A HISTORY OF ALEXANDER SCHOOLS, INC.                              Taken from A History of Alexander Schools, Inc. – The First Fifty Years – 1925- 1975

1945-1955 – The Third Decade

Written by Peggy Nanney St. Clair and Don Palmer



These were the middle years – the most dramatic, the most traumatic.  It was a period marked by fires and by rebuilding, by rapid expansion in the student numbers and athletic glories, by the passing of the Sweatt era and its replacement by the Vogler era, and, tragically by the dark specter of violent death.

In the fall of 1945, World War II had ended and the future of ASI seemed bright.  The Rutherford County Board of Education had let a contract to begin the reconstruction of the School’s Administration and Teaching Building to replace the building which had burned the previous December.  The cost of the building and equipment was in excess of $150,000, half of which was to be paid by the county and the remainder by ASI.  Relying on its many friends and supporters, the School was able to raise the funds necessary to begin construction, so that by the fall of 1946 a brand new school building stood ready to receive its first classes.


Then on November 17, 1947, the first of a rash of fires that were to plague the campus during this decade occurred.  The temporary school building which was then being used as a daytime cafeteria was destroyed in a fire that also damaged a nearby cannery.  Hardly a month later, on December 29, fire destroyed the intermediate and junior girls’ dormitory.  In the spring of 194i, fire struck the Brown House which housed the senior boys, but it was confined to one wall and was successfully extinguished with minor damage.  Four years later, in February, 1952, fire totally destroyed the gymnasium, and two years after that, in January, 1954, fire took the Buchanan Dormitory which housed the senior girls.  With the exception of the temporary school building, all of these buildings were old, all except the girls’ dormitory were of wooden frame construction, and all were very vulnerable to fires.  It is believed that all of these fires resulted from faulty or overloaded wiring, and that none were deliberately set.

The fire in the temporary school building was discovered at 1:45 AM when it already had too much headway to be stopped.  Through the heroic efforts of the school students and community men, nearby buildings were saved from the flames, although the cannery was extensively damaged, with the loss of 6-8000 gallons of fruit and vegetables and much of the equipment of the cannery and agriculture room.   Total loss was estimated at around $20,000, with some insurance coverage.  Fortunately, no one was injured in the fire, but it was a real loss to the day students who were using the building as a cafeteria and recreation room.

The burning of the intermediate and junior girls’ dormitory was a serious loss.  This building, built in 1922 as a part of Round Hill Academy, had housed 90 students, 3 matrons, and 2 staff workers.  The fire began in the basement of the building, and quickly spread through the structure, destroying the building and its contents, and a nearby water tower.  Through the efforts of a bucket brigade formed of faculty, students, and town people, the dining hall close by was saved, but the loss of the dormitory was estimated at $75,000, with only $10,000 of insurance on the building and contents.

An early morning fire had taken the gymnasium, and with had gone all of the school’s athletic equipment.   This building had been built in 1930, chiefly by donations and labor of the community people, and had been the first building constructed after Professor Sweatt had become superintendent.  This gym had seen many championship teams play here, from the days of the great teams of W. A. Smith and ”Pop” Lance to the powerhouse boys’ team of J. P. Kneece in 1949-50 which had swept through the conference schedule unbeaten.  Other outstanding teams and near-champions – both Yellow Jackets and Wolverines – had played here.  With this burning went also two of the largest trees on campus, an oak and a weeping willow.  These trees were exceptionally beautiful, adding much to the natural beauty of the campus.  They were greatly missed – especially in autumn.

The fire in the Buchanan Dormitory began about noon, when heavy smoke began pouring from the building.  Being a school day, the building was empty of students and the long-time matron, Miss Pauline Lawson, who also taught Seventh Grade, so that the fire had been far advanced when discovered.  Hand fire    extinguishers proved ineffective in stopping the fire, so that the building and the possessions of the matron were totally destroyed at a tremendous loss.

After the Buchanan fire, the decision was made to remove all of the remaining frame structures –the Gould Cottage, Morris Dorm, Old Baby Cottage, the Nanney house, and the Cooper house.  These buildings were sold for scrap and torn down.  At that time, the Brown House had already been torn down, and construction was proceeding on a replacement dorm for the boys, who would be able to move in by April, 1954.  Thus, the old buildings passed from the scene.  As replacement buildings have been erected, they have been constructed of fire-proof brick, designed to be as invulnerable to fire as possible.

In 1945, Mrs. Gower Morgan and Mrs. Arnold Keck opened a café in a building adjacent to the Morgan store which had been so long a part of the Union Mills scene.  The café was a clean, sanitary eating place, serving regular dinners, sandwiches, hamburgers, hot dogs, and various other student favorites.  Both the café and Mr. Morgan’s store are fondly remembered by students of that era.

