Arley's A.B. Meek School

Written by: Gladys L. Chambless

This is not a history of Arley’s schools that consolidated with Meek School; nor of some of the older schools that merged with other schools that then also consolidated with the Meek School. I have merely listed the names of all the schools, in this big, beautiful area of the Free State that are now a part of our school. As well I have listed those schools that once played a big part in Meek School growth, but because of circumstances beyond our control, we lost those schools. It must be remembered that Mr. W.B. Mauldin has written a history of Arley’s schools. This is all the names I have come up with. There may have been other old schools here before and since our county was formed.

On ten acres of land given by Mr. and Mrs. J.E. Wadsworth, the big, new school was erected in the early 1920’s, for the purpose of better schooling for East Winston children; not only for them, but for all time to come. For up until the building of Arley’s Meek School System, nowhere in all of this East part of Winston was there a school where school children could finish high school. To graduate from high school, was the aim and the dream of many a boy and girl in those advanced days of better learning in school over in other parts of Winston. That is to say in Haleyville, the largest town in the county, and Double Springs, the county seat town.

Chiefly through the efforts of Mr. Warren Hamner and Mr. Claud Hiller, this school system came about in an area carefully chosen so as to best serve all the smaller schools scattered for miles and miles in this beautiful, well-wooded, well watered rural area of the Free State. A consolidated school, it was the first to be consolidated in our county. The school was named the A.B. Meek School in honor of a kinsman of Mr. Warren Hamner, during whose administration that the public school system was established all over our fair state.

But a short distance away, known as Dismal, Alabama, on other Wadsworth land, stood in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s two very active Church schools near the home of J.E. Wadsworth. This was Old Union, a church schoolhouse with Ada Hallman as the first teacher who boarded with the Evans. Mr. Chris Evans had the duty of walking to school beside Miss Hallman, which he still declares was a humiliating experience to him. The other nearby school was a Methodist Church School known as Green’s Chapel; three pupils who went to school there were J.E. Wadsworth, Lessie Cook Hiller, and Mrs. Oscar Lane, who was a Miss [Willie] Sachs before her marriage. All of them now are long since gone but not forgotten.

Meek School opened wide her doors for one month in the spring of 1923; into the fall of that year, that term was a seven months term. In 1928 the first class to graduate were five students I list here: Sarah Fincher White, Dora Hiller Davis, Claudia Davis, Era Fuller Atkins, and Carrie Barrons. Each of these young ladies became school teachers over the county at first. Era Fuller soon married and left out. Sarah White taught school as well and then served as Arley’s Post Mistress for several years. Dora Davis taught school here at Meek for many years. Her first school at Ardell, Alabama. I understand Carrie Barrons after more than her quota of teaching years is only this year retiring, or is she? Mrs. Davis and Mrs. Atkins now deceased. With its final opening of its doors in the fall of 1923, three or four of the nearby schools consolidated with Meek. Among the first was Nathan Church School, coming from the Lindelley school down the road from near the Jim Baird old place. The church known as Valley Springs, so the little town of Nathan was first known as Valley Springs, soon changed to Nathan when the Post Office was moved from Helican to Nathan in 1911. Mr. Bob Estes was the first teacher and Mrs. Mollie Hamner was the last teacher at Nathan’s Valley Springs School.

Now two more nearby schools consolidated with Meek School in 1923. One of these, the Old Arley School, built in 1903, with Dewey Mitchell as the first teacher, Nellie Fritz the last teacher in this grand old two story school. The only two story school for miles around.

Smith School House north from Meek School, consolidated with Meek in 1923 also. Harve Smith, patriarch of the Smith family gave two acres of land for $5.00 for Church/Schoolhouse and cemetery. Jesse G. Davis was the first teacher, Lollie Young was the last teacher.

Over near Rock Creek, above the Hadder Cemetery, an old school known as Cool Springs must have been established and built before our county was formed in 1850, for it was from an old settlement. Evans, Fincher, and Smith parents come to settle and establish the Smith Schoolhouse. This area is remembered from nearly a hundred years ago as an old settlement. Since Winston was formed in 1850 from Walker, Morgan, Lawrence, and perhaps a corner from Blount, proves that among Winston’s earliest settlers came very ambitious, far-sighted people who did so desire the best churches and schools for not only their descendants, but for all our nation’s descendants to come. For it’s from these old established schools that our parents, grandparents, and great greats to come.

