|On a hot day in August several weeks before school was to begin in the fall of 1903, the birth of the New Hope School was planned. Because of bad roads and little means of transportation, a community situated in the hills three to four miles east of Wynne, Cross County, Arkansas, needed just one room to serve as a school for its many youngsters. Three directors of School District 25 in Cross County purchased for the school district one acre of land for “Five Dollars cash in hand,” from J. A. and Eliza Wigley. The three school directors were Frank Head, James Woods and J. D. Milton. Their children would soon be able to graduate from the eighth grade. The recorded deed showed the land to have been originally purchased by School District 25 on August 24, 1903. However, the deed was not recorded until April 18, 1904.*The one-room New Hope School was erected facing west on a dirt road in the style of almost all one-room schools of the time, with two doors in the front, three double-hung, four-over-four windows on each side and a window and a chimney at the back. Board siding surrounded the structure topped by stylish, one-by-twelve fascia which remains in good condition today. The brick chimney directed coal or wood smoke upward through the high-pitched shake roof. Brick for the chimney was purchased from Dickinson Brick Company of Little Rock. One loose brick remains of the chimney above the flooring, stamped with the name, Dickinson, Little Rock. The chimney needed no concrete base at the bottom, as dry Crowley’s Ridge clay is much like concrete. The brick was merely laid directly onto the dirt and mortared. The builders were sure that the foundation would not wash away because it would be protected by the building. They were correct, for after 105 years, the lower part of the brick chimney remains intact. The original pine weatherboard siding also remains as does the major portion of the beaded ceiling. Some of the doors and windows are in pieces but are still in the building, and the later-added light fixtures survive. In the original room, the sub-floor was constructed of four-inch pine boards laid across heavy floor joists which ran north and south. In the opposite direction, another pine floor was laid atop this sub-floor. This foundation was supported by concrete piers set on 24-inch square concrete bases buried into the ground. Years of heavy rains have washed away the playground from around the building, exposing the bases under the concrete piers. However, an 18 inch layer of hard clay still lies under the building, untouched by time. There was no electric service in rural areas during the early 1900s, thus the students used oil lamps during dark winter days. The school flourished for many years until the building became too small for its students and a north room was added. There is no exact date as to which year the north room was constructed.When construction was begun on the North room addition, it was decided that only two windows were needed on the north side of the smaller new room. The two windows are still in place. One window was put into the east wall and one outside door was placed on the north end of the east wall. Two windows were placed on the west elevation of this room. The windows, floors and walls were matched as well as possible to the original building, but there was no way to perfectly duplicate the older materials. The floor in the new addition was run in the opposite direction from the floor in the original room, but the same plan was again used – pine four-inch flooring over pine four-inch sub-floor, all resting on concrete piers.
A chimney to accommodate the heating stove was needed for the new room. Brick was either difficult to get or to purchase, and to save brick, the chimney in the north room was perched upon a five-foot-high, 18-inch wide, wood shelf braced from the floor angling outward and upward. As shown by the markings on the broken brick found in the rubble of both chimneys, the brick used in the addition was different from the older Dickinson brick used in the chimney of the one-room, original school. The addition of the north room forced the builders to board up the now inside windows so the two teachers could teach without noise from the adjoining room. An attempt was made to match the original boards; however, the seams still show through a good coat of paint. One of the original three north windows was remade to provide a door connecting the two rooms. After the school closed, the majority of this wall was removed in order to make a large peach-grading facility, leaving on the floor the scars where the original windows were based.
In 1946, electricity was added to the two rooms and serviced by Rural Electrification Association (REA.) Two ceiling lights were placed in the north room and three lights were hung from chains in the original south room.
Several modifications to the building were made through the years. Sometime during the existence of the century-old structure, the shake roof was covered with galvanized, corrugated tin sheets. Galvanized guttering was placed on the lower sides of the roof to channel water through tile piping into the newly-built concrete cistern on the east side of the structure. The students then had water to drink and didn’t have to bring it in a “fruit jar.” Former student Robert Crawford states that they all drank out of the same dipper.
