By Robert S. Long and Lillie Bush-Reves
Reprinted from the Mount Vernon Optic-Herald, Thursday, October 14, 1999
Joshua Foster Johnson introduced a bill in the Texas Legislature in 1849 incorporating the “male and female academies” in Mount Vernon during the time that he represented Titus County. This piece of legislation can be considered the official beginning of organized education in what became Franklin County.
Prior to this time, rude buildings had been erected in various communities and rudimentary education was being offered to those youngsters able to participate, whenever they were not helping to clear the land or planting the crops needed by the pioneer families. Education was not very high on the list of priorities when a family’s survival depended on the contribution of each family member to work at beginning a new life.
However, from this simple beginning, education has grown throughout the history to be one of Franklin County’s biggest industries. The school budget for 1985-86 for the Mount Vernon Independent School District was $6.9 million and a total of 129 people were involved in teaching, administration, cooking lunches, driving buses, mopping floors and training students in vocational skills.
There were a total of 83 professional teachers, 14 secretaries and aides, nine cafeteria workers, 10 maintenance people, and 13 bus drivers. A total of 13 buses traveled 12 county routes and one route in the city of Mount Vernon, picking up students and carrying them to school.
The school plant had an approximate value of $8 million and voters approved an additional $3 million during a bond issue in 1985 to build a new high school building. This brought the value of the school plant to $11 million in 1986 dollars.
The story of this growth and emphasis placed on education is the story of Franklin County, from the days when the school in each community was its center and focal point, with the school building often also serving as a house of worship, fulfilling two of the most basic needs: worship and education.
In their earliest days, each community tried to have some sort of school for those who wanted to and could afford to attend. With each student paying a small mount to attend school, this made up the teacher’s salary. Due to the scarcity of currency and coin in the area, often parents would provide room and board for the instructor or provide goods and services, such as a cord of wood to heat the drafty structure.
By 1897, there were 38 school districts in Franklin County, with Mount Vernon, Big Creek, Hamilton, Pleasant Grove, Flora Bluff, Rock Hill, Gray Rock, Hopewell, Shady Grove, Lone Star, Cypress, Purley, Union, Glade Springs, New Hope, Clearwater, Spring Place, Caddo, Rock Springs, Winnsboro, Eureka, Fairview, Lake View, Hagansport, Wims, Glade Branch, East Line, Pleasant Hill, Chapel, and Baldwin’s Bluff providing education to white students and Denton, Hamilton, Ripley, Hopewell, Lone Star, Glade Springs and Caddo offering schools for the black students in the communities.
By 1908, Friendship, Smith and County Line were added to the list of white districts and Gray Rock, Winnsboro, and Spring Place added to the list of black schools. About this time, Glade Springs and Ripley were dropped from the list of active schools.
In 1909, Daphne, Clopton, Lavada, Panthers Chapel, Macon and Midway were added to the list of operating school districts and Pleasant Grove, County Line, Caddo, Wims, Winnsboro, Smith and East Line were dropped. Consolidations and the name changes were involved in the addition to and subtraction from the list of school districts.
Black school districts in 1909 included Big Creek, Hamilton, Gray Rock Hopewell, Union, Willow Grove, Glade Springs and Denton.
Kinney Point and another County Line school were added to the list of white schools in 1915, and black schools listed included Denton, Hamilton, Hopewell, Gray Rock and Lone Star.
In 1937, schools included Big Creek, which taught up to the sixth grade; Hamilton, offering nine grades for white students and seven for black students; Prairie Grove, teaching seven grades; Friendship, offering eight grades of instruction; Daphne, offering seven grades; and Gray Rock, offering seven grades of instruction in both its white and black schools.
Cypress had an eight grade school; Purley, nine grades; Union offered seven grades; Glade Springs, eight; New Hope, ten; Clearwater, ten; Spring Place, sever; Clopton, seven; and Rock Springs, seven.