In early February, 1947, the School’s activity bus, the “Blue Goose”, met its doom on the Marion-Asheville highway as it was returning with students from a basketball game in Old Fort.  At the end of a bridge, the bus struck a Youngblood transfer truck which was enroute to Asheville.  Several  of the students received treatment of minor injuries at the Marion hospital, and “Whitie” Aikens, the driver of the bus, and Coach Lawrence Atchley were required to remain in bed for a few days.  The Blue Goose had done a yeoman duty in its time, transporting students to and from ball games, movies in Rutherfordton and other places that students are want to go, and its passing was greatly lamented.  A replacement bus was long in coming, and memories of the Blue Goose lingered on.

The class of 1947 was the first to receive diplomas in the new school building, which had opened the previous fall for the first time, and was also the first class to graduate under the twelve-grade system.  Other distinctions of the class of ’47 were that the first Student Government at ASI was organized that year with senior Tommy Palmer being elected president, and that class included three Cuban nationals as students.  The three Cubans were Roberto Forment, who came as a post-graduate student; Manuel Hartman, who graduated with the ’47 class; and Rene Oliva, who married a student, Mary Edna Baulknight, at New Year and left the school without graduating.

In the summer of 1947, the Alexander Schools Alumni Association was formed, with Victor Workman being elected President.  At that meeting, the second Sunday in August was selected as a permanent annual meeting date.

The directors of Alexander Schools met in February of 1948 at the school and Elected Thomas J. Edwards to fill out the unexpired term of his father, the late M. L. Edwards.  Rev. Charles Stephens of Winston Salem was elected to fill out the unexpired term of the late Dr. J. W. O’Hara.

W. E. Sweatt, W. G. Scoggin, and J. J. Tarlton were appointed to a building committee.  Plans were made to erect three small buildings, each to accommodate thirty girls, to replace the building burned December 29, 1947.  These building would be fireproof.  All buildings at the school were being rewired except the new auditorium which was completed the previous fall.  The outlook for the school was very bright this time.

Rev. L. P. Barnette, for seven years pastor of Round Hill Baptist Church and for two years Moderator of the Green River Baptist Association was extended a call to become pastor of the Mills Mill Baptist Church  at Woodruff, S.C.   Mr.  Barnette accepted the Woodruff church and moved within a few weeks.  He and his family have made many friends during their stay in this county who regretted to see them leave.

His vacated post was eventually filled when Dr. Nolan P. Howington became the new pastor at Round Hill, in Jul, 1948.  The members of the church gave Rev. Howington and his family an “old-fashion pounding” which was graciously received.

On May 20, 1948, tragedy struck as one student was slain by another.  In a jealous rage, Roy Daniels entered the girls’ dormitory with a rifle, sought out Henrietta Grier, and shot her five times.  He then turned the rifle and shot himself just above the heart in an attempted suicide.  Professor Sweatt rushed both students to the Rutherfordton hospital, where Henrietta died about 10:15 P.M.  Roy recovered, was imprisoned for several years, and, after parole, moved to California.

A long-time dream was realized in Nov., 1950, when the school opened its new kitchen.  The construction of this building, which is of brick and two stories tall, was started in July, 1950.  The new kitchen made it possible for the old one to be used as the lunch room for the day pupils.  A new furnace in the basement furnished hot water for the kitchen.

Tragedy again fell upon this community as W. E. Sweatt, a 51 year old superintendent and a 16 year old student were shot to death on March 13, 1951.

Hugh Justice, a 19 year old student at the school, shot Professor Sweat as he was leaving his office at about 10:00 p.m.  Billy Ray Powell, a 16 year old student was with Justice at the time of the shooting.  Justice and Powell then went across the campus where they encountered a student, Wade Johnson.  An argument ensued and Powell took the rifle from Justice and shot Johnson.

Superintendent Sweatt was rushed to the Rutherfordton Hospital.  He remained in a coma and died about 1:00 a.m.  Wade was killed instantly.

Final rites for Mr. Sweatt were held on March 14th with a memorial service beginning at 11:00 a.m. when the student body gathered in the auditorium that bears his name to pay tribute to their friend and benefactor.

Rev. C. C. Matheny was in charge of the service.  Miss Gertrude Tucker, the director of music, directed the choral group in songs known to be Mr. Sweatt’s favorites.  Scriptures were read and faculty members, former students, and close friends mad short talks on his accomplishments and deeds.

At 1:00 p.m. Dr. Nolan P. Howington conducted the funeral services for Wade Johnson at Round Hill Baptist Church.  His fellow students acted as pallbearers.  The school choral group rendered special music.  Interment was in the church cemetery.

