What Made Orange Great: History of Orange County schools as recorded in 1936

Published 6:40 am Wednesday, November 3, 2021

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By Mike Louviere

In May 1936, the Orange Leader printed a Centennial Edition, in that edition was a history of Orange County schools up until that year.

At one time there were five common school districts in Orange County, included were Little Cypress, Bancroft, Winfree, Prairie View, and McLewis. There were five independent school districts: Cove, West Orange, Mauriceville, Orangefield, and Orange. The county had one rural school district, Vidor.

The earliest schools in the county was reported to have been established in 1857. They consisted of two common schools with 70 students in Orange.

In 1872, the Orange Independent school District was located in the vicinity of Market and Polk Streets it was started by Mrs. Annie Lynch.

The first graduating class of record was in 1893 and consisted of seven young ladies and two young men.

The building known as Curtis School burned in 1880 and in 1896-97 the building known as Henderson School was built within a block of the Curtis School location.

In 1902, J.S. Anderson donated the south half of the block where Anderson School was located. In 1913, the school expanded.

In 1915, Orange High School, a three story brick building was built on land donated by Anderson, on 13th Street and Green Avenue.

The Prairie View school had its beginning as a log building known as the Gravett school house on land donated on the Bob Turner homestead in about 1879. Turner was instrumental in bringing in from Louisiana a preacher and teacher named Pilley, who served for several years.

During Pilley’s term of service, a new building was erected and named Bland’s Chapel in honor of early Orange pioneer John Bland. The chapel served as both as chapel and school.

In 1893, this school and the lower Duncan’s Woods school, united on a site on the J.C. Bland estate and became known as Prairie View.

In 1917, another move was made and another site on the J.C. Bland estate was acquired.

In 1936, the school occupied a five acre site that included a four room classroom building, an auditorium, a manual training building and a six room teacherage.

Prairie View was the first school in Orange County that provided a home on campus for teachers.

Prairie View merged with the Winfree School district and became known as the Bridge City Independent School District. The building that was once the teacherage is in use today as the Bridge City Chamber Office.

The first school at Mauriceville was organized in 1899 and named for Mr. Hobson, who was a veteran of the Spanish-American War.

In 1913, the school was moved to the site where it was standing in 1936. It was a frame building with four classrooms. The school at that time consisted of three districts including Hobson, Mauriceville, and Texla.

In 1918, the school had grown to 250 students and six teachers.

The growth was due to the timber industry in the area and after the timber was exhausted and the mills closed, the enrollment dropped to less than 150 students.

In 1929, the Lemonville school consolidated with the Mauriceville school and the Cherry Grove district of Jasper County known as Gist also consolidated with the Mauriceville district.

Later some of the area was annexed and became part of the Buna Independent School district.

A bond election was passed to obtain funding for a modern brick building with six classrooms. In 1931, for the first time 11 grades were taught. The first graduating class of 11 grades consisted of six students.

During the 1933 school year, the old frame building was torn down and a gymnasium, home economics, and agriculture department were added.

In 1927, the two small schools of Gum Grove and Little Cypress consolidated into the Little Cypress Consolidated School District.

Gum Grove School was located on the site where Echo Road joined the Newton County Road. Little Cypress School was located farther north on the Newton County Road.

In 1936, the district had a red and yellow brick building on five acres of land. Also, on the site was an old pioneer building with a clay fireplace and a wide front porch. At that time, there were seven grades taught at the school.

The land for the school at McLewis was donated in 1884 by Joshua Cole. Sadly, there has not been recorded history of the years prior to 1929. At that time the school district split and the McLewis students attended school in the Old First Baptist Church while the new brick four room schoolhouse was being built. It opened in 1930.

In 1936, the faculty consisted of Miss Beatrice Walles, principal and Miss Atha Barrington and Miss Theta Pearl Noguess as teachers.

In Orangefield in 1923, two years after the oil boom, A.F. Josephson of Orange started a subscription campaign to raise money for a school.

During the first two years after the establishment of the school in Orangefield, the Orangefield students of high school age attended school at Oilla.

In 1925, the Orangefield school was expanded to include high school work, and, in 1936, Orangefield was voted an independent district.

In May 1927, a fire destroyed the school building and its contents but the bonds for a $50,000 new brick building had been previously approved in June, 1926, and construction had already begun.

Also, at this time consolidation with the Oilla school district had begun.

In 1931, the Duncan Woods school was consolidated with the Orangefield district.

The Bancroft school district was begun in 1929 after splitting from the McLewis school district.

In 1936, the school building consisted of a two-room structure with a knock-down partition to convert the two rooms into an auditorium.

The building was located on a five acre plot about a half mile west of the Old Spanish Trail and had classes through the seventh grade.

A news story reported: “In the seven years of the school history there have only been three teachers. Mrs. Allen Hubbard and Miss Lucille Womack for the first three years. Miss Inez Wallace and Miss Lucille Womack for the next two and Miss Inez Wallace and Mrs. Allen Hubbard for the past two years.”

The first school for black students was organized in about 1870 in the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Rev. William (Billy) Jones was pastor and Prof. Washington was principal. The school was a one room structure that measured about 14 feet by 24 feet.

In 1883, the school was transferred to the Salem E. Church with the pastor, Rev. Shankleford acting as the teacher.

A.J. Griner joined Rev. Shankleford and served as teacher for one half of the first year. The school only had one teacher until 1884 when Griner was given as assistant for the first year, in the second year, two assistants were added.

In 1916, a three story fire-proof brick structure with 22 steam heated and automatically ventilated rooms was erected.

W.M. Caldwell became principal in 1930. Caldwell served three terms, under his administration the school was named Moton High School The school was raised from a Junior to a Class A Senior High School. Mrs. Emma Henderson Wallace, who had been in the district for 30 years succeeded Caldwell as principal in 1933. The school’s name was later changed to Emma H. Wallace High School in her honor.

The date of the beginning of the West Orange school district was not included in the 1936 article.

The school started in a small building on Western Avenue. That building caught fire and a brick building was built nearby to replace it. The school in 1936 consisted of grades one through nine.

The Vidor Rural School District opened in the fall of 1929. Many people wondered why such a large building was built to take care of only 300 students and 10 teachers.

By 1936, the building was inadequate and a new high school building, due to open in September 1936, was under construction.

This was due to the fact that Vidor had grown to one of the largest rural school districts in the state.

Information for this article covered the early years until mid-1936. There were many changes in the school districts in Orange County after that time. School districts consolidated until today in Orange County there are only five school districts. There are over 14, 500 students in those five districts, the smallest district enrollment is just under 1800 and the largest just under 4500.