An article about Harmon School in the northern edge of Wilkes County being named to the National Register of Historic Places and a related “Viewpoints” column, both in the Feb. 3 issue, prompted an interesting phone call.
Rex Yates, 83, of Purlear called to share memories of some of the county’s other last one- and two-teacher schools, all in Union Township like Harmon.
Yates taught from 1959-1963 at Union Township Elementary, formed in the early 1950s with the merger of Harmon, Concord, Loggins, Piney Ridge, Miller, Whittington, Shepherd, White Oak, Sherman, Friendship and other little schools.
Yates was a probation officer for 15 years before later serving as a juvenile and adult court counselor. He was chief court counselor when he retired in 1977.
Yates’ family was living just north of the Wilkes-Ashe county line along N.C. 16 in Obids when he started first grade at one-room Piney Ridge School. His father, Phil Yates, acquired the home in Ashe because he moved cattle from Purlear to this higher elevation for summer grazing.
Piney Ridge School, near a church of the same name along N.C. 16 that still is active, was about a mile and a half from their home just below the top of N.C. 16 mountain.
Unlike some of the county’s one- and two-room schools, Piney Ridge had no privies. “The girls went north and the boys went south” of the school in the woods to answer nature’s call, said Yates. “You can imagine how that got.”
He recalled walking between a quarter- and a half-mile for buckets of spring water for the school. He said that for lunch, most kids brought a big piece of cornbread with molasses from home.
Yates later went to three-room Concord School, which had privies and stood at the base of N.C. 16 mountain off Berrys Branch Road. Still later, he attended Millers Creek Elementary and graduated from Millers Creek High School. Yates was fortunate to have transportation to Piney Ridge, Concord and Millers Creek through an older brother who drove a school bus in the Millers Creek area.
Yates emphasized that he has a warm spot in his heart for the caring teachers at Piney Ridge and Concord and said they weren’t motivated by pay because it was low. He said they helped him off to a good start in life, including teaching him to read.
Others have said they benefitted from being in the same classrooms as older students in these little schools.
He also spoke about one-room Loggins School on upper Vannoy Road in Union Township. Older male students there had a reputation for running off teachers they didn’t like.
Yates said D.C. (Duel) Whittington told him Wilkes School Superintendent C.C. Wright hired Van Caudill to teach at Loggins in the 1930s, knowing it would be hard to run him off. Caudill worked in the Wilkes schools for over 40 years as a teacher and later an administrator.
Yates said that according to Whittington, Caudill established his authority at Loggins by firing six shots from a .38-caliber pistol above the heads of his students. Yates recalled seeing the six bullet holes in the wall.
After graduating from Moravian Falls Academy in 1899, Millard Bumgarner Sr. of Millers Creek spent his first year as a teacher at Loggins School. According to a biographical sketch on Bumgarner in “Lest We Forget: Education in Wilkes 1778-1978,” he proved his mettle at Loggins “by standing firm in the face of threats by ruffians who had a reputation for running their teachers off.”
Bumgarner taught the following year “at Reddies River Number Five in a more civilized community,” his biography stated.
William Hurley, Uriah Myers and Greer Sheets are among others who taught at Loggins School in the early 1900s.
Richard Orsbon finished elementary school at Loggins, graduated from Glade Valley High School in Alleghany County in 1935 and taught at Loggins in the late-1930s. He was teaching at Shepherd School when he was drafted into the Army in 1942.
Orsbon was part of the Normandy invasion and received four battle stars for his service in Europe. He later taught at Harmon, Whittington and Union Township schools. Yates worked with Orsbon at Union Township Elementary and said he was “a mild-mannered fellow who was devoted to teaching.”
Yates said he never saw a community support a school the way they did at Union Township. “They supported anything that was for the betterment of the school…. And they supported discipline also.”