In 1919, residents of the Sheets Gap area on the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northern Wilkes County petitioned the Wilkes County Board of Education for a new school building.
The appeal coincided with Wilkes School Superintendent C.C. Wright’s push for modern school facilities and equity in learning opportunities. Harmon School, with some of the latest design features for one-room schools, was completed in 1920-21 on land provided by Rufus Sheets and his family.
The old Harmon School building was a short distance farther north near Harmon Post Office, with the school in Wilkes and the post office in Ashe County. Sheets taught at Harmon School and was first postmaster of Harmon Post Office when it was established in 1900, the year after his son, Harmon Sheets, was born.
It isn’t known if the post office was named for Harmon Sheets, but rural postmasters often named their post offices and sometimes chose their own surnames or first names of wives or children. Harmon Post Office was combined into Vannoy Post Office in Wilkes in 1936.
Sheets Gap was named for Johann Martin Sheets (Schutz), who was born in Germany and settled at the gap that bears his Americanized surname in the late 1700s. Rufus Sheets was among the many descendants he left in Wilkes, Ashe and other area counties.
Harmon Sheets and Edna Dancy were both teaching at the school, with a single classroom that could be split in half with a removable partition, when they were married.
Violet Sheets Connell of Whitsett, daughter of Harmon and Edna Dancy Sheets, and Pauline Roten Bare of North Wilkesboro shared happy memories of attending Harmon School. Its enrollment apparently averaged 30-some students.
Connell said the classroom partition was in place while she was there, with grades first to third in one half and fourth to sixth in the other. One grade was taught at a time, leaving students in other grades to work on their assignments or listen to what was taught to other grades.
The day began with students assembled to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and Lord’s Prayer. Many brought a biscuit with ham or jelly and an apple in a bucket or brown bag for the hour-long lunch. There were shorter recess periods in the morning and afternoon and the school day ended at 3:30 p.m.
At a Harmon School reunion Connell organized, she read a poem about lunchtime visits she sometimes had with Candace Roten and her sister, Leghany, who lived with Candaces son, Lester Roten, near the school. Wearing a wooden leg brace he made after being crippled by polio, Roten built a fire in the school’s wood burning stove before students arrived each winter morning for years. His wife, Ada Roten, died in 1938.
Connell said she enjoyed the attention she received on these visits. The two elderly ladies fed her treats, showed her their “pretties” (little figurines and other items) and handed her fragrant blossoms of “sweet bubbies” (native shrub also called Carolina Allspice) as she left.
Connell said she and two other girls remained at Harmon School an extra year (1948-49) when their teacher, a Mr. Trivette from Boone, offered to teach them in a seventh-grade class so they could go to high school. Connell attended Jefferson and Nathans Creek high schools in Ashe.
Virgina Dare Palmer, Richard Osborne, Ray Sheets and Elizabeth Parsons Whitesides were among some of the other teachers at Harmon School.
Bare recalled Harmon School being partitioned in half but with all of the grades in one half when she was there a little later than Connell.
She said students played hopscotch, “Red Rover” and other games, as well as softball during recess. They used kudzu vines for jump ropes. She enjoyed walking to school with her brothers, Ted and Carroll Roten, a distance of over a mile.
She attended first through seventh grades at Harmon School and then Jefferson High School. Bare said she was relieved when she realized Harmon School prepared her for high school just as well as much larger schools other students attended.
Bare attended Glade Valley School for three years after two years at Jefferson High. Glade Valley was a boarding high school in Alleghany County operated by the Presbyterian denomination for mountain children in northwestern North Carolina.
The Rev. John Luke, known for the many Presbyterian churches he started in northern Wilkes, Ashe and Alleghany counties, visited her home and talked to her about attending Glade Valley. She worked in the cafeteria and elsewhere at the school three hours a day to cover the cost of attending Glade Valley.
Others who attended Harmon School also went to Glade Valley, which operated from 1909-1985. Harmon and Glade Valley schools provided many people a better start in life.
She had an opportunity to go to nursing school after graduating from Glade Valley but wasn’t sure how to make this possible. Instead, she went to work at the Hanes textile factory in Sparta and later helped produce upholstered furniture at Key City Furniture in North Wilkesboro for 46 years. Bare was working at the Craftmaster upholstered furniture factory in Wilkesboro until she left during the pandemic earlier this year.