EDITOR’S NOTE — The following article was published by Esther Sharp Sanderson on April 3, 1964, as part of her ‘Profiles in Courage" series of newspaper articles in the Scott County News. The entire collection of articles is now on sale in book form by the Scott County Historical Society (see advertisement in this issue).
Historians do not make history; they only record it. You who have marched down the aisles of Huntsville High School to receive their diplomas, have made the history of this school. In life’s work you have evaluated the work of your teachers in terms of how well you have applied your knowledge in solving life’s problems and the contribution you have made to the democratic society of which you are a part
The Huntsville High School is an interesting institution of learning. Its graduates have gone into all walks of life, and most of them have made names for themselves in the various trades and professions. While others chose to become good homemakers, they, too, could choose no greater calling than being good mothers, for the hands that rock the cradle rule the world. We have just cause to be proud of our alumni, many whose struggle to obtain an education has shown remarkable courage and determination.
The forerunner of the Huntsville High School was the Huntsville Presbyterian Academy. It was a white frame two story building located on a knoll overlooking the town of Huntsville. This landmark, which held many pleasant memories for people throughout the county, was erected in 1884 and destroyed by fire in 1928. Since many of the first settlers on the Cumberland Plateau were Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, it was the aim of the Presbyterian Board of Missions to establish a church and school in every county site. Highly educated ministers and teachers dedicated their lives for the spread of religion and’ learning in the backwoods sections of East Tennessee.
Prior to the establishment of the Presbyterian Academy, education had regressed in Scott County. There was a 13% increase in population and a 50% increase in illiteracy. There was 8.8% more illiteracy in the rural counties than in the urban regions. The Presbyterian Academy was the first school of secondary education in this county. Its teachers all held college degrees, and they could confer college degrees in the Academy. They offered courses in English Composition, Literature, Latin, Greek, Philosophy, Algebra, Geometry, Botany, Theology and others. The county paid only a very small sum for the support of the school. Textbooks could be rented for a nominal fee from the school.
Young men from other sections who attended the Academy either boarded in the homes or rode horseback to and from school daily. When the Academy closed its doors in 1909, it numbered among its pupils the leaders in every field of endeavor in the county. During the year of 1905 statistics showed more students attending the Huntsville Academy than any other like school in East Tennessee. There were 175 pupils, four teachers and the minister-principal.
The Huntsville Academy, even if functioned through the Presbyterian Missions, had for its sole objective the enlightenment of Scott County children, and there was never any signs of religious bigotry. It was only after many years of dedicated service, that a few people attempted to inject religious issues into the school management. The minister-principal, a rigid disciplinarian, punished the son of a high county official. The fat was in the fire, and plans were soon under way for the erection of a county high school in Huntsville. However the Academies had had their day, and the time was ripe for the local authorities to assume more of their share of responsibility for the education of their children.
The Huntsville High School was built in 1908, but the Academy continued to function one year more with the pupils paying tuition. Even the State Legislature provided for—tax supported secondary schools, and the county courts were given power to get them up in 1899. Scott County did not for three reasons. First, the people in general were pleased with the wonderful opportunities offered by the Academy. Secondly, the county did not have taxable property nor a school assessment sufficient to operate as efficiently as the Academy could. It was not until 1909 that the State set aside 25% of its gross revenue for school purposes. There was still another reason. Scott County did not have sufficient qualified teachers. Even as late as 1926 Scott County did not have a single elementary teacher with a college degree.
For many years, the principals of the Huntsville High School and the faculty were from out of the county and many of the elementary teachers were also from out of the county. Only until recent years has there been sufficient qualified teachers to meet the needs of the teaching profession. Among the early list of principals was Professor VAUGHT, HICKS, BYNUM, BRICKEY, BRUNER, ELDER and C. W. WRIGHT. Eventually, as more local teachers received college degrees, local men were hired as principals. Professors CASWELL CROSS, WILLIAM LAXTON, J. DEFOE and OLSON PEMBERTON, OSWALD SEXTON and the present principal, Professor OLA Q. BYRD.
The first high school building was a frame structure near the site of the present structure. It had four classrooms that housed both the high and elementary children. There were four teachers, one high school and three elementary. There was an enrollment of approximately 125 pupils, with about 25 in the high school department.
The school functioned as a two year high school until Professor C. W. WRIGHT was instrumental in having it made into a full four year high school in 1918. The coming of Mr. and Mrs. C. W. WRIGHT marks the renaissance of education on the local level in the Huntsville School. Even though the population remained fairly static, the interest in education was on the up and up. New classrooms were added to the old frame building, and additional teachers were added to both the high and elementary faculties. Music and expression, with Mrs. C. W. WRIGHT in charge of the department, gave the school a much needed cultural background. A Literary Society was organized that proved to be most beneficial. Students learned parliamentary procedure, and how to express themselves while standing before an audience.
