Carolina School finally closed in summer 1972
Published 1:31 am Saturday, April 15, 2017
Classes were continued regularly at Carolina School until July 1969, at which time the Covington County School Board voted to close it before the next term. However, the school was saved for a little longer when a group of local citizens appealed to the board to keep it open. The board voted to allow it to continue, which it did for three more years when it was finally closed in the summer of 1972. Dwindling enrollment of students forced the board to make that unpopular decision. Thus, the educational training at Carolina for almost half a century was ended.
During the last year of operation of the school in 1971-1972, there were three classes taught which combined grades one through six. A new beginning teacher, Mrs. Helen Brooks, taught grades one and two; Mrs. Lena Mae Clary had grades three and four; and John Allen Gantt taught grades five and six and served as principal. Mrs. Brooks who recently retired from teaching at Pleasant Home School recalled her one year at Carolina as a very pleasant one. She had 18 children in her combined class of first and second grades. She mentioned how they had their play time in the courtyard in the middle of the square building.
John Allen Gantt, a basketball coach, had been sent to the school in 1969 to help close it following Joe Jim Brown leaving for a job in Mobile. In the previous years, Mrs. Parker Weed and Mrs. Jack Jay were two of the teachers. John Gantt shared a memory of his having a very young basketball team of fifth and six graders who was able to win over two other schools they played: Blue Springs School’s team of seventh and eighth graders and Bethune School’s team. (See accompanying picture of Carolina’s team and cheerleaders.)
A few other memories include the beloved Uncle Jim and Aunt Maude Padgett who lived next door to the school. He served as the school custodian, and she, just an “adopted grandmother” to so many of the students. They were so kind to all the students who dearly loved them. Mrs. Bessie Harrelson Teel was recalled as a great cook for many years in the cafeteria. Mrs. Thelma Padgett, daughter-in- law of Jim and Maude, served as secretary for a number of years.
Also, some special visitors to the school during the years included Mrs. Dee Duggan who was the attendance supervisor and Miss Durlie Barnes who was the curriculum coordinator. Mrs. Duggan was later replaced in 1963 by Mrs. Arlene Gantt who also became cafeteria supervisor. Miss Barnes was succeeded by Mrs. Ina Garner. These ladies always showed special interest in the students and their academic work. Their visits to the school were always enjoyed by the students.
In June 1973, the year following the final closing of Carolina School, Jimmie Mullen opened the Carolina Skating Ring. He had renovated the auditorium and front section of the school building to establish the rink. To quote an Andalusia Star-News writer, Michelle Willis, who wrote an account of the school and skating rink in December 1993, “And for about 15 years, youth from all over the county skated the nights away in the building where many of their parents went to school. A snack bar and a game room provided additional entertainment at the rink.”
Following the close of the skating rink around 1988, the building sat vacant for about five years before burning to the ground on Tuesday, November 30. Several area fire departments rushed to the scene, but the conditions of the building caused a raging fire beyond any control; thus, an important community landmark became history.
The following poem written by Charlotte Bass Smith, a former student, captures her memories as well as those of many others.
Attending school at Carolina was no bore
A caring Uncle Jim ran the store.
All the goodies to be sought
For a nickel we all bought.
Classes were attended through grade eight
Each teacher tried hard to keep us straight.
Traveling behind the stage curtain
Little mischief went on for certain.
Play went on by the field fence
Imaginations seldom made common sense.
Mrs. Andrews taught the first
All the children had such a thirst.
Mrs. Sally Carter, second, taught us spelling.
Mrs. Missouri Wiggins, third, taught us to finger paint
Only on paper, did we paint as though each a saint.
Mrs. Bessie Cross, fourth, a story before lunch would read
This time would truly fly with speed.
Mrs. Lena Rae Clary, fifth, would let us pull together our desks
Playing broom over broom was a real success.
Mrs. Olivia Ingram, sixth, would use her pitch pipe
While students changed tunes without a gripe.
Coach Athan Eiland, seventh, taught the boys to play ball
One boy ate paper and didn’t ever grow tall.
Mr. B. C. Fincher, eight, didn’t ever allow any horse play
He kept law and order each and every day.
This writer, Curtis Thomasson, would like to thank the many individuals who provided information, memories or pictures for this history. They include Gail Garvin Allred, Esther Jacobs Barrow, John William Bass, Diana Pelham Bledsoe, Helen Brooks, John Allen Gantt, Renee Little Gardner, Ina Garner, Jim Garner, Jane Register Graddy, Gordon Helms, Ron Lawson, Ruth Jacobs Lawson, Terry Lawson, Wynette Moore Mullen, Gary Padgett, Crystell Stokes Prestwood, Charlotte Bass Smith, Sybil Franklin Spencer, Vickie Jacobs Stallings, Debi Stuckey, Audie Adams Thomasson, Betty Glisson Wilhite and Betty Harrelson Windham. There were most likely others whose names do not come to mind at this point.
Curtis would also like to hear from anyone who might find any error in this history or who could provide additional history or pictures. Although today’s story concludes this review, he plans to continue collecting any available data. He may be contacted at the following addresses: 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; 334-804-1442; or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.