Seventy-Five Years of Early Schools in Union Parish

By Edna Liggin  

From Molly Liggin Rankin

Who were the “relief girls”? What school had one session after another for 21 months? What was “Lickety Split”? What were head-marks? What community was know for its marble playing and who was the man there with the most expertise?

In 1839, when Union Parish was carved out of Ouachita Parish only six schools existed over its 1,000 square miles of wilderness, and only 112 students attended these schools.

After the early sessions of the police jury for the new parish, the responsibility for education was left with five men, appointed as commissioners for the schools by the police jury. They were given two year terms.

The State of Louisiana did not see too much promise for education in Union Parish in 1839. They only sent $37.50 for public schools. The next money did not come until 1841 and this the sum of $684. Soon the police jury presented schools with the first tax money…$300.00.

Thus was education begun in Union Parish.

In the 1850’s little progress was made. The parish now had two academies. As settlers from Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi were now pouring into the parish, the funds from the state were $1,385.00 in 1854. A census had just been taken of the school children. By 1858 teachers were required to have a certificate. Each parish in Louisiana now had a school superintendent; each school its Board of Trustees; each ward its own examiner.

Although the police jury first chopped the parish up into 34 districts, a larger division in the 1850’s numbered five districts, with the boundaries the natural streams of the parish. At this time Lincoln Parish did not exist so Union touched Jackson parish as well as Claiborne on the west.

Education moved not at all during the sixties. In Union Parish, in the year 1866 there were 2,178 white children between the ages of 6-18. In 1868 the constitution of Louisiana provided education for Negroes but only 8 were enrolled in school by 1870. Things moved fasted in the 1870’s so that by 1874 there were 35 one-teacher schools in Union Parish getting an average of $33.00 per month with schools operating three months a year. It was in 1884 the Union Parish School Board boasted of a school every three miles!

Education was moving slowly as the re-construction period ended. It was in 1877 that a compulsory attendance law was passed.

Ways of Early Education

Three early means of early education existed. These were the primitive little one-room structure, usually of logs, and often used both as schoolhouse and church, second, a tutor hired for the children; third, and this was mostly for older children, they were sent away from home to schools.

A good idea of the first method may be gleaned from a letter written by S. P. Lewis in 1912 to the Farmerville Gazette. He states in his letter that his family came to Downsville in 1858, and as he was eight years old he was of a ripe age to go to school.

This was a school taught by Prof. Heutt and Flora Buchanan in aa old log house, out where the cemetery is now located. The seats were of logs, hand-hewn, with holes bored and pegs driven in for legs. “Our writing desk were of the same material,” wrote Mr. Lewis, “being broader and fastened up against the wall”. He wrote that some of the books were Blue Back Speller and McGuffey’s Readier, Davis Arithmetic, and Smith’s Grammar.

Several such schools probably existed in Union parish in the 1850’s, and were to continue until past the beginning of the 20th century.

The second method of education was by tutors with only the more wealthy settlers able to do this. An old succession record of Nancy Edmunds, who came to Shiloh from Georgia in the 1850’s show that she paid tuition to R. G. Pleasant. Shiloh storekeeper, for little Gilly. Third, mostly boys were sent back East to schools, though Elijah Tabor sent his daughter, Sue, to the Homer Female Academy. His son, Robert went with other boys backs to a school in Griffin, Ga. Jesse Booles received his medical education at New Orleans. Later Mt. Lebanon was to be the finishing school for many wanting higher education.

Shiloh The First With The Most

Three Baptist preachers in the early seventies became appalled at the ignorance of boys and girls in Union Parish and rode horseback many miles over the parish to secure funds to endow a higher type of education school at Shiloh, a little inland town west of Farmerville.

Thus was the Concord Baptist Institute established, a co-ed school , boarding type, for boys and girls. This was before the end of the rule of the carpet-baggers; before the Re-Construction period was over. The three preachers were S. C. Lee, W. P. Smith and John P. Everett.

This private Baptist college opened in 1876 and ended in 1884. The first principal was C. B. Freeman of Mississippi. C. B. Freeman of Mississippi. In the eight years it operated hundreds of boys and girls attended. The teachers were of the highest quality available. Besides the academic subjects taught, equal to our present high schools, two full time music teachers were employed. At this time there were no other Baptist Co-ed education facilities in the state.

