OLD BHS HISTORY
(Written in 1997) By Laura Cartwright
MY OLD SCHOOL WAS SPECIAL AND THERE’S BEEN LOTS OF CHANGES
I was born in 1929.
I began my school years in 1935 in the midst of the Great Depression and a great change in the school situation in Booneville, Mississippi. And a number of things that happened have kept them vividly in my mind.
The eight-acre tract between Fourth and Fifth Streets, about two blocks west of the U.S. Highway 45 (in 2006, it is Highway 145), was deeded to the Booneville School System in 1872 for a school site. It would remain a school site until 1988.
I started to school when I was six years old – and I went to school in the old Booneville West Side School. There were two schools in Booneville at that time – East Side that was Primer through Seventh Grade and West Side that was Primer through Twelfth Grade. The old school where I began my education was a red brick, two story building, with a basement underneath. The basement contained the restrooms; and for years, students at the Booneville West Side facility continued to request to their teachers “May I go to the basement?” when they needed to use the restroom facilities! But my attendance at the old West Side School building was destined to be short-lived. It had been built in the late 1800's. The Great Tornado that hit North Mississippi in April, 1936, caused some damage to a school that was already getting old, and had already been condemned. The Spring of 1936 found construction in progress on the premises of the Booneville School site.
The gym was built first, and that part was completed. The high school building that is between Fourth and Fifth Streets in Booneville today had its inception at that time, and was ready for use a year later – without a basement – but with restroom facilities on the first floor! And it was officially the Booneville High School; and a part of the official Booneville Special Consolidated School District – so named that year.
The building changed in other ways. The old auditorium was L-shaped and west of the classroom on the second floor; the new auditorium faced east on Fourth Street on the ground floor – with the entire building facing the same way.
I didn’t dig all of this out of the records. I did however verify what I already knew!
You see, I remember...........................
I remember the September in 1935, when a little six-year old girl made her way by the school “store” to buy a pencil (My Mama gave me pennies to buy it), and walked across the street to my first day of school – Primer at the Booneville West Side School. Mrs. R.A. Pulliam was my teacher. Her husband was the principal, I think. That was the last year I would go to that particular school as would others from Primer to Twelfth. With plans underway for the new building – from the new buff-colored bricks – our old school was torn down, and we were scattered all over Booneville.
The new gym was intact, so a lot of the classes were held there. But we were in churches and in the old K.P. Hall. Now, what K.P. stood for, I didn’t know, but it was the place for all kinds of entertainment – country bands that appeared in Booneville, dances, musicals, Halloween carnivals, you name it. There were even dance classes for the more affluent.
I remember that I had my First Grade Class (my second year in school) in a small portion – on the bleachers – of the gym. There were just eight or ten of us and we gathered around Miss Ella Bell and a pot-bellied stove.
And then something catastrophic happened. It was in late fall or early winter that the gym burned. It was on a Saturday night. I still remember the huge flames still burning when we went by the building – walking, of course – to Sunday School at the First Methodist Church in downtown Booneville on Sunday morning. That was in 1936.
That meant finding more places for us to attend classes. One of my sisters, who was six years older, and I went to the Booneville East Side School. They (the regular East Side students) went mornings, and we West Siders went in the afternoons. We all walked across town to school in the afternoon – and MY family lived past the Fifth Street area.
I can’t find any records to prove this, but at that time, it must have been when the Primer stopped in Booneville – Kindergarten would begin again some fifty years later. You see, I just know that one day after we stared to school at the East Side, and I was suddenly in the room with a whole room full of kids (larger than my old First Grade), two other children – Fred Davis and Sophie Ellen Reynolds – and myself were taken by the hand and placed in the Second Grade.
I remember the day and the time so well. First Graders didn’t have spelling; Second Graders did. I was put in a spelling class shortly before semester tests. They asked me to spell COOK; and I could have spelled some foreign name just as well. But, they let me stay, even if I couldn’t spell COOK! And I also know that those students who started a year after I did, stayed only one grade behind me – even though I made two grades in one year – First and Second Grades. So, it is my belief that that is the year that Primer was stopped – for Fifty years as I said above.
There are those around me that have no notion at all as to when those changes took place. But, when all these incidents happen to a little girl of six that was born in 1929, she just had to remember.
In checking with dozens of people who were in Booneville Schools in the 1920's, 1930's, and 1940's, I have finally verified what I had already known over the years. And sadly, many of those who verified my facts, are no longer – as a lady said recently – “No longer on the top side of the grass.”
A lady that graduated in 1934 remembered that “Yes, the building was red brick.”
A person who remembered playing basketball, where there was no gym, then remembered, “Yes, we did have one when I graduated in 1936.”
A 1933 graduate remembered, after much research, that the K.P Hall was the Knights of Phythias Hall. This was a fraternal organization with a local chapter in Booneville, but a national organization in scope.
School records in the Office of the Prentiss County Superintendent of Education note a meeting of the County Trustees on April 26, 1936 – “that buildings are presently under construction at the Booneville Special Consolidated School District.” We were still in the eight-months school sessions; nine-months sessions did not begin until the 1946-1947 school year. The name was changed to Booneville Consolidated School District in 1957. Then, through the years, it would be Booneville High School, a part of the Prentiss County School System, and then in 1980, a part of the Booneville Municipal School District, until its closure in 1988. The buildings between Fourth and Fifth Streets remained intact until they were sold “to the highest bidder” in August, 1993.
COPIED FROM THE PRENTISS COUNTY HISTORY - 1984 (By Kathryn Houston)
Since 1872 there has been a high school located on the site where the present Booneville High School now stands. In 1902, a ten-room building was in use. Professor D. A. Hill was superintendent, a position he held for 19 years.
T. H. Freeny served as school superintendent from 1922-27. Samuel S. Sargeant came to Booneville in 1927 to assume the post of school administrator and remained until 1938. In 1936 the existing building was damaged by the tornado of 1936 and rebuilt in 1937. This building was built during the depression using W.P.A. labor. The structure had 17 classrooms. The principals of Booneville High School from 1937 to 1948 were A.F. Fugitt, J.E. Long, Robert Speed, J.W. Sumners, and R. O. Stringer. From 1948 to 1968, Mr. H. N. Tutor was principal. In 1950, eight additional classrooms were added to the south end of the existing building to accommodate the school’s increasing enrollment. A gymnasium was also built.
Principals from 1969 to 1980 were Kenneth Lindsey and Donald Johnson.
In 1980, the Booneville City Schools were separated from the county unit and became the Booneville Separate School District. Mr. Troy Henderson was the superintendent for one year.
Since 1981, Mr. Robert Griffin has been superintendent. John M. Curlee, III, has been principal of the Booneville High School since 1980.
ADDENDUM: (Laura Cartwright)
In the late forties – 1948 or 1949, the Booneville High School Agriculture Department moved from it’s classroom under the gym to a new department facing Fifth Street. Mr. H. W. Parker was the Vocational Agriculture Teacher and worked with a team of veteran instructors there. When Mr. Robert Griffin retired, Larry Morgan, a BHS graduate, took over as superintendent.
The Prentiss County Vocational Technical School was built in 1971 to give Booneville High School’s and the Prentiss County Schools’ students more vocational technical education to better prepare them for future employment. The Director who spearheaded the project and worked with the school for fifteen years was Merril T. Cartwright, former Vocational Agriculture Teacher at BHS, and a BHS graduate.