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Two Carroll County communities held history lessons about their schools and teachers Saturday in separate events.
At Woodlawn School, fated to be closed after construction projects at the high and intermediate schools allow for a reshuffling of several grades, students especially recalled the outstanding agricultural curriculum.
In eastern Carroll County, a group celebrated the 100th birthday of Point Pleasant School, one of the few intact one-room schoolhouses remaining.
Jim Branscome, 1956 graduate of Woodlawn, noted in remarks that he’d never met a graduate of the school that wasn’t proud of the school’s long heritage.
Thanks to the determination of J. Lee Cox, then-superintendent of schools, Woodlawn became the first school in the country to launch an agricultural program under the federal Smith-Hughes Act.
Kent Cox, a nephew of the former superintendent, read to the attendees of the class reunion and other invited guests an article from “Country Gentlemen,” which told in detail the lengths that J. Lee Cox went to in order to secure the funding for the agriculture curriculum.
Hearing that Carroll County might not get federal money supplied to the state to create a new vocational agricultural program for Woodlawn in 1917, Cox caught a train to Richmond and burst in on a Board of Education meeting.
Agriculture had declined in the county, and Cox pinned his hopes on the federal program.
“Fertility had ebbed, and yields were steadily going down,” the article said. “Little was being done to salvage the land. Cash was scarce \ and the boys, disheartened, were leaving the farms.”
Cox’s plea to the state board almost got shut down by a political opponent who tried to throw him out of the meeting, only to be overruled by then-Gov. Stuart.
Saying he liked the willingness of the local official to stand up for Carroll, the governor reviewed rules for use of Smith-Hughes funds.
And in finding that he could bypass the board of education, the governor did just that.
"'Son,' he said kindly, 'you can go home now and tell the folks in Carroll County that tomorrow morning the governor of Virginia will issue a special executive proclamation designating Woodlawn as a Smith-Hughes school,'" the article said.
Back in Carroll, Cox hired Fred Kirby to teach ag, and they worked to organize the program before other recipients of the federal funds.
The magazine article goes on to give credit to Woodlawn’s ag education, as well as a similar program in Hillsville, for making Carroll County nationally recognized as a model for farm productivity.
Historian Shirley Steele, who extensively researched the history of Woodlawn, asked the crowd how many of them knew that their alma mater had at one point been known as the “Woodlawn Agricultural High School.”
She explained the effort behind the historic marker started when she learned that Woodlawn is slated to be closed. Steele regrets that decision and feels disappointed that few people have protested the closing.
Woodlawn School turned out many accomplished graduates — perhaps that’s because the teachers prepared the youth and weren’t forced to memorize for the Standards of Learning tests.
“I just think we need to recognize how many successful students came out of Woodlawn School,” she said.
Organizers shared copies of the “Country Gentlemen” article with all attendees.
After recognition of the contributions of educators Cox, Kirby, William Creasy and Emmett Gardner, the group left the church where they’d gathered to get out of the cold and stood in front of the school to watch the unveiling of the historic marker.
Jean Robbins, granddaughter of J. Lee Cox; 1941 graduate Helen Harrison Stoneman; Kent Cox; and Lola Davis, wife of teacher Perry Davis participated in the unveiling.
Point Pleasant School, built in 1911, taught grades one through seven until being consolidated in 1948.
Point Pleasant originated in the mid-1800s but that first building was destroyed by fire. Reuben and Lurene Nester donated the land for the school.
In 2007, the school earned a National Register of Historic Places designation as a good example of a facility from that era.
“The school possesses excellent integrity as an example of an early 20th Century one-room schoolhouse that embodies distinctive characteristics of the building type and the period in which it was constructed,” according to the nominating information.
“It is a rare survival of a building type that largely disappeared from the American landscape after outliving its useful purpose to school systems.”
Point Pleasant is one of the few examples of a one-room schoolhouse that used to be so common in Virginia and across the country.
Attendees heard the history of the school and listened to stories from Marie Martin about teaching in other schoolhouses in Carroll, including Ward’s Gap.
The 100-old-school remains well preserved, despite some water leaks over the years. Painting the roof helped seal those.
It’s a classic one-room schoolhouse with high ceilings, weatherboarding, a tin roof, a cloakroom, a pot-bellied stove for heat, no electricity and tall windows serving as the source of light.
Painting a part of one wall created the blackboard.
A couple of the windows have been boarded up, but supporters plan to work on getting those replaced.
After celebrating the 100th anniversary this year, members of the Point Pleasant Foundation plan to pursue a historic maker like the one at Woodlawn, said Board of Trustees member Betty Jean Hayes.