One of the most iconic images of historic American education is that of the country schoolhouse. A one-room fixture, it represented education and it represented communities.
One-room schools are rare these days. Florida closed its last one, Duette Elementary, in 2016. Minnesota still has one, Angle Inlet, located in a section of the state only accessible by roads in Canada.
Georgia, generally being easily accessible and communities located close enough to towns of some size, began weeding theirs out as soon as possible. By 1960, they were all but extinct.
The schools that existed throughout state history had their own flavor. White schools tended to be the prototypical white frame buildings. Some black schools were, but other small black schools were frequently located on church grounds. In several cases, the church itself served as a school.
This was acknowledged in Stewart County in 1937, when the county, perhaps surprisingly, accepted bids to move students from Mount Arrat Church to a one-room building on the grounds.
The generosity wasn’t much of a drop in the bucket on what Stewart was spending on black schools, however. The system was listed as having 35 black schools (13 of which had one teacher), the first year statistics of this type are known to be available. The cumulative cost of the buildings was $26,610, an average value of $760.29. Stewart’s six white school buildings had a total value of $86,975.
A general lack of school funds in Georgia was especially acute for black schools. Money for white schools was tight, which meant black schools got very little. Until the Minimum Foundation Program, new schools for black students were rare. And in the pre-Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) days, there was not always much motivation to close already existing buildings for new ones. Especially since consolidating schools usually meant that some means to transport school children had to be figured out.
Mitchell County was seemingly only moved to close some of its one-room schools for financial reasons.
“The revision of schools would bring $7,200 additional money from the state by elimination of teachers and the State authorizes the use of these funds for transportation,” said The Camilla Enterprise in June 1950.
To its credit, Mitchell actually did start busing its black students with this money. Mitchell already had 22 white school buses, according to the Annual Reports from 1950.
Financial reasons and desperation led to a logical decision a few years earlier in Camden County.
Jeffersonton School, located in a community that had served as Camden’s county seat through the Civil War, had fallen to seven black students in December 1943. On the other hand, Woodbine School was overcrowded. At the start of the 1944-45 school year, the Camden board of education voted to move the students to Scarlett School. The teacher went to Woodbine and that school in its location in a church.
Camden had proposed moving the students and teacher in December 1943, but had to figure out transportation for them.
Numbers gradually began dwindling for one-teacher white and black schools, though it wasn’t until 1952 that less than half of black schools were that size. In 1950, the state had 2,312 black schools. Of those 1,244 had a single teacher. In 1952, 716 of the 1,755 schools were that size. The state reported 2,185 one-teacher black schools in 1938.
Georgia had nearly 450 one-teacher white schools when the first known stats on the matter were published in 1938. Two years later, 100 of them had closed. There were 136 reported in 1950 and numbers dropped quickly, to 90 in 1952, 52 in 1954 and 26 in 1956.
Mountain counties were always responsible for a big chunk of one-teacher schools. The state was listed as having 136 of them in 1950. Half came from four systems – Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin and Union. Gilmer had 21 one-teacher schools, Union, 17, Fannin, 16 and Lumpkin, 14.
Lumpkin was so isolated that of the 18 schools listed in the 1950-51 Georgia Educational Directory, 14 were one-teacher and three more were two-teacher. Lumpkin County High, an all-grades school in Dahlonega, was the only one bigger. The situation was worse before then. In 1947, eight one-teacher schools were consolidated, lowering the number from 24 to 16.
Lumpkin’s construction program finished in 1957. The 18 schools of 1950 were whittled to six, which included a split of Dahlonega Elementary from Lumpkin County High. One school, Yahoola, remained at two teachers, but the rest had six or more.
In 1960, there were a grand total of 13 or 14 one-teacher schools left in the state. Five (or four) were black, nine white. Only five of the white schools were regular schools.
Four black schools were in mountainous counties with a minuscule black population: Fannin, Lumpkin, Murray and Rabun, named Blue Ridge, Hilltop, Chatsworth and Ivy Hill, respectively. Each served elementary grades only, with high school students bused to another system. Fannin and Lumpkin sent students to Pickens County Training, later known as Tri-City High (and in 1964-65 still small enough to have but five teachers covering grades 1-12). Murray’s students went to Emery Street in Dalton and Ivy Hill’s high school students to Cornelia Regional.
