Westmoreland Schools

By John F. Creasy

© August 10, 1995

Thanks to John for permission to reprint this article!

The community of Westmoreland has been most fortunate over the years to have been served by a variety of educational facilities. Ranging from the first scattered subscription schools open to only a few to the eventual state and county supported public schools open to all, there have always been those individuals in the area who knew the value of a good education. Their determination to provide such to the children of the community was of profound importance. The first schools in the community were called "subscription schools." These schools were operated by a professor or teacher who charged the students a fee for instruction and met his classes in his home, the nearest church or other available place. "Old Brushy," near Pleasant Grove, was one such school, having been founded about 1865. This school was apparently the forerunner of the Pleasant Grove School which served that community for so long and to this day remains dear to our many residents who attended school there. "Old Brushy's" teacher was James A. Nimmo who had only recently returned from the Civil War as a Captain in the Confederate Army. The school term varied but was usually about six months in length. Because of the rural lifestyles of most of the students, the education they received was often determined by their family's needs at home. The forerunner of Gumwood School, located on Trammel Creek just across the line in Macon County, was also a subscription school. Murray McDole, the father of Graidon McDole, briefly attended school there as a child. The teacher here was a man he referred to as "Old Dr. Wilson." Toward the latter part of the 19th. century, an increased emphasis was placed on the education of the community's children. As a result, "one-room schoolhouses" began to dot the landscape every few miles. One of these was located within a few miles of present-day Westmoreland. This school, its exact location unknown, was known to the community as "Hawkins Schoolhouse." The school was of log construction and inside, the children sat on log seats supported by legs inserted in holes on the underside. About the year 1893, a school was built in Westmoreland itself. This building sat on the hillside behind the present-day Methodist Church. The building, painted white, was a long, wooden structure containing several classrooms. Among the teachers who taught there were Tom Kirby, Morgan Hodges, and Ms. Mallie Summers. It was as a result of a suggestion by Ms. Summers that the name "Westmoreland" was chosen for the community. At the same time, or in some cases somewhat later, schools were build at Turner's Station, Garrett's Creek, Coopers, Oak Grove, Fairfields, and so forth. In due time, the school at Westmoreland became overcrowded and the need for a larger building was recognized. Squire W. Brown, father of local resident Harris Brown and grandfather of Doug Kirby, donated a parcel of land situated at the top of the hill at the corner of present day Bledsoe and Locust Streets as the site for a new school. When construction had been completed, the community had an impressive educational facility for its time. Standing two stories tall, the large frame building was topped by a bell tower. Extending from the rear of the main structure was a rectangular shaped, single-story hall? which functioned as an auditorium/cafeteria/classroom. This building was constructed between 1910 and 1915. This remained a "two teacher elementary school" until sometime later when it became a two-year high school. Duke Moss, Davis Durham, Mrs. Viney Moncrief, and Professor Henry Brackin, among others taught here. Lest we think that the old adage "kids will be kids" applies only to today's children, Graidon McDole tells of an event occurring at this school involving his 1st cousin, Denver McDole, and a friend, William Penniger. It seems the two boys were busily playing a children's game of the day, "the fox and dog," with Denver in the role of the fox. The "fox" apparently was chased inside the building where he soon made his way to the second floor. Just when it appeared the "dog" was about to capture his prey, the wiley "fox" suddenly turned and jumped out of one of the second floor windows! The "dog" followed suit and fortunately neither boy was injured when they hit the ground below. One wonders, though, just how fortunate the boys were when their teacher caught up with them! Increasing enrollment again presented a dilemma to the community. It was decided in 1928 that a new school would be constructed. The town of Westmoreland contributed $10,000 in bonds to build the first unit of a new high school, which included the auditorium and the two wings out of the gym. This new school was built immediately behind the old frame school. This school served grades 1-12 until 1955, having become a four-year high school when it opened in 1929. The first graduating class consisted of 23 students. This new school, "The Hilltopper" as it came to be called, was the source of much community pride and the scene of much activity. During the 1930's and early 1940's, the school's agriculture department sponsored the East Sumner Fair. During its time, this annual fair was the largest in Sumner County. It ended with the beginning of World War II. The Sumner County Board of Education authorized the appropriation of funds in 1953 for the construction of a new high school in Westmoreland. The new building was completed and opened in 1955, housing grades 7-12. Today, this building houses our local middle school. Unfortunately, the joy the community felt over the opening of this new school was tempered with the news of a tragedy. In December of 1955, a fire of mysterious origin started late one night near the cafeteria of the old elementary school and quickly spread throughout the building. By the next morning, the only portion of the building left standing was the Agricultural Annex, which was separate from the main building. This Annex still stands today, currently serving as a part of SBF Incorporated. The town was devastated at the loss of its elementary school, but once again the community pulled together for the sake of the children. For the next year and a half, classed were held at various sites in the town. Many of these displaced elementary students were bused each day to the new high school where they were served lunch in the cafeteria and then returned to their class site elsewhere in the community. Kitty Huntsman was the faithful servant who shuttled the children from one site to the other. On January 1, 1959, the new Westmoreland Elementary School opened its doors for the first time and continues to serve the community today. A move began within the community in the late 1970's to build a new high school which would house grades 9-12. This move began as a result of the extremely overcrowded conditions the high school was experiencing as a grade 7-12 facility. Funds were finally allocated by the county in 1987 for the construction of a new high school which opened in 1988. Among those individuals from the Westmoreland area who were elected to positions with the Sumner County School System were Knox Doss as both a member of the board of education and as superintendent of schools along with V. G. Hawkins, superintendent of schools and Charles F. Creasy, Etheridge Dodson and Dr. Thomas F. Carter, members of the board of education.

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