Posted by on May 9, 2012 in Education | 2 comments

Hicks School

by William C. “Bill” Hicks

Old schools speak well to the community of their origin. The hard physical labor required to manage a farm did not deter our rugged pioneer ancestors from providing a means for the education of their children. The children mainly attended in the winter after their crops were laid by. The Hicks School of Sullivan County (1891-1947) is one such school and is a true treasure.

This school is the lineal descendant of an earlier institution which previously stood on the property of Nehemiah Hicks II (b.1735). His father, Nehemiah Hicks (1705-1769), was a prominent land owner of Baltimore County, MD. Another son of Nehemiah, Isaac (1728-1812) and his son, Isaac Jr. , can be found on the Sullivan County, then Washington, County, Virginia Tax List of 1795. Nehemiah Hicks II followed his brother Isaac to Sullivan County about 1798, by which time all of Nehemiah’s heirs inhabited Sullivan County.

The school Nehemiah Hicks II established was the earliest school in the Dry Branch community of Sullivan County, now part of Bluff City, TN. In later years, the Hicks School of 1838, a subscription school, would be built on the plantation of Reuben Hicks (1800-1874), a grandnephew of Nehemiah II and great-great grandfather to this writer.

The following is a transcription from the book Jacob Hicks (1760-about 1833) of Sullivan County, Tennessee and His Descendants. The article was previously transcribed from Sullivan County News, 19 January, 1978, Mountain Memories by Gene A. Morrell.



“Contract entered into between Isaac Morrell Teacher of the one part and the undersigned of the other part all of Sullivan County and the State of Tennessee. Witnesseth that Sd. Morrell doeth agree to teach an English School for the term of Three months or Sixth days so far as his understanding and those that are committed to this care will admit and we do each of us promis to pay unto Sd. Isaac Morrell the sum to Two dollars per Schoolar Sent or Subscribed to our names, which payment to be made in any good trade at common selling price to be delivered to said Morrell dwelling at the expiration of the above said term of three months and each subscriber doth hereby agree to bear his equal part in repairing the school house on Reuben Hicks’ plantation and in keeping fire wood ready to use at Sd. House where school is to commence the fourth Monday in November 1838 provided the number of Twenty-three Schollars are subscribed to Sd. Article: Isaac Morrell.

“Subscribers names at the end of the contract included Jacob Geisler, John Wassom, John Riley, Andrew Boy, Caleb Morrell, Jr., Ed Hicks, John Crumley, Reuben Hicks, Alfred Glover, William Riley, John Martin, Isaac Royston, Jacob Crumley and Matthew Royston. A notation on the back of the contract states that John Wassom made partial payment to Mr. Morrell with corn in lieu of money.

“I do not know how long the 1838 school existed as such or if was destroyed by nature or deteriorated to the point where classes had to be moved to another locale. At any rate, another school was built on the Reuben Hicks property in 1891 and existed as a school until 1947. The school was eventually owned by Sidney Riley. Many old landmarks have been destroyed . Fortunately, some have been saved; Hicks School being one of the lucky, resting in its old age as a museum on the grounds of Sullivan East High School.

“Salvation of the Hicks School by its removal to Sullivan East High is a story of inspiration for anyone who realizes the difficulty and expense of saving old structures. The story of the move can be found in the March 21, 1985 edition of the Bristol Herald Courier : “In just one day last week, 4,000 students from 14 schools in the county’s east zone chipped in their pocket money totaling $2,100 to be used to move the nearly 100-year old school to East High School, where it will be restored and used as an educational museum.”



“The project is part of Tennessee’s year-long Homecoming ’86 celebration, which is designed to encourage communities to discover their heritage. The building is special to the students because many of their grandparents and parents spent eight years at the tiny white school with the traditional bell.

“’This school house is definitely a thing of the past and is the only one I know of in this area,’ said Samuel Rasnake, principal of Chinquapin Grove School. “In my school, the children are interested because of the historical value of understanding the era when we had the one-room school house. They are interested in trying to salvage one chapter in early American education.’

“And what a great job they did! A visit to the school by this writer and other family members in October of 2008 exhibited lessons from the period as well as donated books, desks, and an old stove. Nails driven into the wall were used to hang coats of the students. The exterior paint is chipping away and could use another coat; otherwise it appears structurally sound.

“I could only imagine the times and students this piece of history witnessed during its time spent as what I fondly call ‘the first Sullivan East.’ The removal of the school to its new home took approximately four hours and a journey of five miles. According to an article in Neighbor, the Homecoming ’86 Committee Chairman was Betsy Carrier.

“This story would not be complete without mentioning Betsy and her spearheading such a wonderful project. I had the privilege of meeting her in December of 2008 on one of the Watauga Historical Association’s field trips. Betsy is the owner of Long Shadows, the rebuilt Stover Hall of Bluff City which had been destroyed by fire. Stover Hall, the original home, was built by Mary Johnson Stover, a daughter of President Andrew Johnson. Betsy’s grandfather was married to President Johnson’s granddaughter Sarah Drake Stover. No wonder Betsy has such an interest in things historical! Along with all the portraits of presidents and other notables, a sketch of the Hicks School hung in the foyer of her home. Apparently the old school lives on in the memories of many people.”



2 Responses to “Hicks School”

  1. Robin Baker says:

    This article and saving the Old school house was awesome. As it is a part of my family history. Couldn’t be more proud as I’m sure many others are too.

  2. Lynn Watson says:

    My Mother, Winston Bolling Watson, attended school at the Hicks School.

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