Tankersley Rosenwald School

Julius Rosenwald was born in Springfield, Illinois in 1862 to German Jewish immigrants.  When he was 16 he moved to New York City to apprentice under his uncles in their clothing business.  He eventually started a clothing manufacturing company with his brother, but it went bankrupt in 1885 and the Rosenwald brothers decided to start over closer to home in Chicago.  They started their new company, Rosenwald & Weil Clothiers, with their cousin.  In 1893 Rosenwald & Weil became the chief clothing supplier for Sears, Roebuck & Company, and by 1903 Julius Rosenwald owned half of Sears.  In 1908 Rosenwald became president of the company, and during several corporate re-organizations Rosenwald became acquainted with the banker Paul J. Sachs.  Sachs in turn introduced Rosenwald to Booker T. Washington.

Julius Rosenwald late in life

Washington is one of the greatest Alabamians in history, and we'll cover him in finer detail in many future posts, but for now we'll look at the basics.  Washington was born a slave in Virginia in 1856.  As a young adult he worked in the salt furnaces and coal mines of West Virginia to save money to attend Hampton Institute back in Virginia.  After graduating and working at Hampton as a teacher, Washington was chosen to be the founding principal of the new Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.  Tuskegee opened in 1881, and Washington started his career as one of the preeminent African-American educators in the nation.  Washington quickly realized that there were wealthy industrialists from outside of the South who might be inclined to offer financial support to the cause of African-American education. 

Booker T. Washington

Soon after Rosenwald and Washington's first meeting, they partnered to build six small schools in rural Alabama to be operated by graduates of Tuskegee.  In 1917 the Rosenwald Fund was established by the family to further "the well-being of all mankind", and the so-called "Rosenwald Schools" soon became one of the funds crowning achievements.  The Rosenwald School program provided funding to build new schools to educate rural African-American children throughout the South, but it centered on matching funding from the local community and a pledge from the local school board to administer the school once construction was complete.  Students and scholars at Tuskegee developed architectural plans that were optimized for conditions in the rural South (such as weather and the lack of electricity), and in thirty years over 5,000 schools were built in fifteen states.

The Tankersley School was built in 1923 as one of fourteen Rosenwald Schools in Montgomery County.  It was added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks & Heritage in 2003.  

Tankersley Rosenwald School historical marker, Hope Hull, Montgomery County, Alabama

Tankersley Rosenwald School
Erected in 1923

This building was one of fourteen schools constructed in Montgomery County with funding assistance from the Julius Rosenwald Fund. Between 1912-1932, Julius Rosenwald, a Jewish philanthropist and CEO of Sears, Roebuck and Company teamed up with Booker T. Washington and Tuskegee Institute to provide matching grants for the construction of school buildings for African Americans in mostly rural areas of the South. This collaborative effort produced more than 5,000 of these buildings in 15 southern states, 289 of which were constructed in Alabama. This building was placed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage in 2001.

First Trustees - Frank Supples, Luke Anderson, John Sankey, Edd Dean, Simon Johnson, Arthur Brown, John Oscar Poole

First Principal - Jacob W. Williams
— Alabama Historical Commission

Tankersley Rosenwald School, Hope Hull, Montgomery County, Alabama


Figh-Pickett House & Barnes School

The Figh-Pickett House was built in 1837 by John P. Figh, Sr.  Figh was a brickwork contractor, and his portfolio included the original campus of the University of Alabama and the first state capitol building in Montgomery.  Sadly, both were destroyed by fire, but Figh recovered some of stone flooring from the capitol and incorporated them into his home.  His services were retained for the building of the current capitol building in 1850.

The Barnes School in 1934 (photo courtesy of the Montgomery County Historical Society)

In 1858 Figh sold the house to Albert James Pickett.  Though trained as a lawyer, Pickett made his name as Alabama's first published historian.  His two volume History of Alabama was published in 1851, and he was working on a comprehensive Southern history when he bought his new home.  Unfortunately he died before his family was able to move in, but they lived their after his death for nearly half a century.

Following the end of the Civil War, the Union Army forces sent to Montgomery requisitioned the Pickett home for use as their headquarters.  Following their departure, Pickett's widow, Mrs. Sarah Pickett, was forced to operate her home as a bed & breakfast.  Mrs. Pickett died in 1894, and in 1906 the Pickett family sold the home to Elly Barnes.

