yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee

The History of the Scotts Hill Schools

by Gordon H. Turner

No records exist of any school here before the Civil War. This is true also for the several years following the war.

The first settlers came (from N. Car.) in 1825. Certain families likely cooperated after "living necessities" had been provided, to assure that their children had at least elementary training in the Three R's.

General plans were agreed to by patrons signing their names to a sort of contract to pay certain amounts for the school. Such were known as "subscription schools" and this finance plan continued around here until well after 1900 when school revenue became more plentiful.

Scotts Hill's first effort toward a public school came in 1870. In that year one Samuel P. Winston came in to become our first teacher. He was from Hickory, N. Car., where he had been teaching. The first school house - a small log structure - was built "in the Jess Holmes woods" just back of the present gymnasium. (Jess and Cynthia Austin Holmes gave the site for the building, and several succeeding schools were also built on their donated lands.)

My father, J. S. Turner, recalled visiting this first school more than once to hear "the scholars recite!" The house had two windows closed by shutters in inclement weather, split-log benches, a chimney and fireplace for heat and only a few books. always shared by students.

Winston married Annie, pretty daughter of the Holmes, in 1875 and thus became the nephew-in-law of the town's popular doctor, Pleasant W. Austin. Dr. Austin soon began efforts to persuade Winston to enroll for a medical course at his Austin's) alma mater, the University of Louisville's College of Medicine.

Since Professor Winston's salary was meager ($15 per month) as a teacher, and since he could ‘moonlight by practicing medicine", or vice versa, arrangements were made for him to enter medical training. He commuted by steamboat on the Tennessee and Ohio rivers, made a good record "attending the lectures," and still taught school here between terms - never more than three or four months in a year.

Graduating in 1884 with an M.D. degree, Winston was at once a success as a doctor back here. He also increased school interest and began urging the town to provide better quarters for a school.

In the late 1880's a frame building was erected, with two large classrooms which doubled as an auditorium. This house stood about where the gymnasium and front campus entrance are now. This larger building was filled with students in a year or so, making two and then three teachers necessary.

First teacher in the new structure was Henri Heuterburg, a German, who left after one year, in 1889. Ben Davis followed (1889-90); then W. Ben and John H. Duck (brothers). 1890-91: Frank and W. Alfred Austin (1891-92); John H. and Jim C. Duck (1892-93): D. S. ("Samp") Duck and William Stinson (1893-94); then Jim C. Duck, Ben A. Tucker and Myra Turner (1894-96).

School interest had grown so by 1895 that Tucker and others began promotion of a larger school building, to house also a "college" department. He had graduated from Huntindon's Southern Normal University and had served for a term or two as superintdent of Decatur County schools. By now he had an unexcelled reputation as a school promoter and administrator.

The two-story frame "college" building was completed with local labor and materials, in time for the opening of school in September, 1896. It was located a few hundred yards from the old campus, to the north-east - on what became known as "College Ridge.

Water for this Scotts hill College came from a fine spring; heat was by box stoves, often fired by upper classmen to pay for their tuition and who cut the wood from the virgin timber back of the building. There were two large classrooms on the first floor: an auditorium doubled for classes upstairs and also had a stage and siderooms for extra activities and "exhibitions" at school closings. A small "office" was also on the first floor but the "college" had no library except a few books loaned by teachers. For girls, an antiquated outside toilet was erected; boys used the deep woods farther back!

Tucker was contracted by the new Board (Henry Austin, A. L. Goff, John Austin, George Swift, Jodie Davidson, P.W. Holmes and J.S. Turner), to head the school "provided he teaches the school and maintains the property!" The salary was fixed at $45 per month, to be paid by tuition charges collected from all students from the ABC's through three college courses offering the degrees of B.A., B.S. and L.I.

Tucker's main helper was Jim C. Duck and third teachers from time to time included Mintie Turner, Minnie Woodward, Perry Patterson and Myra Turner. Teachers helped collect the tuition ranging from $1 to $2.50 per month. The school issued annual catalogs and patronage was from several counties. Town homes literally opened their doors for boarding students, offering board, washing, and heat at from $4 to $5 per month.

