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The Johnson County education system has changed drastically

In the early days of what is now Johnson County, there was little interest in education. Learning the arts of chopping, plowing, and shooting was essential to maintain an existence in the wilderness of the new land west of the Appalachian Mountains.
The first schools were established and in many cases taught by clergymen. Schools were often held in Church buildings. Those one-room schools had walls of rough-hewn logs, packed dirt floors and benches with no backs. There were few opportunities for an education. Early on there seems to have been little interest in education by the State of Tennessee. The legislature was not interested in levying taxes to establish schools. In the early days, the state set aside lands called “School Lands,” to be sold to finance schools but that effort proved to be unreliable.
In 1847 Governor Aaron V. Brown recommended to the legislature that a law be passed to allow counties “to levy a tax for the support of common schools.” But the Legislature was unwilling to levy taxes for the benefit of everyone’s children. Their contention was that if the people had children they wanted educated, they should finance it themselves. In a half century (1796 – 1847) of statehood, Tennessee had not spent any tax money on private education.
Johnson County was formed from Carter County in 1836. It was in that year that the General Assembly elected the first State Superintendent of Schools, a major step for education in Tennessee. The Civil War intervened and there was very little to no opportunity for education during that awful period. After the war much effort was put forth to repair the damage of the war, but the legislature of 1867 passed a law that reestablished the office of State Superintendant of Education, provided for County Superintendants, made mandatory examinations for teacher’s licenses and provided funding for the schools through taxes.
Tennessee citizens became concerned when the census of 1870 showed that while the population had risen only 13 percent, the illiterate rate had risen 50 percent. The educational act of 1867 provided free schooling for all children six to eighteen years old. Funding included interest from a 2.5 million fund as well as taxes.
The earliest school for secondary education in Johnson County came in about 1846 when a two-story frame building was erected north of Taylorsville (changed to Mountain City in 1836). The teacher was a Mr. William Smithpeters. A Mr. Austin succeeded him. The building burned some 10 years later. In about 1873 two academies were opened: Aenon Seminary in Butler and The Masonic Institute in Mountain City. Under Professor James H. Smith a Milligan College graduate, the enrollment at Aenon Seminary outgrew the building and a new building was built on the other side of Roan Creek. Smith called the school Holly Springs College. In 1901 it was sold to The Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and operated as Watauga Academy. In 1931-32, it became a tax-supported school operated by the Johnson County Board of Education. The school was closed in 1948 due to the completion of Watauga Lake.
Following the Civil War, Taylorsville Lodge No. 243 Free and Accepted Masons erected a three-story building on three and one fourth acres bought from Harry L. Johnson for $250. That building was razed in 1905 and a new three-story building was erected. That building was finished in 1907. The masons utilized the third floor while elementary school and high school were operated on the first and second floors. Soon came many elementary schools in the county. There were 67 schools at various times in the county before consolation began.
Instead of distant oversight in Nashville, Johnson County’s citizens through school boards and county courts now controlled local schools. The first Johnson County public High School was opened February 1, 1908 with Mountain City and Johnson County sharing the expense. For students who lived too far from Mountain City to attend, a dormitory was built at a cost of $2,800 and desks were bought for $287.50. Also a compulsory education law was enacted in 1911.
(More on Johnson County education next week)