By Jack Swift
Early Education In Johnson County
Early in its beginning the people of Johnson County saw the need for education. As the county grew in population, schools were begun that basically taught the “Three Rs.” Parents would pay by the month for their children to attend the schools which only lasted a few months during the fall and winter.
No state money was avail-able in the early years of Johnson County’s existence. Consequently, very few children were enrolled in any kind of school. Johnson County was formed from Carter County in 1836. But, in the year 1839 only 767 students were in school in Johnson County. The total cost of education that year was $388.08 a little over 50 cents per child.
In the early days of the county there was little schooling but such schooling as they had was under the leadership of a few clergymen who had accompanied their Scotch-Irish congregations from Virginia and North Carolina into Ten-nessee country.
In the first 25 years of the 1900s there were a total of 67 schools that had operated in the county at various times. Each little community had its own school. Roads were not the best during those years. Many children walked to school before school buses came on the scene.
I remember walking about two miles to Dewey Ele-mentary School which was located about three miles west of Mountain City in the Dewey Community. It was a two-room, two-teacher school. One of my uncles, Joe Swift, taught at Shady Valley and Fritts’ Curve schools before going to the Philippines for an eleven-year stint as a voca-tional teacher there.
The first Johnson County public secondary school was opened February 1, 1908. The semester was three months. Five dollars was voted to bear expense of the
commencement. The Town of Mountain City and Johnson County shared the cost of the high school.
Taylorsville Lodge No. 243 Free and Accepted Masons erected a three-story building on a two and one fourth acre plot of land purchased from Harry L. Johnson for $250.00. The building was designed for an educational facility on the first two floors and a lodge hall on the top floor. The cost of construction was born by the lodge.
The first term in the new building was in 1874. The academy continued for twenty years as the Masonic Institute. Funds to operate the school principally came from tuition and contributions. The building was razed in 1905 and replaced by another three-story brick building completed in 1907 by the Masonic Lodge at a cost of $4,000,00.
Some information for this column was gleaned from a work by the late Ross D. Fritts, longtime educator in Johnson County. Fritts published a book titled Development of Education In Johnson County Tennessee in 1978.