Zion Hill School

The late Bernice B. Dawson shared this photo of Zion Hill School several years ago. The modern new building provides the backdrop for the students and teachers. Apparently two teachers were employed at the school.

In today’s world, leaders in education and government face seemingly insurmountable challenges regarding the coming school year and the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

While, to my knowledge, problems of this nature have never presented themselves before, it does seem that providing our children with the best educational opportunities possible has always come with challenges.

Imagine, if you will, a time when there was no lavish government funding for the building and furnishing of schools. A time when no bus service stood ready to carry our children from the remotest parts of Cocke County to a modern school. A time when one school served all eight grades with the greater part of the student body coming from two or three households.

In 1913, Cocke County citizens lived with these problems. The following article, from the Sept. 4, 1913 issue of Plain Talk, describes what the residents of one community did in order to provide learning opportunities for their offspring.


Enterprising Citizens do Work Themselves and Erect a Handsome Building

Some months ago, Tom Dawson, Esq., representing the Zion Hill community, appeared before the Board of Education, asking for a new school house to be located somewhere in the Zion Hill vicinity. The board modestly declined to grant this house, on the grounds of extreme shortness in money for school purposes. Mr. Dawson returned home, talked the matter over with his people and at the next meeting of the Board appeared again with a new proposition, in which he said that the people would do practically all the work and would build the house at a cost to the county of about one half the usual price. The Board granted him the authority to build the house and gave him two carpenters as chief workmen at a cost of $2.00 per day. A few days ago Mr. Dawson made his report to the Superintendent that the house was finished. His itemized statement of the entire cost to the county was only $341.00. The house has been inspected and is found to be a model one-room public school building. It is square in dimension and will comfortably accommodate from seventy to eighty pupils. It is painted white, trimmed in French gray on outside, and French gray on inside, is seated with modern school desks and affords all the conveniences of a model one-room school. Tom Dawson, Esq., Jim Dawson, and Billy Fox acted as building committee. It is due to the untiring efforts of these men, assisted by A.J. Stephenson, Moses Dawson, and others cooperating with them, that this magnificent school building was secured at this time, at such a small cost to the county. In this case the people cut the timber, hauled it to the mill, hauled all the lumber from the mill to the ground necessary all necessary material from Newport, made the boards and covered the house, did lots of other work, all free of charge to the county. They wanted a school building and meant to have it and they got it without much grumbling.

The kind of house they built has been costing the county, by contract, $625.00. This is a practical demonstration of how any community may secure a good, new house at an earlier date than the Board of Education may be able to give same.

Through the kindness of a local firm, of this place, the public school children of Cocke county will be supplied, each with an individual drinking cup. The order was given a month ago but some difficulty was had in finding a company to furnish them. The order, however, was placed several days ago and the 5,000 cups are expected soon. Each cup will bear the advertisement of the giver. This is a kindness that the patrons of the school should appreciate.

In 1913, over 80 school buildings dotted the county, most of which were one-room structures, such as the one described in this article. Today the $341 price tag would be $8,122.60, an amount I’m sure Directors of Schools Manney Moore and Sandra Burchette would welcome if they could build new schools for such a paltry amount.

Mr. Dawson and his fellow workers obviously were devoted to their children and willing to do whatever it took to assure their chances of a quality education. They spoke up, but they also ponied up. Someone would have had to provided the timber, others the hours of labor.

Schools in 1913, such as Zion Hill, provided a nucleus for the community, a place for holiday celebrations, Christmas pageants, and even church services. More than one school building sheltered the children Monday through Friday but then served as a house of worship on Sunday. The late Mabel Proffitt told me about Pleasant Valley School’s practice of moving the desks and other items on Friday afternoon to prepare for the Sunday services, and then having to return them to their appropriate spots early Monday morning.

My mother, who spent her first four and a half years as a student at Tannery School, recalled school being dismissed one day for a funeral, which was held in the school building. Of course, most of the children stayed around for the funeral; it was the first time my mother had ever seen a corpse.

Another point made in the story which I found interesting concerned the “individual drinking cup(s)” each county school child was to receive.

I can just imagine the excitement and pride many children experienced upon receiving such a gift. In the days of fetching water from a nearby creek or spring and then sharing a dipper, dangers of typhoid hovered ever close. Having one’s own drinking vessel was a giant step forward in providing the children with safe water to drink.

Over the decades, the 80-plus schools gradually fell by the wayside with improved roads and the advent of the bus service. We now have nine county elementary, two county high, and one city school in Cocke County. Tremendous progress has been made, and let us hope and pray that the 2020-2021 school year will continue along this same route.

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