Eureka offered seven grades of instruction; Fairview, eight; Lakeview, seven; and Hagansport, nine. Panther’s Chapel, Glade Branch, Kinney Point, and Midway each taught seven grades.
Old Hagansport School
Beginnings of Consolidation
In 1939, an article in the Optic-Herald reported that Franklin County had “24 common school districts and one independent school district, with 70 teachers employed. The county scholastic population was 1,921 children.”
In 1985, the school population for the Mount Vernon Independent School District, embracing the entire county, was 1,105, down 800 students.
Ross Elliott, Fred King and Sam Luallen were serving as trustees for Big Creek and Gertrude Smith was the teacher. S. S. Norris, Sam Hamilton and L. E. Byrd were serving as trustees for the Hamilton school and Maude Dodson, Roy Herman and Christene Ward were teachers.
Prairie Grove School teacher was Mrs. Louis Tittle serving under trustees C. LO. Banks, S. L. Rozell and W. L. Cook. Alton Green and Bernice Gill were teaching at Friendship where J. P. Nutt, Carl Byrd and Edwin Maxton were trustees.
Guslee Slaughter and Eldon Black were teachers at Daphne and Otis Steele, M. C. Gipson, and Roy Cooper were trustees. Flora Bluff was transferred to Mount Vernon School District with Wylie Roberts, J. D. Blue and Sam Garretson serving as trustees. J. E. Hague and Sterling Williams were trustees fro Gray Rock, which was transferred to Mount Vernon. They also served as the trustees for the black schools.
T. C. Newsome and Gladys Lawrence were teachers at Hopewell where F. T. Loyd, Will Wright and W. D. Rutledge were trustees. At Rock Hill, C. F. Carr, E. M. Burton, and Roy Bankston were trustees and W. F. Cody and Odessia Tatum were teachers. Shady Grove students were instructed by May Agee and trustees were B. S. Hargrave, Weldon Barrett and W. K. Kirbo.
Ira T. Beavers, J. H. Nations and Jack Blackburn were trustees fro Lone Star. Truett Chandler and Mary Lou Gauntt were teachers at Cypress and W. L. Connelly, Bruce Connelly and W. W. Lominack were trustees. Purley was a four-teacher school with Carl Newsome, Essie Hightower, Mildred Weatherford and Ralph Page teaching and O. T. Davis and E. S. Solomon overseeing the school as trustees.
At Union School, Fred Hayes, G. C. Adams, T. T. Hogan served as trustees and W. B. Fox and Leita Stanley were teachers. L. E. Seay and Gertrude Seay were teachers at Glade Springs and W. B. Grady and Elmer Hon were trustees. New Hope was also a four-teacher school having J. B. Pruitt, George D. Lester, Lois Jones Shirley and Velma Polk offering instruction. W. L. Rozell, G. L. Gilbert and L. E. Minshew were trustees.
County Schools Consolidated
In 1943, with the increased availability of transportation, and the increasing growth of educational facilities and needs, the consolidation of the rural common school districts got underway. Where formerly students had to go to school in their home communities, now, the availablility of transportation to more and more students made the drive to Mount Vernon and the larger schools in the county convenient. Initially, bus drivers might be driving a pickup truck with wooden benches on each side of the truck bed. Students would pay the driver for picking them up. As time went on, however, transportation and the purchase of large buses changed the complexion of education in Franklin County.
In 1943, the County School Board, which oversaw all the various school districts in Franklin County, proposed dividing the Lone Star Common School district between Cypress and Purley.
In September 1947, County School Board member J. W. Aikin proposed the division of the Eureka School between the Hagansport Rural High School District and the Sulphur Bluff Independent School District. However, the proposal did not pass at that point. A portion of the Eureka CSD was transferred to Hagansport in 1948. In February 1949 the Spring Hill Common School District was annexed to Winnsboro ISD, and in May 1949 the Clopton CSD was annexed to Winnsboro ISD.
