SCHOOL DAYS IN EARLY ST. PAUL

© JERRY F. COUCH

In the ca. 1903 photo below, St. Paul students and faculty pose in the schoolyard beside what may be the original 1890’s Methodist Episcopal Church, South (the school was next door to the church). The only people in the photo whose identity is known are seated in the middle row. Sixth from left is Sallie Hillman, a teacher. On her lap she holds little Anna Hillman, her niece. To Sallie’s right is Will Bond, also a teacher AND Sallie’s future husband.

Below, a ca. 1907 photo of the original St. Paul School and several other early buildings.

Below, a ca. 1907 photo of St. Paul’s original one-room school and the original Methodist Church. The home of Dr. William O’Conner Cox and his family is pictured to the left , below the school. Dr. Cox will be the subject of a future CVT article.

Unfortunately, I have no photos of the interior of the original school. The reason for this is simple: Indoor photography was uncommon in those days and relied upon flash powder to furnish light. Most indoor photos were taken using timed exposures. Imagine trying to get a roomful of school children to sit still for one of those.

In 1951, Miss Nellie Kilgore (see footnote at the end of this article) compiled a history of St. Paul’s schools from the beginning in the 1890’s up to the time of her writing. The following is what she recorded relative to what was taught at St. Paul’s the first school. Miss Nellie’s observations are consistent with what two of this school’s former students told me many years ago

I think that most likely the curriculum consisted of spelling, reading, writing, arithmetic, English grammar, geography and history. There were fewer grades, but covered lots of subject matter. I do not think there was very much extra-curricular activity other than ball at noon and recesses and the old-fashioned “spelling bees” on Friday afternoons.  Perhaps there were some debates and memory work of poems on Friday afternoons, also.

In the decade that followed the Panic of 1893, people were moving out of St. Paul instead of into it. The original one-room school, though small, remained adequate. That situation changed during the early years of the new century when rumors of the coming of the Carolina Clinchfield & Ohio Railway began to circulate.

By 1907, St. Paul’s one-room school had served its purpose. A decision was made to build a new “graded school” where students could obtain a more comprehensive and structured education. This move was consistent with the Virginia Department of Education’s push to standardize graded schools and high schools in rural areas, and staff them with a qualified faculty and administration. The newspaper clipping below is from the May 24, 1907 edition of the Clinch Valley News of Tazewell, VA.

John M. Hillman, one of St. Paul’s earliest residents and businessmen was also the chairman of the Wise County School Board in 1907. He and other board members petitioned the Wise County Circuit Court to permit a swap – the original school site and building in exchange for six vacant lots on the other side of Wise Street. The vacant lots may have been among the lots deeded to John Hillman by John B. Moon in settlement of a lawsuit. Although the owner of record was the St. Paul Land Co., Inc. they were probably counted as Hillman’s personal stake in the company. Without the company’s records (long gone, no doubt), this is an assumption made in light of what took place; not as a fact supported by documentation.

According to one of John Hillman’s daughters, the one-room school was subsequently remodeled as a dwelling. In 1916, John Hillman sold the former school property to Mrs. M. V. Shoemaker. Pictured in the background of the photo below is the former school building as it looked in 1920 after its remodeling. The house hasn’t changed much since then and remains recognizable in 2022. It is currently being renovated by its present owner, Geoffrey Hensley. The lady in the foreground of the photo below is Mrs. Mary Alston Rush. She and her husband, Charles C. Rush, lived in the house that had been built next door (not pictured) to the former school building. Mrs. Rush was a teacher at the second and St. Paul School for many years and was affectionately known to her students as “Aunt Mary.”

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AUTHOR’S NOTE: Miss Nellie Kilgore was a long-term faculty member of the schools at St. Paul and Dante, as well as several other places. She was part of an “educational dynasty” continuing through J. D. Cassell (her nephew) and Alana Cassell Broyles (her great niece). The picture of Miss Nellie (below) was displayed on the mantel at my parents’ home. It was a testament to their regard for a respected and loved teacher who had influenced their lives.

COMING UP NEXT – ST. PAUL’S SECOND SCHOOL

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