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Back to school: Oak Hill program celebrates 20 years

Jean Smith, Katy Rosolowski and Phyllis Davlin (middle) share memories. (Photos by Lisa Whaley)



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Memories came a-calling at Oak Hill School in Jonesborough Sunday, as the historic one-room schoolhouse celebrated 20 years of its heritage education program with a reception and open house.

“My aunt that raised me taught school here,” said Jim Brant, as he looked around the bright green interior of the school that he attended with his aunt as a small boy. “I was born in ‘33 and it was before I started school so probably 1937 I’m thinking.

“They had a rod through there and they had a curtain. And the lower grades sat on one side and the higher grades sat on the other side.”

“I just run around,” he added with a grin.

Oak Hill School still stands today.

The school was built in 1886 and was originally located in the Knob Creek area of Johnson City. It was a part of the Washington County School System until the 1950s, educating students in first through eighth grades.

The building was moved to Jonesborough in the 1990s to save the school and is now the largest artifact in the collection of the Jonesborough & Washington County History Museum. It’s also become an invaluable historical resource for local schools.

“Our main goal is preserving this history and saving this building for future generations,” explained Anne G’Fellers Mason, acting director for the Heritage Alliance, the organization that oversees the school. “It was such an important part of Knob Creek, that community history and, of course, the history of one-room schoolhouses.”

The heritage education program that was being celebrated on that day, Oct. 13, is an important part of the school’s legacy, according to Mason.

“We really wanted intentionally to have that experiential learning piece and atmosphere,” Mason said.

Jill Sauceman, who was also at the celebration, was the author given the responsibility all those years ago of coming up with the curriculum for the program.

“I always say this is my baby because it actually took nine months from the first word to the last word on the page,” Sauceman said.

One of the challenges, she remembers, was deciding on a time period for the program.

“It just so happened while I was working on it, Ruth Broyles came in with a box full of literature and manuals from Washington County School System,” Sauceman recalled. “Some of them were well over 100 years old.

“I went through it and found a manual for 1892….It had everything I needed for 1892 for Washington County Schools”

That decided it, she said. And to this day, when students walk into the school, they walk into a 1892 classroom, from curriculum to clothing to appropriate behaviors.

“To think it’s still going,” Sauceman said, shaking her head. “It’s just amazing.”

Jean Smith, too, has felt the rapid passage of time. Twenty years ago, she was the University School teacher leading the first class through the program. Today, she volunteers at the school.

“This is something that fits right down my alley,” Smith said. “First of all, I’m a retired teacher and I’m a retired fourth grade teacher. And so the social studies content was always my favorite subject…

“It was a perfect living history experience for them.”

Of course, for many of Sunday’s visitors, like Brant, this event was more of a chance to step back into their own classroom histories.

Katy Rosolowski was on hand to give her mother, Phyllis Davlin, a look into the past, if not a Washington County past.

“I loved this,” Davlin said. “It brought back memories.”

According to Rosolowski, the one-room schoolhouse reminded her mother of visiting schools with her father.

“My sweet mama grew up in rural central Illinois in a little tiny town,” she explained. “My grandad, her father, was a teacher and became superintendent of schools. He would go visit all the one-room school houses. This would have been in the mid to late ‘30s.

“Sometimes mom, who was the only girl in the family, would get to go with him on a Saturday with a little box camera, because grandad would take pictures of the school house and sometimes the teacher. That is her connection.”

For Cassandra Mabe, the visit was an opportunity to remember her mother, as well as her own ties to the old school.

“My mother was Agnes Pritchett,” Mabe said. “She taught here from 1946-1947, the year I was born. She walked to school every day.”

As the teacher, Mabe said, her mother would make lunch for the children each school day.

“And she said some of the children were so poor they came barefoot to school.”

Of course for Brant, the historic school is still all about being a little 4-year-old boy, romping around his aunt’s classroom and being charged with the task of bringing in the water for all the thirsty school children..

“I’d go to the spring house with some of the older boys,” Brant recalled, then paused.

“That spring house is still there,” he said.