In July 1949, the County School Board agreed to the "Consolidation of all dormant school districts into the Mount Vernon ISD." These districts included Big Cree, Hamilton, Friendship, Daphne, Flora Bluff, Gray Rock, Rock Hill, Shady Grove, Glade Springs, Fairview, and Lakeview. A number of these schools had not been operating for several years, and the consolidation was basically a legal maneuver.
At the same time, Rock Springs was consolidated into the Winnsboro ISD, Lone Star was consolidated with the Purley Common School District and County Line CSD was consolidated into Hopewell. Eureka was then totally eliminated, with its territory divided between Hagansport and Sulphur Bluff.
In March 1951, the County School Board agreed to the consolidation of Glade Branch CSD into the Winnsboro ISD and Clearwater with Spring Place.
Schools in Franklin County in 1951-52 included Hagansport, with four teachers and nine grades of instruction; Union, with one teacher and six grades; Purley, with two teachers and eight grades of instruction; and Spring Place, with three teachers and eight grades of instruction. New Hope had three teachers and eight grades, and Prairie Grove, Hopewell and Cypress were contract schools.
Clearwater School had for trustees R. D. Tedford, D. C. Aldredge and J. H. Graves, with Dalton Lester, Mabel Walters and Syndal R. Quattlebaum serving as instructors.
Spring Place Common School trustees were Lester Keath, J. I. Elledge and T. E. Hewett, and teachers were Herman Browning and Winnie Stocks.
Clopton School trustees included F. F. Barnes, D. F. Beene, and R. C. Wilson with John Richburg and Mrs. W. J. McAuley serving as teachers. Rock Springs School had Myrtle Burgin as a teacher with O. T. Holt, H. R. Hanson and R. W. McCown serving as trustees.
Eureka trustees were J. M. Underwood, Ennis Palmer and C. C. Patterson, with Jack Henry and Helen Maxton serving as teachers. Fairview School trustees include N. S. Glover, L. L. Laws and Homer Edge. Teachers were R. H. Riley, Euna Lee Hightower and Gladys Burkham.
Trustees for the Lakeview School included C. D. Hale, W. L. Holmes, and Howard Johnson. Teachers were Ivey L. Hicks and Lucille Chapman. Five teachers were employed at Hagansport School. They were Lody Mead, Lois Mead, Mrs. T. C. Puckett, Mary Nell Henry, and Sam Ottinger. Hagansport trustees were G. W. Dyer, James Patteson and John Clayton.
Charles Singleton was the teacher at Panther's Chapel and R. L. McCullers, J. H. Goode and M. L. Cannon were trustees. Glade Branch trustees included C. W. Piland, W. D. Gibson and L. T. Carter. Myrtle McLarty was the teacher.
Kinney Point trustees were J. M. Easterling and H. L. Devall. The students have been transferred to Talco School. Midway trustees include E. E. Harris, W. L. Whitney and J. W. Broughton. Morris Winkle was the teacher.
Denton Common school for black students was supervised by Sterling Williams and J. E. Hague, trustees. Mrs. N. H. Brigham was the teacher. John Dunlap was the teacher at the black school at Lone Star.
Hopewell was consolidated into the Mount Vernon ISD in June 1952 with the school having been dormant from 1950-52. Prairie Grove was consolidated into Mount Vernon at the same time. In August of 1952, the Chalybeate CSD of Wood and Franklin Counties was consolidated into the Winnsboro ISD.
Cypress was consolidated with Purley CSD in 1953, and Union CSD with Mount Vernon in April 1954.
In 1955, Mount Vernon ISD was designated as the high school in Franklin County for all common districts.
By 1952, the various black school around Franklin County had consolidated into one school, the Denton School in Mount Vernon.
South Franklin School
By 1955, South Franklin was formed from the New Hope, Good Hope and Clearwater Districts and there were only three county schools left: Hagansport, Purley and South Franklin.
In 1958, Purley consolidated with the Mount Vernon ISD, Hagansport consolidated in 1966 and in 1967, the Denton School was consolidated into the Mount Vernon School District.