The Shiloh Academy opened September 9, 1885 with E. Corry the principal, and Belle Washington, the assistant, built on the grounds where the building of the Institute had stood before they were destroyed by in 1884. A school continued thereafter at Shiloh until consolidation was made with Bernice high School.

C. A. Ives, who had taught at Fellowship and Downsville, came to Shiloh in 1893-94. In his book, “As I Remember”, Ives described Shiloh as an attractive village, with five or six stores, a drug store, and post office. The school was in the Masonic Lodge, a two-stored building. Julia Tabor, wrote Mr. Ives, was his assistant, and was his assistant, and was the daughter of a respectable member of the community. He also wrote that this was the first school wit which he had been connected that had the name “High School”, and for such a distinction a leaflet was published, headed, “Shiloh High School”.

Ives had high hopes in the beginning at Shiloh, but the community was agricultural, the economic situation poor and no need for two teachers. He soon left Shiloh and went to Ouachita Parish.

It was to be five years after Ives left Shiloh before the Big Fire, and the subsequent move of a number of people to the new town of Bernice. Yet a school continued at Shiloh past the first quarter of the new century.

The Negroes of Shiloh, who first worshipped in the Shiloh Baptist Church, were given their own church and burying ground about 1870. The first school was held in this church. Molly Bell, then Molly Williams , then Molly Bell, then Molly Williams, remembers going to school at Friendship Church. From time to time her father would move the family to Bernice, and she attended school there, also.

The Friendship schoolhouse, still standing at Shiloh, was built in 1918.

Farmerville Schools Remain On Same Five Acres

An old record says that one of the teachers in a school at Farmerville in the 1840’s was W. L. Bright. His son, Major William A. Bright, was later part of the firm of Baird and Bright, Wholesales, at Little Rock, Arkansas.

Was he one of the nine teachers at the Male and Female Academy founded in March 8, 1841 on five acres of land in Farmerville? These five acres have been the site for all succeeding educational institutes at Farmerville. This first school closed in 1850, being the third academy in the parish. The Farmerville Institute replaced this. They charged $3.00 a month.

During the Civil War years education hardly made any progress.

The old records of 1884 note that a two story brick building was on the site of the two former facilities on Academy Street. It was in this year a brochure boasted that Union Parish had school every three miles. Two of the early teachers in Farmerville School were Molly Pickel and W. N. McFarland.

An interesting note about the history of the Farmerville schools is in regards to the school. W. C. Carr, first sheriff of Union Parish, sold the bell to the Farmerville schools. The same bell that regulated the lives of the workers on Carr plantation before the War, for the next hundred years was to regulate the lives of Farmerville school pupils.

The school was not immune to the disease epidemics. In 1901 the commencement exercises were closed due to two-third of the school having measles.

A high school was organized in 1908 with a new building constructed in 1909. The first principal of the school was E. E. Keebler, with two of the five faculty members Emma Sanders and Bertha Cobb. Sherwood Smith was one of the four in the first graduating class in 1910. Lillie Mae Sentell in 1914 became the first Home Economics teacher. Organized sports did not develop until 1924.

When William Wright Heard was inaugurated as governor of Louisiana in 1900, he said, “We have, according to the census taken last year, 414,737 educable children in the state, of which number 196,169 are at present enrolled in our public schools. For the instruction of these children there are 3,302 school houses and 4,137 teachers under pay.”

This was the state of schools in Louisiana in 1900 eight years before Farmerville High School came into existence. How many of these 3,302 schools did Union Parish have?

The School Of The Town That Had No Past

The town of Bernice is unique in that it did not grow from an early settlement, but came into exitance full grown, like Adam the first man. Streets were laid out, and the site divided into lots, and in one day these were auctioned off, with lots for both businesses and homes. A railroad was already through the proposed town, ready to be used. The Grand Opening of Bernice was May, 1899.

The first school in Bernice is reputed to have been taught by Julia Foster, in a structure besides the Rock Island railroad, on which site later was the home of Sebe Booles. Later, a wooden building was the new school-house on a different site, and cost $4,500.00. As old note states most of the teachers came from Tennessee.

A brick building was built on the site after the wooden one burned, in 1905 , and this became Bernice High School in 1907. Bernice practically began as a high school. This first brick building served later as a grammar school, with an auditorium upstairs after another high school was built. The First Baptist pf Bernice is now on this site.

