Doors to the Past
Story on the Prichard School
From undated memoirs of Pansie Hazel Bird Bell (1910-2002):
In the early spring the year Nineteen Hundred and Twenty Five (1925) there was much talk and speculation going on around the old pot bellied wood stove in T D Martin’s grocery store, also Yates, W. Va. Post office. This is where the folks gathered in the evenings after work to pick up the mail if any and catch up on the latest news.
The latest bit of news being discussed was someone had bought the old Lemuel Wilson farm. It had changed hands a few times since his passing. The late B F McGhee, Spencer Adkins, and Jesse Queen. Maybe others.
Also the late American Sheff land had been purchased and probably adjoining tracts. The word was a very wealthy man had bought it, but no one seemed to know what his intentions were. Sincere there was quite a few acres in whole accumulation.
Soon there was a box car left on the siding at Yates. An old farmer with two teams of horses with their wagons began unloading all sorts of tools – mattocks, shovels, every kind of working implement, hauling it over and unloading on the Sheff land. Also much lumber was unloaded there too.
Like a mushroom coming up overnight there was a line of cabins standing on the scene. Local carpenters were working hours every day, seemingly to meet a deadline.
Very soon the cabins were all occupied with men no one had ever seen before and each morning at dawn they made their way up the road to a huge rock that had fallen out of the mountain many years before. They began pounding and carving with their various tools. Soon there were piles of the smoothly carved stones. They were being hauled to the Sheff farm. Many local men and boys were hired and began to dig a huge hole where the America Sheff home had stood. A basement also a big sign reading Hancock Construction Co. Contractors, a smaller one reading TL Yohn Stonemasons. The men were Italians originally from Italy. The carved stones began to take form as the masons laid one stone on top of another. Word was by then they were building an orphanage for homeless children.
The men with their picks and shovels went up the mountain near the top and dug two huge round holes. The carpenters went up and soon had forms built decidedly there were to be reservoirs that would hold hundreds of gallons of water. Soon the cement was poured all by manual labor. The tops were also covered with cement and earth covered the cement.
In the meantime wells were being drilled down below the building site. Huge pumps were installed. A stone building was erected over all. The building still stands today. Thus the water supply for Prichard School, which they used as long as the Prichards owned it. The secret was out: Fred Prichard was the man having this all done, a home for homeless children. People came from far and near to watch the progress being made.
By 1926 the premises were ready to be occupied. Two wonderful young ladies were chosen as teachers and instructors, Miss Louise Ash from Atlanta, Georgia, a very talented lady and a graduate of Agnes
Scott College in Ga. And Miss Kathleen Kennedy from Pulaski, Tenn. Was a college graduate. They were both able and experienced with children.
The late Ms. Betty and Ms. Lucy Prichard were their superiors.
Soon the school was filled with happy, healthy children.
Across the entire front of the building was the chapel where they conducted religious services each Sunday afternoon, assisted by Rev. Smythe, a Presbyterian minister, and his wife from Milton Presbyterian Church. Also many from the nearby community, Huntington, and many other places.
They also had grade school for the home children and all the local communities’ children. Miss Beulah Martin from Milton was a former teacher there. As the years went by, Prichard School was a great asset to the surrounding communities. They hired local people to run the farming and dairy – the cooking and care of the children. At Christmas every year the Prichards gave a Christmas dinner for the whole community – all the folks young and old looked forward to the dinner. They were especially nice to the elderly. There was always a little gift for each child. When the holidays were over and things back to normal they would deliver huge boxes of toys to the local children. Some of the toys would need mending but every child would be happy to spend the rainy days sorting and putting them all together.
This was Depression days and everything was appreciated.
The ghostliest tale I have ever heard about the mansion, and I’m not saying it’s true, after the Prichards had been gone for years someone was having a party and forgot and left an infant in an upstairs bedroom. The colored gentleman who was cleaning up heard its cries and screams and dispatched it pronto to its rightful place.
There was a hanging on the former Prichard farm. Not at the mansion, but up near the end of the farm on the banks of Mud River.
To my knowledge there was no ghost story connected to this. A man decided to end it all and did. My mother, who was in her late 80’s, lived here with me not too far from the site of the cruel happening. A neighbor said, “Ma Bird, wasn’t you folks scared to death while the body hung there?” She said, “Well not really but we might have been scared had we known he was hanging there.”
[ Prichard School ]
Summated by Jerri Bell