Justus McDuffie "Mack" Barnes in 1912 (photo courtesy of Alabama Department of Archives & History)

In 1898, Justus McDuffie "Mack" Barnes and his son Elkanah Ruff "Elly" Barnes resigned their teaching positions at Highland Home College to open a new school in Montgomery.  The Barnes School opened in the same year, but Mack only stayed on as a teacher until 1904.  In 1906 Elly bought the Pickett home and renovated it to serve as the new campus for his nearly one hundred students.  The Barnes School operated as the premier private school for boys in Montgomery with Elly Barnes as headmaster until 1942, when the loss of faculty members to serve in World War II forced its closure.  Starting with the one room Strata Academy on a farm in 1856 and ending in 1942 in downtown Montgomery, the Barnes family provided nearly a century of education to central Alabama.  It's only a rumor that I haven't been able to verify yet, but I've even been told that Elly Barnes sold the majority of the school's supplies and materials to another institution that started up later in 1942, Montgomery Bible School.  MBS became Alabama Christian College in 1953, and in 1985 it split into Faulkner University, Alabama Christian Academy and Amridge University, so it's possible the Barnes legacy is still technically alive today.

Following the closing of the Barnes School, the building served as a car dealership, a church, a paint store, and a convenience store.  In 1996 it was slated for demolition to make room for the expansion of the federal courthouse.  The Alabama Historical Commission stepped in and partnered with the Montgomery County Historical Society to save the building and have it moved to its current location.  The Society immediately set about restoring it to a more historical appearance, and the building currently serves as their headquarters. It is the oldest surviving brick home in Montgomery County.   The photos below show the two sides of the Figh-Pickett House historical marker, as well as a current look at the front of the building.

Figh-Pickett House historical marker, Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama

Figh-Pickett House

John P. Figh, a native of Maryland, built this, the oldest surviving brick dwelling in Montgomery, ca. 1837, at the corner of Clayton and South Court Streets. Figh was one of the chief contractors for the construction of the Alabama State Capitol. He also served as city alderman. In 1858, Figh sold his house to Alabama’s first historian, Albert James Pickett, from North Carolina. Although Pickett died just before moving in the house, his family lived here for more than 50 years.
— Alabama Historical Association - 1997

Barnes School historical marker, Montgomery, Montgomery County, Alabama

Civil War - Barnes School

In April 1865, the Union Army command made this house its headquarters. Mrs. Pickett hid her silver on an inside ledge of the cupola. Later, former Confederate Generals Hood, Bragg and Walker visited here. In 1906, Professor Elly Barnes bought the house for use as a private school for boys, which rapidly achieved fame for its quality. The Barnes School closed in 1942. In 1996, the house was rescued from demolition with the help of the Alabama Historical Commission and moved to its present location by the Montgomery County Historical Society.
— Alabama Historical Association - 1997

Figh-Pickett House, former home of the Barnes School, current home of the Montgomery County Historical Society


Highland Home College

In our last post we learned about the Barnes family and the establishment of a new community around their plantation and their school Strata Academy.  We're going to pick back up today and focus on the school.

In 1856 Strata Academy was founded in southwestern Montgomery County by Justus McDuffie "Mack" Barnes.  Mack had just returned home with a new degree from Bethany College, and his father decided to help him set up a school.  The first year Mack had thirteen students and classes met on his father's farm, but Strata Academy thrived.  Within a few years they built a new building to the east of the family home, and in 1872 that site became a campus when Mack hired his first partner.  Samuel Jordan also became Mack's brother-in-law, and in 1879 they Colonel M.L. Kirkpatrick married the other Barnes daughter and became the third brother-in-law and third teacher and partner at Strata Academy.  The next three years saw serious sickness, including the deaths of three students, which prompted the trio to look for a new site for the school.  In the end they bought 500 acres on a ridge about six miles to the south, just across the border into Crenshaw County.  The move provided an opportunity to rebrand, and so in 1881 Strata Academy became Highland Home Institute.  In 1889 the name was changed again, to Highland Home College.

The new building was the largest structure in the county, and contemporary reports indicate it may have been the nicest educational building in the entire region.  Here is a photo of the building, followed by a description from Mack's son, Elly Barnes.

