MY MYSTERY SCHOOL ON ISLAND CREEK

Among the photos housed at the Oakboro Museum is the above picture tagged “Drye School.” It is certainly not the same Drye School that once stood on the corner of Rene Ford and River Roads. This is another Drye School supposedly located downstream from my grandfather Daniel Arthur Thomas’ home place along Island Creek. Information attached to the photo states that Daniel Arthur Thomas is the boy standing on the back row …four from the left end. He’s the one wearing a hat.  And, the information also says that that the little girl standing in the front row and seventh from the left is my grandmother Eva Lucinda Burris. From their eventual grave markers, I know that Daniel Arthur was born in 1890 and his wife Eva was born in 1897. In the photo Daniel Arthur Thomas looks like he may be seven years older than Eva …it works for me!

Often, I find myself wishing to talk once more to my deceased ancestors about things I have noticed in photographs and other records from the past. For example, in the above photo, I see a number 8 in one of the panes of glass in the window to the right.  And if you look closely, there’s also a number 325 in one of the panes just above the heads of those standing in the back row. What’s that about?  Was a child doing their homework on the dust covered glass? And, why is there a board nailed across one of the windows? It surely isn’t strategically placed there to hold hats.  Was it put there to protect newly installed glass? …maybe before there was no glass in the window?  I also like what the clapboard siding is telling me.  It seems nice and straight with no warps or signs of wearing.  Is it new wood? Is  the class of students standing in front of a relatively new schoolhouse?

The photo and the question it raises about the age of the school house are of importance only because of a curious notation I later found in a deed of sale. Let me give you a little background and then will get to the deed in question.

Dated 17 Jan 1891, Solomon and wife Eliza C. Pless sold 287 acres (Stanly 18-426) to their daughter Julia Ann Thomas. The land adjoined Nelson Smith to the west and crossed Island Creek. The large tract takes in the entirety of the shaded area in the following image.  The long red shaded area represents a 30-acre land grant issued in 1836 to Solomon’s father Peter Pless (2730 Montgomery). At that time, the tract joined Michael Garmon’s land to the north. And to the southeast of Solomon’s land, the green shaded tract represents a deed (6-484 Stanly) from Mathias Furr to Solomon Pless. The deed mentions Jacob Green to the east, Peter Pless to the north and Holden Hartsell to the south. Note that Mathias Furr’s daughter Elizabeth Caroline Furr married Solomon Pless. This is a great opportunity to share a picture of Caroline Elizabeth Furr Pless whose picture is hands-down the most descriptive image I’ve ever seen of my early family. Also, about the image below, I have included a key listing all the surrounding deeds as far back as I could find (see caption).

 Solomon Pless lands (all shaded)

A.        (6-436 Stanly) Daniel Freeman to Jacob Green

B.        (28-570 Stanly) Elizabeth Green to Andrew Honeycutt

C.        (11-533 Stanly) Sophia Treece to Solomon Pless

D.        (6-49 Stanly) Rowan Garmon to Nelson Smith

E.        (5-06 Stanly) John Howell to John T. Howell

F.        (60 Stanly) grant to Sampson Watts

G.        (574 Montgomery) James Crump

H.        (14-22 Stanly) William R. Hartsell to David C. Curlee

Solomon and Elizabeth Caroline Furr Pless had daughter Julia Ann who married my namesake great grandfather George Washington Thomas. During the early 1900’s Julia and George began splitting up their land among their children. Dated 24 May 1906, the two sold 40 ½ acres (39-121 Stanly) to son Henry W. Thomas:

“Beginning at the Ford of Island Creek and in the center of said creek and the Brook’s ferry road, then with said road N. 84 E. 12 chs to an iron pin at the fork of the said roads; then with the Big Lick Road N. 69 E. 19 chs. to an iron pin center of said road near the School House in the Hinson line; then So. 10 ½ E. 2 1/3 chs. to white o. by a stone; then So. 19 E. 13 ¼ chs. to a stake in Hartsell line; then So. 89 W. 23 ½ chs. to a pine; then No. 85 W. 13 chs. to Island Creek; then up the various courses of the creek to the beginning.”

