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Condensed history of education in county

Last week’s column dealt with the education I received as a
student in Dewey Elementary School and Johnson County High
School. Dewey Elementary, a two-room white-framed building
located about three miles from Mountain City on Highway 67 west,
served to provide a quality education for many during its time. Of
course my high school days were spent in the old Johnson County
High School building that now houses some county offi ces and
Heritage Hall, a beautiful venue for plays, concerts and special
programs. A few of my classes were in the Masonic Building close
by. JCHS also afforded a quality education.
In this column I want to trace the history of education in Johnson
County. Much of the information for this column is derived from
a scholarly work by the late Ross D. Fritts titled Development of
Education In Johnson County Tennessee. Fritts began his career
in education as a teacher and principal. He taught elementary as
well as high school. But, he served a total of 17 years as Johnson
County Superintendent of Schools (now called Director of Schools).
He played a big role in consolidating Johnson County schools.
Combining the small community schools into better more up-todate
schools was often a diffi cult and thankless effort. It was my
honor to take some pictures for inclusion in the book. The book,
published in 1978, has information on Johnson County Schools
that spans more than two hundred years. The book is out of print,
but my condensation of it is included in the History of Johnson
County that was published by the Johnson County Historical
Society in 1986.
It wasn’t until the 1800s that public supported schools began
to emerge. Religious groups started the fi rst schools in Tennessee
and those schools mostly were for boys only. Early pioneers in
what is now Johnson County had little or no time for learning as
they labored in clearing and settling the land. While some schools
were established in what would become East Tennessee, more
advanced learning was awhile coming to what would become
Johnson County.
In the early 1800s land was set aside for the furtherance of education
but most of the land was later sold. Consequently, education
in what would be Johnson County was set back a great deal. Fifty
years after Tennessee became a state, there had been no tax money
spent on education.
But, It is interesting to note that the year Johnson County was
formed (1836), the Tennessee General Assembly elected the fi rst
State Superintendent of Schools. Following the end of the Civil
War, the attitude toward education in Tennessee improved. The
offi ce of State Superintendent of Schools was re-established; the
offi ce of County Superintendent was established for each county
and a number of other laws were passed pertinent to furthering
By that time, secondary schools were provided through taxation,
but there was little to no opportunity for a secondary education.
In 1845 or 1846 an academy was begun in a two-story frame
building on a hill north of Taylorsville (changed to Mountain City
in 1885). The building faced what is now Highway 421 North. Ten
years later the building was destroyed by fi re.
In about 1873 two academies were opened. Aenon Seminary
at Butler, Tennessee and the Masonic Institute in Taylorsville,
Tennessee. Aenon Seminary was later changed to Holly Springs
College. In 1901, it was bought by the Home Mission Board of
the Southern Baptist Convention and operated by it for 30 years as
Watauga Academy. In 1931-32 the school became a tax supported
high school operated by the Johnson County Board of Education.
When Watauga Lake was formed, the Butler residents who lived
in Johnson County came to Johnson County High School. Those
who lived in Carter County attended Hampton High School.
About the same time Aenon was established, the Taylorsville
Lodge No. 243 Free and Accepted Masons built a three-story
structure on two and one fourth acres of land bought from Harry
L. Johnson for $250. The lower fl oors were set aside for education
while the top fl oor was the lodge hall. An academy was established
and the fi rst term in the building was in 1874. That building was
razed in 1905 and a new three-story brick building was completed
in 1907. The fi rst two fl oors of the new building continued as
educational space with the Lodge Hall on the top fl oor. When I
was at JCHS, I had some classes in the building. And as I recall,
the superintendent’s offi ce was on the fi rst fl oor.
The school building that now houses Heritage Hall was opened
in 1922. The present high school building opened in 1966. The
Johnson County Middle School building and the Vocational School
building were opened in 1976.
As I see it, Johnson County citizens have seen the value of education
and for the most part have tried to provide as much educational
opportunity as possible.