Hoods School Enjoyed by Former Students
By Suzy McCray
If you were a boy and finished your schoolwork early enough, you would have been allowed the freedom of going outside to chop firewood and kindling!
If you misbehaved (often also the young men) and the teacher didn't automatically reach for her paddle, you would be required to go back outside and pick a switch. If the teacher judged it wasn't big enough to do the job properly, you were sent back outside to get another!
The windows were thrown wide-open in the hot months, but you didn't really notice the heat because no one had air conditioning at home either!
If you felt the “call of nature,” with the teacher's permission, you trotted outside to the boys' or girls' outhouses positioned “out back.”
Boys spent much of recess playing ball or fighting. Girls enjoyed making playhouses in the pine needles carpeting the ground in betwixt the roots of the giant pine trees lining the roadway in front of the church next door.
The school year resumed early in the summer so the students would be able to take about a three-week vacation in the early fall to help with picking cotton on their families' farms around the community.
School was always in session when next door Union Hill Baptist Church held their revivals so students ALL trooped across the parking lot to attend the 10 a.m. services every weekday as long as the revival continued!
These are just a few of the memories expressed during the July 27 first-ever reunion of around 50 former students of the two-room Hoods School that stands in Murphrees Valley in rural Blount County.
Sharon Walker Woodard, daughter of longtime principal/first-, second- and third-grade teacher Arnice Walker, attended. The other longtime teacher was Nellie Dickerson who taught fourth, fifth and sixth grades in the other classroom.
Alene Bullard was the only teacher who attended, having taught at the school for the last half of the year in 1964 before beginning a long teaching career in Blount County that culminated with more than 30 years teaching in Blountsville. A Mrs. Porch and a Mrs. Swann also taught some times.
Several interesting sibling groups and other family stories abounded.
Mrs. Walker taught T.J. Huff during his first-grade year at Hoods in 1957. Walker's daughter, Mrs. Woodard, taught T.J. and Janie's daughter, Jennifer Huff Meeks, during her first- grade year at Cleveland in 1990!
Lambert Blakely and sisters Dorothy Blakely Wynn and Sharon Blakely Allred attended. Their mother, Orez Blakely, ran the school's lunchroom from 1958 until the school closed in 1967.
Allred recently found one of Mrs. Blakely's W-2 forms showing she earned a whopping $476.50 for cooking lunch every day of the school term and doing all the cleaning and prep work for one year's time!
The trio's father had died in 1957 and Mrs. Blakely didn't get her driver's license, and didn't have a vehicle, until Lambert got his license in the late 1960s, so she usually rode the bus to the school with the kids every morning and home in the afternoon. If she by chance finished early, she WALKED “up the road” till she reached their farm!
Mrs. Bullard remembers once Mrs. Blakely, always trying to use food local to the community, made sunny-side-up eggs. One little girl wouldn't eat them because she said they looked like eyeballs! Most of the time Mrs. Blakely cooked enticing vegetables the kids gobbled up after a busy morning!
Rev. A.W. Oden and Herbert Chitwood were the longtime bus drivers and some of Oden's children and grandchildren were at the reunion as former students.
Of those attending, Imogene Oden Skillman and Nellie Nugent Sanders received the awards as the oldest students, Joe Ray Dailey the award for living nearest the school and Wanda Diane Stafford Stone the award for traveling the longest distance to get to the reunion as she now lives in Decatur.
No written record of Hoods School can be found before 1921, when it was noted in Blount Board of Education minutes of the attempt to consolidate Hoods and Enterprise Schools. (Enterprise School was located near Lebanon Methodist Church and school parents fought the consolidation.)
Dickerson later wrote a history of Hoods and said the first Hoods School was organized in a Presbyterian church, with the Odd Fellows Lodge holding its meetings on the second floor. When the church moved to Oneonta, they donated that building to the school.
When it burned a few years later, school was held in a Baptist church there (before Union Hill Baptist was organized around 1952). Dickerson noted that men donated timber for the building and women sold quilts, had box suppers and donated chickens and eggs to be sold to raise money.
The building was completed in 1927 and is the building that still stands!
The two classrooms were divided by large folding doors that were opened for group activities or for fundraisers such as cakewalks.
Enterprise consolidated with Hoods in 1939, the same year the school was wired for electricity. During the years of the Great Depression, school bus contractors and teachers were asked to work for half pay. During World War II, the school year was changed to allow for the cotton picking break.
In 1953, the county system split over that fall cotton picking break and the Oneonta school system became independent of the county system. Enrollment in the Hoods School grew during that time.
In 1957, with Roy Brand as lead carpenter, the community came together and added a large room at the lower end of the building. A lunchroom was then constructed in the basement, partly under the new room and partly under the old. Before that time, students brought their lunches from home.
Vera Chitwood operated the lunchroom for the first year until the death of her husband when Mrs. Blakely took over.
Union Hill Baptist Church bought the school building in 1969 after it closed in 1967 since it was right beside the church. Most of the elementary students were bused to Susan Moore schools.
Union Hill first remodeled the school as a youth facility, opening the big folding doors to make an indoor basketball court and adding ping pong tables, etc.
As the church continued to expand with a new educational wing and other new buildings, the addition to the old school was torn off and the original school was upgraded and is still a stand- alone building.
Union Hill graciously allowed the use of the historic school for the reunion, complete with its new restroom facilities and central heat and air, a luxury students could not have even dreamed about during the school's early years!
Hoods students' careers included airline pilot, teachers, preachers, seamstresses, store owners, organists, farmers, pastors, artists, craftsman, business owners, barbers and more; a fact former students say proves the value and completeness of the small community school's education!
Even though more than 50 attended the first reunion, it is hoped even more will come to one tentatively scheduled for about two years from now.
Simple times at their best.
(Suzy McCray can be reached on Facebook or by email at email@example.com. She and her husband Mack live on a small homestead in Blount County.)