As you can see in the plat above, the school as identified in the deed should have been situated near the intersection of Big Lick and Hatley-Burris Roads. It may have been located on the land Mathias Furr sold to his son-in-law Solomon Pless, but more likely, the school was situated on either the old Jacob Green land to the east or Holden Hartsell lands to the south. Seeking help from all the older folks I could find; none have ever heard of a school in that location.

At this point, I chose to exercise another angle of attack that has always burned in my mind.  Knowing my grandparents were in school together as children, it only makes sense that they must have lived near each other and were once possibly even been childhood friends. And knowing that Grandma Eva is the daughter of George Henderson and Mary Magalene Burris, do they show up in record living close to my Thomas family?

Dated 8 Apr 1909, S. S. and Martha Lilly sold 138 acres (24-264 Stanly) to Tobitha J. Rowland.  The daughter of Andrew J. Honeycutt, Tobitha married Thomas H. Rowland who died in 1884.  Taking in the entirety of both red shaded tracts below, Tobitha’s land adjoined Charlie A. Honeycutt on the northwest corner, W. H. Sasser to the southwest, Yow along the southeastern line, and Pless to the northwest. Tobitha’s land adjoined land that Solomon Pless purchased from David Treece deceased. Notice that the red shaded rectangular tract was sub-divided with the western half shaded dark red.  See how close that tract is to the yellow shaded lands of George W. Thomas who was father of my grandfather Daniel Thomas? Dated 27 Apr 1899, Tobitha J. Rowland sold the 68 ½ acre darker shaded tract to George W. Thomas. Ten years later, on 18 Nov 1909, J. H. C. Flowe of Mecklenburg sold the same tract to George Henderson and wife Mary Magalene Burris. Five years later, on 23 Aug 1914, Daniel, the son of George Washington Thomas married Eva Lucinda Burris, the daughter of George Henderson Burris.  Looking at the tracts below, we can see why both Daniel Thomas and Eva Burris appeared in the School photo. At that particular time frame we know for sure that the families of Thomas and Burris lived near each other.

Also, among the family photos acquired by my parents is the school picture above.  My dad believed he is the littlest boy wearing a scarf and standing beside the little girl in front of the others. If so, I wonder if his older brother (by one year) Buford is in the photo?  Also, I’m sure his first cousin Vann Thomas would also be in the photo. Where are they? And, is it me or does the person believed to be my father look like some of the others standing nearby.  If so, who are they and how do they relate? It’s important to question oral history just as you would any other form of record.

Assuming for point of discussion that my father’s recollections were correct, then the photograph above raises another question. Knowing my dad was raised on the same farm (yellow tract above) that his dad  grew up on, I wonder if the above image showing my dad was taken in front of the same schoolhouse where both his parents were once photographed?. Remember the condition of the lapboard siding in the photograph showing my grandparents?  Does the image above appear to represent the same construction techniques? If so, did the structure age consistently considering the twenty-year span between generations? Again, is the picture of my dad above taken at the same location where my grandparents were photographed?

_________________________

Up to this point, my strategy has been family centered. Not finding the answer of my quest concerning education, I knew it time to draw upon a larger circle of influence. In doing so I came across land records which carried me off into a new direction. After moving further south with my mapping initiative i began to question whether the school was located south of Solomon Pless’ land along present-day Big Lick Road?

In 1843, Holden Hartsell received a land grant for 100 acres on Island Creek (Grant 48, Montgomery).  Taking in all the dark red shaded area above (including the checkered area), the tract at that time joined Peter Pless land to the north and George Cagle to the west. Its lines also ran along the “the old Polk Road” between two points marked with black stars.

