Transcribed By Elsie Sampson
Aug. 10, 1950 – Reprinted March 4, 1976
* CAL’S COLUMN *
These lines are being written on Tuesday, August 1, 1950. Forty-six years ago this morning, the erection of our old school building, except for the foundation, sills and sleepers, began. The carpenter was Toby W. Richmond, one of the best workmen we ever saw. A carpenter who lost no time and did his work in a thorough manner. He lived until a few months ago and died at the ripe age of nearly 90 years.
The old school at Mace’s Hill, erected probably about 1875, was the first place of learning we ever saw. It stood on the hillside on the site of the present building, and was of logs, with weatherboarding and ceiling of yellow poplar. It had two windows on each side and one at the rear. The one door was in the lower end and was perhaps five feet from the ground. Steps on either side led to this door. Up these steps we trudged on our first day at school, which was Tuesday after the second Monday in August, 1898, when we were seven years and one month old. We knew our abc’s on starting and soon got to where we could spell and read and write. In our second term of school, the next year, we learned the multiplication table in a matter of a few hours. Our first term lasted three months and the second term was of about the same length. Children of today have three or four times as good an opportunity to secure an education as did the boys and girls of 50 years ago or more.
Our old school building burned on November 20, 1903, about four thirty in the afternoon. Cal and his brother, Tom, were shucking corn in a crib when our sister, Mary began to call out loudly. “The school house is on fire.” We lived in sight of the building and soon saw the flames “running” along the top of the building as they consumed the board roof. The fire evidently started about the flue, for the flames could be seen from where we were, at the top of the stove pipe. School had not been over more than 30 or 40 minutes. This was the first building Cal ever saw burn, and it made a lasting impression on his childish mind. In this fire our Tennessee history burned and perhaps one other book. Cal had typhoid fever in August and September before the building burned and had just started back to school when the building burned. Our mother, “Mammy” to Cal, had said, “I don’t want him to have but two or three studies as he has had typhoid fever and too many studies might hurt his mind.” Perhaps some of those who like to joke Gregory may believe that he did have too many studies back there. Anyway, the school house burned and thus our school closed after a session of about three months, and there was no more school until the fall of 1904. Prof. G. W. Goad, one of the greatest teachers the Upper Cumberland ever knew, was in charge of the school. There were no telephones then in any of our rural sections, and next morning Cal met the teacher about three hundred yards from the school building and asked, “Mr. Goad, did you know that the school house burned yesterday?” He was greatly shocked and could hardly believe the information he had just received. However, in a matter of a few moments he arrived on the scene and found that the old school house was in ashes. Many of the pupils did not know of the burning of the building until they arrived at school. So the teacher informed them that school for the term was over and sent them home. We look back to that time nearly 47 years ago and we can still hear some of those boys as they left for home in a state of high glee and apparently “tickled to death” over the abrupt closing of school. It was different with the writer, who loved school and grieved over the burning of the first place of learning we ever saw or visited for that matter.
The next spring the fathers of school children of the community got together and decided to prepare to re-build. So they went into the woods and cut trees for sills and sleepers and hauled them to the school site. With broadaxes they hewed those timbers and got them into shape for the new building. The foundation was made of some rather , large, rough, unhewn stones and was not very substantial. Years later, Mr. Goad, the teacher who was terribly afraid of storms, persuaded our dad and the other directors to have Brack Carmon, a colored stone mason, to get out the rock and build a solid wall of masonry for the foundation. This was done and the building took on a nice appearance with it’s heavy stone wall foudation.
With the coming of August 1, 1904, Toby Richmond went to work on the patrons assistance of many of the patrons of the school. The house was finished in a matter of some weeks and school opened in Sept. of that year in a new house. We had to sit on old home-made benches in the old building and in our early school days, our legs were too short to reach the floor. In the new building school started off with a “bang” many boys and girls coming from quite a distance and entering school. We soon found that the building was too small.
But back to the erection of this building. Our father’s farm adjoined the school property. In fact the school ground originally came from the same tract as that owned by our father in the long ago. Our father had a crop of tobacco, and he told his sons that if they would work hard and get their work done in worming and suckering tobacco, spraying then being unknown, he would help on the school building and that we could go along and render some aid. We worked like “whiteheads” until that tobacco was finished, which would take until about Tuesday afternoon, thus giving us four days to spend at the school building.
