Shortly after the addition of the 11th grade and the school consolidation in 1922, Sharon school trustees asked the state for funds to enlarge the school. But state officials told the trustees that the proposed school was not eligible for funding because the state required school sites to be no less than four acres, and their property was considerably less. To compound the problem, none of the adjoining landowners were willing to sell their property. Plans were put on hold until they could get a consensus from the town on raising funds. At a meeting in March, Dr. Saye informed the people that it would cost between $30,000 and $35,000 to add six rooms and an auditorium to the old building but only $14,000 to construct a new, six-room school with an auditorium (with the help of the state, of course).
Petitions calling for an election on a bond issue of $20,000 were circulated in April. The few people without children refused to sign the petitions. After studying the petitions, the Town Council gave the board permission to hold an election on May 20 on issuing $20,000 in bonds for the purpose of “erecting, equipping, and maintaining buildings and public schools in the said district.” These bonds included plans to build a new school in Blairsville for African-Americans.
At the time of the election, the trustees had no idea where the new high school was going to be built, but soon, acreage was purchased on the west side of town. Toward the end of February 1925, construction was nearly complete. The trustees originally believed that the building would be adequate for the entire student body and that the grammar school might be turned into a teacherage. This was reconsidered, and they decided to extend the bus route to the Elijah McSwain farm on Hoodtown Road to give more students an opportunity to be schooled in Sharon.
The formal opening of the new high school was on March 31. In a featured address by Dr. J. W. Thomson of Winthrop College, he urged the teaching of the Bible as part of the school’s required educational program. “I know men who can recite the works of Shakespeare and Milton backward and forward … yet who are grossly ignorant of the Bible and its power. It is the book of books — a builder of character, a guide and director of all that is noble and best in this world and if we do not study it and know it and practice it then we have not done our full duty to ourselves and our fellows.”
No doubt the impetus of Thomson’s statement was due to an ongoing debate over teaching evolution in school. In March 1922 the South Carolina senate attached a rider to a general appropriation bill prohibiting all state-supported schools from teaching what was termed as the “cult known as Darwinism.” During the celebrated “Monkey Trials” in Dayton, Tennessee, South Carolina Senator Cole L. Blease proposed a bill requiring all state teachers to profess their belief in the deity of Jesus Christ. The bill, though rejected, was an attempt to deter the teaching of evolution.
In the fall of 1946, I was enrolled in the first grade that was being taught by Adeline Rainey. With huge, green pencils, she taught us how to write the alphabet and to read from the Dick and Jane Readers. If one of us was naughty (usually, it was one of the guys), she punished us by making us stand in a corner in the hall. It wasn’t long before we heard that other teachers were taking their misbehavers to the cloak room under the stairs to have the seat of their britches thoroughly warmed. The news that someone had been taken to the cloak room spread like fire through the school. It bothered me that I never heard of someone coming out after being dragged in. Once, when my second grade teacher, Mrs. Dora Mitchell, took me into the closet for supplies, I was sure I would see moldy skeletons of the unruly.
One day in the second grade, Mrs. Mitchell was having each student stand and count to 100. I could easily do it, but about the time I got to 10, a stubborn streak perked up, and I decided I just didn’t want to do it. I knew she was too smart for an outright lie, so I figured I would have to “taper off” by stumbling and bumbling along. So, I began halting and starting, and by the time I was at 17, I told her I couldn’t do it. Thinking I had pulled the wool over her eyes, she had me take my seat. Years later, when I was in high school, I confessed my sin. Much to my surprise, she said that she had known what I was doing and knew fair that well that I could easily count to 100.
I don’t remember much about the third grade, other than learning cursive writing and falling in love with the beautiful, demure Miss LaRue (Sherer). I would later learn that I was her pet student. But my heart was broken at the end of the school year when she told us she was getting married and moving to Florida. I was crestfallen.
My fourth grade was taught by Margaret Hill, the mother of one of my classmates. Every Monday she would ask us if we had attended church services or Sunday School. If our answer was in the affirmative, she would put a shiny gold star by our name. There is not a public school teacher in the state who could get away with that today. It probably would be unbelievable to many to know that when we were in the tenth grade, we were required to take a Bible class. And every lunch began with a blessing.