Holden Hartsell died in 1865 and on 22 Apr 1866, his wife Adeline Coley Hartell  was appointed a 56 ½ acre  widow’s dower or thirds. The platted dower tract (checker boarded above) adjoined Nelson Smith  to the south and B. L. Green deceased to the west. Note in the metes and bounds below that a schoolhouse is mentioned though not precisely located … “after counting out one acre at the school house.”

Wow!!!  ….this is very early and very close to the southeastern end of my ancestral lands. Could it be the same school mentioned in Solomon Pless’s 1898 deed? Possibly, though we have no proof.  I’ve traced the deed above forward when in 1878, William Riley Hartsell and wife Rhoda sold to David C. Curlee 210 acres being the entirety of the above land shaded red (Stanly 14-22). According to the metes and bounds, the conveyance should have encompassed the 56 ½ acres that mentions a school ..and yet, there was no mention of the school.

David C. Curlee died ca. 1885 and his land was ultimately divided into three tracts.  Pertaining to the image below, tract 1 is found in the loose estate papers while tracts 2 and 3 are referred to in later deeds:

(Light Red) Known as Tract 1 of the estate of David C. Curlee, surveyed in 1891, being 77 acres joining Solomon Pless to the north, L. L. Furr to the west, and Nelson Smith to the south.

(Pink) Deed ( 29-406 Stanly) being 48 acres deeded on 29 Dec 1898 from G. W. Thomas and wife J. A. Thomas to Minnie C. Sasser (and her bodily heirs if she has any and if not to her brothers and sisters). The deed mentions Charley Dry to the east and Nelson Smith to the south.

(Green) Known as Tract 3 of the estate of David C. Curlee, conveyed 7 Feb 1905 and being x acres (Stanly 31-316) deeded by C. P. Hartsell to C. C. Little. Mentioned in the deed is Solomon Pless to the north, Lot 1 to the west, Lot 2 to the south, and Charley Dry land to the east.

No further than 100 yards away from the noted corner (red star) where a school should have stood, the estate of Holden Hartsell and later David C. Curlee offer possibilities. However, I have not seen any mention of a schoolhouse in either the estate records or later conveyances. It’s worth noting that the division of the lands of David C. Curlee was contested and resolved through trial reaching the North Carolina Supreme Court.  Is it possible that actions at that time led to the abandonment of the school? Yes, but I can’t weigh in on such possibilities as at this point all clues seem to vanish. To me the memory of the school on Island Creek remains a mystery. What in the world was my namesake ancestor George W. Thomas referring to when he noted that a corner of his land was “ near the school house?” And, if there was indeed a school nearby, did both my father and his parents attend the same school?

_________________________

It is wonderful to have access to old photographs believed to be of your ancestors. But as time goes by, we lose contact with those we loved, those who we have always depended on to tell us about the way things once were. We end up regretting missed opportunities and we kick ourselves over the questions we’ve failed to ask. It is only natural. My dear grandmother lived to 98 years of age and she certainly could have clarified my curiosity.  And as for my dad, he surely knew where he went to school and could have told me more about the photos. But, how would I have known what to ask? Oh, how I wish I for a do-over! And a word to you and you, if anyone has ideas on  where I need to look, please share, please let me know!  ….time moves on.

