The former Central High School in McRae, 2012. The sign from its days as Central Elementary is standing to the right of the entrance.
In just about every corner of Telfair County there is an abandoned school.
Lumber City is still neat, with a bell out front to remind of those bygone days of education. Weeds grow through Milan’s black school. Workmore died as a school, then died as an antique market, whose signs are still up. Rock Hill seems to beg for attention just to the side of US 441.
McRae-Helena, the conjoined county seat at Telfair’s northern tip, has its own tribunes to former education. Old South Georgia College continues to sit proudly on a hill as a museum. But barely off the middle of town is another series of abandoned buildings.
Those buildings were Central High School, which was open from 1958-2003.
There is little microfilm of The Telfair Enterprise housed at the University of Georgia from the 1950s. What took the Telfair County school system so long to get going on its school building project is hazy for an outsider, who can only suppose that the delay was either location of sites or a fight by Milan and Lumber City white high schools to stay alive.
Whatever the case, Telfair County students could only be bystanders as their schools disintegrated. Conditions grew so bad that the Telfair Enterprise ran a two-part story in 1957 highlighting them, complete with pictures.
Twin City High (The Telfair Enterprise, Feb. 28, 1957)
Twin City High, the name of McRae’s black school, looked to have been a hand-me-down former white school, based on its size. An instructor in the school said the building swayed in the wind.
New schools across the county had already been planned, with the details released in February 1956. A new consolidated African-American high school (combining Twin City, Rock Hill, Milan and Lumber City) was to be located on a 20-acre tract donated by the city of McRae.
Months after the series on school conditions, Telfair was able to get started and the buildings were open in the fall of 1958.
Countians were even nice enough to approve the building of two new gymnasiums to go with their new schools, but those were not to be built until the schools were nearly finished and the new Central High played its first season of basketball on the road.
Central High’s gymnasium was built with bond money voted in 1958. Amazingly, it seems that post-integration, someone merely painted over the “HIGH” part of the name, a rare artifact of its former days.
Central High swept to the state basketball titles in 1961.
C.J. Easley’s Tigerettes defeated Liberty County, 50-45, to cap an undefeated season and E. McDonald’s Tigers tripped up East Depot (LaGrange), 58-51.
No football was played at Central, perhaps in part because none of the white schools did. Central’s average daily attendance hovered around 300 for most of its existence.
Telfair began stepping up its integration efforts prior to total consolidation in 1970. In 1969, the Georgia Educational Directory lists Central as being only grades 2-12.
Post-integration Central became a middle school, serving grades 5-8, later adjusted to 4-7. In c. 1986, it was renamed Central Elementary, with grades 3-7. In c. 1989, Telfair removed its middle grades and the old school became grades 3-5. Central was shuttered in 2003, when the school system opened a new elementary school that combined primary and elementary grades.
Either a vocational building or classrooms built after Central’s opening.
Sources: The Telfair Enterprise – Feb. 23, 1956, Feb. 28, 1957, March 7, 1957, Nov. 21, 1957; Macon Telegraph – March 26, 1958. Multiple volumes of the Georgia Educational Directory.
School Stories is a series of current-to fairly current photos of school buildings. Some are long abandoned, some are still in use. Most will be rural or small town schools. Information is provided by newspaper archives and editions of the Georgia Educational Directory.