Fair Oak Springs School site getting marker

Published 5:00 am Friday, October 23, 2009

One of Lincoln County’s numerous old country schools will soonbe recognized and remembered, though the old schoolhouse has longbeen torn down.

The site of the former Fair Oak Springs school, a consolidatedschool in eastern Lincoln County that operated from 1927 to 1960,will be remembered with a historical marker by the MississippiDepartment of Archives and History sometime in the latter half of2010. The marker is under development now, said Larry Butler, a67-year-old member of the school’s Class of 1960 that spearheadedthe effort to erect a market on the spot.

“It had a spirit about it and we loved it, and we’re happy we’regetting a historical marker, and it will forever be known there wasa school there,” Butler said Thursday night while announcing themarker to the Lincoln County Historical and GenealogicalSociety.

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Butler said the idea for a marker for Fair Oak Springs was firstproposed during a reunion in 2008, but no clear leader emerged totake on the project. During the subsequent reunion earlier thisyear, he took on the duty himself.

“I was determined to do something, because next year will mark50 years since the school was torn down, and when my generationdies out, there won’t be anyone to remember,” he said.

At the 2009 reunion, Butler said class members began discussingpossible fundraising options for purchasing the approximately$1,700 marker.

One class member suggested the alumni “just see right now” howmuch money they could raise from within the room. By the end of themeeting, the Fair Oak Springs members had given around $1,300.

Word traveled to more alumni, and by the end of the week, $1,700had been collected. Word spread beyond Lincoln County, even beyondMississippi, and by the end of that month, Butler said more than$2,000 had been raised for the marker.

So, 83 years after the school first opened, Fair Oak Springswill be recognized as one of Lincoln County’s historical sites.

The school opened in 1927 as a consolidation of nearby schoolsat Fair River, Oak Grove and Big Springs, taking on the combinationof the three names. Butler said the U-shaped building consisted ofeight classrooms, four on each side, with an auditorium in themiddle. The elementary grades all paired up to make the fourclassrooms adequate, and the same teacher taught pairs ofgrades.

Instead of indoor restrooms, the school was equipped with a pairof outhouses. Indoor restrooms weren’t added until 1948, when theywere included in the first brick gymnasium ever built in LincolnCounty.

“People have asked me, ‘With a school like that, did you havetrouble getting a good education?'” said Butler, who holds abachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and aMaster of Religious Education from Southern Baptist TheologicalSeminary in Louisville, Ky.

“I like to think I did (receive a good education).”

Butler recalled the names of many teachers and administratorswho served at Fair Oak Springs, most notably Eugene Randall, whoserved as the school’s principal from the 1930s into the 1940s, andL.L. Simmons, who took over for Randall and headed the school untilits closure.

“A strict principal, but a good one,” Butler said ofSimmons.

Butler said more than 500 students attended Fair Oak Springs atits peak, but by the late 1950s, the school was losing students tothe Brookhaven School District. The size of the student bodydwindled to around 200 before the Lincoln County Board ofSupervisors voted to close the school in March 1960.

“That was a blow to us at Fair River,” Butler said. “The schoolwas the center of our community. You didn’t go to town all thetime, you went to the school. It’s where we had all of our plays,Christmas programs and reunions.”

Not long after its closure, Fair Oak Springs school was torndown. As the years went on, U.S. Highway 84 was converted into afour lane, and it passed right over the site of the school, nearthe intersection of the highway and Harmony Drive.

“When you drive through there now, you have no idea there was aschool there,” Butler said.

The historical marker will change that, and Fair Oak Springs’alumni are proud the site of their youth will become a historicalsite.

“My children and grandchildren will be able to see that and say,’That’s where granny finished high school,'” said Julie Bankston,who graduated from the school in 1948. “I love it.”