History of schools in the Walker Valley area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I’m copying/pasting another story from the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont’s email newsletter…  This this, it’s a look back at school in the Smoky Mountains… enjoy!

Early School Days in Walker Valley With the dawn of a new school year upon us, we thought it would be appropriate to peek into the past. Below is an excerpt from the forthcoming book about the Tremont area, to be published by fall: A Home in Walker Valley by Jeremy Lloyd.

Early School Days in Walker Valley

Before the turn of the 20th century the residents of Walker Valley didn’t consider themselves “mountain folks” because so far as they knew everybody lived the way they did. Children probably didn’t covet things enjoyed by city children because they may not have been aware that such things even existed.

One thing Will Walker knew they should have, however, was a proper education. The problem was that the nearest school lay seven miles away. So Will traveled twenty-two miles – a long distance back then – to Maryville to pay a visit to the Blount County school board. Someone more prideful might have refused to ask for help, but nothing would stop Will from lobbying for a school in Walker Valley. One imagines that his imposing stature and striking features might have played a role in administrative officials taking his request seriously.

Self-taxation had funded public education in Tennessee since 1845. By around 1900, however, funds for a new school in Blount County were too few. Thus Will’s request was passed along to the Tennessee Federation of Women’s Clubs which had recently created a department to combat illiteracy among mountain residents. Affiliated organizations as far away as Ohio raised the first $50 toward a teacher’s salary for the Walker Valley Settlement School. The school opened for a two-month summer term in 1901 and was taught by Andrew Dunn.

A new teacher from Cincinnati arrived the following summer. Frederic Webb and his mother Emilie, who’d fallen in love with the place during a visit, would make Walker Valley their home in the summers of 1902 and 1904. In the interim Fred attended seminary. The urbanite noted in his journal that few sounds were audible except those made by cowbells, children and the roar of the river. “The sound of neither a steam-whistle or church-bell had ever penetrated these mountains,” he wrote. At night it was a very dark place, the only light coming from fireplaces peppering the area. Along with education Fred hoped also to provide a spiritual light for the residents of Walker Valley.

The community experienced a series of “firsts” when the pair of strangers arrived in the summer of 1902. The Webbs arrived with a wagon which no one in Walker Valley yet possessed. Emilie’s dog Dewey, riding like a circus monkey on her lap, was the first pet that many residents had ever known anyone to own. Likewise had few people ever seen a washboard, clothespins, and graniteware cooking utensils. Upon seeing a bright red lampshade for the first time, one little girl asked, “Miss Webb, what kind of bloom is that?”

Will set aside land and furnished lumber for the construction of a cottage, which he and Fred set about to building. Small with two rooms, it was the first dwelling in the valley to have two porches, doors with locks, and a floor made of sawed lumber. It was listed by the Department of Education as the first “teacherage” in the United States.

Stop by The Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont’s website at www.gsmit.org.

You can also learn more about Walker Valley on this direct link on the Institute’s website…  http://www.gsmit.org/about-gsmit/walkervalley_history.html


****The place we stay when in the Smokies is www.smokymountaintower.com . The tower has the best view of the Smokies from any rental we’ve stayed in.  It’s in the perfect spot as well.  Right between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg!*****


3 responses to “History of schools in the Walker Valley area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

  1. Interesting article. I found your blog through Twitter.

  2. Love the article! Found out something else interesting about my ancestor today. I’ve been told as part of family history, that quite a few of Will Walker’s children went on to college, pretty unusual for those days in this area. (He had lots of children).
    Glad you enjoy the Smokies!

    • Excellent. While I’m not from the area personally, my step-mom is from the Maryville area. I guess that’s part of what makes me enjoy the area so much as well. Thanks for reading the blog.

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