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Lewis Co, Tennessee:
History of
Garrett Elementary School Page



Lewis County, Tennessee

Retracing the history of Garrett School has been an enjoyable adventure.  Bits and pieces from talks with former students and teachers, microfilm from the Lewis County Public Library and pictures so many of you shared have helped complete the project.

Before Garrett another school existed.  A one-room structure was  located on Rone Road (now Leland Road).  Some of the teachers of early 1900 included Howard Warf who was 16 years old when he first started teaching and later became Superintendent of Schools for Lewis County and Commissioner of Education for the State of Tennessee, Charlie Pollock and Joe Finerty.  This school burned in late December 1921.  Fifteen to twenty students attended this one-room school.

The community was faced with the dilemma of not having a school building.  John Himes, who had several children attending school, heard  about two acres located on Lealand Road that was for sale and owned by J.W. (Jim) Garrett.  Mr. Himes and several neighbors thought it would be the perfect spot for a new school.  They all loaded into a T-Model Touring car and drove to Lawrenceburg to persuade Mr. Garret to sell the property.  Mr. Garrett said he would not sell it but would donate the property for a new school.  The deal was made and that summer one room was built and Garrett School was born.  Two more rooms would be added at a later time.  The community was so grateful to Mr. Garrett that they named the school after him.  Later, a homemade sign hung from the front porch to let the world know that this was Garrett School. The school was located about 9 miles from Hohenwald on Hwy. 20 or Summertown Highway as most of us called it. Somehow the deed was misplaced and Mr. Garrett's daughter, being the heir, signed the new deed over to the Lewis County Board of Education in 1937 and the deed was finally recorded.

A country store owned by Harry Leland stood close nearby.  Wal-Mart did not have anything on this store.  Food, staples, farm supplies and equipment, feeds, notions, and first-aid supplies were available.  Mr. Leland ran a gristmill where corn was brought in and ground into corn meal.  Gasoline was also available and had to be pumped using a hand pump.    A student came in the store one time and asked for a sack.  Mrs. Leland asked what size she needed and the reply was "one large enough to hold two biscuits and a sweet potato".  One student tells of swapping an egg for two suckers.  Two suckers cost one penny.  Another swapped her egg for pencils.  Chickens were brought and sold or exchanged for items needed.  Five cents would purchase cheese and crackers or bologna and crackers (a big meal) and a large sack of candy.

Mr. Herbert Overbey was the first teacher at this new school.  He lived on Grinders Creek and his transportation consisted of a buggy pulled by a red horse.  To satisfy the horse's hunger, a toe sack full of hay was brought each day.  In the fall a bushel of peanuts was Mr. Overbey's  treat for the students.

This was the time when everyone trusted each other and doors were not locked.  One student tells of John Warren  who would go in the building after school was dismissed and draw on the black boards.  He would draw horses and buildings.  She said he really did a wonderful job and the students were fascinated to come in the building and find these drawings.  This former student just loved to draw and was very talented.

In the beginning, as with all schools at that time, things were primitive.  In winter, a cast-iron wood stove located in each room was used to keep warm and each day a few of the boys would be sent into the woods to collect kindling to start the fire the next morning. Pine knots proved to be the best since the pine resin would ignite easily.  These knots were cracked open using an ax.  Rows of cordwood were stacked by the school and also on the front porch to be protected from the weather. Usually someone in the neighborhood was assigned "starting fire duty".  He would come early and have the rooms warm for the onslaught of the students.   Windows were open for natures air-conditioning and rest rooms were out-houses.  Two out-houses were available, one for the boys and one for the girls.  It seems the boys' outhouse had a difficult time staying in place.  For some unknown reason, it had to be replaced every year or two.  It was also the "smoking area" to the dismay of the teachers.  A cistern with a hand pump supplied the drinking water.  At times the cistern would go dry or some kind of varmint, possibly a dead mouse, would get in the water and alternate water had to be obtained.  Buckets were kept so the boys could make the trip to a neighbor (Mrs. Emma Leland) who had a well or down the road and through the woods to Garrett Spring located about a half a mile away.  Four students would be sent.  Water coolers stored the water and cups made from writing paper were used to drink from.  How many of you remember how to make a paper cup? Metal fold-up cups were used by some of the students. 

