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Corrections from community requested by locals for History of Stearns School

Editors Note: The following History of Stearns School was written in 1950 by Vadah E. McMurray Tallant, a 1917 graduate of Columbus High School. Wilma Jolley and Garland Goodwin have made corrections to the spellings of many names, but before putting this on file at the Polk County Historical Association, they would like the public to make other corrections if needed. Sybil Tallant Lowe has given enthusiastic consent to publication of her stepmothers work. Please call Garland at 828-894-2505 with these changes.

My mother, Coline Rippy Goodwin, graduated from Stearns High School in the Class of 1918 and was a friend of Vadah M. (Class of 1917, Columbus High School). The school name was changed after the death of Frank Stearns, as he did not want any credit for the school, which was one of many educational institutions he founded in Polk County.

History of Stearns High School:

(Written in 1950 by Vadah E. McMurray Tallant, a 1917 graduate of Columbus High School.)

(Edited by Wilma Jolley and Garland O. Goodwin, July-November, 2009)

In 1891 Mr. Frank M. Stearns of Cleveland, Ohio, came South for his health, and seeing the need of better educational advantages for the people of the town of Columbus, N.C., and the surrounding country, purchased a site near the Polk County Courthouse, erected a school building and employed Mrs. G. S. Pope (whom he paid himself).

We do not know her qualifications she was to conduct a school which was described as a village school. Before this time there had been only a small subscription school taught in a one-room school building which stood just below the present site of the Columbus Baptist Church.

The subjects taught in his new school were the first six grades. Texts are unknown to us now. All ages were included no graduation, and the term was 8 months. All who wished might attend.

About two years later, Mr. Stearns erected a second building containing two rooms for kindergarten, work, and the Library. This building was on Main Street (now known as Mills Street).

The house was later moved and the back of that block the large building is now a dwelling owned by J. C. Gibson. That school was placed in charge of Rev. A. S. Beaman, who retired after two years. Rev. G. H. Detwilder succeeded him after a short service of two and one-half years and Prof. E. G. Townsend was appointed to take his place. The school was then known as The Columbus Institute.

In 1898 the school was incorporated and given the name of The Central Industrial Institute.

In 1900 a new building consisting of a good-sized auditorium with two classrooms one on each side was added and a dormitory for boarding students built.

A tuition fee of $1 per month for Primary & Intermediate grades and $1.50 per month for the higher grades was charged. They then had nine grades and pupils were enrolled from various counties of Western N.C. who boarded at the dormitory.

This was financed by Mr. Stearns, the M.E. Conference and the people of Columbus. This school flourished and each year some new feature was added as different teachers were employed.

In 1906 – 07 an election was held for the purpose of voting bonds to make the school a public school free to all students in Columbus Township. It was a bitterly contested election and after holding two elections it finally carried and the school became known as Columbus Public School with Rev. T. H. Posey as Principal and having nine grades.

In 1910 Prof. E. W. S. Cobb of Greensboro, N.C., was elected Principal. Two more grades, tenth and eleventh, were added and it became a standard high school known as Columbus High School.

The first graduating class was in 1911 with only two members: Yates Arledge and Lafayette Cunningham.

In 1911 the Stearns family purchased the old store building on the eastern corner of the campus known as Hampton Store and gave it to the school to be used as a boys dormitory.

Later they purchased the Cannon Store building on the southern corner of the campus and deeded it to the school, making then over the entire block for the use of the school.

In 1917 a brick building was erected containing six class rooms and an auditorium.

In 1919 after the death of Mr. Stearns the school name was changed to Stearns High School out of respect for the many things he had done for the school. This had been suggested to him many times before, but he would not listen to it and said he had too many friends who had assisted him in the endeavor to take all the credit.

In 1921 all the white schools of the township were consolidated and high school students brought in by bus, making one large consolidated high school from Sunny View, Mill Spring, and Green Creek.

Courses were offered in Home Economics, Music (piano) in addition the regular required subjects for graduation from standard high school. Many students who graduated from this institution have gone on to colleges and the universities and made good records.

Many of the alumni have returned to teach in their alma mater (Columbus and Stearns High School). At the present time (1941), of the present faculty of thirteen members, six are graduates of this institution.

In 1931 the state took control instead of the local districts and county having to bear all the running expenses, which made all school districts in the state on an equal basis. A gymnasium and a rock wall enclosing school grounds were erected through the WPA project.

