STONEY HILL SCHOOL
By Mertie Hawkins Connelly
Contributed by Phil Spotts [Newberry County Historical Society, 'Bulletin']
Contributed to Newberry County Genealogy Trails, 2013, by Edith Greisser.
Stoney Hill is located in the lower section of Newberry County, South Carolina. It is also in the upper area of the Dutch Fork section of the state.
The early settlers of the mid-seventeen hundreds were attracted to the swift flowing streams and rivers, the tall virgin forests, the low rolling hills and the stoney fertile soil. Consequently, the name Stoney Hill was well chosen and appropriate.
Many different types of people settled here. English, German, Irish, Scotts, Welsh and perhaps others. In the beginning, these people had strong feelings about keeping to their own kind. A German dared not marry an Irishman or visa versa. One could be disinherited or disowned. For example, Mertie Connelly's great-great-great-grandfather met with such a dilemma. He was an Irishman and married a German girl. Consequently, her father went to considerable legal efforts to set up his daughter where she could own property without her husband having any part of it.
Nevertheless, love conquered all. The young people in the community ventured back and forth among each other, regardless of their ancestry. They married, raised families, and exchanged business relationships until now we have a citizenry that is equal to or superior to any you will find anywhere.
When the early settlers arrived, there was much work to be done - trees to fell, homes to build, land to clear and seeds to sow. It is little wonder that· education was sadly neglected at this time. . Any schooling that was had was usually in the home taught by one of the parents who often invited the neighbor's children to participate.
In 1828, St. Luke's Church was organized and a building was erected. This was indeed an anchor for the community. The people were beginning to recognize the importance of education and the benefits that follow from the acts of cultivated minds. In 1868, a convention meeting in Charleston stated that one of the most important problems confronting the delegates was that of public education. It was suggested that a state superintendent be elected and a county commissioner for each county. Counties could be divided into school districts and the public schools supported by a state appropriation and a poll tax levied upon every male adult. Despite many obstacles, the educational opportunities of the state improved greatly.
There was a post office at the crossroads behind the present (1997) Berley Hunter home. As a child, Mertie Connelly often heard the old folks talk of going to the crossroads for the mail, so she assumed this was the name of the post office. Only recently did she learn the real name when Pastor Robert Sain showed her some mail in the church library addressed to St. Luke's Post Office. Now that made more sense. This post office was tended by Marcellus "Sud" Lester. Big Creek School was located on the right side of the road, heading toward the river. It was on Harmon Quarter Road close to where the present Jeff Boozer Road intersects with the Harmon Quarter Road. This school building was a prominent, well-built frame building. Eugene Boozer tells us that this was a two-room school. According to Ludie Mae Boozer Hunter, ten grades were taught here and two teachers were the staff. Henry Kunkle's class which included himself, Edgar Lee Dawkins, Frances Dawkins Wright and Mozelle Nichols Ringer was taught at one time by Maxie Harmon and Mrs. Ola Kuhn. Jacob Moody Bedenbaugh also taught at this school.
But the winds of change were whispering. Population had increased and the schools were becoming crowded. In 1907, an act of the General Assembly provided for the establishment of high schools. In 1913, County Superintendent of Education E. H. Aull strongly recommended that the number of school districts be reduced and one and two teacher schools be consolidated and trustees appointed. The passage of a law in 1924 was of vital importance. It required each county to use the three-mill constitutional property tax and to levy a four-mill school tax. State Superintendent James H. Hope, in his report, stated that all high schools operate for nine months instead of the six or seven months the old schools had. An eleventh grade needed to be added to meet the demands of the colleges.
George A. Minick was the timekeeper for the contractor and Eva Minick Pugh recollects her father coming home with the papers and ciphering out the hours and pay for the employees. Frank Cook remembers that Ben Cole Nichols was amazed that the sills, joists, and beams were measured and cut before they finished digging the foundation. You could call that the precision and assembly work of the time as everything fit neatly into place when assembled.
According to Dwight Hawkins' memory, the school building was built on the former property of Mark Rankin. This land was conveyed to Newberry County School District No. 13 by deed of Mrs. Juanita Rankin Clark, dated August 8, 1924. This new, broad, expansive building was like no other in the community. The patrons were very delighted and proud of it. There were six large classrooms, wide halls, a library, a storage room, an auditorium, stage and dressing or holding rooms behind the stage.