A number of incidents have come down through nearly half a century about that building. One of them has to do with Sam Oldham, father of our school buddy, M. M. or Mance Oldham. He was working on the ground and David Earps, who died last year, was at work on the rafters, using a hatchet in his work. Suddenly we saw that hatchet falling and it struck Mr. Oldham right in the top of the head and bounced off. It had fallen perhaps ten or twelve feet and happened to strike Oldham the flat way; that is, the blade did not strike in a cutting position. It was a rather hard blow and Mr. Earps apologized at once, but Mr. Oldham’s head was still hurting him and we still recall his words to Earps: “ It does look like a man would have more sense than to drop a hatchet on the other fellow’s head.” We somehow doubted if he had really accepted the apologies of Mr. Earps. Uncle Sam, as he was called, was rather quick-tempered and the sudden blow on his head hurt. He reared a large family of sons and daughters, most of whom still live. Uncle Dave lived to the ripe old age of 86 and he also left quite a large family.
Another funny incident that occurred while the school house of near 50 years ago was under construction took place when the house was nearing completion. Our father, commonly known as Dopher Gregory, but really named Thomas Morgan Gregory, was assisting Richmond in his work of ceiling the house. Mr. Richmond had a habit of filling his mouth full of nails and then taking them out as he needed them. But in the midst of his work, with mouth opened as wide as he could get it, and grunting out some sort of inarticulate sound, he approached our pappy and pointed to his mouth. We still recall how our father stopped his work, bent his head and looked into the wide-open mouth of Richmond. Then he discovered the trouble. Richmond had a lower tooth with a large cavity in it. One of the nails he had in his mouth had gotten into that hollow tooth, with the head of the nail in the cavity and the other or sharp end extending upward into the roof of Richmond’s mouth. He could not open his mouth any wider. Our father began to try to loosen the nail from the cavity and in about five minutes’ time, he had the nail out and Richmond closed his mouth once more.
We can still find some of the work we did in that house that is now old. It was the nailing of ceiling into place in the end of the building at one’s left hand as he enters. Many, many events have come and gone since that carefree day and time.
We went to school in this new building during the terms of 1904, 1905 and 1906. In 1906 we left home for Bowling Green to go to school, but the old home school was always one of the dearest places in the world to us. We used to ask our younger brother and sisters to give us the school news as it happened almost daily. Still later we went back to this school and began to study hard for the teachers’ examination in 1910. We passed this examination with “flying colors” and began teaching at Dean Hill, a few miles southeast of Willette. The next year, 1911, we taught at Mace’s Hill, receiving $50 per month for our first school there. We taught at Mace’s Hill also in 1912, and then moved away, never to teach again at the place of so many events of our happy childhood.
The school continued for many years, somehow growing smaller in the number of students and in interest. Finally last year, it was discontinued and the building is today used by Brother E. L. Earps as his country store, and he has a good trade and the esteem of his customers.
Among the teachers who taught at Mace’s Hill were: Davy Oldham, Jeff Overby, Mrs. Marshall Massey, our first teacher; George W. Goad, our teacher under whom we secured most of our limited education; Mrs. Kate Lee Nichols, Charlie Kittrell, W. C. Barton, and some others whose names are not recalled.
Here in the walls of this now abandoned school room we secured the greater part of our little learning, but we treasure every, hour spent in this place as a child. here we played and studied and “fit” a little, and also had our first “puppy love affair.” Here we watched boys and girls stride forward in their studies, while others lagged and dropped back. Some apparently never could learn their lessons. Others seemingly had no trouble with lessons. Still others could have learned easily, but they put in their time in mischief or having a good time. Here we saw spelling match after spelling match. We recall one match, our first after that attack of typhoid fever, in which we were so absorbed in our spelling that we did not note that we were rubbing our right hand back and forth over our right thigh with the regularity of a clock. Our brother and a cousin later made sport of what we had done so unconsciously, getting a great laugh at us, but we won that spelling match turning down all we had to meet after being called to take our seat and begin spelling. Just why we did that thing that made us somewhat conspicuous, we do not know. But we still recall our intense effort to spell every word and not to be “turned down” even as far back as our eighth year. We were in such a strain in spelling class that we left sweat in our bare footed tracks many, many times. We do not mean to boast but we seldom missed a word in spelling and can still recall practically every word we ever missed in our classes. Our first word to miss then cry about was “both.” Our next was “pencil.” A third was “choir” which we had called as if pronounced “chawer,” there are some others, but not a great many. We do not mean to boast about the above, nor to brag when we say that we could once spell every word in Hunt’s Progressive Speller. But that day has gone by and will come never more. The years are taking their toll and memory is not what it once was. We have labored and labored and carried a load that has never grown lighter, but appears always to get a little heavier. We would like to rest, but find no time nor place. We have more to do now than ever before in all of our 59 years. In fact we feel that we are going to “have to hurry” if we get done even half as much as we might desire to accomplish. But our great consolation is that the “rest that remaineth to the people of God,” is closer now and seems not far away. Our playmates of other years have in part left us, our parents have been gone for many, many years and numerous other ones have crossed the silent river of death. Sometimes it seems that invisible hands are beckoning and voices of other years are calling. We expect to respond some day and rejoin those we have loved and lost, “in the bright summer land of bliss.”