Education on Dry Fork
John Dodson

A log school had been built along Dry Fork on land owned by the Shields family late in the 19th century and the children of the community began receiving an education. The photograph of the log school shows several children of Pal Saunders and William Charlton. From these identifications the picture can be dated to around 1910. Later a frame building was constructed on the Tynes Chapel grounds next to the road. Students who wished to receive an education beyond the elementary level were bused to Tazewell County. In the mid 1950’s the school house was closed and all the children were bused to Tazewell County for their education. This lasted until 1966 when Bland County Schools were integrated. Teachers came from within as well as from outside the community and they stayed with various families during the school term. Some families would charge a small amount for room and board, while others would merely expect help with the house work and cooking. Teachers were treated like family. It seems that the teachers were universally remembered with fondness and respect by their former pupils.

The Reverend Fred Saunders recalls using his primer in the old log school house and carrying wood out of the mountains to keep the school warm. His wife, Estellia, in a joking way, says that she does not remember Fred going to school at all. There were Christmas plays in the old school house and egg rolls and maypoles. Estellia remembers riding a small pony to the log school. After the eighth grade there was nothing else to do but get married.

Later the frame school was constructed on land next to the Tynes Chapel A.M.E. Church. Martha Cobb describes it as “ room , and you had seats on both sides of the school room and the teachers desk was in the front and the stage was behind the teachers desk.” There were a boy’s and girl’s coat closet on either side of the entrance. There was also a rope to pull the bell that called the children to school. Nate Charleton remembers the bell could be heard all the way to Rocky Gap. As a little boy he was the janitor, and would clean, build the fire, and ring the bell, The bell was so large Nate recalls, “that thing went and swinged me up off the ground.”

The community supported the school in many ways. Wood was dragged to the school by parents and sawed into pieces by the boys to warm the school in the winter. Sometimes the boys would have to be sent into the mountains for kindling and one time the school and community connected in an inappropriate manner. Nate Charlton remembers going up the holler above the school with another boy and finding a still. They got into the mash and returned to school in an obviously inebriated condition. Nate said, ”We had a time, buddy! The mash. You make liquor out of it.That stuff was workin’ and boy that stuff was rollin’. Yeah, they stopped us from getting wood up there for a loooong time.” School desks that were discarded by the white schools were used and some desks were made in the community. Pete Ferguson recalls,

“We never had no new desks. We always got desks from down here at this white school. After they done used them and done cut 'em up and done broke 'em up, then they'd bring 'em up here to the black kids. . ..and they set 'em up and that's the way it was. And they'd make. . some of them had desks what they done made. And Mr. Robinson, he was a carpenter and that's Layne's grandfather - he was a carpenter and sometimes he would make little desks. He'd make a desk, or my daddy sometimes would make a little box desk that the kids needed. Just bring it up there and set it so they'd have something to write on, a place to sit, like that, and they would have that.“

When the snow would fall, Pete’s daddy, Rueben, would take a horse and a scraper and clear the road for a mile and a half to the school. Estellia remembers her dad dragging a log through the snow to make a path to the school for the children. The bell would call the children to school. They would begin the day with a devotional and a song. Then the work would begin. The students were usually broken into groups by combined grades. The better students would help the slower students and the older students would help the younger ones. The school was packed.

“Whew, man. . .we had a bunch of kids. It was a bunch of kids. That little one room school was full. It was full of kids. And, let's see...I think it was three rows. . . there were three rows of seats on each side, if I'm thinking clearly. I think there was three rows of seats on each side. Big wide aisleway to the door. And set over next to the door, they had a black, on that side they had a blackboard, a blackboard on that side over there. Now, come out about three foot, about three foot, about the length of that table away from the wall - it might not have been that far - just enough room for you to walk down to get to the blackboard. It might have been about as wide as this chair. And seats started - that row and that row - the aisleways - I think it was three rows. Three rows.There's quite a few kids in there. I know a good . . whew. . .there was a good thirty, forty kids in there."

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