Tucker was a great Methodist leader. He also operated a bookstore and published the weekly Scotts Hill Banner. Alumni still living (1976) affirm that no better mathematician ever lived. They cite the fact that the "college" ran advertisements in newspapers as far away as Nashville and Memphis, offering "a solution to any problem" sent the school, either by math students or, if students failed, by Tucker himself. A charge for each problem was set at 15 cents and many came for solutions from far and wide.

E. D. Brigance, now of Henderson, a college student from its opening day until it closed in 1903, states that every problem sent the college was solved to the satisfaction of the sender - except one. Tucker worried much about it but then found out that this problem was a hoax and that a solution was impossible!

But alas! like a meteor flashing across the sky and as suddenly burning out, Tucker's life ended on March 10, 1903, very likely, later doctors said, of appendicitis. The old "college spirit" began to wane within weeks though a brother of the lamented Principal, W. Festus ("Fed") Tucker, Perry Patterson, C. S. Austin, Myra Turner and others tried to hold things together.

All these are deceased now but in one of my last talks with my uncle, C.S. Austin, he recalled that "a proof that Tucker was the mainspring of the old school was that the mule-drawn wagon train of mourners which followed his body to Concord cemetery 10 miles east of town, was more than a mile long."

Nor would the area soon forget their First Citizen. Within days after the funeral, a committee composed of N. N. Norton, Oscar Stephens, Lou Robbins, Sam Walton, Perry Harbert, A. L. Goff, Dr. W. B. Keeton and Will Stubblefield (all deceased), had quickly raised funds for a pretentious monument. Unveiled on the college campus in the presence of a big crowd, the monument was removed to a building erected later on the old campus where it stood until the present main structure was completed. Then it was moved nearer to it and stands there now. Beside it last Fall during the town's Sesquicentennial Celebration, a Time Capsule was buried to be unearthed in 2025.

Later teachers here in the old college building included: "Odle and Coble"; G. G. Butler, Perry Murphy and Mabel Terry (1905-1907); Perry Murphy, George L. Wortham and his wife and Herbert Bagby (1907-1909); J. A. Bobbitt, John H. Duck, Granville and Alfred Bartholomew (1909-1916). Miss Mae Joyce and perhaps a few others also taught at intervals during this time.

By 1915 the old college building was in disrepair, difficult to heat, and a target for storms, one of which as early as 1909 had damaged it. So by 1917 a new "red brick" building was ready for use back on the old campus. It contained three classrooms with moveable partitions between to provide an auditorium.

School spirit was none too high and teachers were changed often. Among those remembered for their faithful service for the next few years were: Professor James M. Austin, A.C. Tarlton, Jim C. Duck, Maida Austin, Walt White, Ruby and Gertrude Roberts, Myrtle Johnson, Jimmy Rains, and Roxie Kelley.

By now World War I clouds were confusing things and schools were no exception. Dr. R. L. Wylie heard of an up and coming school teacher in the Middleburg area - Ira C. Powers. He and others persuaded Powers to come here and lead efforts to improve the school. Powers came on Sept. 12, 1921 and his efforts were as tonic for the school. Soon the ninth and tenth grades were added; Powers was named Principal and A. C. Tarlton became Principal of the grade school.

Teachers named above helped out with new life on every side. Following the war, efforts began to provide still larger quarters for the ever-growing enrollment, and for the possible addition of the eleventh and twelfth grades for a senior high school. Rural schools were being consolidated and there was general demand for a larger, better school plant here.

By 1925-26, an eight-classroom concrete building was ready for occupancy. Upper classes moved to it, with the brick building still used for lower grades, for the new cafeteria and for agriculture classes a little later.

Cecil Milam was added to the faculty in the 1920's as was Pauline Eason - two teachers that deserve high honor for long successful years in the classroom before they retired. It was Powers and Milam largely who led efforts for a four-year school.

Senior high school status was approved by our county boards of education and by state authorities to be effective at the start of school in the Fall of 1927. Perry Murphy came back as Principal. Other high school teachers were: Ira Powers and Mr. and Mrs. Hubert Jones.

