In 1869, Christopher Columbus (C.C.) Enloe was elected as County Superintendent of Education of Randolph County. The report to the State Superintendent of Public Instructions in Randolph County stated that there were 48 schools and 53 teachers. The expenses for the school year of 1869-1870 totaled $6,290.12, which included Enloe's salary of $600 per year.
The war years almost destroyed the Randolph County school system, but on July 13, 1868, a new system was organized, and the public schools were declared to be entirely free. One of the most favorable and creditable acts of the Reconstruction government of the state was the "establishment of a free public school system for the education of both whites and negroes."
Schools were still being taught during the war, even as late as March 1865, but the county had endured the war years without its superintendent. Corporal Harmen R. Gay, who married into the Heflin family, was elected in 1864 as Randolph County Superintendent. During the war, he was fighting alongside the 46th Alabama Regiment, Company K and didn't return to the county until the war ended. Nevertheless, the schools survived and reconvened in '65 with goose quill pens and slate tablets.i
The Wedowee Academy was formed in 1847, being the first in the county, and Louina's Katewood Seminary was formed in 1859.
One year later in 1860, the Rock Mills Academy was organized. William Stevens furnished a vacant barn to be used while the community built a schoolhouse. Residents joined together to build the two-story structure, which housed the Rock Mills Academy on the bottom floor and the Masonic Lodge on the upper story.
While Jennie Atkinson attended the academy, the school consisted of only six grades and one teacher. A spring furnished water for the school, and students drank from a gourd. Students were responsible for sweeping the building with "straw brooms" made from field straw and leftover twine gathered from the mill. A fireplace provided heat in the winter, and locals cut and delivered the wood.
In the springtime, the windows were swung open, and fresh air and the smell of wild honeysuckles filled the room. School began at 8 a.m. and let out at 4 p.m. The first teacher boarded with the Randle family, who lived on property beyond the back of the mill. Often the teachers during this era were paid in homespun clothing and covers or with homemade molasses and salted pork.
There were no church buildings in Rock Mills at the time, so religious services were held in the school on Sundays.ii This school was located on a hill across from the present-day Methodist Church on Highway 22, but in 1860, a brick factory was across from the school.
After Jennie had lived with the Randles for several years, word came that a popular Baptist preacher would be delivering a lecture regarding the temperance movement and would be seeking lost souls for salvation. A large party of people from Rock Mills traveled to West Point, Ga. for the service. At the close of the service the pastor pressed into the crowd to shake hands. Jennie was eager to greet her father, whom she had not seen in years. Rev. W.D. Atkinson reached for her hand and asked, "Whose little girl are you?" The statement fell like a hammer, but in the midst of her suffering, she shielded her father with loyalty and pretended to smile and turned to mount the buggy. Jennie never told anyone the story until she left America for her new home.iii
Growing up, loneliness crouched at every corner for Jennie. With her insecurities, she didn't make friends easily; however, she did make two close friends while living in Rock Mills. One was her step-cousin, Carrie Vernon, and Carrie and Jennie vowed eternal devotion to one another. The other was a young girl named Florence Beatrice Harper, who lived nearby and grew up to be Mrs. W.W. Bonner and the mother of Dr. Gerson Bonner, who later practiced in Roanoke. Jennie was seven years older than Florence, so by the time Jennie became a teacher at the Rock Mills Academy, Florence was one of her pupils.iv
For a while, Jennie clung to her Baptist roots, but Cousin Fount and Cousin Lou were of the Methodist denomination. Randle established a Sunday school at the Academy on Sundays. He was an active layman among the conference churches, but he allowed Jennie to make her own decision about church affiliation.
At age 14, Jennie made the decision to join the Rock Mills branch of her father's church. She felt that God had already called her into service on the mission field. But her insecurities about herself were about to increase. On July 19, 1878, Fount and Lucretia had a son and named him William Nathan but called him "Wilna." The Randles had longed for a boy during the 12 years they had been married. Less than three months later, Jennie received word that her father had died. She felt more alone than ever, although Fount and Lucretia loved her and cared for her as their own child.
The Rock Mills Academy prepared Jennie well for the college education the Randles provided for her. She attended the Methodist Institution, The LaGrange Female College in LaGrange, Ga., now called LaGrange College. In June 1880, she graduated, while the Randle family sat proudly in the audience as she delivered the valedictory speech.
At age 18, she became the assistant teacher in the Rock Mills Academy, where she received her foundation in education. She taught elementary classes as well as calisthenics and elocution. On Sundays, she taught Sunday school and played the reed organ for the Rock Mills Methodist Church.
* In 1938, the Wehadkee Mill Company built a gymnasium on the former property of the Rock Mills Academy. In 1939, a new building was erected through the Public Works Administration program on the present site of Rock Mills School. v
(To be continued.)
i Author unknown. School in Randolph County 1832 - 1957. P. 7 - 8.
ii Ibid. P.50.
iii Just Jennie: p. 2.
iv Ibid. p.2.
v The Heritage of Randolph County. P. 25.