he little schoolhouse at Pioneer Village is quiet and peaceful now in its beautiful new setting on Higginson Road, but for more than 60 years it was a bustling center of learning for hundreds of White County children. One of the early teachers at the school was my grandfather Joseph James Figg.  He was 21 years old in 1869 when he came with his parents from Gates County, Georgia, and settled at Clay in White County. 

I have only vague memories of Grandfather Figg, as a tall gray-haired man.  But my mother Lelia Figg Fields told me many stories about him.

            Despite the family’s moderate means, he had a burning desire to obtain an education and teach school.  He came to Searcy and bought books – English, mathematics, geography – and studied long hours into the nights until he finally qualified to obtain a teacher’s license.  He taught in many rural schools over the county and later two terms in the Searcy Public School, which was then located in the eastern part of town known as Cedar Grove Addition.  One of his early assignments was in a new school built about 1885 in the community of Little Red.  This is the school that is now located at Pioneer Village.  Originally the frame building was two stories and the second floor was used for the Masonic Hall. The building’s long life as a school ended with consolidation in 1945, when students from the area began to attend Pangburn’s school. The school district donated the building for Pioneer Village, which opened on September 12, 1967. One of my grandfather’s students at Little Red was the founder of Pioneer Village, Oran Vaughan.  He, Prince Wood and Hershel Lewis paid the expenses for having the school moved and restored as a one-story structure at Pioneer Village.

J.J. Figg’s day at teaching began early in the morning, as he either walked or rode horseback to the one-room schoolhouse.   It was necessary that he arrive before his pupils in order to “sweep up,” and in the winter to build a fire in the pot-bellied stove which stood in the center of the room, so that it would be warm when his students arrived.

He taught all eight grades and received for a month’s teaching a salary ranging from $25 to $30.  His term was for three months in the winter and three months in the summer.  Among his students were his children Lelia Virginia (Mrs. L.D. Fields), James Lee (Dr. James L. Figg), Robert Glenn (deceased) and Margaret Elizabeth (Mrs. W.D. Davenport, deceased).

Grandfather was also a good farmer.  School was out early enough in the spring that he raised cotton, corn, peanuts, hay, sorghum and a bounty of other vegetables that his gentle wife Mary Frances canned for the winter.  He also raised and butchered hogs and cattle and made his own cotton planter and plowshares.

In between, he was a justice of the peace.   There was a need for justice because crimes occurred such as horse or pig stealing, fighting, public drunkenness, disturbing the peace and even murder.  Court was held once a month in Grandfather’s home. People from afar came, including neighbors, friends, lawyers from Searcy and just spectators.  There was always coffee on the cook stove, and the children were kept busy bringing in logs in the winter for the huge fireplace.  Grandfather acted as a judge and was held in high esteem. 

Grandfather was also a casket maker.  Pine lumber was kept on hand for this purpose, as well as black calico or percale, which was used to cover the outside, and white muslin as a lining for the inside. If the casket was for a child, Lelia added white lace that was stitched or tacked around the inside.  One end of the casket was rounded and curved by pouring boiling water over the pine boards before construction.  Grandfather was paid $5 or whatever the bereaved family could afford.  Sometimes, it was only a “thank you.”

Although my grandfather was a busy man, he always found time to hear the troubles of his friends and neighbors.  He also took the time to enjoy his family and would allow his children to invite friends over for “play parties” or square dances where each member of the family would play a different musical instrument. 

The highlight of the summer would be an old-fashioned revival meeting held in a tent or a brush arbor by a traveling preacher.  He would load all the family and as many neighbors and friends as he could fit into the wagon, and they would attend the meeting every night for a week or two.

The Figg family and the Little Red school survived the terrible tornado of April 7, 1903, which killed the James King family, all but 11-month-old Paul.   Grandfather Figg used the sturdy school building to enlighten many children from the area for many years.  They knew him as a kind, gentle and compassionate man whose greatest desire was to help mankind and to help make his community and country a better place.  He died May 1, 1919, and was buried in Howell Cemetery at Clay.

The Little Red School and rest of the Village were moved from the White County Fairgrounds to Higginson Road last fall.   Today, volunteers are at work repairing and repainting the school.   In the early morning before they arrive, and the only sound is the wind as it blows gently through the trees, listen carefully and maybe you just might hear Grandfather Figg as he calls the roll for his Little Red School long ago.