BEHIND THE BLACKBOARD: Ask not where the old school bell tolls; let's also revisit my kindergarten column

Rick Wagner • Jun 7, 2017 at 3:01 PM

KINGSPORT — I guess when I write a column and call for more information about the subject at hand, I should expect speedy answers.

The same day my May 12 column about the Kingsport High School/old Fort Robinson School ran, I got an email from Dan Moneyhun.

“Mr. Wagner, I very much enjoyed your article on the school in Fort Robinson,” Moneyhun wrote.

“I guess what makes it so interesting to me is that my grandfather attended the school. My father was born in 1879 and later was a student there. From my understanding they called it the Kingsport Academy. What I wanted to tell you about brings it all home to me and my family. Our church (Parkers Chapel, 437 Parker Drive in Beartown) was built in 1930.

“We are located across Stone Drive above Fort Robinson. When the Academy was torn down my Grandfather was in his early 20s. Whoever was over the academy gave the bell to him. My mother, who was born in 1919, recalled the bell being carried to Parkers Chapel Church by a horse and wagon by my grandfather. It was installed in a bell tower on the little Church and the rest is history.

“My Grandfather (Ed Bear) loved the church and loved the bell. That bell has rung continuously for 80-plus years at the start of our services. We built a new church a few years ago and moved the bell to its current location. If you drive by our church at night you can look at the bell tower and see the bell. We lit up the tower so it could be seen. We also restored our original building to the size it was in 1930.”

Also, something else I left out of my Fort Robinson school column: Charles Cox, who came in after reading a Progress edition article about the history of education in Kingsport including the old high school, still lives near the Holston River, although south of it in the Ridgefields community where he has lived for more than five decades rather than to the north of it where he grew up in the Fort Robinson area known as Old Kingsport. He said one of his ancestors in the early 1800s helped build flatboats that were sent down the river from the Boat Yard at Netherland Inn build by William King of Southwest Virginia.

There. Just a little more historical-geographic connections to ponder.

I also need to set the record straight on a column I wrote last year about my kindergarten class at Surgoinsville High School, including a photograph of our class in our Halloween costumes in October 1969.

No, none of my classmates has come forward and definitively identified themselves or others, although one classmate who shall remain nameless says I may be the one in the astronaut costume.

However, I eventually heard from a former fellow Surgoinsville Elementary Eagle. (Technically we were either Eaglettes or Eaglets judging from our early and mid-1970s yearbooks, called the Eaglette in 1971-72, 1973, 1974-75 and the Eaglet in 1976). He had some surprising news for me: My class wasn’t the first. His was.

It seems that in the fall of 1968, Jean Price taught another kindergarten class, the first at our school. I thought ours was first and have since 1969 until March, when I read an October Facebook message from John Parsons, who was in the 1968 kindergarten class. He was the only one to contact me, and I didn’t see his October message until mid-March because I somehow didn’t check Facebook Messenger. (My co-workers will tell you I struggle occasionally with some technology. I am now Facebook friends with John, so I get his messages straightforward. But I managed to lose the original one from him. Go figure.)

I also have been trying to contact Mrs. Price through Facebook and on the phone to no avail, but hopefully I can soon. Sadly, no yearbooks exist that I can find from either 1968-69 or 1969-70 at Surgoinsville Elementary. 

Today’s two lessons: School bells can ring on long after the school is gone, and sometimes when you thought your group was first, it was second.

Double bonus question: What were the two spelling variations for the name of the yearbooks/mascot at Surgoinsville Elementary School in the 1970s? 

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