* Article written in 1950 *
In 1887, the Georgia Legislature passed a bill providing for public schools in Polk County. At that time Polk County’s representatives were Dr. D. M. Russell in the legislature and Judge Charlie Janes in the senate.
Prior to this time there had been only private schools in Cedartown. Mrs. Mary Crabb was teaching a private school, so she agreed to consolidate her school with the public school and become one of its first teachers. Prof. Ronald Johnston was the first superintendent, serving from 1887 to 1889. Other teachers were Mrs. Leila Wood, Miss Portia Bunn, and Miss Eugenia Bigham. Mr. Johnston did much of the teaching himself.
Until the completion of the “College Street School”, which is still in use, classes were held in the court house and an adjacent store building. In the same year, a school for negroes was established and classes were held in the Negro Methodist Church. All pupils were required to buy tickets, fifty cents for a month. The Board of Education was composed of J. S. Stubbs, Chairman; W. O. Cornelius, Treasurer; W. C. Bunn, Secretary; Judge Charlie Janes; and T. F. Burbank.
In January 1889, the classes were transferred to the new building. Miss Leila Wood taught the first three grades, about sixty pupils, and was not even allowed to have a chair in her room. At the sight of Prof. Johnston, the children were speechless from fear; and the teacher’s red face showed that she entertained the same emotion. However, there was no cause for this, for the superintendent was a king-hearted gentleman.
As the town has grown, so has the school. In a short time the building was inadequate, so five rooms were added. To the faculty were added Miss Pelham Borden, Miss Barbara Johnston, Miss Benella Davenport, Miss Alice Noyes, Mrs. Sally Sewell Bright, and later, Miss Della Russell.
When Mr. J. C. Harris came from Marietta to assume his duties as Superintendent of Schools in 1889, he brought with him not only a group of young men who wished to continue their studies under his guidance, but two very efficient high school teachers, Mr. and Mrs. H. L. Sewell. When Mr. Harris resigned in 1892 to become superintendent in Rome, Mr. Sewell succeeded him as Superintendent of the Cedartown Schools and held this office for twelve years.
June 25, 1891, was a red letter day in Cedartown Public Schools. A column in the local paper was headed “They Graduate.” Yes, that was the first graduating class–John Stubbs, Alva Thompson, Mrs. Della Harris Garrett. The local paper reported: Never in the history of Cedartown was there a more intelligent or orderly audience gathered at any public entertainment, and this fact is indicative of the interest taken by our people in our excellent public school system. The entertainment was of high order of merit and despite its three hours length, held the undivided attention of the audience.” There were declamations by undergraduate boys, recitations by undergraduate girls, songs by the high school, and vocal and instrumental solos by local talent. There was a Scholars’ Convention and a Convention of Realistic Speaking by the eighth grade, followed by a calisthenics drill with dumb bells. Then the great finale, the graduation exercises: “Original Speech” by Alva Thompson, “Original Speech” by John Stubbs, an essay by Miss Della Harris–“Work Makes the Man, The Want of It, The Fellow.”
The following year, 1892, there were seven graduates. Miss Willie Wood gave the Salutatory and Miss Ida Hunt, the Valedictory. There were five essays and two orations. The account did not specify whether or not they were original. These were interspersed with music by local talent under the direction of Mrs. J. C. Harris, a noted musician.
At the close of this account there is recorded this notice: “An examination for new applicants for teachers’ places on the present force will be held June 28 by the superintendent.”
The school continued to grow, so four more rooms were added to the building. Each year there was a graduating class from five to ten. Each year the school had completed “one of the most successful years in its history” as recorded by the Cedartown Standard.
In 1895, the largest class in the school’s history received diplomas. Ten girls and five boys had creditably completed the required course of study–as stated by the diplomas. Someone had the bright idea that the audience might not sit at attention through ten essays and five orations, so the program was varied with a debate. The subject, argued by two boys and two girls, was, “Resolved that Silver on the Tongue is More Beneficial than Silver in the Pocket.” Such subjects as: “Silent Influences”, “Do Noble Things, Not Dream Them All Day Long”, “To the Stars Through Difficulties”, “The World is Sunny to the Man Who Makes the Money”, and “Only the Night Brings Out the Stars”, were eloquently discussed by both boys and girls. The word “eloquently” is used advisedly for the boys relied on the learned C. K. Henderson, while the girls trudged out to Mrs. Abner Hogg as soon as their subjects were assigned.
In 1903, Mr. W. T. Garrettt was elected Superintendent and served until 1907. Prof. J. E. Purks was elected in 1907 and served as Superintendent of Schools for 42 years, resigning January 15, 1948, due to failing health. Mr. Purks was really the founder of the present Cedartown Public School System. It was under his direction and planning that the school grew from one building to the present site buildings. In January, 1948, Mr. L. H. Gray, forever coach and high school principal, was elected superintendent and is still serving in this capacity.
In 1887, our schools consisted of five teachers and approximately 175 pupils. In 1907, there were ten white teachers and approximately 375 pupils, two colored teachers and approximately 136 pupils. By 1949 our schools had grown to 70 white teachers and 2,125 pupils, twelve colored teachers and 375 pupils. Our first graduating class in 1891 consisted of three pupils, the class of 1,949 graduated 106, making a total of 2,401 pupils graduated from this school.
As the enrollment grew steadily it was necessary to enlarge the original building and erect new ones. They were constructed in this order: In 1887, the College Street School; in 1909, the Gibson Street School; in 1915, the High School, which burned the same year, but was rebuilt in 1916; the original Cedar Hill School (colored); the College Street Junior High School, in 1922; the Third Street School, in 1932.
The Purks Junior High School, which Mr. Purks lovingly referred to as his “brainchild”, was completed in 1949. This is one of the most modern school buildings in Georgia and was named in honor of Mr. Purks. During Mr. Gray’s administration a physical education building has been completed, joined to Purks Junior High and the High School by an arcade.
The curriculum of our school has changed with existing conditions. In 1925 the Home Economics and Commercial courses were added. In 1942 a manual arts department was added. A manual arts building for this department was completed in 1950.
All these years the school has played a vital part in the growth of Cedartown. Generations of public-spirited citizens have exemplified the spirit of cooperation, friendliness, and progressiveness instilled in them by Cedartown’s public schools.