The One-Room Schoolhouse at Millville

By INEZ ROBERSON EATON
White County Historical Society 1971 White County Heritage

In the summer of 1912 ( I have forgotten the exact date but along about the first of July) I set out, armed with a lot of nerve and my Second Grade license, to open my first school at Millville. I must tell you more about that license; it was not easily obtained. I wish I had a copy of one of those examinations, to see if some of our "crack" high school teachers would pass it. For instance, there was a subject called "Theory and Practice". Now since we did not know the meaning of the word "Theory," and had no chance to "practice" it was uphill business. At any rate, most one-room schools were very happy to obtain a teacher with even a Second Grade license. So with my license in my purse and a firm hold on my courage, I took off. The school was just around 25 or 30 miles from Searcy but to reach it, it was necessary to ride the train (the now abandoned Rock Island Branch) to Belcher where my landlady's family met me for the three- or four-mile trip, by buggy, to the school.

Before the advent of paved roads and consolidated schools, many of the larger and more affluent districts had two schools, in widely separated parts of the area. So, Millville was a "second school" in the White Oak District. The roads were mere trails, few of the streams had bridges at all, teams forded creeks, and a log foot bridge was a luxury. So the roads were impassable most of the year even with wagons and teams. My school was just out of the White River overflow area, my boarding place was on a high hill and they told me that in high-water times the only way to get off of that hill was by boat. The White Oak school was about 2 miles away, so you can see why they needed a little school in that area.

At that time there were only a few families in that school district, but at one time it had been a rather flourishing little shingle mill town. The woods were all "cut-over" timberland and thick and forbidding looking.

Monday morning, accompanied by the three children of my landlady (one sweet girl who was older than I was), we set out for school, a half-mile away. I wish you could see the mental picture I have of that little school! It was an unpainted building about possibly 20x40 feet about 100 feet from the road, thick woods right up to the back, and the front "Campus" had been covered with bitter weeds. But some "kind-hearted soul" had been there with a mowing machine and cut them off, leaving about a two-inch stubble which, you may imagine, was real punishment to those little bare feet. So the first piece of "cooperative" work I did was to suggest that we get busy and pull those stubs to make a trail to the front door. Needless to say, the idea stuck, and we soon had a nice path cleared to the door. One of my "directors" who lived across the road was very much impressed with my first "work" but that was just common "self-defense" on the children's part as well as mine!

I do not remember just how many pupils I had that first day, but my entire total enrollment was only 13 for the summer, ranging from beginners to a girl who was doing possibly sixth grade work. That was long before the State-adopted standard textbooks. They came to school with whatever books were available, many handed down from the parents' school days. As a consequence, we were lucky if any two in a class had the same readers, etc. Often when I had as many as three in a class we had THREE readers, including McGuffey's "Lights to Literature" and some that I do not remember a name for, but we learned to read, spell and also the multiplication tables. Possibly the individual attention helped at that.

Our building was equipped with two windows on each side, and a door in the front. The back wall was reserved for a blackboard, which was exactly that - three one-inch, rather smooth boards - painted black! We had a reading chart for the beginners , a shelf in the back for the water bucket and lunch pails. Oh, yes, we had "cafeteria service", individually catered: Everybody brought their own lunch in a tin pail. The "dining hall" was a grove of small trees across the road from the school. This spot also served as a recreation center. We had the original "Jungle Gym" right out of the jungle. Those oak and hickory saplings were perfect for climbing! No basketball or football, but we didn't miss them in the least. Sometimes a little boy would bring his "string ball" from home. (A string ball was made by raveling a man's old sock, and winding the resultant thread tightly over some small object, keeping it as round as possible. When finished it was sewed closely all around to hold the string.) It made a very soft, throwable ball, and they were fine for playing "Catch." Everybody, even the small children, could play together.

As for equipment, we thought we were well supplied. There was the reading chart for the beginners, the blackboard for writing lessons and arithmetic, and everybody had a slate and pencil. A few of the older ones even owned a rough paper tablet and lead pencil! Water was brought in a wooden pail from a farmhouse across the road. A nice broad shelf was supplied for the water bucket and dinner pails.

My salary was $35 per month with board at $10, which was very good for that time, and certainly for an inexperienced kid like I was.

Of course, we had no screens on those houses, and for protection at night from the mosquitoes the beds were equipped with a frame like a canopy with a sheet over the top and mosquito netting hanging down all around to the floor. Somehow I don't remember the mosquitoes bothering in the daytime. Around sunset someone would start a "smoke" to keep them off so we could sit on the porch until bedtime.

Even though there was not a church in miles, we often attended church at White Oak three miles away. The people were good, honest "God-fearing" folks. All summer, itinerant preachers appeared at churches and schoolhouses in the area. We followed those "Meetings" over a radius of four or five miles. That is a long way to go to church over the roads we had, and with a horse and buggy.

"One-room schools" - they certainly had their place in our educational history. Besides, some of my fondest memories are associated with that little school and the people I knew there. They were a boon to the teachers as well as the children. We all learned a lot in the little three-month terms.