It was a two-story frame building, 100 feet long by 50 feet wide. The lower story was divided into four recitation rooms, each spacious, and into smaller rooms for books and apparatus, the entire upper floor was one large auditorium, unbroken by post or other obstruction. A grand hall for concerts or for Christmas celebrations! But it was by no means reserved for such occasional use. Every minute of every school day it was a busy place.
— E.R. "Elly" Barnes, son of Mack Barnes

Kirkpatrick taught at the college until his death in 1892.  In 1898 Mack Barnes and his son Elly decided to start a new venture in Montgomery, the Barnes School.  That institution will be the focus of our next post.  The two Barnes men continued their relationship with HHC as board members.  While the school had seen a high enrollment of nearly 500 students, the onset of World War I, along with the establishment of colleges run by the state, caused declining enrollment.  Mack Barnes died in an automobile accident in Montgomery in 1913, and in 1915 Highland Home College closed its doors with Samuel Jordan still serving as President.  The campus was sold to the state of Alabama for educational use, and Highland Home High School sits on the grounds today.

The next two photos show the Highland Home College historical marker and the location of the marker in front of Highland Home High School. 

Highland Home College historical marker, Highland Home, Crenshaw County, Alabama

Site Of Highland Home College

A pioneer institution organized in 1889 by Justus M. Barnes, Samuel Jordan and Milton L. Kirkpatrick. This was an extension of Strata Academy, founded in 1856 by Barnes six miles north at Strata. In 1881 Strata Academy was moved to Highland Home and the name changed to Highland Home Institute. From its inception, the school was coeducational. It brought culture to frontier Alabama —- music, foreign languages, science, literature, and drama as well as “the Three R’s.” Although never a religious institution, Bible courses were offered. Its graduates provided the State many distinguished citizens. When the economics of competing with state normal schools forced it to close its doors forever, in 1915, it had served Alabama continuously for 59 years. The trustees deeded this property to the State of Alabama in 1916 for educational use.
— Erected by the Barnes, Jordan, Kirkpatrick Memorial Association - 1977

Setting of Highland Home College historical marker, Highland Home, Crenshaw County, Alabama


Fair Prospect Cemetery

First, let me apologize for the unscheduled two week break.  My computer was acting up, and in the end I got a new PC and I'm running Windows 10, and everything seems to be going smoothly now.  Second, we're going to do a bit of a series with the two posts this week and the first post next week.  Today we're going to start with a hidden cemetery on a little bluff above US-331, but it's going to eventually lead to the birth of organized education in central Alabama.

In 1828 a twenty-three-year-old preacher from Georgia named William McGauhy came through central Alabama.  His evangelistic efforts ended with the establishment of the Fair Prospect Church, the oldest Restoration Movement church in the state, and one of the twelve original members was seventeen-year-old Mary Lumpkin.  Two years later Mary married Elkanah Barnes, and six years after that they had their first child, Justus McDuffie Barnes, better known as Mack.  By the time Mack was 11, he had two little sisters, and the Barnes family moved from their one room log cabin into a new plantation house.  Mary intended to name the home, and the community around it, after the Greek geographer Strabo.  Unfortunately, the postal service misread her letter, and so the new post office was named Strata.  In 1854, the Barnes family sent Mack to study at Bethany College, a liberal arts school in West Virginia founded by Alexander Campbell in 1840.  Mack finished his degree in only two years, and returned to his father's farm unsure of what to do next.  His father encouraged him to teach, and so in September 1856 Strata Academy was founded with thirteen students on the Barnes plantation.  We'll return to Strata Academy in our next post.

16th century engraving of Strabo (public domain)

The Fair Prospect Church was thriving in the 1850s, and they had established a cemetery adjacent to the building.  The oldest extant graves date back to 1851.  In 1870, the church building was struck by lightning and burned to the ground.  The congregation left the cemetery in place but started meeting in one of the new Strata Academy buildings a little less than two miles north on present-day US-331.  The Academy left the property in 1881 (we'll cover the reasons in our next post), and the old Fair Prospect congregation still meets to this day on that site as the Strata Church of Christ.