2 thoughts on “MY MYSTERY SCHOOL ON ISLAND CREEK

  1. Ken Buress

    Great story, George. I have ideas, some of which may be ridiculous, or you have already tried, or already know. Since I don’t know what you know, I will throw them in.
    1. Was there a reversion clause for a school on any of the properties? Not sure if reversion clauses were utilized in that era.
    2. Look at US postal route bids. Some were detailed, and included places, such as Burris’ store in Georgia. I know of entire thriving (it seemed) towns with post offices back then that have disappeared, and no trace remains.
    3. Are there maps from back in the day? After seeing an 1878 map that showed the old roads where my ancestors lived, I started finding the depressions of the old roads that exist today.
    4. Refer to the oldest topo map that you can find. You may notice features that aren’t on the latest versions. I found an old road when I noticed topo lines that didn’t fit with the lay of the land.
    5. Are your suspected schoolhouse sites the right type? If the area offers a hilltop (but not too far away from available water), then maybe that’s more likely. Would there be privy depressions? Maybe scraps of coal?
    6. Interpret anything you find. Example: We found an 1820’s era log building that was called a barn. And, it had been recently used for that, but why would a small barn need a cutout in the logs for a chimney? And several windows? The building was in a narrow opening where it could command traffic into and out of a broad, fertile hollow. (Grow crops in the hollow, keep free-roaming livestock out of the crops). And it was about 30 feet from a brook. To the north and west stood a wooded hill, blocking summer sun and winter winds.
    7. Goodspeed’s or other historical accounts. There are some publications in that era for some states, but I do not know about North Carolina.
    8. Censuses would list occupations, like school teacher, but they might not have had school for enough months during the year for anyone to be identified.
    9. At that time were there county records of school teachers hired to teach, etc?

    Reply
  2. geothos Post author

    Thanks Ken, These are all good and have responded to each below…

    1. Was there a reversion clause for a school on any of the properties? Not sure if reversion clauses were utilized in that era. For few of the schools, yes, the deed may have such a clause. Also, you can look in grantee to see to whom the school system later sold the small tracts. There are few actually recorded.
    2. Look at US postal route bids. Some were detailed, and included places, such as Burris’ store in Georgia. I know of entire thriving (it seemed) towns with post offices back then that have disappeared, and no trace remains. Not the case here. Best source for maps is the following site which has plenty of the old routes …just click on Stanly County in this case ..https://web.lib.unc.edu/nc-maps/browse_location.php
    3. Are there maps from back in the day? After seeing an 1878 map that showed the old roads where my ancestors lived, I started finding the depressions of the old roads that exist today. There’s two maps that I refer to often. There is a Miller Map from 1913 in the above as well as a 1916 soil map. Bith are good but fail to locate the school.
    4. Refer to the oldest topo map that you can find. You may notice features that aren’t on the latest versions. I found an old road when I noticed topo lines that didn’t fit with the lay of the land.ye …great idea, and know that early topo maps were made of individual photographs. You can now find all those photographs online!
    5. Are your suspected schoolhouse sites the right type? If the area offers a hilltop (but not too far away from available water), then maybe that’s more likely. Would there be privy depressions? Maybe scraps of coal? Yes …the site is good …near both water and road. It’s memory though conflicts with another school nearby that everyone knows about. Could they be the same and moved to different locations over time?
    6. Interpret anything you find. Example: We found an 1820’s era log building that was called a barn. And, it had been recently used for that, but why would a small barn need a cutout in the logs for a chimney? And several windows? The building was in a narrow opening where it could command traffic into and out of a broad, fertile hollow. (Grow crops in the hollow, keep free-roaming livestock out of the crops). And it was about 30 feet from a brook. To the north and west stood a wooded hill, blocking summer sun and winter winds. Cool ….and yes. I try to add as much meat to the story as is possible. If I had written this 25 years ago I would have been able to talk with those who actually lived during the time when the school was in use. Now, there is no memory, only record and with the virus I dare now go a snooping because folks are rightully concerned about their own well being.
    7. Goodspeed’s or other historical accounts. There are some publications in that era for some states, but I do not know about North Carolina. There are some good books but none like Goodspeed written closer to the time events took place.I sure wish we had such info!
    8. Censuses would list occupations, like school teacher, but they might not have had school for enough months during the year for anyone to be identified. Good idea and will look into this.
    9. At that time were there county records of school teachers hired to teach, etc? Yes, there is a whole section of records in county files at NC archives titled school records. The virus prevents me from seeing those at the moment…

    Again thanks and appreciate your looking through my work with good ideas added. It’s important for me to hear such thoughts …Thanks!

    Edit

    Reply

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