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 - Early School Dorm "The Teacherage" Remembered

- Editors Help Make Changes



Lois Barefoot Mays

In his book, Charlton County Historical Notes 1972, John Harris recounts in the chapter on Early School History: “In 1921 the high school at Folkston was accredited as the Charlton County High School, and a dormitory was erected in Folkston to accommodate pupils from outside the Folkston district.” This important part of the growth of the school system came into being as the result of a peculiar set of circumstances which began on a day in August 1921, with two of Folkston’s leading citizens taking part.

At that time John Harris was high school principal and Ben G. McDonald, a local merchant, was chairman of the school board. A meeting was held in Waycross with Joe Stewart, the State High School Supervisor and the representatives of each county’s school board. The purpose was to determine whether or not the schools would be accredited. Harris and McDonald attended, representing Charlton County.

Stewart was an abrupt man who spoke in a gruff voice and with much authority. He began the meeting by calling in alphabetical order the names of the counties and asking a series of questions of the representatives to see whether their schools met his requirements for accreditation. If too many of the answers were “No”, he would interrupt with a loud “NOT ACCREDITED” and the school representative knew it would be another year before the school could be eligible again for accreditation.

Harris soon figured that if his school was to be awarded an accreditation he would have to answer “Yes” to all the questions. When it was Charlton County’s turn, he answered affirmatively each time but Stewart surprised him adding an unexpected question. “How was the Charlton County school system going to take care of the boys and girls that lived too far from school to attend each day? Without a moment’s hesitation, Harris replied “Build a dormitory.” “ACCREDITED” announced Stewart!

During the ride back to Folkston following the meeting, Harris confessed to McDonald that they couldn’t build a dormitory since there was not enough money in the budget. McDonald told him to begin drawing plans for the dorm and he would ask his friend John Buie to loan the Board of Education enough money to finance construction.

The next day Harris began drawing his conception of the dormitory and McDonald journeyed to Camden County to see Mr. Buie, a wealthy timber man. He returned with the good news that Mr. Buie had agreed to finance their building.

The dormitory had to be ready for the new school term and since it was already August, Harris immediately hired local carpenters who secured heart-pine lumber and built the fourteen room structure. It was shaped like a U with a court yard between the east and west wings and it was painted yellow, an awful mustard color. This was by far the most important event of the year for the citizens of Charlton—the construction of an enormous building, across the street from the school, which would affect the lives of many of the citizens. Mrs. Pauline T. Robinson, editor of the county newspaper, Charlton County Herald, printed details of the construction in progress:

Work on a home for non-resident teachers and pupils of the Charlton County High School and the Folkston Consolidated School has begun!

The building will contain fourteen rooms, and will be two stories high, of a modified California bungalow type. The building is being erected on the corner of the block adjoining H.J. Davis’ residence.

The work is under the supervision of Mr. Craig who is associated with W.W. Bauman, contractor. The building fronts the north with a combination hall and living room, 14 by 36 feet. From this there extends back two wings, 12 by 36 feet with outside passageways and an open court between.

The stairway goes up from the hall and is so planned that little space will be lost in the large living room from which an open arch leads into the dining room, making these two rooms suited for entertainment, classes or groups of pupils.

There will also be a kitchen, storage room, bathroom and guest chamber on the first floor. The second floor will be bedrooms with a small study and reception hall.

The dormitory structure, which cost $4,000 to build, quickly became known as “The Teacherage” since both teachers and boarding students lived there. Mr. and Mrs. Harris lived there for about two years.

The students customarily went home on weekends, returning on Sunday evening to begin another school week. Those who lived in the Teacherage, pupils and teachers, grew into a small family and looked forward to the time after supper each evening when they would gather in the living room and listen while Mr. Harris read to them one or two chapters of a literary classic.

Some of the first pupils living in the Teacherage were Estelle Gowen (Sikes) and her sister Thelma Gowen (Hannaford) from Newell; Ralph Knabb from Moniac; Cecil Roddenberry (who later became a judge of the Superior Court) from Winokur and Mary Enedy (Yontek) from St. George.

Later, when bus routes were established and children rode to and from school each day in open-air trucks, the dormitory was converted into classrooms. Because the building had a kitchen and dining room it became known as the home economics building. It was also known as Oak Hall. The Teacherage served as the entire high school in 1925, when additional pupils needed more classroom space.

In the spring of 1931, Mr. and Mrs. L.E. Stokes began construction of a large home on the east side of the dormitory. The family moved from Stokesville and occupied the Teacherage  while their new home was being erected.

For eleven years the Dormitory/Teacherage/Oak Hall continued to be the center of much activity during the school and vacation time. But it was in January 1932 when a catastrophe struck – the all-wooden building was destroyed by fire.

The county paper reported that school was in session when the students in the domestic science class heard popping noises and rushed upstairs to discover that the building was burning, with smoke and flames bursting through the roof. Sheriff Mizell in his office at the courthouse saw the fire and discharged his pistol, the local method of sounding a fire alarm. The high school boys were released from classes and did some work but the dryness of the structure could not be overcome without a water system. Two men broke a window and brought out the range used by the domestic science class. As soon as it was outside, flames followed them out the window.

A wire fence separated the H.J. Davis property from the school lands and cords of fire wood which had been stacked alongside the fence for use in the Davis’ fireplaces and wood cook stove, had to be washed down with buckets of water to keep them from catching fire.