George W. Newton was the first principal of Bernice High School, with Daisy Garland a well-remembered early teacher.

Downsville A School In A Corner

Because of this corner position, teachers at the Downsville schools had a justified complaint to make of too much paper work! Because of the near proximity of Lincoln and Ouachita parishes reports from Downsville school teachers had to be make out in triplicate.

C. A. Ives, in his book “As I Remember”, commented that one of the school officials was R. B. Dawkins, then a 30 year old lawyer. He was poised, intellectual, kind wrote C. A. Ives and later to have a career as a notable lawyer and judge.

The years 1889 to 1891 found Ives at Downsville, with found Ives at Downsville, with his older brother, Eugene, and the pair of them boarding with R. C. Collier, the Methodist minister. He was a resident and their friendship led to much fishing and hunting with the preacher.

What kind of school did the brothers have? This one was in a one room Masonic Hall quite an improvement over S. P. Lewis’ log-house school, yet it, too, was only one room. Eugene Ives took the older students to one end, C. A., the younger, at the other end. School opened with Bible reading, prayer, and informal remarks of current interest (no doubt many family secrets were spilled).

The older children were taught geometry, Latin, psychology, and history. For the younger there were reading, spelling, geography, arithmetic and writing. There was no prescribed curriculum; the atmosphere was flexible, comfortable, with teachers and pupils working closely together, and working hard. There were no grades. There were no extra aids, nor Federal assistance nor interference. The brothers had about 75 pupils.

The teachers did not teach for money, for there was no stipulated salary. Tuition was $1.50 to $2.00 a term. Before the year 1900 the term “high school” came into use, but without any standards. It had a good sound and spread like wildfire.

The Ives brothers liked it at Downsville. Mail on the Farmerville-Choudrant route came every day. The town had several stores and two churches. Social life stemmed from the churches. Besides hunting and fishing, the entire male population engaged in marble playing with Dr. J. D. Hamilton, the man with the expertise, xo here is an answer to the quiz in the opening paragraph! Ives in his book did not mention what the women did for recreation!

He did make the broad comment, all inclusive, that the people of Downsville were of good stock, solid, hard working, God-fearing.

In 1890 Eugene Ives became ill, and had to go back to Ruston, so C. A. was in charge of the entire school. Some of the pupils dropped out for field work. School went on so well for nine-more months term, that they continued three months in the summer, then again in September for nine more months. This answers the quiz about the school that had regular terms for 21 months! No wonder Ives later wrote that some choice spirits came from Downsville.

Why is so much known of Downsville? It seems the village had a correspondent for the Farmerville Gazette, sending it the Downsville Dots. The next school news is 1901 when at the regular September opening the principal was a Prof. Waldrip from Mississippi, with 20 students enrolled.

Soon the Downsville Dots reported half the school had la grippe, measles, pneumonia and chills. Also the Dots exulted that when the time came to apply for teachers’ certificates, half of those who passed were from Downsville. The Dots also reported that in 1901 a new school building was underway. It was to be two stories, to have eight rooms with the upper story to be used by the Masonic Lodge, and an auditorium.

All this began when a little settlement was begun by a man named Downs.

Marion: Town Deserted When War Began

The Bell Academy was just getting underway at Marion, a little place made up by early settlers coming up the Ouachita Rive to Alabama Landing, and settling a few miles to the west on higher ground, when the Civil War erupted. Then, old records state, so many of these settlers left Texas, the place seemed well deserted!

The Academy and church building had an arch over which was written “Nil Desparandum”. This first building for church and school was of hand hewn logs, and was built by Elias George, Dr. Traylor, and James Powell, Teaching the eleven pupils were O’Gill Russell and John Hopkins.

For many years after the war, the school at Marion was in the Baptist Church. It was not until 1905 tht the first school building was erected with boarding students coming to Marion to attend this school. The three month term increased to nine months when J. O. Hodnett lengthened all schools in Louisiana to nine months.

When Marion High School began in 1908, Paul Weiss was the first principal with the enrollment 172. Marion was to be the first Union Parish school with an agricultural department with B. K. Watson in 1911 the teacher, but she is best remembered as a poetess.

