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Bimonthly Article 

Fitzhugh Lee School: 110 Years old and still going
March & April, 2006

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Fitzhugh Lee was first organized under the name of Locust Grove School in a one room 16 x 18 log cabin in 1896 and served all school grades. It is said to have been the first high school in the Cobb County system.

It is currently named "Fitzhugh Lee Center of Haven Academy" and it is classified as a Transitional Learning Center. The classes address students with language and behavioral problems.

It is located in the unincorporated area of Cobb County 1.5 miles south of the Smyrna city limits and 3.3Fitzhugh Lee School miles from the Smyrna Museum and Market Village.

Several histories of the school have been written over the years and this article has been prepared from those records, newspaper articles, personal interviews with former students and principals and other materials at the Smyrna Museum.

Harry Maner and his wife Alyce are members of the Smyrna Historical Society and "retired" volunteers at the Museum. Harry is the great grand son of Robert William Maner who was one of the people who donated (sold it for $1.00) the land for the original school. J. W. Brown was the other one.

The land is located on a high ridge in District 17 Section 2, land lot 748 in the Oakdale area of unincorporated Cobb County that today gives a breathtaking view of the downtown Atlanta skyline.

A brief history in the 1942 Gray Book (yearbook) stated "A small tract of land was given by Wiley Brown and R. W. Maner, for the erecting of a school building for the children, either rich or poor of this community.

The school was only 16 x 18 feet, and the furnishings were very poor. The seats were made of pine slabs supported by pegs driven into poles, two at each end. On one side of the room, nails were driven into the wall for the children's coats and hats. In the summer two poles were attached to the roof and covered with limbs and this "brush arbor" was used as a classroom. There were only 15 students in the school when it first opened.

On September 5, 1899 Robert William Maner donated an additional tract of land which was located "on the west side where the line crosses the old wagon road. (Presently named West Atlanta Road) That plot ran 70 yards south, 35 yards west, 70 yards north, and 30 yards east to the point of beginning.

The transfer of land from R. W. Maner to the School Trustees J. H. Carmichael, J. W. Brown and E. L. Herren is recorded in book Y, page 410 in the Cobb Superior Court Records.

Another addition to the school property took place on August 24, 1923 from R. W. Maner to the Trustees. It adjoined the previous property and was 58 feet south along Atlanta Road to a point then west 80 feet, north 70 feet, and east 62 feet to the point of beginning.

Each of the deeds transferring the property to the School Trustees contained a clause that stated the property would revert to the original owners or their heirs if the land was not used for public school purposes. That technicality probably prevented the school property from being sold by the Cobb Board of Education a few years ago.

Some of the highlights in the life of the Locust Grove/Fitzhugh Lee School have been gleaned from a variety of histories over the years:

  • In 1915 A three room frame building was constructed on the original site.
  • The first PTA was organized in 1916.
  • The school operated with grades 1 - 8 until 1930.
  • A 9th grade was added in 1930.
  • A 10th grade was added in 1934
  • An 11th grade was added and 1935 was the first year of a high school graduating class. The 10 graduates were: James Bolling, Ernest Brown, Martha Buford, Herman Buckner, Elizabeth Crowder, Remoh Elizabeth Dempsey, Bessie Ruth Jordan, Hugh Monroe and Dixie Wright.
    On September 16, 1936 the name of the school was changed from Locust Grove to honor Colonel Fitzhugh Lee, a descendant of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Dedication services were held on September 29, 1936.
  • An auditorium was added in 1936.
  • In 1937 a moving picture machine (movie projector) was purchased by the PTA
  • The school continued as a first through 11th grade until 1952. That year the high school students were consolidated with Smyrna High School and both classes became the first graduating class of the newly constructed Campbell High School.
  • 1952 - 53 was the first year Fitzhugh Lee was operated as an elementary school.
  • 1957-58 the primary building with the cafeteria in the lower level was constructed.
  • In 1966 19 Fitzhugh Lee became a Grade 1- 7 school when Cobb County constructed some Junior High School buildings to open that year.
  • The next year the 7th grade was transferred to a junior high school and Fitzhugh Lee became a 1 - 6 school.
  • A unique situation occurred in the 1968 - 69 year when a former student (Robert B. "Bob" Reese) who had attended all grades and graduated in 1942, became the principal and remained until 1981.
  • Re-modeling in the summer of 1974 resulted in some of the ceilings being lowered, new lighting fixtures in the central building installed and, carpet installed over the hardwood floors in the halls and the Media Center.
  • A Kindergarten was begun in the school in 1977 under the Title III program. The next year the Kindergarten became a regular part of the public school program.
  • Also in 1978 the classrooms in the central building were carpeted and later the classrooms and hall in the primary building.
  • In the late 1980's, under the leadership of principal James Lavender the school instituted "Old Fashioned Days.(Pioneer Days) This was a special time when the class rooms would be turned into a kaleidoscope activities to introduce the students to "how things used to be." Teachers, guest instructors and entertainers would dress in period costumes and work clothes of the particular trade or activity they were portraying. Students would be circulated through each room for a 20 or 30-minute tour. They could participate in singing, using old tools, dancing, asking questions, etc. This program continued until the regular operation of the school was discontinued in 1998.
  • In 1996 in an effort to improve the quality of instructions the school established a mentoring program and invited individuals and area civic organizations to assist in the program.
  • On April 27, 1996 all former Fitzhugh Lee and Locust Grove students, faculty and friends were invited to attend the 100th anniversary celebration at the school. Three former teacher/principals were in attendance along with the then current principal James Lavender: The others were: Bob Reese, Peyton McQuarry and Bob Ash.