All four remained until integration.
Blue Ridge closed in c. 1964, Ivy Hill in 1965, Chatsworth also possibly in 1965 and Hilltop in c. 1966.
Rabun County’s Historical Society noted there were 11 students attending Ivy Hill at the time of its closure. A similar number were in Chatsworth, with the Murray County Museum listing its attendance as eight in 1961-62. The Museum lists Chatsworth as closing in 1966, though it had already ceased being listed in the state directory of schools. Blue Ridge was listed at 11 students in 1951.
Report on Georgia Schools listed a one-teacher black school in Muscogee County, but the Georgia Educational Directory for 1959-60 and 1960-61 list the smallest school in the county as St. James, a two-teacher operation. St. James covered grades K-1.
The nine remaining white schools were in Atlanta city (Aidmore and Grady Hospital), Chatham (Children’s Home), Moultrie city (Vocational), Pike (Hollonville), Spalding (Fairview and Mount Zion), Stewart (Omaha) and Twiggs (Bullard).
Bullard, Hollonville, Fairview and Mount Zion all held grades 1-4. Omaha was grades 1-5.
Chatham’s one-teacher institution, Children’s Home, likely an orphanage-type school. Atlanta’s were for children unable to attend regular school. Aidmore was associated with Emory Hospital. Vocational was for adult education and under the banner of Moultrie city schools.
Fairview and Mount Zion look to have closed in 1960. Hollonville was last listed in the 1962-63 directory of schools, Bullard in 1961-62.
Omaha made it to 1964.
That year, Stewart was in a battle to keep from consolidating high schools. There were four total in the county, two white and two black. Each race had a high school at Richland and Lumpkin. The state of Georgia wanted Stewart to finish what it had promised to do years earlier when it accepted school building money.
In approximately March 1964, a survey committee came to the county to take a gander at the school situation. They described Omaha as such:
“This school has only nine pupils enrolled. It does not earn a teacher. The Stewart County Board of Education is not justified in furnishing a teacher for this school. The Committee recommends that this school be closed and that the children be given the opportunity to transfer to Lumpkin. If the parents will not cooperate with the Board in reducing this expense, then let them furnish their own teacher and pay tuition to keep the school operating as a private school. The State does not not provide a teacher for nine students and there is no reason the County Board should be expected to provide a teacher for this small enrollment. Transportation is already available for the children to Lumpkin with the high school students going from this community to Lumpkin.”
Stewart initially balked at consolidation, but under state pressure, the board of education accepted the plan.
The last one-teacher school in the state, believe it or not, is still going.
South Jackson Elementary, appropriately located in Jackson County, was listed as the last one-teacher school in 1966. In 1960, it had two teachers, but its population dwindled and by 1962, it was down to a single teacher.
But South Jackson didn’t stay that way for long. By 1970-71, it had rebounded to 10 teachers.
Sources: The Camilla Enterprise – June 16, 1950; Tri-County Advertiser – Aug. 4, 1966; The Stewart-Webster Journal – Sept. 21, 1937, March 26, 1964, April 9, 1964, April 16, 1964, June 25, 1964; The Blue Ridge Summit-Post – July 5, 1951; The Dahlonega Nugget – Oct. 31, 1947, Aug. 23, 1957; The Southeast Georgian – Dec. 9, 1943, Sept. 14, 1944; Multiple editions of the Georgia Educational Directory; Sixty-Sixth and Sixty-Seventh Annual Reports of the Department of Education to the General Assembly of the State of Georgia, Seventy-Eighth and Seventy-Ninth Annual Reports of the State Department of Education to the Georgia General Assembly, Eightieth and Eighty-First Annual Reports of the Department of Education to the General Assembly of the State of Georgia, Eighty-Second and Eighty-Third Annual Reports of the Department of Education to the General Assembly of the State of Georgia, Report on Georgia Schools (1956, 1958, 1960).