16 February 2015

South Plains School

1925 photo of Sunset School, housed in a wooden building. 
I attended a rural school in Floyd County, Texas, and several years ago created a facebook group for  the South Plains School Alumni & Community.
Today one of the discussions took a bit of a  turn from remembering and honoring a community member who had died to a discussion of the school's history.
As it happened, a bit later in the day I came across an envelope of newspaper clippings from May 1988 when the school closed. It "was the last rural school in Floyd County and one of only seven in Texas." At one time there were 32 rural schools in Floyd County.
My family had attended South Plains School for three generations and we had family connections going back four.

The school  "opened in 1895 as Sunset
School, district number eight," in a one-room, wood frame building located 2 miles east of South Plains. Children walked, rode horseback, or came in buggies to attend. John Wilson, the oldest student of the school still living in Floyd County at its closing, started school at Sunset in 1914. They carried lunches (cold biscuit and sausage) in a syrup pail. He remembered "the big rain of 1919... which filled the draw west and south of Sunset from bank to bank." The teacher thought it unsafe for the students to cross the flood and sent them to nearby homes of Grigsby Milton, Sr., Charlie Wilson, and Mrs. Vera Snodgrass.

Top and bottom are views are 1927 photos of the brick Sunset School.
The middle view is the flat-roofed South Plains School,
rebuilt from those bricks. I attended that school
from the first through eighth grades.
"In 1926, a brick school building was erected one mile north (farther from that draw) from the original school. It was large for its days, containing eight rooms where an enrollment of 180 students studied. They ranged from primer to tenth grade." This new brick school building was I think located on the southeast corner of the half section homestead of my grandparents, Zach Carter and Oma Calahan Cummings. Her younger sisters and brothers attended the school. I think members of his family also attended Sunset School.
I think this building was also the first meeting place of the South Plains Baptist Church of which my great grandmother, Lala Delilah Shelby Calahan, was a member.
The location of new Sunset is marked by an electric substation on land still belonging to my family.
The Fort Worth and Denver Railroad arrived in 1927 and the town of South Plains was located platted on the railroad halfway between Floydada and Silverton, the county seats of Floyd and Briscoe counties, and an equal distance from Lockney. The Sunset community decided to "dismantle" and move its school to the new town. "Noel Deavenport, one of the students in all three schools--old Sunset, new Sunset, and South Plains--remembers helping clean the brick when the school was rebuilt." I can remember hearing my great uncles (Shelby and Junior Calahan) tell that same story. The South Plains school opened in the fall of 1929 with 133 students which would be the school's peak enrollment.
I have been gleaning information and quoting an article by Neta Marble and Jim Reynolds, The Floyd County Hesperian, Volume 92, Number 25, Thursday, June 23, 1988 published upon the closing of the school and its students going to either Lockney or Floydada.
Neta interviewed my father, Kendall K. Cummings, for that article. He attended ninth and tenth grades at South Plains School following the consolidation with Roseland School in 1935. (He had started school at Roseland. Yes, he rode a pony. Then attended school at Lone Star before moving back to Roseland. At that time South Plains offered only ten grades.
Quoting Daddy: "Well over a hundred students were enrolled. We had six rooms and there was somebody in every room." He adds that some students from Cedar Hill were also attending South Plains. "They were trying to get the school accredited with a full high school then, but it went the other way." Two years later, South Plains School "was cut back to nine grades."

After Daddy's graduation from South Plains in 1937 (we have the commencement program), he attended an additional year and graduated eleventh grade from Lockney High School in 1938. His younger brother, Sterling, and his sister, Delilah,  would follow in his footsteps.
The younger siblings, Mona, Jean, and Zach W.,  attended high school in Floydada.
By the time I attended South Plains School, it had only eight grades.

1988 photo Dallas Morning News, last days
It was cut down to six grades and had only twenty-seven students enrolled before it closed in 1988.
My brother's children, Kendall II and Victoria, had just finished the fifth and the second grades. She is the girl in pink on the left. He is the taller blond boy in the black and white shirt, at the back, fifth from the left.
There was a reunion-homecoming to mark the end of the era. I flew home for the party. We had one of those rare "big rains" and couldn't get there for all of the events. We were able to make the party for which my mother had baked dozens of cookies.

Newspaper articles were published in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Saturday, May 28, 1988 and in The Dallas Morning News, Sunday, May 29, 1988. I think there was some TV  coverage.

My aunt, Margaret Calahan, painted a picture.

My mother wrote a poem:

On the closing of South Plains School
1928 - 1988
by Dorthy Wieland Cummings

Country school stands in a bed of weeds.
Time has come!
No school smell--glue and sweaty kids.
The walls listen and long for laughter.
Hallways, missing footsteps
      of boys and girls
          running through,
                 happy skips of young feet.
Dead silence.
Where are they? Oh, where?
           No more!
Memories live.


K Cummings Pipes said...

Of course, the site of old Sunset was the L.T. Wood home and the Mamie's lovely garden. I know that she got some water in her home after one of those "big rains" that flooded that draw.

K Cummings Pipes said...

I just learned that the Zach/Oma Cummings farm was not their homestead. He bought it during WWII, originally intending it for my father but Daddy suggested that they keep in for themselves as they might need it. Daddy and Mother bought his own place although they did farm Grandaddy & Grans place "over yonder" for many years.