FOLKSTON’S OLD HIGH SCHOOL BUILDING
An angry editorial rang out from the little county paper in September 1913 and startled the readers. Editor F.M. deGraffenreid had decided that this was the time for Folkston parents to do something about the decaying, dilapidated wooden building it called a school. Lecturing them in plain language, he said “The citizens of the community should put forth extra efforts to give Professor J.E. Roberts a place to work in – a decent building! Perhaps a new building can’t be accomplished this term, but a great deal can be done about the grounds which should make things show up better around the old shack, until the parents here arise from their slumbers and build a respectable school building for their children.” Mr. DeGraffenreid had no way of knowing that within six months a roaring fire would destroy this old building and two years later a brand new brick school would take its place.
When the flames devoured the school’s property of books, organ, desks and furniture in April 1914, it also destroyed the paraphernalia of the members of the Knights of Pythias, the Masonic Lodge and the Woodmen of the World, for these organizations used the upper floor of the building for their meetings.
Within a month of the disastrous fire, a community meeting was held in the courthouse, which resulted in a decision to build another school. By the month of May it was decided to rebuild with white pressed brick instead of wood, and by August Contractor William O’Neil’s work was going on at a rapid pace. Because of the construction, opening day for the new school year was delayed until the middle of November for the enrollment of the 100 scholars, which included elementary through high school students.. Mrs. B.F. Alexander was principal and her assistants were Miss Charlotte Cushing [White] and Miss Julia Belle deGraffenreid [Pearce].
The new school building complete with a wire fence surrounding it, and a well on the south side was now the pride of the town. It was a magnificent structure with five large schoolrooms and a Knights of Pythias lodge room upstairs. New furniture had been installed including desks and large wall blackboards. The building committee, composed of three of the most prominent men of Folkston at that time, B.G. McDonald, T.L. Pickren and Ben Scott, constructed the school for a total cost of $5,400.00.
The first term of the brand new school closed in May 1915 with an afternoon ceremony, as there was only one graduate that year, T.L. Pickren, Jr. By September young Pickren was already at work teaching the 25 pupils at the Mills District School, east of Folkston.
Nineteen years after the completion of the school, 1934, in the middle of the economic depression, a federal works project created jobs for local unemployed men, who learned the masonry trade while covering the original white with a layer of bright red brick. It gave the building a completely new look.
The 91-year-old building is a pitiful sight now, but holds precious memories for many citizens of our county.
SOURCES: Many articles in 1913, 1914, 1915 and 1934 Charlton County Heralds; Conversations with Mrs. Doris Wright Askew and Mrs. Pearl Wright Davis.
---Lois Barefoot Mays