There were so many attending the Huntsville High School from other sections of the county that they could not find housing facilities. A dormitory was erected in 1917 to house these students. Mr. and Mrs. C. W. WRIGHT supervised the dormitory during the years they were connected with the school. The school, like Mr. Wiggley’s turnip,
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just grew and grew ‘til it could grow no larger; that is, without more room and more teachers. A modern brick building replaced the old frame structure in 1921 and a full four-year accredited high school was established, with Professor J. DEFOE PEMBERTON as principal. It was staffed with teachers who held college degrees. A commercial, home economics and agricultural science departments were added to the curriculum. A small cafeteria was put into operation and outside playground equipment was installed. With running water the old pump in the school yard vanished, so did the outside toilets with their infamous inscriptions. Steam heat took the place of the potbellied coal stove and a small cafeteria took the place of the tin dinner pails. As a teacher, I felt like I was in second heaven and so did the student body. Entrance into the new building was the Huntsville High School’s proudest day.
The Huntsville School continued to make progress, and the enrollment continued to grow larger. Soon there was need for expansion. Anew wing was added with six classrooms in 1952, a modern large well equipped cafeteria, and a new gymnasium took the place of the old wooden outside structure. Even with the new wing and all the additional floor space, it soon became crowded. A new ultra-modern elementary school plant was erected in 1961 on an adjoining lot where grades 1 through 5 were housed.
The population of Scott county has remained fairly static for the past decade, but the scholastic population has tripled. This is indeed a healthy sign that more people are aware of the need of a high school education. We no longer look to the farms alone for a livelihood. The road signs point to the larger cities where at least a high school education is needed to fill the jobs. A steady drain is made on the brain power of our youth because we have failed to find work for them at home. We have also lost some of our very best teachers, personnel we could least afford to lose, because the state and county was too late with too little.
The Huntsville High School functioned as an independent school by a special act of the Legislature for some years before becoming a part of the county system. There were many factors that contributed to the progress of the Huntsville School. Chief among these could be listed better trained teachers, higher salaries, broader curriculum, better means of transportation, and last but by no means least, a growing knowledge of the need for education.
The first transportation of school children took place in 1920. It was a covered wagon drawn by mules. NATHANIEL BYRGE made wooden cross-pieces to curve across the top of his wagon; he put a tarpaulin over it and hung an oil stove from the top to keep the children warm. It carried twenty pupils, at the cost of $4.50 per pupil. The first motor driven bus was in 1925, but there was no state aid for bus service for high schools until 1942. Now, nine buses bring pupils from many communities daily. It is a far cry from the days when all children within walking distance, some five miles away, walked over muddy roads that were almost impassable to get to school. Parents of children who lived too far away to walk would bring them in on jolt wagons or on horseback and return for them at intervals.
The compulsory school law came into effect in 1911. It affected children between the ages of 8 and 14, and for only four months, but now the law is more binding, since it requires attendance between the ages of 6 and 17 for 9 months. A county Attendance Officer administers it. We can lead a horse to water, but we can’t make him drink. Our curriculum must be geared to meet the needs and interests of the child. The Huntsville High School offers vocational training in agriculture and T. N. I. classes are learning the building trades. They have completed one beautiful building and another is under construction near the county garage on the Helenwood Pike.
A good health and physical education program creates interest in any high school. It attracts many pupils who would not possibly remain to graduate. The Huntsville High School organized a basketball squad and a high school baseball team under the administration of Professor C. W. WRIGHT. Football was organized by Coach GEORGE CECIL in 1935. During the years, the school has accumulated a trophy case full of prized trophies, many won while BOBBY CARSON was coach of the basketball squad. Two families, the MANFORD SEXTON and J. J. SHARPE families have stood out in the field of athletics. WILMA MAE SHARPE was top scorer in the state and was granted a scholarship to Nashville Business College where she won second place in national competition. EDRIE SEXTON HUFF was the state’s free throw champion. DONALD GORDON SEXTON and LANDON SEXTON both receive athletic scholarships to T.P.I. where they played on the varsity basketball squad and had the distinguished honor of playing the N.C.A.A. at Kansas City. KENNY BROWN is now playing on the Murray College football squad and STANLEY SANDERSON made a remarkable record at Sewanee and King’s Colleges as a football player. SHIRLEY BYRD receive a basketball scholarship to Nashville Business College, and she traveled with them to foreign countries including Russia. The football and basketball has had its holding power in the school and furnished a source of recreation for the community. The present principal, OLA Q. BYRD, has been instrumental in getting a lighted football field, complete with tower and clock. Hard surfaced playgrounds and outdoor basketball courts have been made available through the P.T.A. and the county Board of Education.
