1950s high school consolidation plans that almost made it

The 1950s were a momentous time in Georgia. Thanks to the Minimum Foundation

Elberton

Elberton High School, year unknown. Its burning brought about a union of school systems and changed building plans.

Program and the offers of state money to build desperately needed schools in Georgia, school systems were changing.

The state, wanting to upgrade white and black education, was trying to rid the small, rural high schools scattered throughout its borders and go with something more streamlined and cost effective.

Early days of this program were wild ones. The state had its beliefs about what should happen with the schools. School systems had others. Sometimes plans didn’t quite work out.

GORDON CENTRAL … 30 YEARS EARLIER

A pair of ideas were floated around Gordon County in the early 1950s. One was a total consolidation of Calhoun and the mostly small county high schools of Gordon into one building. The county and city both gave a stamp of approval to the idea in 1950.

However, in December 1951, Calhoun rejected the idea of straight consolidation. To do so would be for the city and county to merge school systems and Calhoun did not want to give up its independence. A contract, though, to bring the smallest of the schools to Calhoun, that was something they could get behind.

Calhoun city specifically mentioned Resaca, Sugar Valley, Oostanaula, Liberty, Belwood and Plainville. Yes, all of those were high schools in 1950s Gordon County. The county also boasted white high schools at Red Bud, Fairmount and Sonoraville. Those three were large enough to stand on their own. The state was OK with that plan, though the Minimum Foundation Program really would have liked to see the school boards merge.

In April 1952, though, the county voted to build a consolidated high school for Resaca, Sugar Valley, Oostanaula, Liberty, Belwood and Plainville. Fairmount, Red Bud and Sonoraville were still left alone. That plan might have come to fruition, if disaster had not struck in December of that year.

On December 15, 1952, Sonoraville’s school burned down. Suddenly, the county needed the money that might have gone to a county high school for a total school plant at Sonoraville. After that, the central high school dream began to fall apart.

Just as the 1952-53 school year was ending, Plainville asked to consolidate its high school with Calhoun. In July, Liberty practically begged to do the same. Despite space being scarce, Calhoun agreed to take on both.

When Calhoun’s needed space came through in 1956 via a new school, the remainder of the small county schools followed: Resaca, Sugar Valley, Oostanaula, Belwood and Sonoraville.

A real Gordon Central finally opened in 1985 for the county students. Red Bud and Fairmount lost their own high schools in 1991. Sonoraville, the school whose building loss perhaps ended the county high attempt of the 1950s, returned as a high school in 2005.

(The Gordon County News – Aug. 3, 1950; Oct. 9, 1950; Dec. 13, 1951; Apr. 22, 1952; Dec. 16, 1952; June 2, 1953; July 14, 1953; Nov. 22, 1956)

NORTH GWINNETT IN BUFORD, DACULA PART OF CENTRAL GWINNETT

There were three situations that would seem impossible now that came out of Gwinnett County’s school building and high school consolidation plans. Two didn’t happen. One did, albeit briefly.

West Gwinnett, a school that existed under that name from 1957-62 initially combined Norcross and Duluth. For a single school year, the two were together, until Duluth talked its way out of the situation. Norcross hung on to the West Gwinnett name for a few years more.

The other two major consolidations officially considered were: (1) Dacula to close its high school and join up with the bustling Central Gwinnett composed of Bethesda (by then a non-high school), Lilburn and Lawrenceville. And (2), North Gwinnett to be located at Buford, composed of Buford, Sugar Hill and Suwanee.

In December 1954, Gwinnett still had not chosen a site for North Gwinnett. Seven months later, it was announced that a contract that had been agreed upon between the county and Buford’s city system was null and void. The original plans were to alter and add on to Buford High.

No explanation was given by Lawrenceville’s News-Herald, but Buford balking on giving up its independence likely figured in, if it wasn’t the main reason.

Likewise, an exact explanation on when and how Dacula and Lilburn were dropped from Central Gwinnett has not yet been found. Both cities (and Duluth) were objecting to consolidation in 1952.

Lilburn lasted until 1966, when its students became part of Berkmar. Dacula remained small before booming into a very large school of its own.

