National Park Service
In the early years, regardless of the particular camp town, few children finished school beyond the eighth grade. Some only went until they were old enough to leave school to work or marry, most seeing little use for education.
The company encouraged education by seeing that there was a school in most camps, or one near enough to travel to. Children living out on the "Ridges" went to these camp schools too—whether or not their parents worked for the company.
For some, going out of Blue Heron to go to high school in Whitley took from five in the morning to five in the evening, leaving little time for after school activities or what we have come to know as "normal" adolescence. For many years there was no transportation but the train, though buses came in when the road was built.
Though the teachers were paid by the state for the first seven months worked, the coal company paid for two more, bringing the school year to a nine month session in the coal camps before other schools in the region.
The school at Blue Heron was described as a "Little Red School House" by some who remembered it. It was "L" shaped and had a pot-bellied stove in the corner of the two spaces. Teachers brought in materials, the hand held school bell, a water bucket and whatever games or sports equipment needed for recess.
In a school with thirty or so students of different ages, the older students often helped younger ones with studies or "giving words", relieving the teacher of instructing such diverse levels at once. Often the teachers were nearly as young as the older students and would fish or play ball with them equally in off hours.
Well you've heard of the little red school house. It was a little red school house. It was a little L-shaped room and it was painted an old barn red. It had big potbellied stove put in the middle of the room. We had something that was better than most of the country schools. We had water in a faucet that was outside the door out by the little porch that was there. Not all schools had that at that time; mining camps did. They had water at their schools at that time.
We had a little stove that sat sort of in the center to keep us warm. In the winter time it was very cold. One of the older boys was supposed to arrive there early, have the fire going, and have the room warm before we got there. That was his job. My first teacher I think was Mrs. Foster.
I can just recall Ms. Mayfield, Lillie Mayfield.
First time I went to school there it was a Chitwood at that time she had not been married, Thelma Chitwood. She married Lemmie Wright's boy, Bob Wright. She's also good teacher and was strict too.
Especially in the winter time, I visited families until daylight, but before I went to school. After it was warmer these same little boys that came and built a fire fished on the river bank till school started.
The first nine months schools in this county were paid for by the Stearns people.
Especially in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. There were a couple of other girls and myself that really did well. We made really good grades and really liked school. We all had aspiration of being a teacher. I think we all admired the woman that taught us at the school.
I went to school there some. But I was 17 years old when I went. And my education was pretty poor. I realized I need to little more if I could get away in school. I think the school teacher's name was Lou Foster. I went to her and asked if I could come to school there. She said, "I could and it would be fine with her if I sat with the other kids. I think it was the fourth grade.
The only thing I resented was walking so far to catch the bus for high school. I walked from Mine 18 to Barthel up to the top of the rocks. In the winter we pulled each other up. We made a chain. Glenford Ross or Gilford Watson would hold onto the bushes. They and my brother Israel would pull us girls up.
I applied once for Berea College in Berea, Kentucky and was even accepted. But I just didn't have the clothes.
I went off and on when I wanted till I got into the fourth grade. I couldn't study. I wasn't cut out for it. If you had education there was nothing to do.
I had told my mother that I wanted to go to college. I had good grades. I felt like I could do well. She told me that dad would never send me to school because I was a girl. I would just get married and drop out. That money would be wasted.
But that was really a happy time because I had never been to school. That was my first year of school was Blue Heron.
You take anybody that knows what education means and they can go to school, why then he is going to learn something. Determination, if you aim to do something and set your mind to do it, why you can do it.