Down the old Arley to Mellville Road that’s by the Mount Hope Cemetery, the road is known as Davis Loop. There across the road from the Chambless place, once many years ago stood a little log church school house known at first as New Hope, a Methodist Church. Issom Gibson was the first and only teacher during the short time it was known as the Gibson school. In the not so late 1800’s came the Hillers from Georgia and bought out the Hughes and the Gibsons in those parts. This soon then became known as the Hiller School, for that dear old one-legged man taught school, farmed, led his family in many up and coming pursuits. He and his wife gave land for a Methodist Church and cemetery, known now for so many years as Arley’s Mount Hope Cemetery.

Now this takes me on over to Piney Ridge School, another of Arley’s old church schools, and the last school down the road going toward Jasper, Alabama. The little log school was built on one half acres of land in 1900, consolidated with Meek in 1926. The first teacher was John Connelley, the last teacher was Rosie Gibson Fuller. Now this takes me to ‘Duh furder side, Big Dismal, as old folks used to say. The first old school site we come to is where the Old Meliville Church/School once stood beside and near the livery stable, the post office, the store, and the grist mill. But when progress brought business and more and more people to elsewhere nearby, the Church/School moved on over the way to what became McClellan Chapel Methodist Church and Possum Trot School, all under the same roof as at Melville. But now Melville being by no means the first school over that way, I come to what I have heard and the records that show Old Bethel was the first school organized in this eastern part of the Free State. It was established by a group of ambitious and interested citizens, as church as well as school, in 1874. When the 18 foot square, dirt floor, split log benches became too small for the increasing number of students, a larger well built of lumber, Church/School was built on down the way near Big Bear Branch, with glass windows, a flu for a wood-burning heater and with a wonderful spring of good cold water nearby. Fletch Hembree was one of the teachers. Here it was that Walter Wilson said was his first and last schooling. He was born in 1897, he said started to school when he was 7 in about 1904, and there he attended school for about seven years.

It seems now that I have come to the place where only McClellan Chapel is the only school over this way, for the Wilson Bend, Old Melville, and Possum Trot children attend. So far, I haven’t gotten any dates on when the McClellan school disbanded. I know it had to by or before 1931, for I knew on my first visit to Possum Trot in December 1931 that all the schools over this way had already consolidated with Meek School, for two of my younger brothers went to Meek School in some kind of vehicle: a fixed-up truck or a bus of sorts.

But I find the next old school coming out of the Wilson Bend is merely the remains of an old school from time to time back in the past. This is what was left of an old school behind Nunnelley’s home. I heard it was back of Loyd Nunnelley’s store, but Miss Mae says it was behind her home. So far as I can learn, no one around here today can tell me the names or the time such a school existed.

A few years ago Dave Hufstuttler told me he went to school at McClellan’s Chapel and when it discontinued, he went to school at the Hamner School up behind and near his parents’ home. I forget who he said it gave them more hours of hard work every morning and every evening around the place and in the fields. He never liked that so well he said. Dave said he did not remember the Lindelley School, but he did remember the Valley Springs Church/School at Nathan of course.

It seems that schools, churches, and citizenry did not and would not thrive without post offices, passable roads especially, nearby stores, reasonable walking distances to schools, so for a good many years, Arley’s schools wandered from here and there and from there to here. But during all these years, all the Wilson Bend and the Lindelley School down the road apiece from the Nathan of today, moved there to remain a Church/School until 1923, when it consolidated with Meek.

Later I learned the old schoolhouse place behind the Nunnelleys was where the older Lindelley boys went to school: Jim, Will, Tom, and not too sure about Dave. The name of the school is not known, but it may have been a church too. Dave said he did not know if the building was an old one or later school; it was a very small one.

Now let us cross Rock Creek to explore all the vast, beautiful part of our Winston that was left us when the boundary line of Cullman County was changed.

It was finally established in the late 1800’s; it was discovered in 1899 that the Nesmith Post Office was just inside the Cullman County boundary. The post office was then soon discontinued to Helican on August 31, 1907. It had been an active post office in that part of Winston from June 3, 1875. Soon after this date, the first school possibly the only school had been organized and, probably, a Church/School there nearby where the Nesmith Methodist Church now is located. Now there is no record nor remembrance that the Nesmith School ever consolidated with the Meek School. Rather, they consolidated with the Addison School in the 1930’s. Since they had finally lost their post office to Arley from Helican to Nathan, with probably no transportation to Meek School and desiring high education for all their children, they chose Addison School. Addison had become a senior high too.

