The Education of Ms. Jeannie: A Move to the Schoolhouse

Happy New Year dear readers! Ms. Jeannie has missed you, missed you, missed you! It has been several months since the last post in October, and in that interim between then and now, a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity has been occurring in the land of Ms. Jeannie Ology.

Indie was quite the little helper!
Indie was quite the little helper!

Most notably, there was a move to a new house and a new town.

As Ms. Jeannie said goodbye to the garden and the greenhouse, and the friends she made of the birds and the butterflies and the bald-faced hornets of the last few years,  she said hello to a history-soaked house and a bustling university town.

This was not a move to just any old house – with luck as a tour guide, Ms. Jeannie found a converted two room schoolhouse built in the 1930’s. Here’s a vintage picture of her new abode…

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Not too much has changed in appearance from that picture to today, except maybe the yard is a little more tame:) All the character and all the history are still exactly where they are supposed to be and that is pretty fantastic.

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Originally part of one of the largest cotton plantations in the County, the schoolhouse was built along with a church and a commissary building for the plantation slaves.  There is still quite a bit of farmland surrounding the house, especially across the street, so it is not hard to imagine what the scenery might have looked like 100 years ago…

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Replace the wheat fields above with acres and acres of cotton and knock down most of the trees and that would be the agricultural landscape here of the 1800 and 1900’s. While the church still remains open and active next door, the original schoolhouse caught fire and burned down completely. In 1936 it was rebuilt and continued to be operated as a public school for black children up until the 1960’s when desegregation put it out of commission entirely.

Ms. Mary Willingham was a former student of the school house…

Photo courtesy of the WPA Federal Writers' Project Interviews
Photo courtesy of the WPA Federal Writers’ Project Interviews

In 1939 she granted an interview about her life for the WPA Federal Writers Project. When asked about her education in the schoolhouse, in particular, this is what she had to say…

“So it’s my schoolin’ you wants to know about now?” she asked. “I got as far as the second grade. That’s how come I can’t talk proper now; I didn’t have enough schoolin’… us chillun went to school there during the week, and to church and Sunday school there on Sundays. That’s the way colored folks done in them days.”

While it is unclear why Mary had to leave school after second grade, we do know that the process of educating black children in the rural South both before and after the Civil War was not an easy task on many fronts.  Back in the 20th century the original schoolhouse was considered primitive by many standards. By 1915, the children still had no desks or even a cloak room to hang their coats and they would have just sat on benches lining the wall. Black teachers made 1/3 of the salary of white teachers, which meant their monthly take home pay was about $25.00 and if white teachers were teaching black children, they would have had to tolerate a lot of ridicule from the white community for their professional choices.

All this seems pretty unfair from both sides, but this schoolhouse, in particular, was actually considered pretty great back in its day because it was in a good location, had ample grounds for playing and the exterior was painted and therefore not subject to rot and mildew.

Inside, the school house is laid out like this…

Thanks to Mr. Jannie Ology for providing the drawing:)
Thanks to Mr. Jannie Ology for providing the drawing:) Little nods to the buildings history are everywhere from the “house” key…

little nods to the buildings history are everywhere from the house key…

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to the all-wood walls…

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to the giant 4′ foot by 5′ foot chalkboard in the kitchen…

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6′ foot tall windows line both the front and back of the house and 11′ foot ceilings make all 1300 sqf feel large and airy. Two pot-bellied stoves serve as heat…

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exactly what did the job way back in 1936. A few massive pieces of furniture have also been left behind from classroom days which now serve as bookshelves for Ms. Jeannie’s vintage book club

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It seems fitting to be surrounded by so many books and to be managing a book club while living in a historic schoolhouse.   It makes  Ms. Jeannie thankful that access to education and to books and to higher learning for all is so much more accessible today than it was in the 1800 and 1900’s. Living in such a space that encouraged minds to build more intelligent futures is very inspirational –  whether it be a 7 year old Mary or twenty-something year old school teacher or an eventual history-loving book club tenant. Education continues…

Boyo quite agrees. He has learned a lot himself moving from the wild back yard that introduced him to Ms. Jeannie in the first place and settling in to his new post as babysitter of the books in the new house…

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As you can see education extends to all here:) Ms. Jeannie is really looking forward to sharing a variety of new adventures with you in the new year… in her new house… in her new town. Happy January dear readers, Ms. Jeannie’s glad to be back with you all:)

 

Southern Settlers and How They Started

The South has a way with architecture that is both storied and sentimental. From the massive columned plantation houses all the way down the line to the smallest cabins and cottages, there is penetrable emotion that can be felt in every crack in the plaster wall, every creak in the wide pine floor board and every cobweb rooming in a quiet corner.