At 3 o’clock the funeral services for Mr. Sweatt were begun after his body had lain in state for one hour.  Hundreds of former students and friends who could not find seats in the overcrowded church stood silently atop the hill wind-swept yard outside the church.  Dr. Nolan P. Howington, former pastor of Round Hill, Rev. C. B. Prince, boyhood pastor; Rev. L. P. Barnette, former pastor, and Rev. R. L Corbin spoke at the service.  Members of the Rutherford County Schoolmasters club were active pallbearers.

The presence of hundreds of friends from all walks of life, the large floral tributes, and the funeral orations attested to his popularity throughout the state.  Sheriff’s deputies and members of the North Carolina National Guard who handled the traffic stated that it was one of the largest crowds seen in the area in some time.

The school began with an enrollment of 45 students.  In 25 years under the leadership of Mr. Sweatt the school had grown to an enrollment of 310 boarding students in addition to 200 day students.  He helped to provide Christian home care for over 3500 students over the years.  He worked closely with Round Hill Baptist Church and the Union Mills community.

The Board of Trustees of the school appointed Mr. Harvey Albert Nanney to fill the unexpired school term 1950-51 as Superintendent.  He was assisted in the administration of the school by Arnold Keck, secretary of the school, and Rexfod Hargrove, member of the faculty.

Mr. Nanney began his career as school master at the age of 21.  He was principal of the public schools of Mount Gilead for 24 years.  During his administration there the school was chosen the model state school for research study.

He is a graduate of Wake Forest College and the University of N. C.  Mr. Nanney served for a number of years as a leader in educational, religious, and civic affairs. 

Mr. and Mrs. Nanney moved to their country home at Union Mills in June, 1950.  Mrs. Nanney worked by her husband’s side in church, school, civic, and social activities.  On July 1, 1951 John W. Vogler came to be Superintendent of Alexander Schools and Principal of Union Mills School.  He came directly from Winston Salem where he had been District Principal.  Before that he had taught for one year in Texas.  Mrs. Vogler was also hired as a teacher.

Though not part of Alexander Schools, the Round Hill Baptist Church has been so intimately associated with ASI that it should be noted that the new church building was opened in the summer of 1951.  This opening was the culmination of the efforts of the people of both the community and the school, through long years of fund raising and planning.  Professor Sweatt was especially fond of that church.

In April of 1953 the Board of Trustees met and decided to build a new dormitory for boys with construction to begin in the summer.  The Board members at that time were:  K. S. Tanner, Jake Alexander, H. L. Buice, Woodrow Fountain, Charles Gold, W. D. Lupo, B. F. Maree, J. J. Tarlton, J. F. Weathers, Mrs. T. D. Allen, Dr. Bostic, and W. G. Scoggin.

The dormitory was to replace the “Brown House” which had been condemned as unsafe and a fire trap by the State Department of Welfare.  W. E. Breeze, Architect, met with the trustees and submitted plans for the new dormitory.  Work started in Mary or early June.  The new dormitory is modern and as nearly fireproof as possible.

The school and trustees and Trustees were handicapped for lack of funds to build.  The “Brown House” was sold for scrap and a drive was mad for fund with which to build.  Construction began on schedule, and the boys were able to move into their new quarters in April 1954.

It was in 1953 that the first annual audit was instituted for the school.

In 1954 R. E. Price came on the Board of Trustees, replacing Mr. Lupo who resigned.

In 1955, Oscar Mooneyham and J. C. Hames replaced J. J. Tarlton and W. G. Scoggin as board members. Dr. W. C. Bostic was made a member Emeritus for life and Dr. Yelton was elected to his term of office.



As a former student of Alexander Schools, I would like to make some brief statements as to my regard for Professor W. E. Sweatt.

He was a man of vision; a vision of Christian education, a vision of the kingdom of God, and a vision of a child’s right and his fellow man’s needs.

He was a man of great character.  He never stooped to little things.

He was a father to the fatherless, a beacon light to children in depressed darkness, a provider of shelter to those who had no shelter, a provider of food to those who had no food, and a provider of clothes for those who had no clothes.

He was a man of great diligence.  Whatsoever his hands found to do, he did it with all his might.

He was a man upon whom God had laid his hand.  One night while talking to “Prof” about the progress of the school he state, “The hand of the Lord has been upon us all the way. 

He was a man whose influence shall ever live in the lives of the students of Alexander Schools and his many friends.

I can never forget the kindnesses that Professor Sweatt has shown me.  When entering the school, I had 25 cents in money and a “hand-me-down” suit from my brother; yet out of his great heart “Prof” accepted me as a student and arranged for me to do whereby I could take care of my expenses.  On thing that stands out in my memory is that many nights about 8:30 or 9:00 while he was winding up the day’s chores at the office, I could hear “Prof” whistling “How Firm a Foundation, Ye Saints of the Lord.”  This revealed to me his faith in God and that he was building a monumental work upon this foundation.  As James would state it, these works are testimonies of his faith.  He now rests from his labors, but these works shall follow him.




Shorty Francis - Summer 1951


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