One of the most outstanding great teachers of Marion was Lizzie George who began teaching in the Bell Academy, and continues for 60 years. Much of this time education was at a low ebb in Louisiana. Her pay was low, $1.50 to $2.50 per pupil. Her aim was to lift every student to the conception that every life should be a masterpiece. She died in 1925, age 93.

An unusual feature of the Marion High School was a mule or horse drawn every school bus, providing transportation for pupils over the mudding roads in the winter. It was a sort of covered wagon deal.

The Metropolis That Failed To Make It

Junction City is a town of double-parentage, state-wise. Does it belong to Union Parish or Union County? When it was planned and laid out with wide streets, the founding fathers (promoters of the Rock Island Railroad) exulted in print that they expected it to grow into a metropolis. This was in 1899.

By 1901 George Mason was principal of the Junction City High School, and thus began his advertising in the Farmerville Gazette. He stated that besides the high school, he had intermediate and primary classes.

In May of that year Mason reported that he had had a successful tern with 223 students. An encouraging note in September was an ad that those students could exchange old books for new ones at half-price.

Junction City High School was a boarding school with tuition from $2.00 to $3.00. Tutors could be had for $1.50 and up. It was a nine month term school.

The Name Everett Meant Spearsville

Two Spears brothers got things going at Spearsville, so named for them, with a storehouse in the 1850’s or before. In all probability a log-cabin type of school existed then, but the first record so far is of a school established in 1870 with one of the outstanding teachers of Prof. W. L. Hodge.

The Everett Institute was organized in 1891, and was named for the Everett Association. The 1901of tha Commencement exercises gives an idea of typical of that time. The Rev. J. H. U. Wharton was the speaker with Hon. Dayton Harris giving the annual literary address. This was in the morning. For lunch all went to the “grove” for a picnic, then back to the Institute for graduation exercises at 3 p.m. for the awarding of medals and prizes. At 7 p.m. the Institute had an exhibition for all to see.

In the year 1901 the 7th and 8th grade honor roll included Jewel Carroll, Rosa Cherry, J. M. Adams, Sallie Cole, Helen Cole, and Otis Nash. In 1907 there were only two graduates.

Spearsville High School followed the Everett Institute, about 1920, with the first graduating class in 1923. The consolidation of the rural grammar schools did not come for many years.

Included in the early area schools around Spearsville were the Futch school-house, down a road, from the Davis place, with one of the early teachers Dr. Dudley, Grange Hall was a little school near the present Beulah Baptist Church. Old Mt. Union School was near Fellowship Church and was a one-room school, while the later Mt. Union School was two rooms and near Liberty Church. Remembered teachers near were Mrs. Ed Carroll, Henry Willis, Nana James, Bertha Heard and Elizabeth Hudson.

Central School between Cherry Ridge and Zion Hill communities, was a four room school with four teachers. The school over near Camp Creek Baptist Church went as far as the 9th grade, with teachers remembered the Rev. B. C. Smith, Lula Patterson, and Fanny McVicker.

Frank Farrar’s Little Girl Went Down In History

When the railroad came down from Junction City in 1899, the names of two new communities. These were Lillie and Bernice. As only Frank Farrar lived near the first of these scheduled train stops, the place was named for his daughter, Lillie. Although the early glory of Lillie faded, the name is alive today in Lillie Elementary School, and a particle board plant

The name J. S. Ray is synonymous with that of the Lillie High School that flourished in the first part of the 1900’s. Other teachers noted were Newt Millis and men named Edwards, Huckaby and Bird.

Lillie School had a spelling match in 1907, competing with Everett Institute, that made the paper as news. Prof. Thorne of the Institute spoke. Bernice Post won the music contest.

Linville Begins As Trading Post

The past of Linville dips back to a man named Linville who established a trading post a few miles from the Ouachita River, south of the Marion settlement. The little community that developed around this post was named for him. Three men, Bill Kirkpatrick, Ike Reppond and Dick Pilgreen built the first school in 1881, naming it Oak Grove. The crude, log-structure building was only one room and lasted one term. The next school, a frame one room building lasted five years.

In 1909 the community had a two room school, one mile from old Oak Grove, then further enlargement came in 1912 wit two rooms added. Later, Linville High School came into existence.

