Rhea Springs School

Rhea Springs School is pictured, date unknown.

It seems that summer has just really begun, and the start of school is upon us! Teacher In-service began July 29, and the first full day for students is Monday, August 5. Naturally, the weather is hot as a firecracker, and the humidity high, but life goes on. A number of years ago, students began school after Labor Day and were out early in the year to pick strawberries. However, our lifestyle has changed, and so have all things associated with it. Looking back in our history, we see that Rhea County had a much different existence, with education being very different from that of today.

In our world of today, most citizens take institutions of learning for granted. There are schools designed to serve all students, with or without special needs, and highly qualified teachers to provide instruction for those students. During the 1800’s, settlements and towns were centered around a church and school; many times the same building was used for both, and this was the main thrust of social life for the people. From Amanda Neal Wheelock’s writing we find that the town of Rhea/Sulphur Springs was built around the spring, the church house and the school house, with two large stores. Also, from a Chattanooga Free Press article written by Luther C. Griffith, a Spring City businessman, we learn that the school term never lasted more than three months. Unfortunately, there is no date given on the newspaper article; however, it was written a short time before the Rhea Springs Resort was due to be submerged.

According to Churches and Schools of Rhea County, T.K. Munsey is thought to be the founder of Sulphur Springs Academy. The following is a list of Sulphur Springs Academy students: Sidnah McDonald, Sallie Templeton, Mollie Mc Elwee, Phronia Wasson, Eliza Cash, Jennie Munsey, Mary McDolad (McDonald?), Sallie Johnston, Mollie Patterson, Mollie Foust, Eliza Day, Clemmie Evans, Lassie Munsey, Mary Harbbord, Hannah Day, Annie Colwell, Lizzie Day and William McPherson. These names were found on a scrap of paper in an old ledger with no date, and with no other information given. (Many seem to be misspelled.)

In 1878 the name was changed from Sulphur Springs to Rhea Springs, and the Rhea Springs Academy was established during the early 1870’s. John R. Neal, Sr. was principal, but resigned after a year in order to practice law. Also serving as principals were John E., Sam and Townsend Pyott, along with Professor W.E. Meagley, who was from Hosking, Ohio. Other teachers named by Mrs. Wheelock included: Mr.George McKenzie, Mr. Pope, Miss Hattie Stratton, Miss Mollie Mills, Miss Luta Day, Miss Lassie Munsey, Miss Cora Shepherd, Miss Sallie Kimbrough, Miss Jennie Neal, Miss Feb King, Miss Maud McNutt, Miss Anna Roddy, Miss Lula Dye, Miss Minnie Love, Mrs. Owings, Miss Cora Patterson (art), Professor Emmett A. Lowery, Mr. Charles Rankin, Professor Gortner and Mr. Frank Kincannon (writing). There is also a list of teachers featured in a book of poetry, which was edited by Ova Lee Coulter Brown in 1953. This small book has poetry written by fifteen different people, and an introduction by Mrs. Brown, which includes pastors, blacksmith owner and helpers, teachers, star and rural carriers and other persons of interest. Included in this list of teachers are the following: Bessie white, Wayne Smith, Flora Kelley, James Martin, Mrs. Herbert Wyatt, Dollie Tallent, James Reid Caldwell, Victor Defendfer, Martha (Tallent) Brady, Virginia McPherson, Mr. & Mrs. Milburn White, Imogene Crosby, Mrs. Emma McSmith, Ella Tramell, Mrs. Gertrude Robbins, Gladys Duggar, Lucille Moulton, Nellie Tallent, Mrs. Charles McCuiston, Cecil (Monday) Cash, Frances Gross, Glena Sharpe and Hazel (Wyatt) Ketchersid.

A note in the Rhea Springs section of The Chattanooga Times dated October 1, 1881 tells the reader that the school at Rhea Springs is “well attended and that Mr. Megley and his assistant, Miss May Perkinson, are splendid teachers, and our town is well maintaining its reputation as a place where young people can be educated.” Then, from the August 6, 1931, Dayton Herald, we are told that the grammar school at Rhea Springs opened August 3 with an enrollment of seventy pupils, and that Mrs. Charles McCuistion was principal, with Mrs. Alvin Tallent being in charge of the primary grades.

As we can see, a good education was considered an integral part of life in the days of Sulphur/Rhea Springs. Not only did the students have the best teachers available in that time, but they carried good memories of school with the remainder of their life. We can learn a great deal from information passed down to us from our ancestors. Remember, to learn from the past in order to live in the present and prepare for the future.

Pat Guffey can be reached at pat459@charter.net