In the late forties modernization soon took place when electricity and two water fountains were installed.  Electricity cost five dollars a month.   Later an ice-cream box was kept and students could buy ice cream.  The mystery of the disappearing ice cream was soon discovered.  Some boys using a nail to jimmy the lock would enter on weekends and eat ice cream to their hearts content.  This soon ended when their identity became known and just to make sure no one else got the same bright idea, a padlock was installed on the ice cream box.

Desks were designed so that two and sometimes three students would be seated at one desk.  The top would raise up and books, pencils and lunches were stored underneath.  Ink- wells were a part of these early desks.  Later single desks were used and supplies would be stored under the seats on a shelf located close to the floor.  School supplies were limited with tablets, pencils, and fountain pens.  One did not waste paper and pencils because they were hard to come by.  Remember those "Sky High" notebooks? The floors were some type of hardwood and every now and then a coating of linseed oil would be applied to clean and renew the floors.  The boys found this an excellent skating rink.

When cotton was "king" students were dismissed for two to four weeks to pick cotton.  Many families depended on cotton for their livelihood and these students made up the majority of the families' workforce. This happened in the fall at harvest time.

The flag of the United States of America always found it's home on the  pole located in the front of Garrett School.  This was a favorite location for the students to play around.  The ground became hard as brick in dry weather but mud puddles abounded in wet weather.  The flag pole became a jail to some students who found their legs wrapped around the pole in such a way they could not get loose. 

Many exciting times were had in the middle room where "Box Suppers" and "Pie Suppers"  were held.  Decorating different kinds of boxes including cigar boxes, etc. was a challenge to say the least.  A bid for the ugliest man resulted in the grand prize of a jar of pickles.  Bidding the highest on the prettiest girl awarded the gentleman the opportunity to share a cake with the beautiful lady.  Money made from these box suppers helped purchase books for the small library that consisted of a big shelf that held large books such as American History and American Geography.  Coal oil lanterns were used for light if these suppers were held at night. A magician came and brought the world of magic to the students.  He could pull a rabbit out of a hat and beautiful birds would appear out of nowhere.  The school was used for elections and revivals.  At one such election, a murder occurred.  Square dances were held outside in the yard on Saturday nights.  A carpet of sawdust was brought in and spread on the ground, a common practice in those days.  Local musicians used guitars, fiddles and drums to create the music to dance by.  Even Uncle Dave Macon and his band from the Grand Ole Opry were there at one time.

Each day was started with someone reading a verse from the Bible then everyone joined in and repeated the Lord's Prayer.  The 23rd Psalms was a favorite of one student.  Assembly programs were held when students participated in skits, singing, talent shows and reading poems.  Songs with names such as Long, Long Ago, Old Gray Mare, Barefoot Boy With Boots On, Sun Shine and Showers, Rain, Rain Go Away, and Spanish Cavalier were sung. Christmas programs were also held.  A cedar tree was cut and brought in to decorate.  In the early twenties, real bought candles adorned these Christmas trees as well as homemade ornaments and strung popcorn for roping.  Names were drawn and gifts exchanged.  One student recalls the best gift she ever received was part of a box of candy because the student who drew her name came from a large family and could not afford to buy a gift.  She shared her box of candy that someone gave her.  Another student remembers the letters of Christmas were spelled out with each student holding a letter and repeating a short verse for that letter.

Thanksgiving was also celebrated and families would come and share a meal.  Each family brought food and a student remembers one Thanksgiving when a lady brought a water bucket filled with fried squirrel legs and backs.  Mr. Overbey would buy everyone a cold drink from Mr. Leland's store.  Watermelon feasts were enjoyed by the students.   Big times were had. Why, Garrett students were busier than a cow's tail during fly season.

Spelling bees were held on Friday afternoons.  A card was given each student and filled with stars (blue, red, green, gold, and silver) based.

on winning spelling contests, not talking, good grades, etc.  The student with the most stars at the end of the year would win a book.  Books were a treasure in the early twenties and thirties.

 Short walks down Hwy. 20 and then through the woods to a beautiful spring would result in a picnic.  A lovely location for students to have fun, food, and play games.  At other times a bus would carry the students and teachers to Meriwether Lewis Park.  Also, on other occasions students walked down Pond Road and to the Buffalo River.