The first four-year class graduated on March 29, 1929. The class flower was the pink carnation; class colors, green and white; the class motto, "And? Now." Officers were: Oren Lockhart, Pres.; Vaught Grissom, Vice-Pres.; Mildred Brasher, Sec'y.; and Ernest Rhodes, Treas. Fellow classmates were: Bertie and Myrtle Turner, Ruel Milam, Coyd Kelley, Jimmie Patterson, Floyd Attaway, Haywood and Clyde Smith, Edna Mitchell, Roy Tucker, Grady Brasher and Exie McCollum.

Succeeding Murphy in 1931 as principal was Gordon H. Turner. With perfect student, faculty and community cooperation, he made improvements which merited the state's highest grade for its size, at year's end. New classrooms were added; a P.T.A. organization was formed, a splendid small library was set up; the campus was terraced and planted; a small Ag shop was erected and equipped; and the old gymnasium was much improved.

Principals after Turner, each of whom, with faculty, student and community help, continued to make improvements, have been: John Murphy, 1935-39; J. O. Conwell, 1939-45; Jesse B. Austin, 1945-51; A. L. Sparks, 1951-52; Frank Rains, 1952-63; Lealon Wyatt, 1963-67; Wayne Stanfill, 1967-70; Dock Woody, 1970 till the present. (Jerry Ivey was Principal most of 1973-74).

In their own quarters, during the last quarter-century, the athletic, home economics and agriculture departments of our school merit separate stories.

The first gymnasium, without dressing rooms, baths, lockers or even toilets, was a monstrous "shang-hi" structure built wholly by local labor and donated lumber. On cold nights the crowds would huddle around two pot-bellied, wood-burning stoves to watch the usually hotly contested basketball games. Those who lacked the 10c to 15c admission, often watched through big cracks in the walls!

During Turner's principalship, his Manual Training Boys spent a year weatherboarding and painting the gymnasium; installing windows around the top; adding locker rooms, bathing facilities and toilets (Scotts Hill's first such modern facilities!) Then in 1950 a beautiful modern gymnasium was erected - still in use.

The present cafeteria was built during the 1950's, which at the time housed also the home economics department. This department was moved in 1958-59 to the older Church of Christ building which was bought for the purpose and connected to the new school plant.

The modern agriculture building was completed in the early 1950's.

Our present magnificent (main) school building replaced the time-worn concrete block house in 1964-65. It has every device for safety, convenience and comfort. Principal Dock Woody with a staff of capable teachers and helpers is advancing fast to the ultimate in quality education.

The reader should contrast, if possible, the old College with its three teachers instructing everything from ABC's through three college courses, and Scotts Hill's present K-12 grades school with its beautiful and commodious buildings and equipment and a work force consisting of (Sept. 1976), in addition to Principal Dock Woody, the following:

Decatur County teachers, Messrs. Ricky Sparks, James Carr, Thomas Eason, and David Mitchell (Coach); Mesdames. Mae Hancock, Ruth Ann Johnson, Eunice Shelby, Gail Stanfill, Diane Vernon, Patricia Sparks (Title I), and Kay Harrington (Special Education). Henderson County teachers, Messrs. Tony Bedwell, Danny Frizzell (Counsellor), Jackie Mitchell, Charles McBride, and Joe Mack Hampton; and Mesdames. Margaret Dyer, Nelle Grissom, Violet Maxwell, Jane Willis, and Earline Powers.

Add to these the cooks, Mesdames Tommie Johnson, Hazel Edgin, Eula Anglin and Dorothy Reed; and the long-faithful custodians Luke Grimsley and Cleo Medlin. The Aides are, from Henderson County, Mrs. Linda Stout and from Decatur County, Mrs. Gertrude Montgomery and Mrs. Betty Fisher. School Secretaries are Mrs. Jean Eason and Mrs. Dianne Rhodes. Finally, Bus Drivers are Mack Patterson, Glynn Brasher and Fred Highes (deceased early in the year), from Decatur County; and, Boyd Austin, Terry Britt, L.C. Reeves and Robert Wilkerson from Henderson County.

 - from Gordon H. Turner, Sr., The History of Scotts Hill, Tennessee (Carter Printing Company, Southaven, Mississippi, 1977).

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