After watching the one-room schoolhouse she cherishes travel on the back of a tractor trailer from her farm in southeast Bulloch County to Georgia Southern’s Botanical Garden, Jan Anderson was a little wistful Wednesday morning.
“It’s like my baby,” Anderson said. “It’s kind of sad seeing it leave my farm. But I know it’s going to a better place and for a better use.”
A member of the Daughters of the American Revolution historical society and a noted local historian herself, Anderson located an authentic south Georgia one-room schoolhouse circa 1890 in 2005 and had it fully restored. A graduate of Georgia Teachers College, which later became Georgia Southern, Anderson planned to donate it to the university as part of GSU’s centennial celebration in 2006.
It took more than three years, but Anderson finally was able to deliver her schoolhouse to Georgia Southern on Wednesday.
“The very original idea was to place it on campus, but plans sort of fell through and I put it out at my farm,” she said. “But things have opened up again and now we can put it on campus at the Botanical Garden. That’s where it belonged from the very beginning.”
Carolyn Altman, director of the Botanical Garden, welcomed the schoolhouse addition to the Garden.
“Jan has been so generous,” she said. “Both in restoring the schoolhouse and in her eagerness to work with the university. The schoolhouse seems like such a natural fit for the Botanical Garden in telling the story of this region. From the long leaf area to the one-room schoolhouse where so many ancestors of people who live in this area went to school to Georgia Southern itself. It kind of completes the cycle.”
Anderson put the quaint one-room schoolhouse in a field on her farm off Bowen-Rushing Road in 2007. She found the old school in 2005 in a Tattnall County field near Glennville. After it was purchased and moved, the hard work of restoration began.
Anderson’s friend Glenn Eason replaced window sills and shutters and restored the wood floors and walls of the old building. Anderson could not find antique desks from the one-room school’s period, so Eason secured a template and created reproduction desks, varying from “first grade” to “eighth grade” sizes, with the backs of the seats serving as the desk for the row behind. He even covered screw heads with wooden pegs to maintain authenticity.
The school was set upon wooden blocks Eason and Anderson cut from old logs they found “walking through the swamp” of Lotts Creek, and it contains a pot belly stove, a box of “fat lighter,” and the old chalkboard from Denmark School.
Inside, there is a 1916 portrait of George Washington, a 1919 United States flag with only 48 stars, and things like corn shuck dolls, old books and clay marbles. A school bell donated by Norris Strickland of Ellijay adds to the scene.
The purpose of the school is education - educating people today about how education was in days gone by, Anderson said.
“There have been a lot of visitors to the school at my farm and I have taught a lot of classes,” Anderson said. “But it will get more exposure at the Garden and it will be used for its main purpose and that’s to help educate young people about our history and for us not to lose our past.
“The schoolhouse lets our children today know what their great- grandparents or grandparents had to do to get an education.”
Eason also helped Anderson’s schoolhouse make the final move to the Botanical Garden. Using large hydraulic jacks, Eason spent several days raising the structure so a tractor trailer could slide underneath it. After securing everything inside and strapping it to the trailer, Larry Saxon with P.F. Saxon Trucking in Guyton drove the 10 miles from Anderson’s farm to the Garden.
Part of a fence and several shrubs were temporarily moved so the truck with the schoolhouse could navigate to its final spot inside the Garden. Once inside, Eason, along with Garden assistant director Bob Randolph and volunteer Terry Bartels took several days to lower it onto wooden blocks.
Altman sees a bright future for the historic schoolhouse in helping the Garden in its mission to preserve the past and share it with the public.
“The schoolhouse is great for school groups,” she said. “Kids learning about Georgia history, and how everyone learned math, science all together and in one room. Georgia Southern students will benefit from actually using this part of history in their studies.”
Altman said it will take a little time to get the schoolhouse ready for its public debut.
“We welcome the public,” she said. “Jan has done an amazing job of restoring the inside. There are all kinds of artifacts and wonderful details of the era in there. We’ll be setting it up during the coming weeks and we’ll have our grand opening on October 9 during our annual Heritage Festival.”
Statesboro Herald reporter Holli Deal Bragg contributed to the story.
James Healy can be reached at (912) 489-9402.