Now Helican must have in the 1930’s sent her high school students to Meek School, for it must have been in those days that transportation became available from Meek School for the Mount Zion School children, the Flat Rock, Ardell, as well as Helican’s higher grade children. It was quite a few years later before Helican’s Elementary grades consolidated with Meek. Well, it was after the Elementary School burned, leaving the children without school rooms but a nice recently built lunch room.

Now it’s true when the Cullman County west boundary, from South to North line, was finally established between Winston and Cullman, this placed Flat Rock just inside Cullman County, with Ardell School in Winston and Ardell Post Office in Walker County, established in 1893, changed to Winston on January 20, 1904. It was in Ardell School that one of Meek’s first graduates in 1928, taught her first school in 1930. This was Dora Hiller (Davis). Since at the time there was no nearby high school for the Flat Rock children, some of the Flat Rock High School students came to Meek High School as well. Through the years, students came from Crane Hill Junior High to graduate from Meek. I believe some of those high school boys and girls still do come from Flat Rock and Crane Hill to finish their schooling.

Now this gets all the known schools, from the east side of Rock Creek in the reaches of Meek School, by furnished transportation, which was for a good many years in reaching the standard of today’s bussing.

We will re-cross Rock Creek at this time and come to Meek School from all the schools west of the Cullman County line and those in the borders of Cullman County, which is of course a big part of Winston’s eastern border.

And now, I must get on with some of the other schools that once helped fill Meek School’s classrooms; their presence and their influence still felt not only in the classrooms, but in the community as well. I have referenced here to the Houston High School students and all the Pleasant Hill School children, that by the early 1930’s, must have consolidated with the Meek School. It was at the Pleasant Hill School that Sarah Fincher taught her first school in 1930. It was in these hallowed halls that the Pleasant Hill School children then continued their readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic; their high school subjects to graduate from dear old Meek High throughout the several years they had the privilege of attending Meek School. Soon after the building of the Smith Lake Dam, Brushy rose too high for the bridge we were promised and did later get, so we lost all those children to Addison.

The same fate only worse happened to our Fall City group of school children. We simply did not get another bridge across the river road from that big beautiful Clear Creek, Fall City, and Black Pond area. We lost all those children also to wherever. It is true we had but few of those children at the opening of Meek School except a few brave and very determined students who never let a river flow between them to keep them from getting a high school education. It was soon after the Gibson Bridge was built across the river in 1932 that the school children from the three elementary school were bussed to Meek School. Mr. Dalton Waldrop was one of the bus drivers; William Ivy Key was one too. For about 30 years those children helped fill the Meek Schools classrooms and brightened the halls of dear old Meek School, like the Houston and Pleasant Hill children, buried themselves deep in the hears of the school children as well as the community. So to all these Fall City/Beltone School children, I give here these lines from their school days to tie them in with Arley’s Meek School children as they graduated from school together yet with no difference between them all including Pleasant Hill and Houston High School students.

Faithful, loyal, firm and true,
Hearts bound to hearts will beat,
Year by year the ages through,
‘Till in Heaven we meet.

So proudly still Meek School marches on, doing herself proud in all the ways all our nation’s schools do. Built up from all the schools that have gone on before in this once wilderness area; one of the finest school systems in our fair state. Certainly she has proved true, the dreams, hopes, and plans her founders and all those school-minded forefathers that marched on before in log buildings, dirt floors, one teacher, split-log seats, slate, Blue Back spellers, cold old rooms, or hot ones in the short summer terms. Brave indeed were the stern, young professors or pretty young ladies who taught the youngest to the oldest school children in those old log or poorly built buildings that passed for schoolhouses and often as church houses as well. Many were the graduates from the Blue Back speller to the fifth grade, in those days which qualified man or woman, boy or girl, to teach and meant that a passing education in those days cost but little except determination, close study, and perseverance.

It certainly goes without sayings that without those first old school buildings, no longer remembered by so many, those old one, two, and three room buildings that led out to the consolidated school system, we know as the A.B. Meek School here at Arley, we would have less than some of the finer things to remember today. The music of the so often sung "My County ‘Tis of Thee," the Lasting Blessing of the Lord’s Prayer as it was repeated each school morning by each child in the nearer days as well those of the past. Remembrance days from whence is the foundation of our schools knowledge, its dreams, and its aims of today.

For our churches as well, our school is strengthened still to carry on from the school I have listed in my discourse…the more than 20 of them and still here with our Meek School children, let us proudly say:

On old Winston’s eastern border,
Reared against the sky,
Proudly stands our alma mater,
As the years go by.