Background of Education Before New Century

State School Superintendent Calhoun in 1898 reported that Louisiana had 2,221 schools for white children, with 2,856 teachers receiving an annual salary of $240.43. There were 13,334 children enrolled with 72 percent attendance. For the Negro children there were 982 schools with 1,039 teachers receiving an average annual salary of $139.55. There were 72,021 children enrolled with 72.5 percent.

J. A. Manning, Union Parish Superintendent, reported funds only for three months of public schools with many supplementing with private funds for further terms. Only one school district in the parish had established the purpose of levying a special tax in aid of schools.

Two activities were promoted to help teachers in these years. A Chautauqua was established in Ruston with teachers to receive credit for listening to lectures by well-known speakers. The Chautauqua began in 1892 and ended in 1905, though the place was used for many years after this date.

The second thing was the Teachers Institute set up to improve teachers and the quality of teaching. In 1901 a five-day meeting was held at Farmerville with the Hon. Henry Chambers speaking. The lectures and demonstrations lasted for three days, then adjournment was made to the courthouse to hear the Hon. Chambers speak on the heroes of the Spanish-American War. These meeting sought to make the public aware of their responsibility toward education of children.

Also, in this period, as an inducement, teachers were given a five dollar raise if they attended a “normal” school in the summer.

Some of the Other Schools

Another word in the opening quiz was “Likety-Split”. This was a school on the line between Union and Lincoln parishes, called at various times Bethel, New Enterprise, and Jamestown, as well as “Lickety-Split”! An old newspaper picture shows the school as a neat one-room frame building with 36 pupils grouped in front of the school. This was the 1910-1911 term.

Mrs. E. L. Mitchell in 1908 taught eight grades at “Lickety-Split”, with her salary coming from both Union and Lincoln.

Up at the community of Oakland the school was first “16th Section” school, then “Union X Roads”. A school began back in the 1850’s, with one early school held in the home of a Dr. Murphy, having two teachers, going through the 8th grade. One of the best remembered teachers was a Mrs. Dettie Goldsby. Later pupils were transferred to Marion High School.

At Tucker Town the school and church were held in the same building, with classes taught through the 9th grade. Union School at Tiger Bend was a fair size frame building teaching through the 9th grade. Haile had a school built in 1907. Research on small early schools such as these is still very incomplete.

Another early school was in the community of Pine Grove so called for the church founded in the 1890 decade. The school and church were in separate buildings, though close to each other. John Lewis Liggin taught at this school in the summer of 1900, buying from a hardware store in the new town of Bernice a hand-bell he was to ring in school classrooms for the next fifty years.

It is from his biography comes an explanation of the term “head-marks” …If a pupil was able to stay at the head of a line when spelling was given orally (for a week), then the pupil received a “head mark”.

Two other schools are noteworthy to mention, though they were at a later period than this article purports to cover.

The first is D’Arbonne Academy. A man named Dozier began a school in 1878 in the community of D’Arbonne, settled in the 1850’s. This Academy came much later, well into the 20th Century. The School had two rooms with five grades.

Later, into this school came the “relief girls” mentioned in the quiz in the opening paragraph. These were community women, who came into the school to help, sort of like today’s teachers’ aids, but without pay.

An outstanding teacher in this school was Rita Davis in the later years of the school. To raise money for books for the school, she made a quilt, raffled it off, and thus had fifty dollars for her project. Later, she heated soup on the school’s stove for a hot lunch for the pupils. The ingredients were donated by the parents.

Although Union Gin School came into existence after than the period covered this article, it was ?? school between Bernice and Farmerville, established by area citizens in 1921. It was named after a local cotton gin. The school had four large rooms, and adequate teachers. It was used for community meetings at various times. This school, too, had an early hot lunch program. Lola Gilliland was one one of the first teachers.

Other early community schools were Salem, Antioch, Truxno, Beech Grove, Enterprise, Hopewell, Patrick, Buckley, Point and Wilhite, to name a few. The first school for Negroes at Bernice later became Elliott High School.

Note from Author …… We would appreciate any additional history of early schools in Union Parish up to the early 1900’s so that a sequel to this article might be written.

Edna Matthews Liggin will always be remembered as the official historian of Union Parish and the Book Mobile Lady. She began writing the Uncle Lige column in The Gazette in 1939. Over the years she wrote many articles about the Union Parish history, the people there and her bottle collection. In her retired years she enjoyed visiting the older people in the Union Parish community.


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