By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
HOLLY POND —
Anyone who has ever traveled through the countryside in and around Holly Pond knows why a settlement was built there. It is one of the most picturesque places in a county full of beautiful scenic vistas.
In our series of historic Cullman schools, Holly Pond has, perhaps, the best records of events surrounding the schools and their importance to the community.
Dan and Brenda Scott have compiled an in-depth record going back as far as 1899 when Holly Pond’s early days were first recorded.
Like many other communities of this era, one of the first priorities of early Holly Pond families (after establishing a home) was to create a place of worship and a school, sometimes using the same building for both.
According to the Scott’s research, prior to 1899, there was very little state support for public education. This meant that local citizens had the responsibility to provide an adequate education for their children. Parents of students were expected to furnish wood used as fuel to heat the schools. “Tuition schools, such as Pine Grove Academy, meant that parents had to pay for the privilege of their children attending school,” explained Dan Scott. “Most of the schools in the Holly Pond area began as one-room structures. They were made of logs with split log seats for the students. Some had dirt floors and were heated by a fireplace or wood heater.”
Further history of this agricultural community revealed that the school term was at the discretion of the trustees and parents, usually about four months per year. Later the term was extended to five months with three months in the winter and two in the summer. In the spring and fall, children were needed to plant and harvest crops. As late as the 1950’s Cullman County Schools closed for a period of time for cotton picking, as did many of the other counties around the South.
“Teachers of the early schools were in great demand,” said Brenda Scott. “A college degree, or any formal education, was not required. A Teaching Certificate, awarded by passing a state examination, was required and could be upgraded with further education. Often young men and women would begin teaching at age 16 or 17. Many of the early teachers in the Holly Pond area were from Tennessee, hired through a contact of the County Superintendent.”
In going through old records, the Scott’s found names of some of the teachers - Nina Mae Norris Bice at Shaddrix, Mrs. Patterson at Center Point, and Mr. Rice at Redan. “The early teacher not only taught in the school, but was a role model in the community. Teachers who did not live in the community usually boarded with the family of a school trustee,” explained Scott.
The Scott’s also learned that in Alabama, students were not required by law to attend school. In 1915, compulsory school attendance laws were passed for children between the ages of eight and fifteen who had not completed seven grades. These children were required by law to attend school at least eighty days each year.
“Every community had its own school which was a great source of community pride,” said Dan Scott. “The school was usually within walking distance of the students. When it was necessary to consolidate schools, it became an issue of great concern of everyone in the community. Some of the schools were dissolved or consolidated before 1920. Because a fire destroyed the school records housed in the courthouse, many of their records are lost except in memories of those who attended.”
Those memories have made much of the series possible…
Records showed that Pine Grove School was one of the earliest in the area. The first building was located on Lick Creek. It was a log building with one small room and a dirt floor. According to an article in the Alabama Tribune, Professor W.J. Dodson had a flourishing school at Pine Grove Academy in August of 1889. Some of the other early teachers were Rob Latta, William Price and J. S. McMahan. The school was moved to a new location around 1899 near where Pine Grove Church now stands. Around 1908 another building was constructed behind Pine Grove Church. The 1899 building burned around 1910. In 1921 Pine Grove reported 78 pupils in grades one through seven. The school consolidated with Holly Pond on May 27, 1932.
Further research revealed that the community of Walter had two schools: Mann’s School House across from Walter Baptist Church, and Isabella School at North Walter diagonally across from the store. The Isabella School was built around 1890. Among the teachers were Miss Emma Brown and Miss Maggie Ward of Goodwater. The building was a one-room structure where students from grades one through seven were taught by one teacher. It later became a two-room school with Mrs. Ethel Weeks and Warlous Meadows as teachers. In 1913, Isabella School burned and because of the disrepair of Mann’s School House, the community came together to construct Walter School in 1914. This school had seven grades with five teachers with one teacher serving as teacher/principal. The school consolidated with Holly Pond in 1963.
Holly Pond School
In the 1860s, there was one small log house east of Holly Pond on Mud Creek that was used for a church and school house. Lemuel M. Bryson attended his first school at this location.
In compiling Bryson’s information, the Scott’s discovered that in 1872 the settlements from the south and north came together with the Mud Creek settlement to construct a schoolhouse. The site selected was at the campground on the Blountsville – Somerville Road near the large pond which is now in the Town of Holly Pond. Mr. Bryson stated, “The nearest house was one mile away from the school house.” The school was made of logs with split-log seats placed around the exterior walls, creating a back to the seats. David Hood was the first teacher at this school in the summer of 1872.
In 1939, students from Holly Pond School interviewed N.S. Stisher, David Lewis, and George Dodson concerning the history of their school. According to this interview, there was a one-room log structure built for the purpose of a school as early as 1873. This school was located near the intersection of the Blountsville Road and Highway 278. They also indicated that by 1890 or 1891, a two-story building with four rooms had been constructed across from the Holly Pond Baptist Church.
The third school building was constructed in 1909 in the vicinity of the Easterwood Gymnasium. A photograph, shared by Christine Shaw Wise, reveals a very ornate, red-painted structure with white trim. It had seven rooms: four downstairs with a stairwell in the center, and two classrooms and a large area the size of two classrooms used as an auditorium for programs or community meetings. This building was damaged by a tornado in 1914 while school was in session. No students were seriously injured. Support poles were used to brace the building until another building could be constructed.
The fourth building was constructed in 1915 where the old Ag Building now stands. This building was known as the White Building and students were enrolled in grades 1-10. Students desiring to further their education could attend the County High School in Cullman, or the High School in Blountsville.
A school tax was established in 1927 which allowed Holly Pond to have a high school. Much of the material and labor were donated by the Holly Pond Community to construct the brick building. A grade was added each year until the first seniors graduated in 1929.
“By 1933, the school was thriving,” said Dan Scott. “Three wings were added that year: an elementary wing on one side, a high school wing with administrative offices on the other side, and a large gymnasium/auditorium in the center. There was a basement under the gym where the boiler was located for central heat.”
After the close of the 1952 school year, the Holly Pond School building was completely destroyed by fire. Lightning was determined as the cause of the fire. No one was injured, but the event was devastating to the community.
“In 1952-53, classes were sent to various places in the community including: Industrial Arts Building, Ag/Home Ec Building, lunchroom (which was an old Army barrack), Food Canning Plant, Baptist Church, Turkey Hop Church, Methodist Church, and homes of Herman Gilley, Jesse Duke, and Marion Hammock,” said Dan Scott. “The new building was complete enough for the class of 1953 to hold their graduation in the new gymnasium.”
Currently, Holly Pond School consists of an elementary, middle and high school with over 1,000 students enrolled.
Other community schools consolidated with Holly Pond School:
Shaddrix School – consolidated in 1931
Oak Level School – consolidated in 1932
Redan School – consolidated in 1936
New Hope School – consolidated in 1939
Unity School – consolidated in 1941
Center Point School – consolidated in 1948
Brooklyn School – consolidated in 1952
Union Grove School – consolidated in 1956