HAPPY 100TH BIRTHDAY, SAXON HEIGHTS SCHOOL!
For all of the last one hundred years it has been there. Sitting on a hill under the shade of a canopy of mighty oaks, Saxon Heights Elementary School has been the place where children of Dublin have gone to learn their ABCs, reading, writing and arithmetic. This is the story of the early years of one of Georgia's oldest existing elementary schools.
Near the end of the first decade of the 20th Century, Dublin's growth shifted to the southwest along Smith Street in an area known as "Quality Hill." The citizens in the area demanded a school on their side of town. The school board explored two options. One site was on the extreme southern end of town and the other site ,which was chosen, was on a hill along Smith Street, just west of Saxon and Pine Streets. The city council had the final say and opted to purchase the latter site at a savings of five hundred dollars and with the enthusiastic endorsement of school board chairman Frank G. Corker.
In mid September 1908, the acquisition of the land from Captain Thomas H. Rowe was consummated.. The board of education decided to carry on the practice of naming schools after a street on which they fronted. Though commonly called Saxon Street School, the correct name is Saxon Heights School, named for the area in which the historic institution stands. Rowe's second wife was named Emma Saxon Guyton Rowe, who the city honored with the naming of Saxon Street. At the time, Smith Street was not opened to Telfair Street, so the primary approach was along Grady Street to the front of the building, where its prominence could easily be seen from Telfair Street.
Immediately plans were formulated to extend Grady and Palmer Streets to give access to students as far north as Bellevue Avenue. The new building had to be ready to occupy by the beginning of the spring term in order to relieve the overcrowding in the high school building, which already housed an elementary division. Six thousand dollars was set aside for the construction out of the twelve thousand dollars remaining in the bond fund, an earlier version of the current S.P.L.O.S.T. fund.
The plans were changed and C.N. Cooper and his large force of hands didn't begin construction until early May 1909. A fourth entrance was added and the bathrooms were removed to underneath the building. By mid-July, the exterior had been substantially completed. Work on the interior was progressing at a rapid rate.
Though the new building was modeled after Rev. George C. Thompson's design of Johnson Street School, the interior was different and was built at a cost of an additional one thousand dollars. There were four large class rooms on each floor of the two story building. Each story had a large hallway and cloak rooms. Originally heat was provided by stoves, but the building was designed to accommodate a steam or hot air system in the future. A large auditorium was built in the rear of the second floor.
By the first of September, the facility was almost ready to open. City Street Superintendent S.J. Hattaway began the sprucing of the grounds. Trees were trimmed, grass was mowed and grounds were leveled to put the finishing touches on what was billed as the most handsome school in the state. Of course the people of Dublin were slightly prejudiced and rightly proud of their new school.
Exactly at nine o'clock on the morning of September 20, 1909, the doors were opened and the students went to their assigned classrooms before marching upstairs to the auditorium where their parents and school officials were waiting. Professor D.A. Walker, the school's first principal, initiated the opening exercises by leading the congregation in singing All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name.
Mrs. W.E. Harvill was there and reported that a fine talk was made on the importance of good school work. After that, one hundred and five pupils and their parents were given an orientation before the first lessons began in the city's third white elementary school. Two schools, one on North Decatur in the Scottsville neighborhood and another on Taylor Street, housed the black children of the city. Though the opening enrollment was sixty to seventy less than school officials had anticipated, the Superintendent Roland E. Brooks was confident that the actual number would rise as soon as all the crops were harvested from the fields.
Professor Walker taught the seventh grade while not attending to his duties as principal. His staff included Sarah Howard, who taught both the fifth and sixth grades. Minie May Green taught fourth grade, Mrs. C.E. Campbell was in charge of the third grades and Zoe Hightower was the second grade teacher. Alma Carrere was given the assignment of teaching the brand-new students in the first grade. Mary Hicks served as the school's first supernumerary, when and where her services were needed.
After just three months, the seventh grade was dropped. Professor Walker accepted a position at Lanier High in Macon. He was replaced by Mrs. E.C. Campbell, the city's first female principal, who did double duty by teaching the third grade. Though the appointment was supposed to be temporary until a permanent male replacement was hired, Mrs. Campbell served the school well for a number of years. Ida Belle Williams, who would later become one of the state's top teachers, took over the fifth grade. Carrie Shropshire became the new first grade teacher for the 1910-11 year. Schellie Prince was appointed as supernumerary and Mrs. George T. Rowe was assigned to summer school.
Among the other teachers in the early years were Hope Chavous, Ethel Hall, Gertrude Pierce, Florine Deese, Ethel Hall, Nancy Duggan, Dora Belle Shewmake, Mrs. R.Y. Beckham, Ruth Smith, Julia Porter, Nell Johnson, and Josephine Harrison.
Today, school fund raisers realize thousands of dollars with parents selling stuff to their friends and relatives. The parents organized the Saxon Heights School Improvement Club. Nine decades ago the students of Saxon Heights School were trying to raise money for a Victrola. They sold lunches and candy, realizing a nice profit. For fun they put on a "tacky party," minstrel show, and races. The students staged a show featuring impersonations of the faculty. The admission charge was ten cents.
The original building was used until the mid 1950s when it was replaced by a modern brick structure, which was substantially destroyed by a fire in the mid 1970s. The burned building was remodeled and expanded into the current facility.
Today, Saxon Heights Elementary School is recognized as one of the top elementary schools in the State of Georgia for its outstanding programs and the academic achievement of eleven consecutive years of achieving AYP, a mark unsurpassed by any school in the entire State of Georgia. So here's a cheer to the Shooting Stars of Saxon Heights, Happy Birthday! May your second century be even better.