WAY WE WERE: Old Houghton School

Did you go to Houghton Elementary?

 

I didn’t, but I went to schools just like it. Wooden floors. Real blackboards. Initials carved in odd places.

Augusta’s former Houghton Elementary, which became Heritage Academy on Greene Street a few years ago, is remembering its traditions by celebrating the centennial of the school’s opening this week.

The old school is an amazing part of Augusta history. It taught pupils back when that Olde Town neighborhood around Greene Street was the city’s primary residential neighborhood. Thousands, tens of thousands of Augustans began their education at Houghton.

It is a great story and most of you know it. When Augusta merchant John W. Houghton died, he willed that his fortune go to build a new brick school to help the old Augusta Free School in educating those who couldn’t afford to pay for their education.

He also set aside a trust that raised money to maintain the facility.

When Augusta’s Great Fire of 1916 burned that building, the school board stepped in and quickly built an even better replacement. It opened 100 years ago this week — the first destroyed building to reopen after the fire 12 months before.

In 1923 a movement began to rebury Houghton, himself, on the school grounds. The community and school PTA embraced the idea and funds were raised. Within months Houghton’s remains were moved from what had been a grave on his farm near Gracewood and placed in a vault in the school entrance foyer.

That alone probably makes it among Georgia’s most unique schoolhouses.

There is supposedly a legend that generous John’s ghost sometimes will give a student a nudge on the steps or in some back hallway.

That little haunted history has made a few Georgia ghost anthologies. but it appears the source is a lone comment in The Chronicle in 2000.

What do you remember about Houghton? Did you go there? Did you meet the ghost?

And how do you say its name?

HOE-tun? HOW-tun? HUFF-ton?

Let me know in an e-mail to bill.kirby@augustachronicle.com.

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