Flagg Grove School
"Memories, history preserved in schoolhouse
One-room Flagg Grove School counts Tina Turner as its most famous student.
An off-hand comment made during dinner put one of Haywood County’s oldest wooden structures on a path to preservation.
Pam and Joe Stevens own land in Nutbush where Flagg Grove School, a former subscription school, stood for more than 120 years.
For many Brownsville residents, the sight of the old wooden house sitting on the back of a semi-tractor trailer truck literally stopped traffic the morning it was moved.
Flagg Grove School, a former subscription school located in Nutbush, traveled from Tenn. 19 — also known as Tina Turner Highway — to its new home at the West Tennessee Heritage Center on June 1.
The center plans to restore the structure and use the building to include interpretive exhibits about early education and former student Tina Turner, said the center’s director, Sonia Outlaw-Clark.
"The school was built in 1889; the land was donated by a former slave who came from North Carolina after the Civil War. It was a subscription school — each student paid a dollar a month to go", she said. "Then it became one of our county schools. It’s a very important part of our early history in education. Also, of course, this was the school Tina Turner attended, back when she was Anna Mae Bullock. We are preserving a piece of the early African-American education system. There are not many of these buildings like this one left. I’m proud we’ll be able to move it to the center and be able to do exhibits".
Outlaw-Clark said the school building was donated by Pam and Joe Stevens, who own the Backyard Barbeque in Brownsville. His father owned the property when the school closed in 1968.
The city agreed to pay for the cost of moving the school and now a private, non-profit group will work to raise the funds to restore the school, she said.
Brownsville Mayor Jo Matherne watched as the building was ushered into the space reserved for it at the heritage center. She and others had gathered to watch the final steps of the process.
"This is so important on so many levels, it’s hard to point out", she said. "Certainly, this is preserving a very important piece of the history of Haywood County. The one-room schoolhouse and the historic significances one-room schoolhouses played in public education are important. And obviously the fact that Flagg Grove school was where Tina Turner, our most famous citizen, came and spent her elementary school days. The historic and cultural significance of this building make it worth saving".
James Smith, 72, attended the Flagg Grove school from 1945 to 1954. He said he went to school every day with his sister while his parents worked on a farm.
He saw the schoolhouse in its new location at the center and is glad work is being done to restore a place where he spent many years.
"I think it was a good idea to move it", he said. "I’ve been telling different folks to stop by. I think it’s a good idea".
The small school had two outhouses — one for boys and one for girls. A school system supervisor would make the rounds to check on the school.
Teachers spanked unruly students.
Bill King at the Flagg Grove School
"And if they told parents you acted up, you got in trouble again at home", Smith said. "I have lots of memories that came back when I visited the school recently. I remember where the stove sat, where we played ball, where we would chop wood for the stove. I was shocked when I saw the little desks were still sitting there".
He remembers the schoolhouse full with 50 to 60 children and maybe a couple of teachers. "The teacher had to get help with that many. They taught through eighth grade and we were all in the same room, with a partition by the stove", he said.
Willette Beard was the teacher while Smith was a student. In 1967, when the school closed, she continued to teach in other area schools instead of retiring, he said.
Smith also remembers how his famous classmate, Turner, acted as a student.
"She would always be late. She would come in late and she wanted to sing, wanted to dance and she liked running off", he said. "She wasn’t alone; I was just as bad. Miss Willette would lock the front door so you had to knock to come in. Then she would know you were late".
The small schoolhouse functioned like every other school, Smith said. If a student didn’t do his homework, Beard would tell the parents. Flagg Grove held PTA meetings, field days, spelling contests and talent shows, Smith said.
Smith said there is talk of a possible Flagg Grove reunion — maybe Labor Day Weekend.
"There are a lot of people living who went there. There are a lot of memories in that school", he said.
Lollie Mann, 76, attended the school with Smith and Turner. She also attended school with her sister Julie Taylor. Mann said she’s also glad to know the school building was saved.
"I think it’s a good idea to let folks know that the building is going to be restored and that there are a few of us still around who went to school there and went there with Tina", she said. "It hurt my feelings when it was turned into a barn. It’s good to know they’re having it restored".
Mann’s family moved to the Flagg Grove community and the children began attending the historic schoolhouse. She attended for a few years, from 1945 to 1948. Back then, her name was Lollie Beard. She eventually married James Mann, a classmate and "school-days sweetheart", she said.
"Tina and I used to do devotions — back when they still did that. We would lead each day with a gospel song", she said.
Mann still remembers clearly how the building looked on the inside — it was a two-room building with a blackboard situated where it could raise up to create one room.
"We had those little desks with the seats attached where we could push our books under", she said.
Mann’s favorite Flagg Grove memory involves lunch:
"I remember my mother bringing our lunch to school. She had made us potato croquettes in biscuits. The potatoes were so pretty and brown, some people thought we had chicken. My cousin grabbed mine and ran away to eat. She thought she had a chicken biscuit, but it was just potato croquettes".
She also recalled playing a schoolyard game called "popping the whip". A long line of children would hold hands while another one would run straight into it and everyone would pop back like a whip.
"The person at the end would always let go because the whip was so strong. We had a lot of fun", she said.
Matherne said Brownsville’s Board of Aldermen voted to cover the cost of moving the schoolhouse, agreeing to pay up to $20,000 for the move. Mike Youngblood of BWY Construction Contractors LLC was the contractor for the move. BWY was also the company responsible for the preliminary preservation of the Old Denmark Presbyterian Church in Denmark."