Breaking up was hard to do in Camden (Part I)

This will be a tale in multiple parts.

The point of school consolidations is to bring schools together. To combine resources, perhaps to lose an outmoded building with a declining student population.

Consolidations usually take.

Lowndes County High opened in 1959, joining together Clyattville, Lake Park, Naylor and part of Pine Grove. In 1966, it consolidated further with the addition of Hahira. Lowndes has flirted with a new high school, but has held fast for more than 50 years.

North Habersham and South Habersham combined in 1970. They are seemingly contently wedded to one another.

Not all consolidations take. Duluth and Norcross were joined for a single school year, 1957-58 as West Gwinnett, before Duluth demanded to be set free. Greene-Taliaferro, Mitchell-Baker and Tri-County all joined and split.

Those decisions are generally final. Authorities involved realized that one situation or the other was best for their student populations.

But in one county school system, that wasn’t it. They were together, then they were not. Then they were together again.

This is Camden County.

Camden is the only known county school system in Georgia to have consolidated, broken up, then consolidated again.

These three decisions came quickly in the grand scheme of life, a span of only five years.

North Camden, St. Marys and Kingsland consolidated in 1945. They broke up into two schools in 1946. Kingsland and St. Marys went together as South Camden. The remaining third, North Camden, retained the Camden County name. South Camden and Camden County went back together in 1950.

Decisions in such a small amount of time would suggest that many emotions were at play and indeed Camden Countians in St. Marys, Kingsland and Woodbine were all passionate about what they felt was best for the young folks who called those towns home.

The original high school consolidation seems to grown out of a much simpler idea. In July 1944, the Camden Board of Education went on record as recommending that St. Marys and Kingsland join their 10th and 11th grades, 11th being as far as schools in Camden went for graduation purposes. The students would be sent to Kingsland.

This did not happen as six students were listed in June 1945 as having graduated from St. Marys that year.

In 1944, St. Marys was too small to have an accredited high school. Plus, St. Marys barely had a school; theirs had burned down in December 1943. An image of the old building is available on Vanishing Georgia.

After their school went up in flames, St. Marys had naturally wanted to rebuild quickly. But this was wartime. Money and especially resources were scarce.

The town felt left out in March 1945 when they heard the board of education had money for other schools in the county, but not theirs. It was explained that the board couldn’t offer any to that particular district (why was not explained) but suggested the town get $30,000 in bond money to pay for a new building.

In the same issue of the Southeast Georgian (a Kingsland-based newspaper that might have been the only publication in the county at the time),  the board talked about consolidating into a single high school.

Favoring this idea was John H. Morrison, eighth congressional district school supervisor, who attended this meeting and expressed what he believed were the advantages of consolidation.

Morrison pointed out Spalding High in Griffin, which handled all the county high school students. Spalding handled 518 students, offered 29 courses and at an economical average price of $51.18 per pupil. Meanwhile in Camden, he said, Kingsland had 45 students and North Camden had 72. The average cost per student was $90.93, with Kinsgland being the worst of the two at $124.65 per pupil.

Neither had much in the way of courses. Kingsland had 12.5 units. North Camden was barely better at 13.5.

The numbers appealed to Camden superintendent B.L. Harrell and he promised the board would think it over. At the same meeting, the board wasted no time in dreaming up a potential site for a unified Camden County at Colesburg. The community was geographically and population-wise considered the center of the county.

1899 Central of Georgia Railroad map of Camden County, showing Kingsland, St. Marys and Woodbine. Colesburg, the suggested site of a new high school is at near dead-center of the county. St. Marys, listed as the county seat on this map, held that distinction until 1923, when it was changed to Woodbine. (Map from the Historical Atlas of Georgia Counties.)

A month later, the matter was on the tips of everyone’s tongues in Camden County. A non-BOE civic meeting was called at Woodbine and Morrison again made an appearance to hype the benefits of consolidation. W.E. Pafford of the Georgia Accrediting Committee echoed Morrison’s words, which also got a local endorsement from North Camden Chamber of Commerce president Oscar Middleton.

St. Marys was reticent.

At the meeting where Morrison and Pafford praised consolidation, St. Marys sent a representative, E.A. Kendler, of the city’s chamber of commerce.

Kendler didn’t want to say too much as he said the topic had not been discussed much in his end of the county. He did say he believed St. Marys contributed the “lion’s share” of school funds via taxation.

Kendler said full high school consolidation was worth considering after the war ended. However, now was not the time. The meeting, held April 26, 1945, was four days before the death of Adolf Hitler and 12 days before V-E Day.

In between meetings, St. Marys prepared a $40,000 bond issue for the local ballot. It passed May 22, but was dependent upon getting federal funds. The Lanum Act was expected to pay for half of the building, another $40,000 or so.

(Not much can be found on the Lanum Act, but the Charleston News and Courier (S.C.) of April 21, 1945, described it as being “designed for aiding schools which have been called upon to take care of the influx of students brought into their locality by military establishments and factories turning out essential war material.” Kings Bay, which caused an explosion in Camden’s population, was not under construction until 1955. The exact nature of St. Marys’ wartime contributions is unknown, but could be related to timber or turpentine.)

At the end of the May 1945, the board of education voted for the consolidation of Kingsland and North Camden.

But no gleaming new schoolhouse was going to be there for them.

Camden was going to shuffle its students around. The new high school was in fact the elementary school in Woodbine. Woodbine’s elementary students were to be sent to the old building at White Oak. That, said the county, was going to be temporary until a new building could be erected.

St. Marys was not in the initial plans. Kingsland had readily accepted consolidation, but St. Marys held out initially, preferring to wait until a discussion could be held June 14. In September, it found out there would be no Lanum Act money. It went away with the war, which ceased September 2, 1945, with V-J Day and the surrender of Japan. On top of that, the bond money was still being held by the bonding house, who was refusing to release it.

Thus, two days after Japan surrendered, St. Marys joined North Camden and Kingsland in Camden County High.

Sources: The Southeast Georgian – July 13, 1944, March 29, 1945, May 3, 1945, May 17, 1945, June 7, 1945, Sept. 6, 1945


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