The teacherage, located across the road from the new school, was the former home of Mark Rankin. First it was remodeled and then an elongated wing added to each side. This made an attractive home for the superintendent, his family, and the boarding teachers. At one time there were four teachers to a room. Can you imagine the hustle and bustle of getting ready for school each day? Grace Hare Lester tells us that she boarded there when Thomas Cooper was superintendent and he had a little boy named Tommy. He came to wake her each morning, telling her it was time to get up and prepare for school. Many teachers also boarded with the families of C. C. Boozer and Raymond Hunter.
Since the school was not ready to open for the 1925-26 session, pupils started back to school at their original schools. When opening day came (sometime in the '25 - '26 school year) St. Luke's students marched over the road as a group to meet Big Creek students, uniting to continue their education at Stoney Hill School.
Sixteen units of study were required in order to graduate from a high school. The school's enrollment had to meet criteria and many postgraduates returned to help keep the attendance up to sustain a high school. Some of these were Eva Minick Pugh, Ethel Nobles Pugh, Dwight Hawkins, Dudley Hawkins, and Mable Hawkins Chapman.
With the depression of the late twenties and early thirties closing in, money was scarce. A Parent Teacher Association (P.T.A.) was formed and the parents were involved with many projects to help buy things for the school.
There were barbecues, fish fries, cake walks, box suppers and a booth at the county fair each year. The teachers also contributed their talents. Even with their long days of teaching, they planned and directed oratory contests, Maypole dances, Negro minstrels and womanless weddings. The school was indeed the heart of the community.
In the recreation line, the students excelled best at ball. Facing the school, a baseball diamond was constructed to the left, next to the woods and somewhat behind the present (1997) home of Larry and Carolyn Shealy.
There was a basketball court to the right and later one to the left of the school. These were outside sandy ball courts. Playing other teams, the Stoney Hill students looked great in their purple and gold jerseys. Softball was played on the front lawn and a tennis court put up near the teacherage. These boys and girls were really good at playing ball. Years later one could pick them out on the teams at Prosperity and Mid-Carolina by their expertise.
Much later, across the road in front of the schoolhouse, a new ball diamond was laid out, complete with bleachers. Some of the high school boys and a number of postgraduates formed a team, joining the Dutch Fork league of the district. They played good ball, winning many playoffs. Chapin was their closest rival and it seems this has followed down through the years, as playing Chapin is always a challenge. People came from all over the community to see these games. There was parking in the school yard, along both sides of the road, and around the ball field. You might say this could have been voted the entertainment of the week.
During the course of Stoney Hill School, many romances blossomed and advanced into long, happy marriages. Often a union between childhood sweethearts is the most lasting, as they seem to have much in common, considering their upbringing and culture.
Linus W. Bedenbaugh was perhaps the first superintendent, coming from St. Luke's school to finish out the term when Stoney Hill first opened. Next to hold the office was Erwin Montgomery. Our own Mrs. Grace Hare Lester came to be with us for the 1926-27 school years. She taught for a number of years and later married Eugene Lester. After a short sabbatical from teaching, she returned and taught a short while. For those of us who had always called her Miss Hare, it was difficult to make the change to Mrs. Lester. She is now 93 years of age (1997) and with her wisdom and outgoing personality she has been a wonderful asset to the Stoney Hill Community.
All classes assembled Monday and Friday to go into the auditorium for devotions. Scripture was read, prayers were said and songs were sung. Occasionally, one of the classes would present a skit. Other days, each class would hold its own devotions in its classroom.
Throughout the years, some of the older students were given the privilege of ringing the bell for recess or at the end of each lesson period. It took a rather strong person to pull the rope that set the bell clapper into motion. Often the rope lifted a person's feet off the floor. The students considered this a free ride and lots of fun.
Clifford Boozer built our first school bus on a 1927 Ford chassis. The seats were of the bench type, down each side of the bus body and across the back. Another bench-like seat was attached down the middle of the bus. This homemade bus was driven by Clifford Boozer in 1928. He believed it may have been the first school bus operated in the state. Willie Lester also acquired a bus and they each brought two loads of children to school in the morning and delivered them home in the afternoon. Other school bus drivers later were Wilbur Hawkins, Louis Bowers, Bill Nabors, Evans Bowers, Saxon Dawkins, and Sam Pat Hawkins, Mosby Bob Dawkins and Ray Taylor By 1929 Newberry County was transporting 1108 pupils in 31 school buses. In later years high school boys were recruited for bus drivers. Waddy Nichols and Edwin Havird were the first two student drivers for Stoney Hill.
