By Jean A. Flanagan
Special to Examiner
Step back to a time before there were hardcapped roads, when going to school meant a long walk to a one- or two-room building. Relive the days when a wood-burning stove provided the only heat in the winter and the stream nearby was the only source of water. Imagine sitting at an uncomfortable wooden desk with only a small blackboard and chalk with which to complete your assignments.
Visit Hardy (the Hardy County Convention and Visitors Bureau) is pleased to announce the launch of the Hardy County Historic Schoolhouses Heritage Trail. The driving trail provides a snapshot of educational opportunities in Hardy County in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“We’re delighted that two of the schools on the Heritage Trail, the Cullers Run School and the Maple Grove School, will be open to the public during Heritage Weekend,” said Mathias resident Shefa Benoit.
Hardy County Heritage Weekend will be celebrated on Saturday, Sept. 24 and Sunday, Sept. 25. It is West Virginia’s only county-wide celebration of history and culture and features a number of activities and special events. Several historic homes will be open for tours and proceeds benefit the Hardy County Public Library and other historic endeavors.
Benoit, working as an AmeriCorps volunteer in conjunction with Visit Hardy and the Appalachian Forest National Heritage Area, is the architect of the HSHT, although it has truly been a labor of love. “It’s really a portrait of the community, but it’s a portrait that visitors to the county will be interested in seeing,” she said.
To date, Benoit has identified 128 schools that operated across Hardy County during the late 1800s and early 1900s. “The terrain, the mountains, and distance are why we find so many schools,” she said.
“And often the schools were built, or land was donated by a specific family, so most of the students were all part of that extended family.”
The schools also served as places of worship and community centers, so the creation, maintenance and upkeep were a community effort.
The HSHT can be accessed electronically on Clio, a mobile application which features historic and cultural landmarks. It was created by Dr. David Trowbridge at Marshall University. Go to https://bit.ly/3Bvut1V or scan the QR code that accompanies this story.
The HSTS is broken down into six sections. There is the Complete Tour, the North East Tour, The East Central Tour, the South East Tour, the North West Tour and the Historic African-American Tour. Each tour provides an overview of education in Hardy County in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Each tour lists between three and eight schools, a driving map and information specific to the school. Some even include memories of students who attended that particular school.
Those without mobile access or coverage can go to the Clio website (TheClio.com) and search for Hardy County Historic Schoolhouses Heritage Trail. At the bottom of each tour is a button to “Generate a Printable Map.” The entire tour, including descriptions of each school and driving directions, is generated in PDF form, which can be printed.
Each tour has general instructions:
First, drive carefully. Be aware of other vehicles, critters, hikers, bikers and the weather.
Second, consider all property, private property. Properties that permit access are noted.
Third, leave no trace. Take your trash with you. Don’t litter.
As part of the work Benoit is doing for the HSHT, she discovered, of the 128 schools in Hardy County, five of those were specifically African-American schools. That discovery led her to a group called Black in Appalachia, a nonprofit working in Tennessee. Some of their projects include collecting information from census and school records to tell the story of the African-American migration from slavery to emancipation.
“Our county will be added to the four already listed for West Virginia,” Benoit said. “They include Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming. Hardy County will now be included in the few counties that have identified and shared this data in all of Appalachia with this organization.”
“It’s important that folks understand, this is just the beginning,” Benoit said. “The Historic Schoolhouses Heritage Trail is in its infancy. We have identified 21 schools. We’d love to find more. We’d love to hear from former students, teachers, even children and grandchildren of former students and teachers. We know stories were shared among family members and we’d love to hear them.”
To reach Benoit with information about historic schoolhouses, email [email protected] You can also leave contact information at the Visit Hardy phone: 304-897-8700.