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Education changes over the years

An early photograph captures a class of students at Dewey School in Johnson County TN. Over the years, county schools have seen many changes, as it continues to provide educational opportunities. Photo Submitted

By Marlana Ward

Freelance Writer

In a continued effort to organize and preserve local history, the Johnson County Historical Archive volunteers have found documents that show just how far the county’s school system has progressed since its humble beginnings in the 1830’s.
According to the documents found, what began as family-funded community schools grew into the current education system benefiting students today.
The archive volunteers have discovered that there has been at least 73 documented schools scattered across the different communities in Johnson County.
A sample of the schools through the past include Eureka, Laurel Springs, Sinks, Cobbs Creek, Snyder Chappel, Pine Grove, Buntontown, Crandull, and Winchester.
“I find it very interesting to see the different names of the schools,” one archive volunteer shared. “For example, in the Neva community, there was a Snider’s Chappell school as well as a different Snyder’s school.”
The change to state-funded schools began to occur in the mid-1800’s when the Governor began seeking support for the schools in each county.
“In 1847, Governor Brown asked to levy a tax to support schools,” volunteers said. “The legislature at that time refused and said that if parents wanted their children to go to school, they should pay for it themselves.”
In evaluations done by the early schools, conditions that would be unacceptable today were normal. One report done on the Crandull School in 1922 showed that it was a 1,800-square-foot building and used a paper blackboard.
The school had no indoor plumbing, and the drinking water was listed as being “unsanitary.”
“That means that the students shared a pail of drinking water and everyone used the same cup,” a volunteer explained.
Over time, the state did begin to support schools, and according to county records, by 1938 the school system received 45 cents per student.
When it came time for secondary schooling, the county’s first high school was built in 1845. It was a two-story building located on the hilltop near Butler Street facing Highway 421.
This first building was destroyed by fire ten years later and replaced.
“By 1873, the county had two high schools which included Watauga Academy in Old Butler,” archive volunteers said.
Teacher salaries are another interesting piece of history found. According to top pay records from 1938, teachers were paid monthly but that their salaries could vary.
Receipts show that teachers were paid $40, $65, and some went up to $77 per month though it is not noted what the determining factors were to explain the differences in salary.
Over the years, Johnson County Schools have seen many changes. Some schools have closed, some have consolidated, and some have recently been built.
No matter the change, over the years the Johnson County School System and the families living in the county have remained determined to providing educational opportunities.
For more information about Johnson County Schools please visit,