Clarence Wilson remembered a school bus accident while attending school. Unable to recall the date, he remembers Willie Lester was the bus driver at the time of the accident. He was picking up the children in the morning when he made a turn onto the present Toad Hawkins Road off the Stoney Hill Road. A car was passing the bus on the left side and caught the bus behind the motor near the bus body and Willie Lester's seat. This carried the bus into the cotton field approximately thirty feet from the road. The cotton was about four or five inches tall, thus indicating it was in the spring of the year. To the best of Clarence Wilson's knowledge, no one was seriously hurt and they were all very grateful for that. He was seated directly behind Willie Lester on one of the bench-like seats. Clifford Boozer's bus was dispatched to pick up the children, transporting them on to school. The children usually got excited when the bus got stuck on a red hill or slipped into a ditch, thinking they would miss a class. But surely those students had second thoughts about this wreck.
One afternoon in the early 30's, a fire broke out in the right front part of the school auditorium. Luckily it was discovered in time to avoid a major disaster. The charred lumber was replaced with new materials, but the patrons of the community saw clearly how this could happen anytime or anywhere.
Have you ever gone into a large, cold, damp building in freezing weather? If so, then you know how dismal that can be. There were a number of boys who made it their responsibility to do just that, building fires in the old coal-burning, pot-bellied stoves each morning. By the time the buses arrived, the rooms were warm, cozy and inviting. These boys really deserved a medal. Some of these were Darr Taylor, Boyd Rankin, George Hawkins, Phillip Spotts, Steve Shealy and Elmer Whitman. There were possibly many others. Roger Connelly remembers each member of his class bringing ten cents which the teacher collected to buy Boyd Rankin a shirt for a Christmas present to show their appreciation to him for building the fires.
A commercial business course was taught at one time at Stoney Hill. It consisted of typing and shorthand. A number of students took advantage of this course.
Electricity came in the thirties and with it much-needed improvements, the electric light being the foremost. There had been a generator installed earlier which had provided lights, but it was rather unreliable and required much attention. No more candles on Christmas trees which was a very dangerous practice. Water could be pumped without relying on someone to hand pump it for you. Of course, the children missed going in pairs to get their water. Someone had attached a long pipe with holes at certain intervals so many pupils could drink at the same time. Some of the boys had a habit of tossing their ball gloves out of the open windows, then asking permission to get water. Once outside, they retrieved the ball gloves and played "catch". They thought they were pulling the wool over the teachers' eyes but the teachers probably knew all along and were really glad to be rid of them as they taught another class.
A cannery was built for the community next to the school. Now the patrons could bring their produce and can it under pressure, which eliminated the danger of botulism poisoning. Next, a hatchery was erected where people could incubate a large number of eggs at one time. Some people who were in the business of selling chickens found this convenient.
Earl Sanford and James Lester tell of treating the school for termites. Sometime during Franklin D. Roosevelt's term as president, he signed a grant through the Civilian Conservation Corps toward the improvement of schools. Stoney Hill chose to use their share to treat the school for termites. Some of the older high school boys and some of the postgraduates helped to dig the trenches under the school where the insecticide was applied. Today, some 60 years later, the trenches are easily identifiable.
The rumblings of war were being heard in Europe. The Nazi Regime was taking over one small country after another. Eventually, the United States became involved. Most able-bodied men were inducted into the services of the United States. Because everyone seemed geared to the war effort, there was a shortage of farmers, factory workers, and teachers in communities throughout the nation. Even some pastors went into the Army as chaplains.
During those turbulent times, Myra Bowers Fellers graciously accepted the position of superintendent at Stoney Hill. Having worked in education most of her adult life, she did a great job.
The European theater of World War II came to a close in May, 1945. Roger Connelly remembers the entire student body and teachers marching to St. Luke's Church for a solemn, quite devotional service of thankful gratitude.
Three of Stoney Hill's young men gave their lives for their country - Doyle Hunter and Carrol Bedenbaugh in World War II and later Frank Morris during the Korean War. They will always be remembered in our hearts.