Because most of the buildings of that time were made of wood, with cypress shingle roofs, and also because they were many times heated with fat pine which produced sparks in the smoke, the destruction of homes and business by fire was not an uncommon occurrence. The wild clanging of the nearest church bell usually spread the alarm or if the fire was some distance from the church, the villagers were aroused to action by the sound of a gun being fired three times in rapid succession, a pause and then three more shots. More often than not, most household possessions were lost as fires spread swiftly through the wooden buildings.

Later, Otto Martin built a sidewalk at the school. He used as its base, the unharmed bricks from the destroyed building.

Many pages of history have been written about the educational buildings of Charlton County, from the many one-room log “field schools” to the computer-filled, air conditioned schools of today, but nothing could compare with the pleasure of living in a Teacherage, especially when it came with a much-sought-for Certificate of Accreditation for the Charlton County High School.


By Lois B. Mays, Charlton County Historical Society

In the early 1900s most small town newspaper editors took their jobs seriously feeling that it included actively agitating for local issues concerning much-needed improvement in their community–especially in the education of their children. Folkston’s  Editor F.M. DeGraffenreid wrote angry editorials about better school buildings and also  consolidation of the many small schools.

Lecturing his fellow citizens in the weekly Charlton County Herald in 1914 he argued that “The citizens of the community should put forth extra efforts to give Professor J.E. Roberts a place to work in – a decent building! Perhaps a new building can’t be accomplished this term, but a great deal can be done about the grounds which should make things show up better around the old shack, until the parents arise from their slumbers and build a respectable school building for their children.”

He had no way of knowing that within six months a roaring fire would take care of the problem by destroying the old building which had originally been built as a residence.

Soon a community meeting was held at the courthouse which resulted in a decision to build another school. It was quickly decided to construct it of white brick instead of wood. (St. George had constructed the first brick school in the county in 1910. Folkston built theirs in 1914 and Homeland built a brick school in 1916.)

The five most prominent men of Folkston at that time were chosen as the building committee, B.G. McDonald, T.L. Pickren, Ben Scott, L.E. Mallard and J.S. Mizell, and they hired contractor William O’Neill, known affectionately as “Uncle Billy” for this project.

Opening day for the new school year was delayed that year until the middle of November. Enrollment of the Folkston students totaled one hundred scholars, which included elementary through high school and Mrs. B.F. Alexander was principal. Her assistants were Miss Charlotte Cushing [White] and Miss Julia Belle DeGraffenreid [Pearce]

The new school building was the pride of the town and was a magnificent structure with five large schoolrooms downstairs and the Order of the Knights of Pythias fraternal lodge upstairs. It was surrounded by a wire fence and had a deep well on the south side.

Eight thousand dollars had been raised for the construction, but by hiring day labor the cost was reduced to $5,500, leaving $2,500 for furnishing the building.

The first term of the brand new school closed in May 1915 with an elaborate afternoon program full of songs, readings, recitations and talks by local school boosters. There was only one graduate that year, T.L. Pickren, Jr. By September young Pickren was already at work teaching the twenty-five pupils at the Mills District School east of Folkston.

In 1934, in the middle of the national economic depression, a federal works project was created and provided jobs for local unemployed men who learned the masonry trade while covering the original white with a layer of bright red brick. It gave the building a completely new look.

Many “field schools” were also busy at work teaching spelling, reading, writing and arithmetic. From 1854 until 1914 the county progressed from no schools at all to nearly 30 rural schools and those at Folkston, St. George and Homeland.

Editor DeGraffenreid must have been greatly pleased to see that his fellow citizens had taken his advice and built a decent school building for the town’s children. But he didn’t put away his editorial pen.  He urged the people of the county to consider consolidating the many small schools into larger ones so the pupils would be exposed to more teachers and more varied subjects.

He wrote “By eliminating a few small schools and concentrating the scattering scholars in the large districts. it is a matter that parents should be interested in. If distance in some cases is too great, suppose that a wagon be secured to take the children from the neighborhood to the school. The Herald hopes someday to see brick schools every few miles apart in Charlton County.”

Charlton’s 27 small schools in 1914 included Traders Hill, Sandusky (the Bend), Uptonville, Moniac, Newell, Winokur, Kennison, Satilla (River Road), Johns, Racepond, Privett, Allen (River Road), Johnson, Gibson, Canaday, Stokesville, Toledo, Bachlott (north of Winokur), Sardis, Roddenberry (Winokur), Osterman (St. George).Davidson (near Racepond) Medlin (near Racepond), Chisholm, Chesser, Prospect and Wasdin.

Rev. W.O. Gibson once described a typical field school building as “About fifteen feet square and built of pine logs from which the bark had not been removed. The floor was clay, the seats were hewn logs. The writing desk was a plank about one foot wide and reached across the back end of the house. It had but one door and the only window was an opening made by removing two of the logs just above the writing desk, and the shutter was a piece of plank suspended by leather straps for hinges.”

Another suggestion of progress from the editor was taken seriously when consolidations began in 1920 with Homeland coming to Folkston, and Stokesville and other small districts attended the St. George school.

Thank you, editors everywhere, for giving us dreams, and helping us make the world a better place!

from DeBrahm's Report
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