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Churches, school influenced Straughn community

In last week's column the settling of the Straughn community and some of its leading citizens were discussed. A few corrections that are needed include the following: Leroy Marion Straughn was the father of Travis Wendell, Daniel I. (not David), Edwin A., and William; and Leroy Marion Straughn located near his wife's parents, Wendell and Rebecca (Arnett) Taylor, in the Searight community and later moved to the Rose Hill community on the east side of the Conecuh River.

Today, the school and other social aspects of the area will be outlined. While Straughn never grew to the status of a town, it became and remains a viable community with a strong sense of pride.

Around 1886, the residents decided they wanted a school for their children who had been attending other area schools. Eight men who were deacons of the Shiloh Church met at the church to organize the school. They were Daniel I. Straughn, Edwin A. Straughn, William Straughn, Jackson Dozier, Dennis Boyette, E.N. Harrelson, and Andrew Ganus. The school was named Haygood after the post office, but it was soon changed to Straughn in honor of the three brothers who helped organize it.

The earliest school sessions lasted only for several weeks during the summer months. The first teacher was R. Henry Jones who later became the well-known Judge Jones, an influential leader in the county. Furniture for the school was primitive with the desks made of planks being nailed to the wall and benches being made of split logs. Since paper was scarce, writing was done on slates. Drinking water was brought in cedar buckets from nearby natural springs, and toilets were boys going to one side of the woods and girls, to the other.

In 1892, a new and better building was erected on land donated by D. Hiram White. It was a one-room, box-style building about 30 by 40 feet in size and with no ceiling. The teacher at this time was Isaac Wooten who was followed by Ollie Bragg, and then D.D. Williams. In 1898, a brick chimney with four fireplaces was built in the center of the building to provide heat during the winter months.

In 1907, a new building was constructed after the old one burned. It was a two-room building equipped with patented desks and wood-burning space heaters. It also burned in 1913, so a new, three-room building replaced it in 1914. This structure featured a movable wall, which allowed the arranging of a large area for assemblies and other gatherings such as town meetings. It was also used as a voting place for area residents.

In 1921, a four-room building was constructed which housed 240 students. E.A. Ward was principal and teacher for grades eight and nine; Miss Freda Moore had 81 students in grades two, three, and four; and Miss Nola Fae Carr had 77 students in the first grade.

In 1921, the community recognized the need for a high school to provide further education of the youth. A vocational-type school was desired, so a group of citizens traveled to Ramer to view the only rural consolidated high school in the state. Among those attending were members of the Andalusia Rotary Club, which had adopted the proposed school as a project.

In 1924, the dream became reality with a new brick veneer school building featuring six classrooms. Thus, Straughn School became the second such school in the state and was accredited within the year. The first diplomas were awarded to nine students at the end of the first year. Unfortunately, the building burned in 1930 during spring holidays. The next brick veneer building would last until it burned in 1959. During the 1960-61 school year the current school building was constructed with considerable improvements. Other additions since that time have helped maintain a quality educational program.

Historically, Straughn School has been recognized as having a fine, successful academic program. An exceptional number of graduates have chosen to pursue a career in education. An area educator, Creigh Purnell, designed a Chief Educational Officer Identification Instrument a few years ago. The task was for one to name the following educators in Covington County and the high school from which they were graduated: President of LBW College - Seth Hammett; President of MacArthur Technical College - Raymond Chism; Superintendent of Andalusia City Schools - Clayton Bryant; Principal of Andalusia High School - Pete Kelley; Superintendent of Covington County Schools - Dale Odom succeeded by Ronnie Driver; Principal of Straughn School - Sonny Thomasson. Astoundingly, all these individuals are graduates of Straughn School. Of course, some of these positions have changed since the date of the above.

Other influential social institutions in the community include the churches. The Shiloh Primitive Church was the earliest and was actually the oldest identified in the county. Some records suggest it may have existed as early as 1820. Although it is inactive at present, the church had a long, successful history. The last building still stands beside the adjacent cemetery. During the earliest years there may have been a building a little south near the older Bradley Cemetery where some of the earliest citizens are buried.

Additional churches include the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, which was organized in 1899 and the Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church. (Albert Kent Barton has compiled a fine history of the Mt. Zion church.)

Only a few businesses have been operated in the community. C.F. Langston had the first general store, and the Bennett family had one for a time. During the 1950s, Wilson Morgan and Luther Radford operated general stores next to the school. In recent years, the George Gantts' Sweet Gum Bottom Antiques and their recently completed lodge along with the Oswalds' Sweet Gum Bed and Breakfast have been opened. These are located just south of the Straughn community on Highway 43.

When considering the history of a community, earlier houses are of interest. Many have mentioned hearing of the Jonathan Harrelson house that was supposedly the oldest in the area. It is believed to have stood across from the school some distance from the road. The Ive Harrelson house still stands just north of the Sweet Gum Bottom Bed and Breakfast. The Tom Cottle house was moved and restored by George Gantt to be a part of Sweet Gum Bottom Antiques.

Today, the Straughn community continues to be a popular area for farming and rural residences. In addition to the school, churches, and businesses, there is a Straughn Community Club, which meets monthly at the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church. They dedicate themselves to rewarding fellowship and the promotion of community activities for the enjoyment of all.

Anyone who might have corrections to the above or any additional information is requested to contact Curtis Thomasson at 21361 Rabren Road, Andalusia, AL 36420 or Email: chthom@alaweb.com

HISTORICAL MEETING:

The Covington Historical Society will meet at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 27, at the Andalusia Public Library. Guests are welcome.