The winds of change were stirring again. There were those in the education system who proposed a twelfth grade be added to the high schools. One might say that World War II was the cradle of electronics.
With such a small number of students in high schools, it was not feasible to install equipment, libraries, etc. needed to meet the demands of the changing world. So after much thought, it was decided to bus the Stoney Hill High School students to Prosperity where space was made available for them as well as other area students including those of our neighboring school, O'Neal High School. With much anticipation as usual but with a sense of apprehension, the last eleventh grade class of Stoney Hill graduated in 1947.
Stoney Hill courageously carried on as an elementary school plus the junior high seventh and eighth grades. Two grades were taught in each room of the school. There were certain advantages to this arrangement. As the older grade listened to the younger class, they got a good review of their past work. On the other hand, the younger class got thoughts and ideas of what was in store for them in the future years, as they heard the older class reciting their lessons. Also it was a good time to finish your lesson for the following period or to do your homework for the next day.
If a teacher was sick or out of school for any reason, the seventh or eighth graders were sent to sit with the lower grades to keep peace and order. If a child became ill or was hurt seriously, someone, usually the superintendent, escorted them home safely to their parents. If a student was causing a problem, a "big" brother or sister was called to see if they could remedy the situation. Although siblings usually fought among themselves at home, they stuck firmly together in public.
Sometime students would slip and fall in the mud and dirt. Parents were not called in for the simple fact that there were not any telephones. If the weather was warm, they sat outside until their clothes dried or in the winter they stood by the stove, wet and miserable until the heat dried them out.
In the meantime, improvements were made. A kitchen was installed in the small storage room and a door cut to open into the southwest classroom which was used as a lunch area. Nora Hunter and Mary Ellen Hunter (mother-in-law and daughter-in-law) cooked and served delicious lunches to the scores of hungry children. When the lunchroom first opened, they used round glass (thick, breakable) plates. Eventually, they acquired the standard metal partitioned lunch tray. The milk came in the type of round glass bottles that had been used for decades. A recycling item, the milk bottles were picked up regularly, cleaned and refilled. Soon the square waxed carton took its place which was probably more convenient and sanitary.
Books, papers and paraphernalia were moved from the library to shelves in one of the classrooms, making way for bathrooms. The girls' bathroom door opened into the hall while the other, the boys', had a door cut to open into the auditorium. The older boys were allowed to burn the trash, milk cartons and other debris. Once outside, they used the time to their advantage. Since women's lib wasn't in full gear yet, the girls were very jealous because they didn't get to take part in this chore.
The girls got their chance to go outside when it came time to clean the chalkboard erasers. After dusting and brushing them, often they ended up with an eraser fight similar to a pillow fight. The wonder and imagination of children!
Edith Connelly Hite recollects having a picnic on the last day of school before summer vacation. Now it can't get any better than that! In addition to the thrill of all the good food you could eat at the picnic, thoughts were of being out of school for months - free to roam the woods, streams, and fields, free to shop, to visit, and to have fun without deadlines (maybe like homework?).
The plays and operettas continued as long as there was a school. Parents usually made the costumes which represented flowers, trees, animals, angels, fairies, Indians, etc. The children always became very excited as they dressed for their parts in the plays. The children rarely saw the shades drawn over the big windows so this, too, was a thrill. The girls put on their costumes, and then rouge and lipstick were applied to the faces, perhaps for the first time in their lives. Down the hall, the boys dressed for their parts in the plays with equal anticipation and excitement. Then the boys and girls marched around the school to the back of the stage, quietly as not to let the people in the auditorium hear them, but giggling with excitement! Now the time had come to present the story and, along with it, many cases of stage fright had also appeared. Of course, continued acting served to give the students the confidence they needed.
The stage was elaborately decorated with wild and home grown flowers. Large baskets and bowls of colorful flowers adorned the stage. Green ferns stood at certain angles and ivy, or perhaps honeysuckle, trailed around the outline of the stage. In the early years, there were two drop curtains. One showed pictures advertising businesses in the community and the nearby small town of Prosperity. The other was scenery of trees and flowers, with a walkway in the middle and a beautiful blue sky. Later a pull curtain, maroon with gold fringe and the letters "SH" in the center, was hung. This one proved somewhat easier to handle than the old one.