Aside from athletics, the pupils of the Huntsville High School under the direction of Mrs. ESTHER SHARP SANDERSON, have received national recognition in art and the social sciences. Members of the SEAMON KEETON family received through the Hearst Publications and the Instructor Magazine approximately $1500 in cash and other awards. In the trophy case are four Freedom Foundation Honor Medals Awarded to the school for work done in Mrs. SANDERSON’s Social Studies groups. The school received libraries and Mrs. SANDERSON gave one of her pupils an all expenses paid trips to Valley Forge and other historical shrines in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
We would not wish to confine our short history to only a few, for we have reason to be proud of most of our alumni. They have gone into all walks of life and made good. The Huntsville High School has been ably represented by a former pupil in the Congress of the United States, the late Honorable HOWARD BAKER; JOHN DUNCAN, present Mayor of Knoxville, is another alumnus of whom we are very proud. Still another is Dr. ELLERY LAY, a noted author and principal of Dobyns-Bennett High School. ESTHER SHARPE SANDERSON, an alumnus, is the author of the first and only Scott County history, County Scott and its Mountain Folk. WHITE JAMES is a teacher in the University of Alabama; CHRISTINE FOSTER in the University of Florida and FLONNIE SHOEMAKER in Cumberland College; JOHN COAPMAN is with the C.I.A. and has been featured in leading periodicals as a guide on big game hunts in Africa and the Far East. JAMES HASSON is with the high echelons in the Atomic Energy Commission. Dr. HELEN M. SHARPE, a graduate of Washington City Hospital and a past graduate in obstetrics in Bellevue Hospital in New York, recently retired after 36 years work in Sevier County. Doctors SEIGAL PHILLIPS, MITCHELL THOMAS, BARNEY McDONALD, M. E. THOMPSON, T. L. PHILLIPS, LUKE FOSTER, JOE and OSCAR PEMBERTON were alumni of the Huntsville School and the Academy. County Judges BEATY CECIL, HENRY POTTER, MITT ROBBINS and Circuit Judge WILLIAM H. BUTTRAM attended the Academy. Representative ALONZO CROSS, an alumnus, passed a Private Tenure Act for Scott County Teachers. The following County Superintendents of Education are alumni of Huntsville School: WILLIAM JEFFERS, O. E. JEFFERS, O. EARLY BYRD, OVIE CROSS and MALVIN SEXTON. Alumni of the Academy who were Superintendents of Education include H. K. PEMBERTON. OLSO PEMBERTON Jr., an alumni, is a missionary minister in Brazil.
Time and space will not permit mention of hundreds who have made good in many fields of endeavor, but we would like to call attention to some of the most unusual classes among the 1087 who have graduated from the school. The first class of 1917 were products of the Academy who in number, namely, FLOYD and MYRTLE BRICKLEY, ESTHER SHARP, BILL BUTTRAM Jr., and GEORGE and GARFIELD CHAMBERS. The smallest class, in 1925, had only two: GRACE SEXTON and HERBERT McDONALD. The largest class was in 1937, an all boy class of five: MANFORD SEXTON, GEORGE CARTER, EDMOND, WILLIARD E.., and L. MAYNARD JEFFERS in 1922. The largest number of graduates from one family were as follows: J. J. SHARP with 11; MANFORD SEXTON with 10; and F. B. DUNCAN with 9.
The following graduates and PTA worked diligently for the improvement of the school over a long period: Mrs. ELLA YORK, EMMA LEWALLEN, DORA BAKER, LINA DOISY, CASSIE DUNCAN, BERTHA ROBINSON, PORTER B. RECTOR and MABLE THOMPSON. Professor HAROLD CARSON has served as a "Jack of all Trades" from science and math teacher to assistant principal, electrician, and conducting teaching programs.
We cannot help but feel a righteous indignation when the press, radio, and television belittle the native intelligence and educational background of all of Appalachia because of some isolated pockets of ignorance and illiteracy. The Huntsville High School may never reach its aspirations but it is working consistently toward higher goals. We have every reason to be proud of the progress we have made in the last 56 years. We have seen the high and elementary schools grow from a small four-room structure with four teachers and 125 pupils to two large modern brick buildings, and agriculture and T.N.L. buildings. The two schools have more than 1000 enrollment. The main high school building has 23 classrooms and a teaching staff of 23 teachers, with more than 300 enrolled in grades 7 through 12. Plans for a new home economics building are now under way and the building will be remodeled. Even though the school has suffered from a lack of necessary funds to operate as efficiently as we might have under more favorable circumstances, we can point with pride to what we have accomplished and we are looking forward with renewed hope for greater achievements in the future.
Esther Sharp Sanderson
April 3, 1964
FNB Chronicle, Vol. 2, No. 4 – Summer 1991
First National Bank
P.O. Box 4699
Oneida, TN 37841
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