The school continued its operation as an elementary school until the end of the school year in 1998.

In the fall of 2000, Fitzhugh Lee was tabbed as the International Newcomer Academy. At the beginning only 50 students would be admitted to the academy. They were to be drawn from eight elementary and middle schools in the Smyrna area: Argyle, Fair Oaks, Green Acres, King Springs, Labelle, Norton Park, Campbell Middle and Griffin Middle.

And as mentioned in the early part of this article, it now operates as a Transitional Learning Center.

When the school was nearing its closing as a traditional elementary school, the Smyrna Museum was able to secure most of the trophies the various athletic teams had won over the years, a series of class photos and many of the scrap books compiled by the PTA groups.

These materials are on hand at the museum for research. In addition to all those hundreds of items we received from the school, Historical Society member and Museum Volunteer, and former student at Fitzhugh Lee student, Mary Annie Johnson has made it part of her activities to obtain a great deal of information on the School.

This includes original yearbooks and in some cases, copies of yearbooks , photos and a variety of memorabilia to make a large collection of Fitzhugh Lee items for the museum. The following are currently on display in the exhibit area:

Yearbooks: 1935, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1942, 1943, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949.

Class Photo Books for the following Years:
1957-58; 58-59; 59-60; 61-62; 62-63; 65-66; 66-67; 67-68; 68-69; 69-70;70-71; 71-72; 72-73; 73-74; 1976, 1976-77; 77-78;, 78-79; 79-80; 80-81; 81-82; 82-83; 84-84; 84-85; 1986; 1986-87; 87-88; 1989; 1991-92; 92-93; 93-94; 96-97; 97-98;

Unfortunately none of the students or the teachers are identified in the photos. We will appreciate anyone who might have attended Fitzhugh Lee during the years mentioned above to come by the museum and help identify the people in the photo books.

Principals: The following have been identified as Principals of the school. You will note that some of the names are incomplete and some of them do not have the dates of service. If any of you have knowledge that would shed some light on the missing information, we will appreciate it very much if you will share that with us:

John Petty
Minnie Hening
Jesse Wood
Beverly Pace
Tom Hill
_______ Mincey
_______ Whitney
Emma Dicks
Morris Mabrey 1922
_______ Martin
_______ Harvey
Bill Strickland 1933-34
Evans Hall 1934-35
Roger Enloe 1935-37
C. H. King 1937-39
R. H. Harris 1939-40
R. L. Todd 1940-43
R. A. Teasley 1943- Dec, 47
Robert L. Ash Jan.48 - June 48
Ralph Quarles 1948-52
O. L. Parker 1952-63
Gale G. Acuff 1963-68
Robert B. Reese 1968-81
Peyton McQuary 1981-87
James Lavender 1987-98

_________ = First Name Unknown

If you have Fitzhugh Lee or any other school memorabilia that you would like to make available to present and future citizens of Smyrna and the Cobb County area, please think about donating it to the Smyrna Museum. That way you can have the joy of sharing you memories now.

Former Fitzhugh Lee principal Bob Reese is a frequent visitor to the museum and has donated some of the materials mentioned above. Another former principal, James Lavender donated the following letter to the Museum.

It is dated September 9, 1924 and is on the letterhead of W. C. Chastain, Experienced Physician and surgeon. The dateline of Ellijay, GA has been marked out and replaced with Smyrna, GA RFD 2, c/o J. F. Lee. It gives a brief description of what the school was like in 1924.

Dear Ruth:

There is a fifth grade teacher needed here
at Locus Grove and I recommended you.
to Mr. Lee, the trustee asked me to write
to you offering you the place. It pays
$70.00 per month and board is $20.00. We have six teachers and the nicest school building I ever saw. We are ten miles from Atlanta on the car line. Write me by return mail for we want you to begin Monday. It would pay you to come to Ellijay and mail the letter. If I come home Friday you could come back with me.

Sincerely,
Mrs. W. C. Chastain

If you have information, additional photos, or corrections or think you might be able to identify some of the teachers or students in the class photos please call Mary Annie Johnson at 770 435 7351 or Harold Smith at 770 435 7549. Or email Harold Smith at Smitharold@aol.com.

Note: W. O. Smitha was shown as principal in the 1943 Yearbook in error.

The history of Fitzhugh Lee will continue in the next issue of Lives and Times.
   


 

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