School continued for a number of years but the winds of change were blowing furiously this time. The county Board of Education was made an elected body and the office of County Superintendent of Education was abolished. The Board was authorized to appoint a district superintendent and a business manager. The schools were to offer more diversified curricula, enabling scholars to more readily enter the prestigious colleges of the day. There came to be only three high schools in the county-wide district: one at Whitmire, one at Newberry and one in the lower section of the county called Mid-Carolina. Mid-Carolina included students from Stoney Hill, O'Neal, Prosperity, as well as Little Mountain, Peak, and Pomaria. In 1956, the seventh and eighth graders of Stoney Hill were sent to Prosperity due to the lack of teachers. Elberta Wise Pugh, already teaching at Stoney Hill, gladly accepted the office of superintendent.
Living on the fringes of the Stoney Hill area, belonging to St. Luke's church and loving children as she did, she was always a treasure to the community.
In 1958, Stoney Hill closed and was abandoned. All of Stoney Hill's children were bused to Prosperity which had been turned into an elementary school. The old bell that had summoned pupils with its clear tone, peeled no more. The pitter-patter of feet and the swish-swish of whispering in the halls were heard no more. The lone building stood as a meaningful symbol for the hundreds of children who had received their education there.
The building was finally sold to Charles Lake for machinery and equipment storage for his turkey farm. A number of people met in late 1958 to decide the fate of the cannery and hatchery. These people were interested in a place to come together for recreation and fellowship. Ten men put up ten dollars each to purchase 1.44 acres of land which included the cannery and hatchery, thereby retaining some connection to the area where the school no longer existed. These ten men were Lindsey Bedenbaugh, Clifford Boozer, Earle Boozer, J. William Boozer, W. B. Hite, R. C. Hunter, Charles Lake, Eugene Lester, Raymond Lester, and Frank Long. For some time little was done for the buildings. A 4-H group led by Margaret Hunter, Elinor Kunkle and Rebecca Killian used and cared for the buildings.
In 1971 a group meeting was held and Alonzo Killian was instrumental in reviving interest in Stoney Hill Community Center as it had come to be known. Preparations were made and work got underway. A softball field was constructed west of the Center on land leased from J. William and Mary Nell Boozer. A barbecue pit was built, 45 gallon iron pots purchased, bathrooms added, playground equipment constructed and installed, the inside of the cannery renovated, the hatchery reconstructed, a concrete block storage building built and a well drilled. These were some of the main improvements as there were many others. Special projects making all this possible were bake sales, pork and chicken barbecues, hamburger suppers, turkey stews, country music shows, a cookbook, sales of flavoring, Samson sauce, and cards, and many more.
Many different people have been involved in the Center's organization. Officers have changed hands from time to time but all had the Center's interest at heart and gave it their best. The general public has enjoyed these facilities for reunions, softball games, a political polling place, bridal showers, 4-H clubs, boy scouts, girl scouts, etc.
Kenneth Lake gave the Center an opportunity to purchase 2.66 acres of land which included the old Stoney Hill School building. The land was surveyed and the purchase completed on December 31, 1988 chiefly to provide parking for the numerous softball games Thanks to a gift from an anonymous giver in 1996, renovations to the building are now possible and a reunion is being held on May 3, 1997 for f anyone who ever attended school at Stoney Hill, plus family and friends.
May Stoney Hill's star continue to shine!
A yearly reunion for former students is held the first Saturday of every May at the Community Center.
History of Newberry County SC. Vol. II by T. H. Pope, pages 174, 182, 183, 185, 186
Newberry County Deed Book 29, page 518
26 Students listed on the Nov 1 through Oct 31, 1869 Teachers Report
Report given by Geo. T. Speake, Teacher in Stoney battery Township
Burr Rikard, G. M. Merchant, D. A. Merchant, Perce Rikard, Thos. Rankin, Charlie Wood, Wm. Rankin, James Boozer, Melissa Boozer, Anna Taylor, Simpson Taylor, John Taylor, Amanda Noble, Adella Noble, Drayton Noble, Jane Rikard, Emma Rikard, Wm. Rikard, Fannie Rikard, John D. Rikard, Wesley Brown, Mary Brown, Lizzie Taylor, Clayton Maffet, Johnny Maffet, Rosa Brown.
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