Abandoned Schoolhouse in a Tennessee Pasture

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Fairview School | Greene County, Tennessee | c. 1910s

I just love an old school house and you won’t find a more picturesque one than this school in Greene County, Tennessee. Like many schools of this era, this school was eventually abandoned but most of those have since fallen in. And while this one is in danger of the same, the fact that it still stands more than 100+ years later makes it an important landmark in this region. The story that emerges here paints a picture of what life might’ve been like for students in small communities like this one back then.

Antebellum Education in Small Communities

In the years before the Civil War, rural education in southern communities was most often conducted in private homes. As time went on, communities raised funds to establish more formalized education for white students in schools that were often affiliated with a local church. In Greene County, Tennessee, the first documented rural school for students was the Rhea Academy which opened around 1812.

Rural Education Following the Civil War

In the Fairview Community of Greene County before the Civil War, there was a one-room school that stood on the church grounds near the cemetery at Mt. Zion Church. Following the Civil War, in the 1870s or 80s, a new school was built to replace the old one.

In 1913, the Mt. Zion School school combined with the nearby Oakland School, and a new school building was commissioned that came to be called Fairview School. Some records say the new school opened in 1914, while a newspaper article says it was opened in 1916.

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I researched this property extensively, hoping to find an image of what that original schoolhouse looked like, but I haven’t been able to dig one up yet. However, I did stumble across a description of the early schoolhouse that stood here in a newspaper article from 1926. The article compares the original school (likely built in the 1870s) to the present Fairview school which was built in 1914/16:

“The current school at Fairview shows quite a contrast between school conditions now and the little, old dilapidated structure (c. 1870s) that formerly served the community. The old structure was as poorly equipped as it was in appearance. The desks were of the old-fashioned type when health, comfort, and beauty were unknown.”

The Fairview School- built c. 1914/16

The 1914/16 structure has two large school rooms and an auditorium space that was used for performances and assemblies. The two separate school rooms were used to split up the younger and older students who would be learning different subjects, with a dedicated teacher in each room, organized in grades 1-4 and 5-8 respectively. 

Photo of the Fairview School c. 1926 from a Greeneville Democrat-Sun newspaper article.

One newspaper article mentions that some of the earlier teachers in this school were Fred Akard, Montie Doty, Bessie Brown, Pauline Pickering, Mona Livingston Frazier, Virgie Phillips Williams, and Paul Robinette. A 1926 newspaper article describes the school:

“Fairview Consolidated School 14th district of the county, is a handsome two-teacher school building, erected in 1916. It serves a thriving and prosperous community. The patrons of the community aided liberally in the construction of the building.

This school is taught by Mrs. Hazel Boswell and Mrs. Florence Sweeney. It is one of the best schools in that section of the county. The parents are loyal and cooperative, which makes the work of the teachers much easier and causes the very congenial relations which exist between teachers and pupils at the school.”

The Greeneville Democrat-Sun newspaper
I found this newspaper listing that invited locals to an upcoming Ice Cream Social and Picnic at the Fairview School in 1937.
Queen Joan Fanning and King Jimmy Williams of Fairview School in 1949.

The Crazy Tennesseeans Play at Fairview

But the Fairview School wasn’t only used as a school during this period. It was also an important community center where locals would gather for memorials, events, and performances. In 1933, a folk band called the Crazy Tennesseeans performed at the Fairview School.

The Crazy Tennesseeans

This country music group had a core of performers who were often flanked by an orchestra of other musicians with as many as 14 people on stage during some performances. An article from Knoxville Mercery describes the band:

“They opened a new vein in popular music, unleashing raucous, hard-driving, uninhibited string-band music. People had heard country fiddlers before, but had never seen anything like this. They weren’t suave, they weren’t well-practiced, they weren’t even good looking. Country bands are supposed to be small, but in their early days, the Crazy Tennesseans’ fiddlers, guitarists, and harmonica players sometimes numbered 14. Sometimes they wore work clothes—blue jeans, even—right on stage.”

You can read more about their impact on fiddle and early country music here.

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The Fairview School as it looked in 1956.

Fairview School Closes

The structure served Fairview faithfully as a community center and school until 1955 when rural schools were consolidated and students were bussed to the Doak School nearby.

At this point, it was converted for use by the church youth who turned the auditorium into an indoor basketball court. One local recalled playing basketball in the auditorium as recently as the 1990s. Now it’s empty, except for an old piano and the critters who have taken up residence here, but many locals still remember it fondly.

Here is one reminiscing I was able to find about the school from a woman whose mother went here…

“Soon after my mom died, I visited my aunt when she asked, ‘Did you know that’s your mom’s schoolhouse over there?’

It had never occurred to me that the school my mother attended in the 1930s would still be standing but there it was, forgotten and neglected, but there. It was a gift to visit the place where my mother once learned and sang with a lifetime of promise ahead of her.

But the greatest gift, after bearing witness to her confinement, was seeing the beautiful fields where she once ran.”

If you have additional information about this school, please email me: kelly@theforgottensouth.com


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3 Comments

  1. Where in Tennessee was this school? I used to live in Dickson Tn and worked in Fairview TN but I don’t know if this is the same community. Loved it there.

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