In 1941 Mill Spring took their students and made their own high school, also Green Creek erected one in their township. Sunny View soon followed, which left Columbus Township with just their own students in high school. This made it hard to maintain a standard high school with a small enrollment, so that when twelfth grade was added in 1946 there was no graduating class that year.

In 1947 our high school students went to Mill Spring and Tryon High School, ending the career of Stearns High School.

According to our records from 1911 through 1947 there have been 858 students graduated from here. The small number was one (1914 and 1915) and the largest number twenty-four (in 1930).

Although Mr. Steams has gone on to the great beyond, his daughter, Miss Nellie (Helen) Stearns has helped us to carry on his work and there are many students who are still bearing testimony to his endeavors to give us a great school of which we will always be proud.

From his small beginning greater things have been made possible to us in the field of education in order that we may be able to solve the problems of life.

Columbus High School: Principal: E. W. S. Cobb

Class of 1911: Yates Arledge, Lafayette Cunningham.

Class of 1912: No class.

Class of 1913: Roone Arledge, Willie Cunningham, Alice Tallant

Class of 1914: Alpha Tallant

Class of 1915: Cora Edwards

Class of 1916: John R. Burgess, Heber H. Carson, Myrtle Hampton, J. T. Gilbert, Lucian Hicks, H. W. Hill, Austin Newman, Marion Mills.

Class of 1917: G. Marie Burgess, Roland Gilbert, Bertie C. Jackson, Johnnie Mae Jackson, Vadah McMurray, Odessa Mills, John T. Smith.

Class of 1918: Nellie Constance, Esther Gibbs, Clara Feagan, Coline Rippy, Gladys Smith.

Stearns High School: (1919, after the death of Mr. Frank Stearns)

Class of 1919: Arkansas Arledge, Sue Gibbs, Bessie Hamilton, Gordon Johnson, Sue Johnson, Ernest L. McMurray, Thelma L. Mills, Ada Tallant.

Class of 1920: Oma R. Elliott, Archie Feagan, Eula Jackson.

Class of 1921: Mami Jackson, Mattie Tallant. Principal: Clarkson and W. D. Loy

Class of 1922: Hildah Burgess, Aylene Edwards, Leona Feagan, Mary Young Hemphill, Elma Newman, Estelle Pace, Eva Pace, Gertrude West, Robert K. Landis, Mamie Morgan. Principal: J.W. McIntosh

Class of 1923: Edna Blackwood, Ruth Byars, Annie Davis, Gomer Davis, Corinne Feagan, Jeanette Feagan, Curtis Hill, Ethel Hill, Marvin Hines, Dorothy McChesney, John W. McFarland, Pearl Mills, Pearl Tallant, Pauline Wilkins, Isham Henderson, Phil Head.

Class of 1924: Eunice Cloud, Eva Davis, Annie Edwards, Dorothy Edwards, Hubert Gibbs, Laura Jack, Gretchen Lynch, Alice McCraine, Lillian Pack, Marian Smith, Mabel Thompson, Albert Westbrook.

Class of 1925: Nannie Sue Arledge, Conie Barber, Edward Barber, Eleanor Bird, Forrest M. Cloud, Jacob E. Cobb, Eulas Davis, Ernest H. Gibbs, Thelma Hague, Marie Hall, Hugh Jack, Hannie M. McGuinn, Dewitt Smith, Hanford Thompson, Barbara Voheis. Principal: N. L. Wessinger.

Class of 1926: Rupert Arledge, Theo Edwards, Blanche Feagan, Gordon Gibbs, Lola Gibbs, Mary Gilbert, Jettie Hague, Bessie Jane Helton, Guy Hill, Arkansas Jackson, Arietta Landis, Julian Lynch, Robert McFarland, Annie Lois Mills, Pearl Tallant, Gladys Walker. Principal: W. P. Whitesides

Class of 1927: Jennie Barber, James Bell, Claude Edwards, Irene Edwards, William Egerton, George Gibbs, Flora Gilbert, Minnie L. Greene, Grace Hamilton, Anna Lynch, Eston McKee, Ruth Redmond, Ruby Tallant, Grace Waldrop, Marjorie Walker, Nannie Walker, Esther Wilson.