Games of softball, baseball, basketball, Red Rover, Red Rover, Hide & Seek, marbles, hopscotch, annie over, jacks, London Bridge, tag, jump rope and drop the handkerchief were played.   One time a baseball was knocked over the fence and Mr. Leland's cow thought it was very good eating.  The cow soon died.  Mr. Leland found the ball in the stomach of the cow and was very unhappy, warned the students to keep their balls on the other side of the fence or else. Tag football was played and when Mr. James Haley came to teach, they found someone who could teach them how to throw a football.  He was excellent and some students said he could throw a football the farthest they had ever seen.  Mr. Haley also helped the boys build basketball goals.  A trip to the woods with some of the older boys resulted in two trees being cut for the goal posts.  Lumber was brought from home to make the backboards and Mr. Cletus Hardin fashioned the hoops.  Posthole diggers were used to dig the two holes for the goals to rest in.  An area was crudely marked off to be used for the basketball court.  Ingenuity took place.  Basketball teams played other Lewis County Elementary Schools and boys and girls both played if enough players were not available.  Several trophies graced the shelves at the school and many excellent basketball players were born at Garrett School and went on to play in high school.

When the school was first built lunches were carried in lard buckets, syrup buckets or sacks. The memory of an eighty-eight year old woman has amazed me.  Morning Glory was the brand name of her four-pound lard bucket. She tells of caring some type of meat, biscuits, fried potatoes, cornbread, corn on the cob, baked sweet potato, boiled eggs, cup of molasses with a pat of butter, whatever was available or left over from the previous nights meal.   Two or three children from the same family would share the same "dinner bucket" where their noon meal was stored.  Later women prepared the noon meal for the students.  At first lunches cost five cents a meal or five cents per week, either way it was a bargain.   Money could be paid or canned staples or home canned vegetables could be brought from home in exchange for a meal.  I have been told that one lady in the community planted a garden and canned vegetables to be used in making these meals available for the children.  Vegetable soup seemed to be one of the favorite meals prepared.  After the depression during the Roosevelt years assistance from the government was offered to help with lunch programs.   Mrs. Myrtle Rone was one of the cooks.

The great depression in 1929 made going to school very difficult.  It was, without a doubt, the longest and most severe economic downturn in American history.  Huge numbers of Americans had their lives upset by the Depression.  Homelessness, poverty and general despair characterized much of the nation including those families from Lewis County.  But difficult times brought neighbors together to lend each other support.  As wage cuts became a fact of life, families found it harder to stretch the dollar.  Coca-Cola's were five cents, bread five cents a loaf, eggs were eight cents a dozen, toothpaste twenty-five cents, sugar five cents, if you could get it, used car sixty dollars, gasoline eighteen cents a gallon, baseballs were twenty-five cents, and basketballs a dollar.  Sounds so cheap, but money was so hard to come by.  One female student tells of going barefoot in the eighth grade, another said they were allowed to pull their shoes off the first day of May and could go barefoot until the first of December.  This was a common practice in that day and age. 

Transportation in the early years was difficult.  Some students walked as much as two to four miles to reach this country school.  Rain, sleet and snow had to be a hindrance.  In the late thirties buses were somewhat different in that a long bench from front to back was located on each side of the bus and also down the middle of the bus.  Individuals owned busses in the beginning, and some of the drivers included Chester Leland, Earl Harden, Sam Sims, John Williams, Rudolph Scheiwiller, and Waymer Vaughn.

During World War II, soldiers would pass through on maneuvers and the teachers would allow students to stand by the side of the road and wave to them.  The soldiers would throw notes with their names and addresses to the older girls.  Pin pals were started and several girls did write these soldiers.

