well and draw a bucket of water for the school. Germs didn't play a very important part in those days," he said with a chuckle. "Everyone drank out of the same dipper as the cold water, fresh from the stone curbed well, was passed around."

School terms were shorter in those early days. "We had three months in the summer with an intermission for cotton picking in the fall and three winter months of school," the slender silver haired former student explained.

"Each student had to pay a small fee to attend school because schools received no state and county aid at this time. Educational advantages were limited. Teacher's salaries were quite low but we had dedicated teachers. The day was filled with a large amount of understanding and a heaping portion of patience. Sometimes tuitions were paid in wood for the stove or even produce for the teachers. Tuition amounted to fifty cents (50c) per month per student. Even this seemingly small amount added up in those days because families were so much larger than today, and money so much harder to come by."

With a twinkle in his eyes. Mr. Partin recalled the highlight of the school year which came at Christmas time. ‘We boys went to the woods and cut the tallest, best shaped cedar tree the forest afforded which had a prominent place on our stage. It usually touched the ceiling. Decorations included all home-made trimmings such as popcorn strung around its mighty limbs, red berries from winter plants and later candles. Gifts were tied on each limb rather than placed beneath the tree. Santa Claus always made his appearance and gave out gifts. Many a little first grader's (called "Primer" then) heart almost burst with excitement and joy as he marched up for his gift from Santa's own hands. It was his first view of "Old Saint Nick."

Reminiscing as he recalls some of his classmates, Mr. Partin admits that K. K. Houston was the smartest student in his class. "When we got stumped on a problem it was always Kenney who solved it for us."

The old pioneer school played a vital role in preserving the American way of life and some of the greatest educators in Decatur County has every produced got their start at the little one room school of learning.

Even though the little school boasted of being first in "The garden spot of the World," (Parsons) it too, met its Waterloo. Mrs. Warden recalls that the school building was destroyed by fire in 1905. After that, she explains the Masonic Hall, located at the corner of Main Street and Tennessee Avenue served as a temporary school building until the Parsons University was constructed.

(photo caption) Among those in the picture above are as follows: Kirk Gooch, Olean Gossett, Hallie Adair, Cecil Patton, Don Partin, Askew Arnold, Iona Thompson, Belle Martin, Beady Houston, Onie Morgan, Nola Arnold, Jessie Martin, Ada Partin, Vada Arnold, Addie Fonville, Myrtle Patton, Houston Partin, Clyde Fonville, Maude Warden, Exie Houston, Mattie Byrant, Carl Partin, extreme right, age 3, sitting in his brother Arthur Partin's lap, Rowena Barnett, John Steed, Maude Roberts, Maggie Warden, Nettle Winston, Cora Bussell, Nora Morgan, Walter Partin, Maude Houston, Luther Houston, Anna Fonville, Will Jackson, Curry Myracle, Mae Steed, Otto Foust, Myrtha Houston, Bob Winston, Addie Houston, Granville Hays, Lora Long, extreme left holding Kennie Houston in her arms, Mattie Morgan. Cora Gooch, Nettie Bryant, Jess Houston, Armon Butler, and Sam Riggs. Mr. Gossett with mustache in center at top was the teacher (age about 26). Mrs. Vada Warden, then Vada Arnold appears second from last on second row from bottom at right end. Of the above group only 11 are living today. Picture made about 75 years ago.

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