Built before the Civil War
Antebellum means built before the Civil War

Most people when they think of a distinct type of Southern architecture think of Scarlett O’Hara’s beloved Tara…

Tara Plantation
Tara Plantation

or Ashley Wilkes’ stately Twelve Oaks…

Twelve Oaks Plantation
Twelve Oaks Plantation

… big, white columned affairs that boasted the capacity to house a family of fifty and stretched dignified and elegant  for miles and miles.

But when Ms. Jeannie first moved south she was surprised to learn that the first type of houses in Georgia were not these massive cotton boom-era wonders ( those didn’t come about until the mid-1800’s). Instead houses in the South started out much more humble with materials and design that seemed more suited to the cold, snowy climates of Maine or Vermont than the hot and humid sub-tropics of the deep South.  This, dear readers, is what the first houses in Georgia looked like…

Log Cabin built in 1798
Log blockhouse fort built in 1793. Fort Yargo Park, Georgia

Descended from the landscapes of German and Scotch-Irish emigrants who made up the first gene pool in Georgia, log cabins and log blockhouses were erected out of familiarity of  what was left behind in the old country. Made from local pine so prevalent in this part of the country, this type of housing also offered super strong  protection  from the elements, from wildlife and from raids by local Native American tribes.

It was plain. It was sensible. There were few conveniences and absolutely no frivolities inside – everything that belonged was basic and functional. Families were large, even in those small confines, and to say that quarters were close may be the just about the biggest understatement. Most often, log houses were made of just one room with a fireplace that would serve as heater and partial cookstove. Luxury meant two rooms in a  straightforward room-over-room style. Imagine 14 family members of varying ages in just two small rooms.  Could we survive such feats today?

These are interior photos of the blockhouse…

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Main floor fireplace on one side…
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…functional utility on the other other side.
second floor sleeping quarters or storage
Second floor sleeping quarters or storage

Windows were scarce and small, none bigger than 2′ feet x 2′ feet, which is stifling to think about in the hottest days of summer.

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And firing holes were strategically placed throughout in case the home front needed defending…

The precursor to the front door fisheye lens!

But in the long run,  it didn’t matter so much about all the cramped spacing and the lack of amenity, because hardly anyone stayed inside in the rural South in the late 1700’s.  Life was lived outside…working, eating, cooking, caring for livestock and tending to gardens.

The block house that Ms. Jeannie visited sat directly across from a beautiful swampy lake, which made it seem like an ideal and promising setting for a pioneer spirit.

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A fire pit, complete with roasting spit and log stools took full advantage of the view and Ms. Jeannie could hear the whisperings of centuries old stories in the trees as they swayed in the breeze.

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Ms. Jeannie would like her own set of stools just like this!
Ms. Jeannie would like her own set of stools just like this!

The vegetable and flower gardens were kept close to the house…

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The last of the season's watermelons...
The last of the season’s watermelons…

And a smoke house where meats like venison, wild boar, turkey and dove were were cured sat just behind the cabin.

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The surrounding natural woodlands provided fodder, food and fun as well as danger and disease.

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Walking around this historic home-site Ms. Jeannie couldn’t help but get the sense that things happened here. The hands of hard work could be felt on her skin as she walked between the buildings and sat for a minute on the stumps at the fire pit.  She could imagine babies being born, and chickens walking the grass, she could imagine weddings on the lawn and burials out back. She peered into the woods that surrounded the site and looked for Indian eyes to peer back at her. She imagined the glow of the camp-fire at night and could hear the cicadas sing dreamers to sleep in the loft upstairs.  She could also feel the fright of being exposed and vulnerable to a forest of  darkness dangers – the shrill cry of the bobcat and the ruddy hiccup of  the wild boar.  And she could imagine how this lifestyle must have been thrilling, and scary, tiring and gratifying, heartbreaking and hard. In short she could imagine life as it is for almost every person  – the highs and the lows, the joy and the pain. Not much has changed in that department in over 225 years.

Nurtured within the primitive confines of this simple  log cabin, thoughts, ideas and off-spring grew up and grew out into a region that eventually redefined the very meaning of home and the purpose of house. With future generations, Southern dwellings would grow larger and more refined. They would become status symbols of wealth and industry, keepers of history and reminders of how the nation has changed both mentally, physically and emotionally over the course of 200 years.

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And here it still stands, the lone  little log cabin that has survived centuries and wars, dozens of families and thousands of visitors. Here it is the noble log cabin that started the South. Aren’t we lucky to be able to visit and learn from such a site?!