Appalachian Trails
Five generations in a one room school
By Nancy Clark Brown

This article appeared the in the Coalfield Progress, 1977

Each year as the cool crisp winds of Autumn swirl around my very being, and I find myself almost transfixed by the pleasant colors of the falling leaves of the season , I seem to be literally swept away in a nostalgic dream to the lighter days of my youth and the never ending pleasures of my childhood schooldays.

In this age of super technical advancement, in which all of us seem to be caught up in the endless confrontations of a constantly progressive nation; rioting, racial discrimination, drugs, and the ever present energy crisis, those golden days of adolescence seem a million miles and infinite years removed.

I suppose more than anything else, the fall of the years "triggers" the magic key in my personal memory bank because it is a season when the heat is not predominant, neither the cold unbearable, and usually one can reach that happy medium of personal warmth by merely spending a few hours each day in front of the cheerful blaze of an open fireplace. Entranced by the mood of the hour, my thoughts invariably travel backwards to a time, not so long ago, when worldly issues seemed very remote to a young girl of eight, and security and contentment were the very foundations of the old Riner schoolhouse in the Indian Creek section of Roberson District.

Oh! how I would love to return, just for a few moments, to that gayer time of my youth, and once again be caught up in the atmosphere of "pure" friendship that prevailed in the old one room school that I loved so dearly. How pleasant it would be to see so many old friends and relive those many wonderful experiences that one could obtain from the "Old-time" method of rural education.

It wasn't much to look at, just an old framed building with clapboard siding that always seemed to be in desperate need of paint, not any better or worse that all the other "feeder" schools in Wise County at that time. There was no cafeteria for planned hot meals, no electric heat or air conditioning, no indoor plumbing facilities, and no gymnasium for activity periods. It was just a plain old framed building that served its inhabitants as well as any modern edifice of today caters to the whims of this generation.

Our energy crisis at Riner School in those days was an acute shortage of kindling wood which was used to start the fire in the old pot-bellied stove that stood in the middle of the room, and afforded us with all the heat that we needed for the coldest of days. Mrs. Odra Stanley Collins, who was the teacher for the first, second, and third grades at that time, solved our energy problem by leading us on a "field" trip to the nearby Scott Roberson sawmill. While there, each student would find a "slab" of discarded sawmill cuts, and carry it bravely back to the schoolhouse; Robert Patton would then have wood to start the fires in the cold winter mornings, and we would have heat when we got to school. Of course on the coldest days, Mrs. Collins would allow each of us to have a "turn" close to the stove.

I can remember how much fun it was to provide water for the school in those days, especially since the teacher would always let Barbara Jean Shortt and I go after it. Our water source was old hand dug well that belonged to my grandfather, Will Adkins, and it was covered with a discarded gasoline sign. Even though we would sometimes have trouble removing that old sign, the free time that water-fetching would give us made it all worthwhile. We would always "dilly-dally" about half an hour or so on these trips, and generally spill about half of the water before we got back to the schoolhouse.

For recreation we had the use of the old dirt playground adjacent to the school, and it probably doesn't sound like much by the standards of today, but I didn't think it was possible for children anywhere to have as much fun as we did on that old school ground. We played baseball the biggest part of the time, and we had the benefit of all the best equipment of the time. For a bat we had a fantastic board that had torn off of Willie Suggs' garage when the teacher wasn't looking. We had a ball that Jackie Tunnel and Jerry Moore had made from a walnut that was wrapped in black tape, and best of all, we had our own rules to play by. One of these rules was that Caroline Shortt, the best hitter in the entire school, could take my last turn at bat so that we would always win.

There were actually two rooms in this particular "One-room" schoolhouse, or more explicitly, a partition present that made two rooms. The "Little" room, for grades one through three, was taught by Mrs. Collins, and the "Big" room, grades four through six, ws taught by Mrs. Lottie R TAylor, a lovely lady to whom I am greatly indebted. Mrs. Taylor made me keenly aware of my heritage, and started me on the genealogical trail, which has brought me so much enjoyment in the past several years. She also instilled in me a profound desire to learn, and to considerate of my fellowman.

I don't know exactly when this old Riner schoolhouse was built, but I know that it pre-dated the memory of my oldest relatives at that time in the early forties. It stood long enough, however, for five generations of my immediate family to grace its hallowed halls. My great-grandmother, the late Louemma Addington Adkins, was the first of my family to attend the school, and she told us that Jake Riner had been her teacher. My grandmother, Mrs. Clara Baker started school at Riner about 1909. My mother, Mrs. Violet Baker Clark attended the old school in the early thirties. I went there in six years until I had to go to the "Big" school at Pound, and my oldest son Joel Scott Baker, became the fifth generation of our family to start school there in the early sixties. It was about that time that the school was closed, and shortly after it was torn down. The Indian Creek Freewill Baptist Church now stands in the old school site.

I realize that progress brings change, and those who refuse to change for the better are lost in the shuffle, and I appreciate the fact that my children have privileged to attend modern and efficient schools that stand in every corner of Wise County, and I somehow feel that they missed something of value in the life when the old "one-room" school concept was eliminated. I am told that the open concept of "Pod" instruction that is used in the new elementary schools of the county is somewhat akin to the atmosphere that prevalent in the old "One-roomers".

I hope this is true, and I am vastly aware that for convenience, comfort, and health, that the old rural schoolhouse had to be eliminated, but I sincerely wish that the spirit of love and friendship that dominated the old Riner school could prevail in the schools of our entire country.

We didn't have the advantanges with us at the Riner school that are available to children today, and no doubt we have suffered in that respect, but one thing that I know for certain; Five generations of my family learned to live in harmony with their fellowman as a result of the closeness that was evident in the old "One-Room" school at Riner.

submitted by Nancy Clark Brown ©2001

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