Both South Franklin and Hagansport were officially annexed into the Mount Vernon Independent School District on March 11, 1964, but were allowed to continue teaching in their buildings until the new Mount Vernon ISD complex was completed. Following the move to the new buildings, the old schools at Hagansport and South Franklin became community centers for their respective communities and Franklin County became a one-school system, having consolidated from approximately 30 school districts at one time.
Mount Vernon Independent School District
While the early history of education in Mount Vernon was scanty, records indicate that the first school in Mount Vernon was housed in a crude log house with only one window.” A Mr. Sennecher was the teacher.
The next school was housed on the upper floor of a two story house which was used for Masonic Lodge. The teacher was a Mr. Colmary.
In 1847, a school called the Mount Vernon College was built. Little information was available until 1858 when Rufus Mann, a Mrs. Fanning and her daughter, Mary Fanning were listed as teachers. The three teachers ran the Mount Vernon College from 1858 until 1861. Rufus Mann served during the Civil War from Mount Vernon and returned following the cessation of hostilities, teaching in the Mount Vernon Male Academy.
Mann later was elected as one of the first county officers, serving as justice of the peace, similar to today’s commissioner, when Franklin County was organized in 1876. He was living in the Hopewell Community at that time.
In about 1862, a Mr. Collins tried to organize classes in the building located near the Mount Vernon City Cemetery where the Rehoboth Association had been organized by Joshua F. Johnson and others. The building was the original location of what became the First Baptist Church of Mount Vernon. At that time it was called the New Liberty Baptist Church of Christ. Collins tried to hold classes and single-handedly run the school. However, he discontinued his efforts in 1864.
The Male Academy was organized in 1865 by a Mr. McManus, with Mary Fanning teaching a Female Academy in a nearby building. Tom Justice organized a coeducational school at about the same time.
Judge W. H. C. Davenport changed the Male Academy into a coeducational school during this period, and the Female Academy was also made coeducational under Tom Hicks and his sister, a Mrs. Brown.
Liza Whitmore replaced Judge Davenport as head of his school and eventually the Male and Female Academies were consolidated.
In 1893, the Franklin Institute was organized and a large two-story building constructed on the lot between the present First Baptist Church and the old First Methodist Church, built in 1928. When the Institute was built, it was considered the “most advanced seat of learning in this vicinity” for the next four years.
Superintendents during 1896-1908 were John S. Bagwell, Winfield, Richardson, Eastman, Bright Driver and Hibbette.
Public education got a real boost when a $20,000 bond issue was approved by the voters in Mount Vernon in 1909 to construct a new brick building. The structure was completed in 1910 on the lot where the Franklin Institute was located. This was a large two-story brick building and was the height of modernity when constructed.
With the growth of Mount Vernon and the need for more school room space, a new high school bond was called, in the amount of $50,000 in 1928, and constructed for $41,000. The structure was erected across from the 1910 building on the west side of Kaufman St.
Mount Vernon High School (1928-1940)
Frank Morgan resigned as superintendent in 1929 and J. R. Peters succeeded him. Millard Fleming became superintendent of schools in 1935 and continued in that position until 1952 when health reasons forced him to resign. The Mount Vernon School Board then appointed K. B. Copeland as superintendent of schools. When Copeland resigned to become head of the Methodist Home in Waco, he was replaced by W. M. Stribling. Walter Sears served as the superintendent of schools for the Mount Vernon ISD from 1971 until 1991. Mike Harper became superintendent in 1991 and served until December, 1998, at which time Paul Glover served as interim superintendent for two months. Taking over as interim superintendent for February and March of 1999 was Bill Travis, who returned to his duties as high school principal when Dr. Mark Stretcher was appointed superintendent of schools in April 1999. Dr. Stretcher’s tenure ended in June 2001, at which time Freddie Wade came out of retirement to serve as interim superintendent for six months. In January 2002, Lynn Burton was appointed to the position of Superintendent of Schools for Mount Vernon ISD, a position that he held until replaced by Rick Flanagan. Mr. Flanagan's tenure ended in November 2009. In December 2009 to present time, Mr. John Kaufman was appointed to the position of Superintendent of Schools for Mount Vernon ISD.
