Thanks to Jamie Whitley for an identification of this structure in our Vanishing Georgia Facebook group. Jamie shared a photograph of the school made in the late 1800s, so I presume it dates to that time. It seems beyond repair at this point.
Tag Archives: South Georgia Schoolhouses
It was common practice in many African-American communities in early 20th century Georgia for churches to construct schools. This was due to the fact that the state was notoriously negligent in the construction and upkeep of schools for black students. The Rosenwald Foundation and the American Missionary Association were two outside concerns that contributed to the cause of African-American education, but I haven’t been able to link either group to Walker Grove and therefore believe that it was built by the members of Walker Grove Baptist Church. It’s located on the same property. I believe this was built in the 1910s or 1920s.
The land which today comprises West Hill was first acquired by William Cunningham of Pulaski County in the Land Lottery of 1827. Cunningham never occupied the property and sold it to David Harrell about 1836, when the Greek Revival main house* is thought to have been constructed. He sold the property to William West (1799-1873) in 1853. By 1860, West had 3500 acres in cultivation and 2000 acres in timberland, making him one of the largest plantation owners in Georgia. He was also a leading cotton producer, with a record of 430 bales produced around 1860. Slave labor was integral to the operation.
West deeded the property to his daughter, Annie Crooks West, in 1867. She later married James Nelson McMichael and they lived in the main house the rest of their lives. After Mrs. McMichael’s death in 1915, estate administrators operated the farm until it was purchased by her nephew, L. M. Moye, Sr., in 1929. His descendants continue to own the property. I’m most grateful to Mac Moye for a generous tour of the grounds. The property is inhabited and private.
*-Mac Moye notes the similarity of the main house to the Bedingfield Inn in Lumpkin, suggesting they were likely designed by the same builder. This must be considered more than coincidental, considering the rural nature of Stewart County in the 1830s.
West Hill Dependencies
The historical importance of West Hill is most evident in the surviving dependencies that were the hallmark of self-sustaining plantation life. That the West descendants have maintained these structures in such authentic condition for more than a century-and-a-half seems nothing short of miraculous. Other than the absence of the original wooden shingles, the outbuildings are true to their original condition.
Perhaps the most significant of the remaining dependencies at West Hill is the plantation schoolhouse. One of the first schools ever built in Stewart County, its use by neighboring children was strongly encouraged by William West, who even brought a tutor from New York to teach his children here.
West Hill Dependencies- Slave Dwellings of “The Grove”
Few properties in Georgia retain the dwelling places of enslaved persons, so the survival of these three at West Hill is extraordinary. Though they have been maintained by the family for their historical value, they are the most endangered, and arguably the most important structures on the property. About a quarter mile from the main house in an area referred to as “The Grove”, these single-pen houses were used as tenant homes long after emancipation. As a result of their later use, two were slightly modified. One has an extra room and shed room, while another has a shed room. Like the dependencies at the periphery of the main house, these structures were of log construction with siding and would also have originally featured wooden shingles.
All of the slave dwellings are believed to be contemporary to the construction of the main house, dating them to circa 1836.
National Register of Historic Places
The Morven Rosenwald Alumni Association, with the cooperation of the Georgia Historical Society and the Brooks County Board of Commissioners restored this important resource in 2013. The marker placed at the site reads: Barney Colored Elementary School was part of the Rosenwald school building program that matched funds from philanthropist Julius Rosenwald with community donations to build rural Southern schools during the era of segregation. An example of a “community school plan,” it included large banks of windows, an industrial room, and sliding partition doors to accommodate larger school and community gatherings. This combined a Progressive-era design emphasis on lighting and ventilation with educator Booker T. Washington’s focus on community development and industrial training for rural African Americans. The school operated from 1933 to 1959, serving first through sixth grade students. One of six Rosenwald projects in Brooks County, Barney served as a feeder school to the Morven Rosenwald School. In 2006, the Morven Rosenwald Alumni Association, Inc. acquired the building and preserved it for community use.
Built for attorney John C. Wells, this home was purchased by Robert C. McAllister as a gift for his wife in 1897. The kitchen of the house was the first Clay County courthouse until the present courthouse was built. It was used as a school until being purchased by Wells and attached to this house.
Fort Gaines Historic District, National Register of Historic Places
Located between Metter and Twin City is a Rosenwald school known as the Canoe-Hagan School. Rosenwald Schools were built through the efforts of Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington and thousands of volunteers all over the South. Their purpose was to provide industrial education to rural blacks at a time when Southern states were barely providing them school buildings, let alone a proper education.
Thanks to James Palmer for pointing out the Rosenwald connection, and for the identification.
UPDATE: Sadly, this landmark burned to the ground on 16 June 2017.
Though it now serves as the Warthen Community Center, this Colonial Revival building was originally home to the Bethlehem Academy, associated with the adjacent church. It was chartered in 1832 and was integral to the social and academic life of the community well into the 20th century.
Warthen Historic District, National Register of Historic Places
Just off I-75 at the Vienna exit you’ll notice this structure, which now serves as the Georgia State Cotton Museum. It’s a really small museum, but provides a great link between the historical importance and continued prominence of cotton in Georgia. The building originally served as the rural Smyrna Schoolhouse (Circa 1890) and was moved here and renovated.