Names of some of the teachers that taught at Garrett included:  Lyman Collier, Florene Lester, Freda Phelan, James Haley, Mary Milan, Myrtle Reed, Wilma Clayton Davis, Evelyn Brown, Mrs. Allen, Thelma Nutt, Amos Craig, Carson Rike, Willie Plummer, Eunice Baker Yokley, Myrtle Overbey, Joe Herbert Overbey, Claude Vorhees, Viola Knight, William Overbey, Donnie May Ingram, Katie Sue Johnston, Delphia Whittenberg, Sara Hume, Sudie Fite, Lester Nelson, Ellen Barber, Charlie Pollock, Ava Stockard, Mrs. Buddy Brownlow, Maria Poag Logan, Mary Blair Fielder, Boniese Nutt, and Dona Carroll.  Ava Stockard lived and boarded with Mr. & Mrs. Waymer Vaughn while she taught school.  Carson Rike not only taught school, but also was the official grounds keeper and had the students pull bitter weeds from the school yard.  Not an enjoyable task to say the least.  Mrs. Myrtle Reed made homemade paste for her class to use.  It was such a good product that Charles Lanier found his eyes glued together.  One student held him down while another applied the compress.  It worked.  These teachers bandaged our cuts, dried our tears, settled our fights, defended those being picked on, reasoned with bullies, sewed on popped buttons, rebraided hair, and gave hugs and whippings as needed. Whippings were usually administered with a small wooden paddle.  All of us former students consider it a privilege to have had such wonderful teachers.

Mrs. Howard (Josephine) Warf was the Lewis County public health nurse and would come and give the students their appropriate immunizations. She was also a teacher in Lewis County and later became Superintendent of Lewis County Schools. 

Students with last names such as Peters, Tarkington, Darnell, Riley, Grinder, Burns, Sims, Gray, Pigg, Browning, Spears, Staggs, Williams, Ashmore, Owens, Himes, Jennings, Carroll, Doss, Cooper, Sheets, Hale, O'Neil, Black, Hull, Rhinehart, Shaw, Bishop, Dollars, Brumley, Smith, Norman, Walley, Kelsey, Gobble, Taylor, Escue, Shirley, Hull, Dickey, Zimmerman, Brown, Wiley, Allen, Reed, Pollock, Davenport, Mash, Tharp, Conner, Pennington, Leland, Wix, Rone, Reeves, Hardin, Nafe, McKissack, Butlers, Holloway, Moore, Maxwell, Sanders, Grissham, Gandy, Patterson, Taylor, Poag, Riddle, Hardy, Bates, Crews, Burns, Warren, Rottliff, Emler, Hooper,Loveless, Seiber, Vaughn, Byrd, Holloway, Collier, and Hinson attended this unique country school where time seemed to be a little slower and children a little happier.   In the mid fifties Napier and later Little Swan Creek Schools closed and these students were transported to Garrett. 

 In late January of 1963 fire destroyed Garrett School.  The somber ruins were a heap of rubble and ashes and gave one the feeling that a best friend had been taken away and I am sure tears were shed for the passing of Garrett School.  For forty plus years the school had been a haven to so many students, their home away from home, a place of learning, fellowship, playing, crying, and sometimes even spiritual.   Book knowledge was learned, yes, but a more important lesson of how to live life after school years was instilled in all of us.  It was one of the four schools located in the county in addition to Hohenwald Elementary and Lewis County High School.  Mrs. D.E. Whittenberg (who had taught school there for eighteen years) was principal of the school when it burned.  The origin of the fire was unknown and was believed to have caught fire around 3 a.m.  The school and entire contents were a complete loss.  At the time the school was destroyed there were three teachers.  Mrs. Freda Roth Lewis, Mrs. Myrtle Reed and Mrs. Whittenburg with an enrollment of 120 students, however the average daily attendance was 84.  Kenneth Kistler was Lewis County School Supervisor from 1953-1960 and was Principal of Lewis County Elementary when these students were transported into Hohenwald to finish the school year.

In the end Garrett School had grown from a one-teacher, one-room  school to a building composed of five rooms with modern rest room facilities and gas heat.  At one time as many as four teachers taught first through eighth grade.    

Memories remain and we relish our connection with Garrett School.  What a grand time to be born and have tasted the good life of attending a county school.

Layers of history have been unearthed as I have spoken and listened to many of you.  I am sure every student has a tale to be told and a memory to relive.  My thanks to each of you who shared your thoughts and allowed me to enter the cobwebs of your minds taking one web at a time and creating million dollar memories to last a lifetime and beyond.

Submitted by:  Patsy Boyce Riley Hinson, January 16, 2002

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This page was created on January 17, 2002.
This Page was last updated on  Thursday, August 13, 2015 .