In 1939, a bond issue was voted to build a new high school plant, with local taxpayers agreeing to a $35,000 bond. This bond issue passed by a vote of 188 to 95, with the federal government agreeing to pay $22,340 toward the construction. It was partially funded under the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and the rock walls and channeling of Town Branch, originally called Bear Pen Creek on old deeds, was a part of this construction project.
Mount Vernon High School (1941-1966)
The total cost for the high school structure, located on the west side of Holbrook St., was listed at $71,000. The new structure contained 14 classrooms, an auditorium and gymnasium combination, and was built of brick and concrete. At the same time that the bond issue was voted upon, a vote was taken on whether to build the new school at the athletic field in the west part of Mount Vernon or near the 1928 high school. The voters decided to build it near the old high school. The location was selected by a vote of 199 to 83.
Mount Vernon High School (1941-1966)
The Holbrook St. building was completed in 1941. The high school on the west side of Kaufman St. then became the elementary school and the old elementary school was torn down, with the land used as a playground. The two buildings continued to be used until 1967 when a new complex for all grades was opened.
Demolition of Elementary School
In 1965, the voters approved a bond issue in the amount of $1.5 million for the construction of a 12-grade school facility.
The new schools, elementary and high school, along with a new cafeteria, two gymnasiums and a large auditorium were dedicated on September 17, 1967.
This complex was located south of town on Highway 37 across from the hospital.
Since then the complex has been expanded five times.
In 1973-1974, a new junior high building and elementary gymnasium was added at a cost of $211,499.
In 1985, a bond election for $3 million was called and approved by the voters for the construction of a new high school building, remodeling of various areas, and construction of new parking lots and roads. The building was dedicated in December 1986.
Another bond issue was approved Nov. 10, 1992, in the amount of $2,144,200 for the expansion of the elementary and intermediate classrooms , expansion of the cafeteria and construction of a separate library for use by grades 7-12. Local surplus funds were also used to construct an Intermediate School Gym, located at the rear of the school, in 1993. A new girls’ dressing room building was constructed adjacent to the high school gym in 1998.
The acreage around the school was expanded as well with the purchase of 24.93 acres, located southeast of the complex from Sarah Reagan in February 1995 for $3,500 per acre. The district also purchased a house and about 26 acres, located northwest of the complex from H. R. Burton in August 1998 for $143,689.65.
Renovations of the house for use as the administration building were set aside due to expected costs. It has been used as temporary housing superintendents’ families.
Mount Vernon has been known nationally for a number of years for its vocational and technical programs and these were housed in large and well-equipped shop areas at the school, where agriculture, auto mechanics, horticulture and home economics were a part of the curriculum of the Mount Vernon schools.
The Mount Vernon Independent School District had a total assessed value for tax roll purposed in 1999-2000 of $385,078,635. After various exemptions, including homestead, over 65 veterans, and agriculture, the total for collection purposes was $365,513,995.
Sports have played a major role in the history of the community, and by 1935, football was beginning to gain prominence in the Mount Vernon schools, edging out basketball and baseball, which had been the major team sports of the common school era.
Acreage was purchased in 1935 and plans made for the construction of a football field. The acreage purchased was the location of the home of Charlie Dupree. A large, two-story columned residence had been located on the lot where the stadium was located. This residence had been divided up into apartments.
The stands were erected around the lighted field in 1937 and enlarged and painted in 1938. This facility continued to be the scene for Tiger football games until the fall of 1977 when a new modern facility with large dressing rooms, a cinder track and modern field and press box were used for the first time. This new football stadium was located on the same tract of property on Highway 37 as the schools.
From many schools in the county to one combined consolidated school in the county seat of Mount Vernon, from a one-room log house with one window to a sprawling 100-plus staffed facility, education in Franklin County has come a long way, but is still the center point of concern and a point of pride for the entire county.