Forgotten Trails: Term paper extols influence of superintendents

Published 5:25 am Wednesday, August 8, 2007

By Staff
The following comes from a history of Escambia County which was written in 1934 by the late Ethel Holmes as a term paper while at Alabama College in Montevallo.
W.S. Neal served 30 years as Superintendent of the county and his stamp is still upon the school system of the county. He was born in Pickens County, March 31, 1843, and died in Brewton, February 1, 1920. He received his education at Selma in a school conducted by the Rev. D.C.B. Connerly. He enlisted in the Confederate Army on April 1, 1862 as a private and served with distinction later in General Hood's Signal Service Corps of the Confederate States at Fredericksburg, Virginia, until the siege of Richmond. He was paroled at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. After the war he settled in Monroe County and engaged in teaching and farming until about 1880 when he moved to Brewton where he was elected County Superintendent of Education. He was an elder in the Presbyterian Church for more than 25 years.
Perhaps no other person deserves more credit for the establishment of high schools in Alabama than W.S. Neal of Brewton. He went before the legislature with a plea for secondary education at public expense for Escambia County with the result that Gov. W.D. Jelks signed an act on March 5, 1903, to establish a high school for the county. This school was located at Atmore. With the exception of the Congressional District Agricultural Schools, this was the first free public high school outside of the larger cities of the state. It was established four years before the statewide county high school law was enacted.
The first building had four classrooms, the second six classrooms and an auditorium, a principal's office, a hospital room and sanitary plumbing throughout. The auditorium of the second had a seating capacity of 355, the present will hold 725. The original school opened with 30 pupils, the enrollment now is around 400. The school now provides for vocational training, the practical sciences with well-equipped laboratories, health and physical education, commercial courses and fine arts.
Mr. Neal was succeeded by Mr. John B. O'Bannon, who served as Superintendent for nine years. He was born in Monroe County on October 21, 1858 and died in Brewton in 1932. He received his education in the public schools of Brewton and the high school at Greenville, Ala., which was then the only high school between Montgomery and Mobile. He was first employed by J.S. Stallworth Company of Brewton as &#8220log man” but soon after he finished high school he established a mercantile business in Brewton and did a traveling business, with all kinds of merchandise in Escambia, Covington and Conecuh Counties and parts of Florida.
In 1883 Mr. O'Bannon established a school where the home of Mrs. Emma McGowin is now located, with Mrs. McGowin, who was Miss Emma Rankin, and Miss Hattie Saltoman, who later became Mr. James L. Sowell, as assistant teachers. He purchased the bell which still hangs in the grammar school building and which was used until recently when the electric signal system was installed. In 1903 Mr. O'Bannon was elected County Superintendent of Education, after which he was appointed to fill the unexpired term of T.S. Sowell as county treasurer. He later moved to Appleton, eight miles north of Brewton, where he was engaged in farming and merchandising until 1920 when he was elected tax collector. He was a member of the Universalist Church, Knights of Pythias, Odd Fellows and was Master of Masons for 29 years.
At the time of his death, he was tax collector of the county. Escambia County was one of the first to levy a county tax for schools, having levied a two-mill tax under a Special Act of the Legislature of 1896, five years before the Constitution of 1901 authorized a one-mill county tax, and 19 years before the Legislature of 1915 submitted an amendment under which all counties have since voted three mills for schools.”
Since the time Escambia County was made a county, the people have been interested in education. This is proven by the fact that no educational measure submitted to the voters of Escambia County has ever been defeated.
For a number of years it has been the aim of the citizens of Escambia County to have a high school within reach of every child, and to date five accredited high schools have been located in different parts of the county. They are the Escambia County High School in Atmore, T.R. Miller High School in Brewton, McCullough in the extreme west end, Flomaton in the southern part of the county and W.S. Neal in East Brewton, which is the central part.
There are three accredited junior high schools, namely Damascus, Wallace and Huxford. The extended transportation system of the county now reaches practically every community.
In 1931 the county employed 135 white teachers, 40 bus drivers, and 33 colored teachers. In line with the other phases of educational advancement, the county has an elementary supervisor, Miss Elsie Schurter and a child welfare worker, Mrs. Aurelius Hagood, who is associated with the schools.
Mr. O.C. Weaver, the present County Superintendent of Education, was born in Monterey, Ala. in 1885 and received his education in the schools of Monterey and at the Southern University at Greensboro, from which he graduated with an A.B. degree in 1909.
After completing his education, Mr. Weaver taught in the Camden schools eight years, before being made superintendent of that school, a position which he held for six years. In 1927 he came to Brewton as County Superintendent of Education, the position which he still holds. He is a member of the Methodist Church.
T.R. Miller High School, now a part of the public school in Brewton, was formerly a private school for boys and girls, known as Brewton Collegiate Institute. It was established in 1887, burned in 1894 and when it was rebuilt it became a public school.”
This will be continued next week. It was a little too much to put into one column. Give me a call if you have a story you'd like to share or email me at Happy hunting.

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