Old School Houses in Hardin County
By Renée Hart Wells
In August as teachers prepare for the school year in new or freshly painted facilities, they decorate their rooms, plan lessons, and renew friendships with their colleagues in air-conditioned buildings.
The situation was quite different in Hardin County settlements years ago when the day after Labor Day signaled the start of a new school year. In each community, windows in the one or two room school buildings were thrown open to catch any breath of a breeze. Teachers and parents then swept down the spider webs and the mud dauber nests and stacked the first load of firewood for the stove. School officially started when it was still 90 degrees in the shade, but many of the older students needed to work on the family farm until harvest time was over. That was when the big boys returned to their studies and could be depended upon to bring in the firewood on cold mornings.
Former students and teachers fondly remember one of these schools, the White Oak School at Thicket. A church, a school, and a scattering of houses marked the community of White Oak, located about ten miles west of Honey Island. Herman Hart likes to tell of his favorite teacher when he was a student there, Miss Lola Mae Brown. Miss Brown is remembered by former students as being a kind and understanding woman who knew how to teach the boys and girls of Thicket. She also earned their respect and was quite a heroine in her students' eyes. Over 80 years ago Miss Brown wrote a number of times to the White Oak School Board requesting a fence around the little school to protect the students from hogs. These piney-woods rooters stayed around the schoolhouse, rooting up the playground and seizing any opportunity to take the children's snacks and lunches. When Miss Brown's letters got nothing but empty promises, she went to the school board meeting in person demanding that a fence and a stile be built and some playground equipment installed or else she would quit, and here it was only March! White Oak School soon had a fence. Later, a merry-go-round and swings were installed.
Several years ago, at the age of ninety, Esther Barneycastle Marcontell, painted a picture of the schoolhouse from memory. Although the building is gone, White Oak School lives on in the memories of the students and in Esther's painting.