One-room schools, with many grades in that one room, were once the norm in this nation; they lingered a long while in the mountain South, which struggled economically in the decades following the Civil War. Even after the move to tax-supported high schools was made in Mitchell County during the 1920s, pupils in elementary grades continued to attend a neighborhood school – one to which they could walk.
None of the students in this photograph of the school on Beaver Creek, made in the 1930s, has been identified, but they likely had surnames like Autrey, Carpenter, Gunter, Henline, Hise, Pendley, Pitman, Stamey, and Swann; many families with these names lived in the neighborhood in the 1930 federal census.
Mitchell County, in the 1930s, had 27 single-teacher schools according to Voices of the Valley, Elizabeth Hunter’s history of the county’s first 150 years. “Thirteen had a single teacher, four had 2 teachers; three had 3. The remaining seven schools had anywhere from 4 (Ledger) to 16 (Harris Elementary).” Many of these teachers had little training in the vocation, although some were able to attend Mitchell Collegiate Institute for a year and receive a certificate to teach elementary grades.
Eventually, teachers began to obtain more intensive training. Some prospective teachers attended “Normal Schools, as the teacher-training institutions were called. Appalachian State University began its existence as Watauga Academy in 1899, evolved to the two-year Appalachian State Normal School, and soon became in 1929 the four-year Appalachian State Teachers College.
It appears that the teacher in the photo was a woman, although Ralph Gunter, born on Beaver Creek in 1925 and an attendee at the school “up the creek,” remembered a male teacher who was quick to cane recalcitrant or unruly students. Items in the Asheville Citizen-Times reveal the names of two women who taught in that school – Lucille Carmichael and Nellie Buchanan.
The 8/27/1931 edition of the Citizen-Times described the marriage of Lucille Carmichael of Thomasville, a graduate of the Asheville Normal School and a teacher at Beaver Creek School for 2 years, to Frank P. Ellis of Spruce Pine. The Citizen-Timeson 3/3/1932 reported that there had been not only “an unusually good school of seven months” at Mitchell County’s Bandana School, but that “the Beaver Creek school, taught by Miss Nellie Buchanan, has also come to a very successful close.”