Class of 1928: John T. Arledge, Fred Barber, Robert Bell, Addie Cochran, Ina Edwards, Zeno Greene, Lula Mae Holbert, Ruth Hutcherson, Sallie Jackson, Grace Smith, Hanie Delle Smith, Willie West.

Class of 1929: Eloise Cobb, Ruth Cobb, Alice Edwards, Mary Feagan, Ellen Hague, Eula Jackson, Jeanette McFarland, Aberdeen Mills, Maggie McKee.

Class of 1930: Elizabeth Anderson, Keith Arledge, Gus Bostic, Mary Bostic, Pantha Edwards, Earleen Edwards, Sarah Elliott, Harriet Feagan, Mary Sue Green, Woodrow Hague, Janie Jackson, Richard Landis, Dorothy Lynch, Sallie Moore, Edna Pack, Dunna Pittman, Tom Redmond, Sibyl Sharp, Moena Smith, Myrtle Taylor, Walden Thompson, Alma Walker, Carrie Williams, Lawrence Whitesides.

Class of 1931: Bennett Burnett, Lois Foster, Mary Fowler, Ocie Gibbs, Edna Jackson, John Martin, Woodrow McKee, Clyde Nelon, Mary Pattie, Nina Sharp, Adell Shehan, Coy Smith, Donald Spurlin, Edgar Tallant, Myrtle Walker, Pauline Walker, Bessie Whitesides, J. C. Williams, Marjorie Moore, Woodrow Jackson.

Class of 1932: Manus Barnett, Opal Cloud, Helen Davis, Robert Dedmondt, Louise Durham, Estelle Green, Robert Henry Gibbs, Edna Hague, Fannie Henson, Ethel Holbert, Coy Hutcherson, Garnett Hutcherson, Tressie Mae Johnson, Julia McGuinn, Gladys Owens, Aylene Pack, Jay Smith, Gladys Wagoner, Elma Walker, Myrtle Williams, Ruth Williams, Annie Wilson, James Ormand. Principal: J. M. Andrews

Class of 1933: Curtis Arledge, Hilliard Barnett, Doyle Green, Eva Henderson, Carl Jackson, Frank Jackson, Martha Lee Jones, Dollie Russell, Mamie Sue Taylor, Clara Williams, Clara Mae Womack.

Class of 1934: Kathleen Bell, Dawson Edwards, Zelda Edwards, Grace Feagan, Otho Fowler, Gretchen Gaines, Pauline Halford, Rosa Henson, Fred Hines, Dorothy Landis, Pauline Martin, Hicks McAbee, Azilee Norman, Charles Ormand, Clarence Smith, Mary Smith, Paul Smith, Clifford Tallant, Lucille Waldrop, Evelyn Walker, Sam Walker, Myrtle Wilson.

Class of 1935: Joe Arledge, Russell Constance, Lydia Edwards, Sellers Edwards, Gray Feagan, Melvin Hines, Lucille Horton, Charles Hutcherson, Edith Jones, Faye McCurry, Hight Redmond, Walter Sain, Ralph Searcy, Pauline Smith, Dolan Thompson, Lawrence Thompson, Rosalie Williams, Sudie Williams, Nathan Williams.

Class of 1936: Horace P. Andrews, Carl Barber, Billie Bell, J. D. Coggins, Lorena Collins, Ruth Edwards, Vera Edwards, Opal Fisher, Minerva Gilbert, Ellen Hardin, Frances Hines, William Holbert, Annie Lee Horton, Hubert Huntsinger, Martha Lee Jones, Evelyn Landis, Ralph Lanning, Ester Lynch, Beatrice Moore, Lola Ponder, Catherine Walker, Elsie Williams.

Class of 1937: Homar Ashley, Thedas Ashley, Mevelin Barber, James Burns, Cleo Coggins, Wilma Davidson, Phyllis Edwards, Virginia Egerton, Charles Gibson, Frances Harrison, Aliscia Henderson, Janet Howard, Bertha McCurry, Ralph Owens, Hugh Sharp, Kathleen Thompson, Lillian Wagner, Aaron Williams, Lillian Williams, Cynthia Wilson.