In August of 1940, the upper bricks of the cistern were removed. During this remodeling, a well was lowered into the eastern edge of the cistern and a hand pump was placed on the pipe. Concrete steps were added to the back door, a concrete slab was poured around the cistern and a brick, half-circle surround was built around the cistern. The builder signed his work, Blt by F. T. Hall, 8 – 7 – 40. This was Forrest Rufus Hall who had been a student of New Hope and whose children were current students of the school. A tiny room was later added inside the east junction of the now two-room structure in hopes of having a “soup kitchen.” One student, Elois Davis, remembers being served juice from that area. Former teacher, Mrs. Nell Sanders, states that the students kept their coats and lunches in there, but that it never served as a kitchen.
There are actually two dates relative to the consolidation of the New Hope School with Wynne School District 9. On April 1, 1947, the Wynne School Board voted to assume the responsibility of providing school facilities for the children living in what was known as New Hope School District No. 25, provided that the County Board of Education consolidate the district. In a May 6, 1947 Wynne School Board meeting, the consolidation was declared complete. Primary and intermediate students were housed in the New Hope building while junior high students were bused to Wynne. On June 5, 1951, Wynne School Superintendent Donald Blackmon and the Board members voted to discontinue the operation of the New Hope School and to transfer the entire student body to Wynne. Former student Doris Jean Midkiff taught at New Hope the final term of 1950-51. From that date, the New Hope School had its doors closed to education.
During its use as a school, many community affairs were conducted inside the building and on the grounds. Former student Robert Crawford tells of cake raffles, Christmas plays and other socials held inside, and numerous baseball games played on the school’s ball diamond.
A quitclaim deed shows that Drew Head bought the school property in 1954, three years after its closing, and began using the building to house a peach-grading business. There was good reason to do so, as that area of Crowley’s Ridge at one time was home to the largest peach orchard in the nation, and advertised itself as such. Numerous local children and adults were employed in the many peach sheds dotting Crowley’s Ridge. On January 25, 1968, Mr. Head’s son, Dr. Thomas Glenn Head, obtained the land and allowed it to lie fallow with its building vacant. On December 15, 1990, Dr. Head sold the property to Leo and Charlene Smith, who used it for storage.
An important day in the life of the New Hope School was July 22, 2002, when the leaning structure was admitted to the Arkansas Register of Historic Places.
On Monday, July 16, 2007, the school building, along with one acre of land, was deeded as a gift by Leo and Charlene Smith of Wynne to the Cross County Historical Society, and a New Hope School Restoration Committee was formed. Brian Driscoll, Technical Assistance Coordinator with the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, is consultant for the committee. New Hope School Restoration Committee members are Danny Ball, builder; Carol McCrary, vice-chair; Barbara Burkhart, secretary/treasurer; Cathy Hagler;
Tommy McCrary; Florence Halstead; Leigh Ann Chambers; Leigh Smiley; Jenny Taylor Vandiver, Johnny Wilson, Sammy Lee, and Bridget Hart, chairperson. Many others have helped in furnishing funds, memorabilia, documents and old stories.
The first day of restoration was begun on a sunny and dry, cool July 21, 2007. The main thing to go was a south lean-to which had been added to shelter bushels of peaches and later, cows. Large, old metal signs and pieces of corrugated tin, which had been protecting the windows, were stripped off the outside, and loads of trash removed from the interior of the building.
On November 12, 2008, the little school was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With this milestone in place, the committee plans to establish a country store/welcome/information center in the building with the belief that the business can support itself. This should be possible, since the building sits on the National Scenic Byway, the Arkansas Scenic Byway, Crowley’s Ridge Parkway, and the busy route to Village Creek State Park. More than 125,000 people drive past the small school each year.
Many members of the Hall and Sanders families, and the proud descendants of School District No. 25 Directors Frank Head, James Woods, and J. D. Milton, plus other former students, reside today in the school area. They and many others continue to support the restoration of the New Hope School. During the long time the school has been vacant, former students often pull in, stop, look at the building and reminisce about school days. Mr. Ollie Sanders, former student who married the teacher, and who lives across the road, often walks over and greets visitors. He acts as a guide and host for the elderly building, sometimes standing for long stretches of time, discussing the old school and how he stuffed papers into the stove pipe so the building would fill with smoke, forcing everyone outside to play. In this way, both Mr. Sanders and the building, even in its vacancy, play a part in bringing people back home to the community. When the only surviving two-room school in Cross County becomes a thriving welcome center and country store, the results will be even more rewarding.
|* Some current residents of the former New Hope School District remember their grandparents mentioning that the building was at one time located a distance away from the present site, probably “the Warren place” and later moved to its present location. We have no documents proving this.|