Education in Troup: Chalk Dust To Computer Disks
Introduction to Chapter 2 of
Treasures of Troup County: A Pictorial History
By Glenda Major and Clark Johnson.
Published by the Troup County Historical Society, 1993.
Nineteenth century descriptions of Troup County often mentioned the character of its people, the beauty of its environs, and its educational facilities. From inception, the county developed a reputation for the large number, variety, and quality of its educational institutions. Students came from as far away as Texas and Virginia to attend school in Troup County. County-wide support of education brought with it refinement and culture.
In 1827, the Inferior Court chartered the first school, Troup County Academy. Five trustees (Whitfield H. Sledge, Samuel Reid, Richard A. Lane, Henry Rodgers, and Charles L. Kennon) managed the academy for boys. Its first teachers, Orville A. Bull and Blount C. Ferrell, later became prominent lawyers and judges. The LaGrange City Council bought the academy in 1838, erected a new building east of town in Greenville and Hill Street area, and renamed it LaGrange High School. The old Troup Academy campus became an extension of the town cemetery, subsequently named Hill View Cemetery. Carlisle P. Beman, founding president of Oglethorpe University, taught at LaGrange High School for several years in the early 1840s. As principal, he instituted a complete course of classical education including Greek, Latin, English and mathematics.
Deed books show donations of land to build academies and institutes all around the county. Many of these schools held class during the week in community churches. Early schools included Pleasant Grove Academy, Gilmer Academy, Chattahoochee Academy, Franklin Academy (renamed West Point Academy when the town changed its name to West Point), Hogan Academy, Home Academy, and Vernon Academy. A variety of subjects were taught.
Schools in LaGrange for instrumental and vocal music and elocution each had approximately one hundred students. In addition to primary schools, there were two female colleges, a high school, and one male university. The county developed a highly regarded reputation in education and many educators in the state and region taught in Troup County. These schools and colleges educated the young people, attracted new people to the area thus boosting the local economies, and beautified their grounds and the neighborhoods around them.
LaGrange College started when Thomas Stanley, a Methodist minister, and his wife Ellen, founded the first school for girls in the area. They held the progressive idea that girls should be given the same educational advantages enjoyed by their brothers. LaGrange Female Academy was granted a charter on December 26, 1831. At that time, educational institutions in Georgia did not have legislative authority to grant degrees to women so the term 'academy' indicated that subjects being taught, such as mathematics and science, were over and above finishing schools. In 1843, Joseph and Hugh Montgomery bought the academy and LaGrange High School. After receiving a charter to give college degrees to women, the Academy's name was changed to LaGrange Female Institute in 1847, to LaGrange Female College in 1851, and to LaGrange College in 1934.
In 1837, Brownwood Institute, a second school for young ladies, was founded by Dr. Robert C. Brown from England. Sarah Coleman Ferrell, a former student of Dr. Brown's, convinced him to leave Scottsboro, Georgia, for LaGrange. Dr. Brown located his school two blocks north of the Square on Church Street and, within a few years, built a new campus west of LaGrange, sparing no expense on its buildings and grounds. After his death, Brownwood passed through several owners before the Rev. Otis Smith made it a male university in 1852. Smith had initially come to the county as head of LaGrange High School. Brownwood closed during the War Between the States never to successfully reopen.
A third female school was founded in LaGrange in 1842 by the Rev. John R. Dawson. Chartered under the name of LaGrange Female Seminary, it became Southern Female College in 1854. Rev. Dawson sold the school to Milton E. Bacon who converted it in 1849 to a college with authority to grant degrees. In the 1890s, part of the college was moved to East Point, Georgia, and Southern ceased to operate in 1917.
West Point and Hogansville also had institutions of higher learning. The West Point Female College was chartered in October 1867 by Major James W. McLendon and was located on College Hill. Dr. A. C. C. Thompson was president for the first two years. A storm in 1873 destroyed the school building and the city agreed to rebuild it. The school continued to operate under President A. P. Mooty until 1876 when the West Point City Schools, the first public city school system in the county, began operation. Professor Mooty served as its first superintendent and the system used the college building. West Point Male College is also known to have been in existence in the 1870s with Professors Durham and McAlpine serving as staff in 1873.
In the Hogansville area, students first studied at Hogan's Institute run by John Hogan, brother of William Hogan. After the War, Hogansville Institute came into being with George C. Looney serving as President. Looney moved on to operate several other schools in western and central Georgia. J. H. and Sallie Covin also taught there. The school remained in operation until 1896 when Hogansville created its public school system.
In fall 1868, an all-white Grand Jury called for more help for blacks, expressing the sentiment that "ignorance and vice armed with the ballot is more to be dreaded than external enemies armed with the bayonet." In response, Benjamin H. Cameron, a planter and builder, provided a free school for black students, as did W. W. Carlisle, a mill owner and farmer. Many newly-organized black churches also opened schools. The county began establishing schools for each race in 1871. In 1876, citizens of LaGrange voted to raise money for various school facilities. Funds collected from the black community went to Warren Temple and Fannin Street Schools.
Though private schools abounded, public education was eventually deemed a necessity. State laws helped make public schools possible. The Troup County Board of Education was created in 1871. As systems developed in each of the three towns, Troup eventually became the only one of Georgia's 159 counties to have four separate school systems -- Troup County (established in 1871), West Point (1876), Hogansville (1893), and LaGrange (1903).
In the latter part of the nineteenth century, America began its transformation from a rural to an urban nation. The 1920 census was the first to show more people living in towns than in rural areas. The population of LaGrange increased by 13,000 from 1903 to 1918 with the coming of the cotton mills making it impossible to keep up with the need for new schools. Textile mills, assisted by funds from the county, operated schools for workers' children until these schools became part of the city system.
Consolidation began in the county school system after World War I. By 1929, twenty-three white elementary schools shrank to nine; black schools in the county similarly merged. Prosperity after World War II brought renewed commitment to education, including renovating schools and building of consolidated county high schools. In the late 1960s and 1970s, integration brought both races together in the county's schools and classrooms. Consolidation again became an issue when West Point's school system merged into the Troup County system in 1986 and LaGrange decided to merge into the county schools in the 1994-95 year.
In 1970, private schools appeared once again when LaGrange Academy opened as a private college preparatory school. Oakside Baptist Church was the first church in post-World War II years to open a parochial school.
To meet business and vocational needs, Troup County Technical School was established in the mid-1960s; it became West Georgia Technical Institute in 1990. Private business colleges offering alternative training began appearing locally after World War II. Perry Business School operated for almost three decades on the Square in LaGrange.
The Callaway Foundation has been a generous benefactor to both public and private educational efforts for over fifty years. The excellent educational facilities in LaGrange and Troup County are to a large part due to continued support from this Foundation. As the twentieth century closes and dust from chalk boards is being replaced by computer chips, education remains central to the growth and prosperity of Troup County.