(The News-Herald – Dec. 18, 1952; Dec. 17, 1954; July 7, 1955)

BARROW COUNTY HIGH

The state thought it was best for the county of Barrow to have a single white high school but with separate city and county boards of education, an agreement had to be made between them. The state heavily requested that these agreements be for 20 years. Full high schools existed at Statham (county) and Winder (city), with several ninth grade-level schools dotting the county.

At an impasse with the city in 1952 because of the length of the agreement, Barrow County made its own plans to maintain a high school. As late as August, the Barrow board decided to consolidate its county students into two sites.

Statham would get Holsenbeck students. Auburn would receive Bethlehem, County Line, Matthews and Victron. A full high school would exist at both sites, but under the single name of Barrow County High School.

The dual-town school would only be temporary, until Barrow County received state funds to build a new high school.

Registration was set for Aug. 28 with school to start Sept. 1. One the very eve of registration, the city and county came to a 20-year agreement. All county high school students (but not elementary) were welcome to attend Winder tuition-free, even those at Statham.

Statham maintained its high school and the county schools stayed the same.

The city and county eventually received funds at different times from the State School Building Authority. Anticipating full high school consolidation, Winder became Winder-Barrow in 1955. Statham closed as a high school in 1957.

(The Winder News – Aug. 21, 1952; Aug. 28, 1952)

BROOKS COUNTY HIGH AND QUITMAN HIGH AS SEPARATE ENTITIES

Brooks County and Quitman city, like many others, existed as separate school districts in the 1950s. Quitman had its own white elementary and high school, Brooks County had three white high schools at Morven, Dixie and Barwick.

Brooks County planned for a consolidated high school, buying land in January 1954 to house the building just outside Quitman on the Morven highway (GA 76). Initial reports indicated that the city was willing to join in and perhaps find some land near the present Quitman High for a new high school building.

By March 1954, the plans stalled, apparently at least partially over school location. The city wanted the school in another location because of traffic concerns. Between this and the next major squabble in late 1956, the city had built the African-American Washington Street High to replace Brooks High.

Some hope towards board consolidation took place before the November 1956 struggle over board representation. Quitman thought that having just two reps from the city were too few. Any deals were now off.

The county went ahead with plans for a consolidated high school for Barwick, Morven and Dixie, calling for bids in January 1958. A year later, the new high school was finished, but was not to be occupied until the 1959-60 school year.

Another attempt was made to combine boards through a Quitman city referendum. It was defeated soundly, 385-144. Not so fast, though. The vote wasn’t what Quitman wanted. The referendum called for a merger of the systems.

A straw vote taken the next week, which came out 288-135 in favor, provided for a temporary merger until a constitutional amendment made it permanent. The merger was made official in March 1959. Quitman would be going to the new Brooks County High. School started in the new building Aug. 31.

The merger did not just affect the white schools. Brooks County had planned for its own black high school, coincidentally located right next to the Washington Street plant. The new building also in 1959. It and the 1955 Washington building served as an elementary and high school, though rural elementaries continued to exist in Brooks.

(Quitman Free Press – Feb. 11, 1954; March 18, 1954; Nov. 29, 1956; Jan. 16, 1958; Jan. 8, 1959; Jan. 15, 1959; Jan. 22, 1959; March 19, 1959. Thomasville Times-Enterprise – Jan. 22, 1954)

CONSOLIDATION OF CARROLLTON, TEMPLE AND MOUNT ZION

When Carroll County and Carrollton city asked for a survey of their school systems in 1951, the results would set off seven years of fireworks.

The survey recommended three high schools: Villa Rica, which would include students from Temple; Bowdon and a consolidated high school of Carrollton, Whitesburg, Roopville and Mount Zion.

The protests against such a plan started immediately. Meanwhile, Carrollton started on its Minimum Foundation Foundation plans to expand Carrollton High.

In March 1953, the county board unanimously agreed to go along with beliefs of the people, that all of its rural high schools be maintained. There was some bending and flexing at a school board meeting three months later. Board representatives from Whitesburg and Mount Zion both said they understood consolidation if it meant their schools were not accredited. Georgia had recently introduced a plan that in the future, any schools with an average daily attendance under 100 would lose accreditation. Temple, Whitesburg, Roopville and Mount Zion were all under that number.

