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Belles of Shumate School, Part 1

GERRY FISCHER

Shumate School -1919 with Thelma Trent’s mother in the 8th grade.

This story is not only about three pretty, resourceful and enduring women, but also their families and a disappearing way of life. And, with it, our history and heritage. Their tale is really a celebration and commemoration of a bygone way amidst our fast paced technological, and quickly changing world. This loss decries those times and memories of a simpler way, which once defined us.

 Ours is a naturally evolving world continuously changing over extensive periods of time, so slowly as to be unnoticeable; but cultural change comes more quickly as technology advances. We see many changes in a single generation; and, just as the Belles of Shumate school have learned, when a piece of society is traded for something new, the new sometimes loses its shine, becoming threadbare. Only then, when the hollow promise is broken, can we realize the value of what is lost.

 After the Civil War, but before motorized transportation, communities of farm families, clustered near crossroads where a church or two would be built and before long a general store. These crossroad communities became villages and eventually grew into towns. As the population expanded a farmer would donate some land and the community pitched in and built a school. Usually a one room affair, serving as few as a dozen students, up to as many as forty or more. To connect the towns and villages, stage coach routes and train stations located nearby and hotels, were built. The schools also needed to be close to a water source, and where possible find shade for relief from the stifling summer air. These community schools evolved into our Meade County school system. There were one room schools in, Rhodelia, Payneville, Guston, Ekron, Garrett, and other places. The history of Shumate school may have begun with a man named Jeff Shumate. We know positively that a Shumate either started, or made sure the Shumate school continued.

 History of Shumate School

 I have been unable to find exactly when the Shumate school was built, but during the Civil War, on April 28th, 1863, a battle between 100 Union soldiers and perhaps that many Confederates, happened very near the school with one Confederate captured within 60 feet of the front door. The fight was named the Battle of the Sheep Shed, named for some over-hanging rocks used to pen sheep and the Confederates were encamped. The Union won the day, killing 10 or 11 Confederates. This would mean, for at least a while before that time, the school had been in existence. The original building was made of logs, and we know Susan Willett was the teacher. Some of the school boys helped Thomas Shumate collect the dead, carefully placing them in his wagon. I was told Thomas Shumate donated the land for the school. Because of the battle which was well reported in Meade County and Louisville newspapers, the likelihood is Thomas began the first school, but there may have been a fire that closed the school until sometime after the Civil War, when Jeff Shumate, (Thomas Jefferson), born in 1871 repaired or rebuilt it. Not long ago, Trish Turner and I made a visit to the school. Several clapboards were off on the north side, revealing a hand-hewn log timber. An old newspaper clipping, mentions the abandoned log building played in by the school children after the new building was constructed, indicating for a while two buildings may have coexisted.

 Marian Bennett told me Jeff was instrumental in the school’s history. One reason was the fact he was the father of 13 children.

 (See part 2 next week School Days and the times)


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