Here is a class of fourth-grade boys at Augusta’s Central School, an elementary facility that used to sit on the northeast corner of Telfair and Seventh streets. The photo was shared with The Chronicle more than 30 years ago to celebrate our bicentennial.
It’s a picture with questions.
I don’t know why, for example, there are no girls in it. I don’t know why only one of these little fellows looks to be smiling, while the rest appear headed to a firing squad. I don’t know why the youngster in the middle is not wearing shoes, although perhaps that was optional on the day the picture was taken – June 3, 1925.
But I do know while many of Augusta’s old grammar schools – Monte Sano, Houghton, William Robinson and John Milledge – are remembered fondly, few recall Central, which closed in the 1930s.
Still, it was unique. It was designed by Lawton Evans, the legendary superintendent who apparently considered architecture a simple task.
“I drew the plans myself and had some builder to write out the specifications,” he revealed in his book on Richmond County education. “I thought it was a wonderful building at that time,” he said modestly.
But even Evans had to admit it had some flaws. There were problems with ventilation and no space for playgrounds. Maybe that’s why these fourth-graders look glum.
There was also a problem with Evans’ personal office, which was in the centrally located school. It was too small, he said, and in the winter it was very cold.
He chose not to blame the school designer, but instead prevailed upon school board leaders who allowed him to construct a separate two-room facility nearby. It included space for a secretary who enjoyed the use of a typewriter, which Evans said made his correspondence seem most impressive and businesslike.
Central did see some efforts at educational innovation, including using its downstairs basement as a kindergarten with 40 to 50 little charges taught by Ida Goodrich. We can only assume she was part saint, part drill sergeant.
Evans even called in a kindergarten expert from “the North,” but it was “not much of a success,” he said. She spent most of her time trying to sell the school system kindergarten supplies.
Evans also had complaints about the school’s early principal, John Burke, “a young man who knew very little about education, but in those days it made little difference.”
What seemed more irksome, Evans said, was that Burke would “sneak off at recess and smoke cigarettes in the toilet-room.”
Evans probably liked Burke’s successor Ben Dillon much better. He worked long and hard, so hard, in fact, that he died on the job, probably from a heart ailment.
The school building worked long, too. Even after its classrooms no longer served young pupils, its facilities served the older public, which used its rooms as meeting places. In 1938, according to newspaper notices, it saw another effort at education, offering training classes to young women wishing to get jobs as waitresses and chamber maids.
Maybe that class learned how to smile.