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Exploring the history of Sullivan High School

By Jill Riggs Rich • Sep 8, 2019 at 9:30 AM

The history of education in our Sullivan Gardens community begins before Sullivan High School was built.

Clover Bottom Academy, or Clover Bottom High School, was built soon after 1875. It was of log construction and located on Horse Creek. The 1902-1903 pamphlet for Clover Bottom Academy tells that this section of the county is deservedly famous for its beautiful scenery and healthful climate. The school is 12 miles from the Virginia and Southwestern Railway, and eight miles from Chimney Top Mountain. The building is a commodious, two-story frame edifice, containing five large rooms. The study rooms are well seated. The auditorium is finished in plain style and can seat 500. It affords ample accommodations for all the important public gatherings of the school. There are four acres of land belonging to the institution.

First through tenth grade classes were offered there. Children from the Childress, Dolen, Duncan, Steadman, Rutledge, Coats, Cross, Easley, Kent, Pierce, Tipton, Bailey, Carroll, Eads and Hood families attended the school. Trustees, at the time, are listed as: T. J. Kent, John N. Steadman, W. N. Bachman, John Dolen, George Fields, Thomas J. Bachman, J. H. Haws, Charles Eades, W. M. Coates, and John Childress. The school was discontinued in the early 1900s.

A school for Horse Creek

In 1939, the following was published in the Kingsport Times:

“On a summery, Sunday afternoon, two farmer-neighbors in the Horse Creek section were sitting on a front porch discussing the problem of education for their children. A little eight-year-old youngster sat by listening intently to the conversation. The conversation ran something like this: “George, what are we going to do about our children? The school closest to us is four miles away. The little fellows can’t be expected to make that distance on foot over a mud road. Are we going to let them grow up without a chance to get any schooling?

“Sammie, do you see that log house over there on the hill? Well, there’s no one living in it and I’d be glad to donate it as a schoolhouse, board a teacher and help the rest of the neighbors with her pay if we can get one.”

Miss Ella Sturm, of Bristol, was engaged to give the instruction.

That’s the conversation that led to the foundation of the first school in Horse Creek, only a half mile from the present modern institution at Sullivan High School. The conversation recalled here by the late Dr. E. W. Tipton was between his father, George Tipton and Samuel Bachman, and was the nucleus for an educational center in that section of the county.

The farmers got together and prepared the building for a school room. There were no desks. Benches were made for the children. Writing was practiced on slates. The heat was furnished by a huge fireplace. Neighbors would get together on a fall day and cut down a tree. This furnished enough wood for the term. Four subjects were taught in the school. The pupils were taught to read, write, spell and to make figures.

Approximately 20 children were sent to this school. The boys were seated on one side of the room and the girls were seated on the other.

According to this and other published reports, Horse Creek Academy, later called Horse Creek High School, was located across the road from the present-day Glen Alpine United Methodist Church.

On Sept 29, 1881, William and Lucinda Childress gave land in the Fifteenth Civil District “on which was located a school named Horse Creek Academy.” The deed was made to the school commissioners of Sullivan County. A charter of incorporation for Horse Creek Academy was applied for by Eli Ratliff, Isaiah Worley, Elihu E. Cox, E. H. Bachman, and George M. Bachman “for the promotion of worship, school, and other public purposes which may advance the moral and intellectual good of the community.” The charter was granted in 1896 to the Horse Creek Education Society, “be it known that John F. Pearce, George A. Tipton, J. M. Dolen, John Stidham, E. P. Easley, W. B. McClellan, and J. N. Stidham are hereby constituted a body politic and corporate by the name of Horse Creek Educational Society for the purpose of conducting an institution of learning.”

In 1906, Superintendent J.E.L. Seneker reported two teachers at Horse Creek Academy. T. J. Duncan was the principal and Miss Dixie Bullock was the assistant.

In August 1925, Mr. Sam Steadman, Mr. Hale and Mr. Burkey spoke to the Board of Education in regard to a junior high school being built and located at Horse Creek. They presented a list of 31 students ready for high school. At the time, there was no high school south of the river. Matter was held for later consideration as there was no money.

At the June 10, 1926, school board meeting, the committee heard from the Horse Creek delegation in regard to high school work in their school. Dr. Bailey spoke, presenting Mr. W. D. Lyons, who moved that a high school teacher be placed at Horse Creek and the state be requested to recognize the school. In August 1926, the school board approved the purchase of paint for the upstairs of Horse Creek Academy. The community was to pay for the labor of painting the rooms.

The April 1928 school board meeting approved the transfer of the students at the Depew School to Horse Creek Academy. Mr. H. L. Riggs was instructed to receive bids on transferring the children.

Growth continues

During the May 1928 school board meeting, Dr. Bailey, T. J. Duncan, E. A. Dykes, S. P. Steadman and others spoke concerning the high school at Horse Creek. It is (at that time) a two-year school, and the delegation asks that three years of high school work be done next year. Eleven pupils finished the two-year work that year and these patrons wish to have them at home next year. Board agreed to do three years’ work at Horse Creek and be approved by the state. On motion by Mr. Riggs, Jake Light was elected to transfer students from the Island section on Horse Creek Road to Horse Creek School.

The December 1928 board meeting heard the Horse Creek delegation once again — this time in regard to a plan for providing this section with a high school. Though no money was available, the delegation wanted the board to be looking ahead and planning for this improvement. That was presented by Dr. Bailey, Esq. Fields, and Mr. Childress. On motion by Mr. Worley, the board agrees with the need for a high school south of the river somewhere in the Horse Creek section. The motion: Favored and unanimously passed.

Persistence pays off

Persistence by members of the Horse Creek delegation paid off.

In August 1929, a letter from W. A. Bass, state high school supervisor, was received giving approval for Horse Creek High School to be made a three-year high school. A home economics teacher is authorized for the 1929-1930 school year.

After much work and thought, at the August 1930 school board meeting, on a motion by Mr. H. L. Riggs, a second by Mr. Cox and approval by Judge J. A. Caldwell, it is ordered that the board proceed with plans and erect in time for school this fall a building on Horse Creek not to exceed $12,000 in cost out of elementary funds. The motion passed unanimously. In January 1931, Allen Dryden is selected as architect for the new school.

Horse Creek High School was discontinued in 1931 when Sullivan High and Elementary School were built for grades 1 through 12.

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