The modern concept of school lunches makes the subject unpalatable to discuss. Yet, talk to septuagenarians, and you will generally find that they have positive memories about their school lunches. Before the carbohydrate-laden menus of school lunches, before there was an argument over whether catsup is a vegetable, before the thaw-and-heat generation of school cooks came along, school lunches were home-cooked and most often enjoyed and appreciated.
The history of school lunches in the Western York County area begins with the history of schools in the 19th century. At that time, lunch at school involved the opening of a tin bucket or reaching into an overcoat pocket. The menu of the home-sent lunches depended on the economic situation of the family — a jelly or ham biscuit, peanut butter on soda crackers, an apple, or an occasional tea cake.
At the Sharon school, the first semblance of a public lunch appeared in 1938 when soup was served once a week from a tiny, upstairs room formerly used as a library. Students were required to supply their own bowl and spoon, which was kept on a shelf in the kitchen. At lunchtime the student appeared at the doorway to the kitchen, where they were served and told to carry it to a nearby classroom to eat. The cooks (not yet called dietitians) became familiar with which bowl and spoon went with each child. There was a sweet familiarity between the students and cooks, who knew each other by name. Though the cooks were married, in true southern style, we knew them as “Miss Emma” (Shillinglaw) and “Miss Marie” (Bolin).
In 1949 a concrete block building was constructed beside the old grammar school and aptly called the “Lunch Room.” Even with its wooden picnic tables and benches, this addition to the school was a point of community pride. The tables were covered with checkered oil cloth, and condiments of salt, pepper, syrup, and catsup handily resided in the center. At the high school, an addition was added to the back of the building at a lower elevation. In classrooms above the lunch room, students could sniff out the day’s menu.
Lunches could be purchased for 3¢ a day in the late 1930s, up to 5¢ in the 40s, and 25¢ a day in the 1950s. Following World War II wartime shortages, the menu widened. Everything was cooked home-style — butterbeans, black-eyed peas, and pintos were cooked with plenty of salt, pepper, and fatback. Meats consisted of country-style steak with creamed potatoes and gravy, and there were home-made cornbread, rolls, and biscuits. Fridays were always fish day. The school system didn’t feel it necessary to govern our intake of fats and carbohydrates. There was no need to since most of us were country people and lived, played, and worked outside. TV and video games had not captured our time.
Upon entering the fifth grade, I had the luck of having Mrs. Shealy, the principal’s wife, as teacher. I don’t remember much about that year after I saw her slap a boy plumb out of his seat. I was scared stiff, and evidently it caused me mental loss because I don’t recall that grade at all. Apparently, I was fast-losing interest in school.
By the sixth grade, we were all feeling pretty superior. After all, we were the oldest kids on the playground. Mrs. Hazel Scoggins was the teacher. This would be the last year we would have a pot-belly coal burner for heat. Over at the high school, they had central heating. By now I really was losing interest in learning. The most interesting thing that year was the stack of old magazines Mrs. Scoggins kept in a corner of the room. Someone found one that talked about sex and having babies. Anytime Mrs. Scoggins had to leave the room for awhile, everyone dashed to catch a titillating sentence or picture.
As the year came to a close at Sharon Grammar School, we were excited about going to the high school. We were feeling really grown-up. Still, going over to the high school was a bit unknown and a bit scary. We didn’t know until we got there that we would lose our status and would again be the youngest on the school grounds. Homeroom (another new thing to us) was taught by a man. We had many new things to encounter that year.
These memories are only an example of the hundreds, perhaps thousands of childhood memories of school days at Sharon Grammar School. And some from that first grade class in 1945, now like the old school, have crumbled into dust, and the memories have slipped away.
J.L. West – Author
This article and many others found on the pages of Roots and Recall, were written by author J.L. West, for the YC Magazine and have been reprinted on R&R, with full permission – not for distribution or reprint!
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