School stories: Hickory Grove

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Hickory Grove school, located in east Hancock County. The headstones behind the building are from the adjoining Hickory Grove Church.

This was a schoolhouse. It remained a schoolhouse until January 1960.

That information about the above Hickory Grove School may seem shocking, but not for Hancock County. Though quite rural, the county operated 14 black schoolhouses until January 1960 and some were even smaller than Hickory Grove. Ten years earlier, there were 23 schools.

Not much is known of Hickory Grove’s history. As it was not uncommon for black churches to double as schools the buildings could have been one and the same in some of the 1930s community reports.

Hickory Grove’s appearance resembles that of a Rosenwald school.

However, while the Rosenwald fund seems to have been generous to Hancock County, the Fisk University database has no record of a school built at Hickory Grove. Nor is it mentioned as one in the Sparta Ishmaelite.

It is certainly possible that Hickory Grove was inspired by Rosenwald schools. The fund is known to be responsible for four other buildings in Hancock, including a school at East End, which was located only a few miles away and though bigger, had a entrance that merely appears to have been a mirror image of Hickory Grove in an archive photo.

The school was active for community and children. Registration for war ration books was held there in 1943.

In 1948, it hosted its district of Hancock County schools in an Achievement Day, where the schools competed in literary and athletics competitions, with special displays of home economics and 4-H club projects. Schools coming over for district were Galilee, Sandy Run East, Archer’s Grove, Cherry Hill, Bethlehem, Culverton, Thankful and Pleasant Grove.

The Georgia Educational Directory did not make an attempt at identifying all black schools until its 1956-57 edition, which only then highlighted the bigger centers. Hickory Grove was not considered one of those.

In 1957-58 and 1958-59, the school was listed as having grades 1-7 under the guidance of two teachers. It was not listed in 1959-60 as a pair of new black schools being built by the the State School Building Authority (Hancock County Training and Southwest) were not finished.

Hickory Grove was finally emptied in January 1960, but possibly not for one of the new buildings. Brand new Hancock County Training was already overcrowded.

As the January 28 Ishmaelite explained, “This will leave some Elementary pupils at the L.S. Ingraham School and some at Galilee as the mammoth new building was not large enough to accommodate them all.”

Galilee was just a few miles directly west of Hickory Springs, almost located on the same road. It looks to have remained a school until 1962.

Shortly after closing, Hickory Grove – as well as its land – was slated to be sold at auction in June 1960, along with several other small former black schools.

Hancock seems to have had a change of heart over what to do with Hickory Grove. Online property records for the county show that the parcel, which is still identified as Hickory Grove School, was granted to Hickory Grove Church for $0.

(Note: The date listed for Hickory Grove’s property transfer to the church is given as May 6, 1960, before it was listed in the Ishmaelite as being part of the auction.)

Sources: The Sparta Ishmaelite РOct. 21, 1943, April 22, 1948, Dec. 28, 1950, Sept. 24, 1959, Jan. 28, 1960, June 2, 1960; Fisk University Rosenwald Fund Card File Database; multiple editions of the Georgia Educational Directory; Hancock County property records.

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