Despite the seeming progress, the county school board presented a plan to the State Board of Education in August 1953 to allow them to keep all the rural high schools. The state rejected it.

Soon, it seemed that the county was resigned to an agreement to make the three high schools plan work. Sites were examined for a new school site. But State Representative C.C. Perkins got involved with the school situation and began pushing the county to resist consolidation.

The situation grew dramatically worse in March 1955.

At a meeting with the State Board of Education in Atlanta, Perkins got into a fistfight with Dorsey Duffey, a Carroll County resident who supported consolidation.

Perkins began focusing on saving Mount Zion and building up the school. He was even able to get funds to start a football program in late 1955.

The county continued to fight against consolidation, resolving to keep all high schools in March 1957. Then in July 1957, Temple’s school burned.

How exactly the county came around to support the dissolution of the Roopville and Whitesburg schools is unknown at this time. Temple had gotten a bit of industry in the town, helping push its attendance. The football efforts at Mount Zion possibly saved it.

Central High School was finished in the fall of 1958, but with equipment not scheduled to arrive until the end of the calendar year, the county decided to wait until the 1959-60 school year to move in.

(Carroll County Georgian – March 22, 1951; Sept. 6, 1951; May 8, 1952; March 5, 1953; June 18, 1953; Aug. 20, 1953; Nov. 5, 1953; Feb. 11, 1954; March 17, 1955; Dec. 15, 1955; March 7, 1957. Carroll Times-Free Press – July 30, 1957; Sept. 16, 1958)

ELBERT COUNTY AND ELBERTON

Separate county and city school boards were not uncommon in the early 1950s. Many that did have separate boards also had rural towns with their own high schools. When trying to modernize education in the state and cut some waste, Georgia asked many of these separate systems to combine.

Some were fine with this idea, realizing that it really was for the best. Some were stubborn, hating that they would have to give up their independence. Some were Elberton and Elbert County.

Georgia wanted Elberton and Elbert to become one with their schools, but neither side was willing to agree.

In October 1952, the county announced plans for county-wide white and black high schools. Sites had already been purchased. Unlike in the cases of most other systems, Georgia refused to listen to the Elbert County requests until Elberton submitted theirs. The problem was, the city had no immediate needs and had no plans to file anytime soon.

Elbert County started negotiating with the city for a merger. After a year of talks, it seemed like they had hammered out their differences on picking board members and a superintendent. Elberton also apparently found some needs and submitted plans to the state. More than $1 million was approved for both systems. High schools were still separate.

No work had started on either system in 1954 when there was perhaps an omen of things to come.

Elberton High, formal name Central High, was severely damaged in a fire Oct. 2. Because of airtight doors, classrooms held, but repairs were extensive: plaster on all three floors had to be replaced, a new stairwell had to be constructed, there was damage to the roof, all windows (save for one) and doorways had to be replaced and the building needed to be rewired. Work was completed in a week.

Would the fire convince the systems to combine? It was a put to a vote in the general election a month later. City voters favored consolidation, but the county did not. Approval by both was needed, though the overall tally favored consolidation.

In October 1955, construction was on the immediate horizon, with bids for projects up. Then on November 7, Elberton High burned again, this time completely.

A high school had not been planned by the Elberton city system. Now one was desperately needed as students were being taught in several churches. On January 4, 1956, city citizens voted to abolish Elberton’s city school system. Elbert County and Elberton became one in July 1956.

The county high school was now a reality, but not as originally planned. Instead of being built in the county, a new school would go up on the site of the old Elberton High. Both systems had preferred that location. Similarly, the black high school site was moved to the city in June 1956, near Blackwell Memorial.

Bids were soon taken for construction and Elbert County High opened in 1957.

(The Elberton Star – Oct. 14, 1952; Nov. 14, 1952; Oct. 30, 1953; Dec. 22, 1953; Oct. 5, 1954; Oct. 29, 1954; Nov. 5, 1954; Nov. 10, 1955; Jan. 6, 1956; June 19, 1956)

The Georgia High School Basketball Project blog is a companion to the Georgia High School Basketball Project.

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