The Fair Prospect Cemetery is still in use as well, even if it is a little hard to get to.  Elkanah and Mary Barnes are both buried there, and there is a memorial for Mack, but he is actually buried in Montgomery.  Below you'll find photos of the cemetery's historical marker, the memorial for Mack Barnes, the entrance to the cemetery along US-331, and the current Strata Church of Christ building.  The map shows the cemetery historical marker, but if you follow US-331 about 1.7 miles north you'll find the current church building on the right side of the road at Hickory Grove Road.

Fair Prospect Cemetery historical marker, Montgomery County, Alabama

Fair Prospect Cemetery
Montgomery County

Atop this hill lies Fair Prospect Cemetery, established in the 1840s as part of Fair Prospect Church. Land was donated for the church and cemetery by Benjamin Mitchell (1765-1848) and his wife Jane Scrimpton Mitchell (1775-1850). The location of their graves is unknown. The earliest marked burials date to 1851 and the cemetery is still active today. Justus M. Barnes, founder of Strata Academy, was a leader in the congregation and his parents are buried here. In the 1870s, the church burned after lightning struck it and the congregation began meeting at Strata Academy. When the Academy moved and became Highland Home College, the church retained the campus building on the site of Strata Church of Christ. A.S. Naftel, founder of the Naftel community, acquired much of the Mitchell lands after 1850 and members of his family are buried here.

Listed in the Alabama Historic Cemetery Register
— Jay & Ruth Mitchell Ott, Descendant of Bejamin Mitchell - 2011

Memorial to the founders of Strata Academy, Fair Prospect Cemetery, Montgomery County, Alabama

Barnes, Jordan, Kilpatrick

Preachers, teachers, planters,
when this was wild frontier,
taught with love unstinted,
helped bring religion here.
Kith and kin take notice.
These leaders neath this sod
shaped a growing country
their monument to God.

— Erected in loving memory by Dr. M.B. Kirkpatrick

Entrance to Fair Prospect Cemetery, Montgomery County, Alabama

Strata Church of Christ, former site of Strata Academy, Montgomery County, Alabama


Pike Road School

In 1997, Pike Road became the first incorporated town in Montgomery County other than the city of Montgomery.  However, the community of Pike Road is much older.  In fact, Pike Road was home to the very first consolidated school in Montgomery County all the way back in 1918.

In the fall of 1918, the Montgomery County Board of Education opened the Pike Road School.  It originally sat on thirty acres and cost $40,000.  The school's concept was novel enough to have it included as part of Alabama's exhibit eight years later at the Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition, a 1926 world's fair in Philadelphia.  The school had 27 graduating classes, and from 1945 to 1970 it continued to operate as a junior high school.  

In 2010, the town of Pike Road created the Pike Road Schools system, and on August 13, 2015 the new Pike Road School opened off Marler Road.  The first campus is currently housing kindergarten through eighth graders, and the first school year will conclude in a little over a month.  In October 2015, Pike Road announced they had purchased the old Pike Road School building, as well as the surrounding 26 acres.  Current plans have the building being renovated and re-opened in January 2017.  I've included an artist's rendering of the old Pike Road School property, followed by a rendering of the new school building.

Historic Pike Road School rendering (image courtesy of the Town of Pike Road)

New Pike Road School site rendering (image courtesy of the Town of Pike Road)

The next two photos show the historical marker and a recent shot of the old school building, pre-renovation.  The text of the marker is in the middle.

Pike Road School historical marker, Pike Road, Montgomery County, Alabama

Pike Road School

Montgomery County’s first school to consolidate rural, one-room school houses into grades one through twelve opened November 11, 1918. The school was built by the Montgomery County Board of Education on 30 acres of land at a cost of $40,000 with monies loaned and donated by families from surrounding settlements. Hailed by the U.S. Commissioner of Education when it was featured in the Alabama Exhibit at the 1926 Sesquicentennial International Exposition in Philadelphia, the school subsequently attracted foreign educators from Europe and South America interested in observing the system. The last graduating class was in 1945; the school remained a junior high school until its closing in May 1970.
— Sponsored by the Pike Road School Alumni Association - Alabama Historical Association - 1997

Old Pike Road School building, Pike Road, Montgomery County, Alabama

I definitely plan on revisiting this topic when the building re-opens.  The town of Pike Road encompasses several fascinating old historical communities, and I'll be watching with great interest as they strive to be a fully functioning 21st century town.