Class of 1938: Gladys Arledge, Diphus Barnett, Mildred Barnett, Helen Covil, Clara Mae Gibbs, Dorothy Gilbert, Doris Green, Josephine Green, Ferris Hall, Marion Hines, Jeanette Holbert, Gladys Horton, Howard Landis, Mabel Metcalf, Hoyt Pack, Cleo Ruppe, Helen Tallant, Sibyl Tallant, Dana Thompson.

Class of 1939: Irma Ruth Barber, Malcolm Clark, Lorena Cochran, Ruth Covil, George Denton, Sam Fowler, Ruth Green, Henry Huntsinger, Madge Johnson, Stanley Jones, Blanche McEntyre, Mary Elizabeth McFarland, Rhinehart Metcalf, Evelyn Ormand, Parintha Pack, Wilma Pack, Juanita Page, Ernest Phillips, Clyde Ramsey, Blanche Smith, Lucy Taylor, Jeanette Walker, Nellie Faye Williams, T. W. Owens.

Principal: W. P. Hawfield

Class of 1940: Louie Arms, Henry Barnett, Nellie Case, Merle Constance, Edith Denton, Ethel Dyer, Leroy Fisher, Ruby Gibson, W. P. Hines, Elizabeth Henderson, Virgie Holbert, Mary Jackson, Paul Jones, Bannard Johnson, Merle McEntyre, Agnes Pack, Everett Phillips, Nina Ponder, Dave Storey, Hilda Walker, George Williams, Janet Wilson.

Principal: R. A. Wilson

Class of 1941: Allen Arledge, Vallie Rae Ashley, Jeanette Blackwell, Sarah Cannon, Carolyn Clark, Pauline Davis, Annie Laura Edwards, Lloyd Edwards, Russell Garrett, Genevieve Gosnell, Mary Kate Hines, Ruth Hooker, Marie Jones, Nadene Jones, Edith Lawter, Curtis Leatherwood, William McFarland, John Porter, Iris Powell, Marshal Skipper, Mary Jo Wilson, Hoyt Wilson. Principals: Lathan and Landis (Mrs. R. K.)

Class of 1942: Gerald Allen, James Constance, Kenneth Constance, Juanita Constance, Lou Jean Constance, Frances Edwards, Ruby Griswold, Edna Halford, Thaxton Holbert, Evelyn Hutcherson, Frances Justice, Leonard Lanning, Hubert McIntyre, Edith Panther, Estelle Smith, Ruby Arms Scoggins.

Principal: R. A. Wilson

Class of 1943: William A. Burgess, Frances Edwards, Junior Fisher, Ray Foster, Elizabeth Garrett, Genelle Henson, Catherine Jones, Elaine Ormand, Herbert Owens, Cecil Pack, Kathleen Pittman, Pearl Raines, Sadie Rhodes, Junior Rhodes Whiteside.

Principal: G.T. Tolliver

Class of 1944: Virginia Arledge. Maurice Clark, Neil Constance, Juanita Edwards, Mary E. Hague Edwards, Whitson Edwards, Betty Jean Gibbs, Ollie Jane Griswold, Mildred Holbert, Cleo Jordan, Wynona Ormond, Cecil Smith.

Class of 1945: Jeanette Arledge, Rachel Clark, Vada Champion, Bobbie Constance, Larry Constance, Charles Edwards, Grace Gibson, Mary Louise Gibson, Robert Gibson, William Hooker, Lois Guffey, Lewis McCarter, Vera Price, Faye Plemmons, Aylene Rhodes, Beulah Smith.

Principals: Whittaker and Vadah McMurray

Class of 1946: No class, 12th grade added.

Principal: J.W. Gantt

Class of 1947: Mary Earl Ashley, Charles Blanton, Jr., Frank Burgess, E.S. Burnett, Jr., Robert Bunting, Clarence Henson, Ophelia Jones, Doyce McIntyre, Roy Skinner, Edna Newman, Carrol Robbins, Hazel Wagner.

High School moved to Tryon in 1947-48.

Attending a 1943 Class Reunion on August 20, 1983, at the Western Steer Steak House in Columbus, were: Elizabeth Garrett Buckley, William A. Burgess, Genelle Henson Carter, James (Junior) Fisher, Ray Foster, Pearl Raines Griswold, Catherine Jones Hardin, Sadie Rhodes Holbert, Kathleen Pittman McMillian, Herbert Bruce Owens, Cecil Pack, and Clarence (Junior) Whiteside