Remember When: The story of Andalusia High School

Published 2:00 pm Friday, May 5, 2023

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Back a few years ago my friend and fellow classmate Paula Sue Duebelt and I had the opportunity to make it possible for the choral music program at Andalusia High School to continue for several more years when a budget cut in the music program occurred. We had both been music teachers, and we were pleased to be able to go to AHS each day to teach two daily classes of Chorus. We were a team and what was supposed to be one-year of teaching in the same music room we were taught in as high schoolers turned into a six and a half-year stint. What a privilege and memorable time it was   to be a part of teaching students in this generation to “Keep a Song in Their Heart.” During that time I was able to give this little talk to the graduates on Senior night.

As you readers are seeing this, it just happens to be a reunion weekend for the AHS Class of 1965, not just the traditional and scheduled reunion that is held during homecomings, but a special called one where most of us are celebrating the beginning of the 4th quarter of our lives, Lord willing.

So this message is dedicated to our classmates who have journeyed from far and wide to come home to attend and to those who were unable to be here for various conflicts with the busy-ness of life.

Dear AHS Graduates, Once upon a time there was a little village up Devereux Hill called Andalusia. Around 1844, the majority of residents had moved to higher ground from the river community Montezuma. The Conecuh River would flood each spring and flood most of the homes, the post office, and the log courthouse. Yellow fever plagued the residents as well.”

“In those days during the latter half of the 1800s, children were mostly taught at home. One-room schoolhouses sprung up in the town and the county. Miss Fannie Barron (Little Schoolhouse on Church Street) is remembered as one of those early schoolmarms. The parents kept the wood chopped and the schoolhouses maintained.”

“Around 1899, the train line was extended into downtown from Searight at which time a host of families and businessmen moved into Andalusia, because they wanted their businesses to grow and their families to prosper since transportation was the key. The farmers could at last ship out their cotton, lumber, and pine products. Building materials and mules for hauling to construct the main street homes and downtown buildings could be shipped in by rail.”

“The citizens realized the importance of education and organized instruction for their children so they established schools that were forerunners of the city school system. The “Aus” Prestwood School (Turner Academy- Circa 1895) on South Three Notch (corner of Baker Street) was one of those first town schools. The Farmer’s School on the Brewton Highway was another one located on the edge of town. Children generally took their lunches in a tin syrup bucket – a biscuit with a piece of ham or just syrup. The late James A. Wilson, AHS principal in the 1960s, was one of those students who lived down the Brooklyn Road and walked to the Farmer’s School. Penmanship and Hygiene were among the subjects taught. ”

“The first brick 2-story city school was built on East Three Notch Street in 1902. It was a beautiful main street building but soon so many students were in attendance, the town leaders realized that a new and bigger school building would have to be built. So in 1914, the larger East Three Notch School was completed behind the first school building that was soon torn down. The students had a wonderful playground in the back of the property and a branch on the side!”

“Most of the students that lived close by in town walked to and from school and also home for lunch and back. This was before the lunch program got started. They began singing in assemblies on Friday afternoons in their beautiful auditorium, a tradition that lasted for sixty years.”

“Before too long, another school was needed for the growing number of children. So a school on the west side of town was built in 1926. Church Street School became the school for the higher grades, the high school. East Three Notch School was still used for the elementary grades.”

“The town continued to grow and grow with a population of about 5,000 by the early 1920s compared to 500 at the turn of the century. The main streets, East and South Three Notch and River Falls Street, were paved. City sewer and sidewalks were installed. A six-story bank building was built on the Public Square that housed many businesses in the upper stories.”

“In the late 1930s during the depression when many people were out of work and needed jobs, a government program enabled the city to build even another school due to the increasing number of school age children in town. The Andalusia High School was completed in 1939, and Church Street School became another elementary school.”

“On the new AHS campus site, there had been some very poor people living in a cave in the gulley that had to be relocated in the middle of construction. During those Great Depression years, some families were just trying to survive. Also, it is remembered by the builders that a brick fell from up high on one worker’s head, and it resulted in his death.”

“The Class of 1940 was the first to graduate from the new high school located in the primarily residential area on a scenic parcel once known as the John Chapman farm. The new school was the pride of Andalusia and was talked about and written about in publications all over the state of Alabama.”

“Many of the students who were supposed to be graduated in the classes of 1942, 43, 44, and 45 but were called to serve in the military during World War II had to postpone their education. The names of those AHS students who served and who died are written on a plaque in the front interior entrance on the west wall.”

“In the early 1950s, the City of Andalusia built what was called the Municipal Stadium adjacent to the high school campus. Southside School (Circa 1920s) and Bethune School (Circa 1950s) named after a famous black educator, Mary Bethune, were also city schools. The Covington County Training School and Ralph Bunch High School later renamed Woodson High School were built.”

“The many graduates of these schools which all merged in the mid to late 1960s took their place in the world to become teachers, lawyers, judges, pilots, automobile dealers, business owners, homemakers, pastors, doctors, nurses, artists, musicians, florists, bankers, college deans, educators, mayors, engineers, and even three-star generals. For the most part, they never forgot their roots. In later years, many former students have stated that the lessons they learned from their teachers carried them through life.”

“These CCTS, Woodson High, and Andalusia High alumni continue to celebrate class reunions at annual homecomings which are the happiest of times. They reminisce, they remember, they sing their alma maters, they yell their class yells, they ride on their class parade floats, they greet their old teachers, they greet their classmates, and they honor their schools with needed gifts such as engraved bricks and park benches, stadium lighting, and scholarships. A Heritage Room preserves all of the memorabilia which is donated by the former students.”

“The 100-year anniversary of the city schools was celebrated a few years ago. Enough cannot be said or written about the extraordinary school administrators and school boards that have forged the school system of Andalusia.”

“It is now a tradition that the graduated classes plan weekend reunions with their former classmates and teachers. Many times as a result of the get-togethers, the grown-up students become good friends with some of their classmates that they weren’t even friends with in high school.”

“So this is the story that has no end. It continues on and on. Each and every one of you students is a part of this story. It is the hope of your teachers and the former students who have walked in the same hallowed halls that your pathway in life will be one of happiness and fulfillment and that you can attribute part of the success that you will experience in your life to the time you spent at AHS.”

“…Through the years, dear Alma Mater, this shall be our aim, Always ever to endeavor, to honor thy fair name.”

Sue Bass Wilson, AHS Class of 1965, and former choral music teacher, is a local real estate broker and long-time member of the Covington Historical Society. She can be reached at