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Friday, April 21, 2006

The History of Oak Hill School 1886-2006

Spending life as an active school building from 1886-1952, Oak Hill school was one of the first in the East Tennessee area to get public funding from the newly created state funded public school program. Oak Hill was home to first through eighth grade students in the Knob Creek Community, 7 miles from Jonesborough. When the last class was ended for the 1952 school year it was never reopened and used for public education. It stood for years alone in a field as though left abandoned and forgotten. It did find new life as a hay barn and storage building to a local farmer. Never intended to be a barn, this once vibrant and important link in East Tennessee public education was reduced to nothing more than a storage building to store all the things that humans no longer had a use for or to hold hay for winter feeding of cattle. The lifeblood of this once glorious beacon of education had been moved to more modern buildings where separation was the new idea for teaching and learning. Now I'm not saying that it isn't perhaps the best way to go when trying to deal with large numbers of children by having them divided into age groups and tailoring the materials to better suit the group. I'm sure that this made teaching and learning less stressful for all parties involved. But I also have no doubts that it had growing pains associated with it as well. Nevertheless, Oak Hill was destined for far greater things than spending the rest of it's life as a barn.

When road construction and "“progress" threatened to reduce it a pile of sticks, the Jonesborough/Washington County History Museum took the initiative to insure that all was not lost to the bull dozer by raising support in an attempt to save this historic structure. There was no lack of support for this effort, however a lack of funds did seem to have a death grip on efforts to get the building moved to a safer place. After all, moving a building is no easy task nor is it inexpensive. Cost for moving a complete building off it's foundation and transporting it for any distance can run into figures that would rival the national debt of some small countries. But thanks to kind and generous individuals who knew the value of such a building as this, Oak Hill school found that is was not forgotten and discovered new friends in the process. Several donations were made from private individuals and families to support getting this building moved. To spare you the details of all that's involved in moving a structure such as this, suffice it to say that once sufficient funds were in hand the moving crew loaded up the building and hauled it 7 miles to it's new location behind the visitors center in Jonesborough.

As a celebration of the contributions that this school made to East Tennessee and Washington County, each year the remaining former students of Oak Hill gather at the building's new location for a reunion to reminisce and share stories with the public on life in a one room school house. These remaining members of a time gone by provided vital input on how the building appeared when it was in use as a school. Today the building looks just as it did in th1880's's. With Jonesborough being the home of the National Storytelling Festival this is so very fitting that this building would come home to share it's stories with us. The Oak Hill School Heritage Education Program was established and is a "“living classroom" which allows a student to spend the day experiencing the life of a young person in 1892. Reading , Writing, Arithmetic, History, Geography, even the pledge is all as it was prior to the turn of the last century. The curriculum is based on the detailed 1892-1893 diary of a Washington County TN School Superintendent. Students gain an understanding of the lives of their peers through this glimpse of a typical school day. Designed for a single classroom, a day at Oak Hill School is an experience students will not soon forget. Even my own son had the chance to be taught in this building a few years ago when all the restoration work was completed. The story of Oak Hill School is still being written in the faces of young students each day when they are transported back into history. (photos from the ETSU Center for Appalachian Studies and Services)


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