The first school in Grapeland was an old log schoolhouse located where the Baptist Church now stands. It was a one-room, one teacher school. As far as we can ascertain Mr. N. A. Hickey was the first teacher. This log school served the community until the 1880s and was also used for church functions. The Baptists, Christians, and Methodists all held services there.
This early day school was ungraded. One old timer states that when you `finished' your books to the satisfaction of your teacher you graduated.
The 1890 Crockett Courier stated that the Grapeland School was moving along smoothly under the guidance of G. S. March and the Grapeland people were trying to erect a new school building. This became a reality in July of 1891 when the building of a new two-story frame school was started on College Street, approximately on the present home site of Mrs. Dan Pennington. This fine academy building was to have classrooms downstairs and an upper story to be used as a town hall. The cornerstone of this building was laid on August 28, 1891. At 10:30 A. M., the Grapeland Masonic Lodge representing the Grand Lodge of Texas, under the charge of District Deputy Grand Master W. J. Murchison, representing the Grand Master of the State marched in procession from their hall to the new school building.
After a prayer by the Chaplain J. L. Whitescarver, they proceeded to lay the cornerstone of the building. The following articles were deposited in the stone: a Bible, a copy of Taylor's Monitor, a copy of the proceedings, constitution, and by-laws of the Grand Lodge of Texas for 1890, a roll of the members of the Grapeland Lodge, a copy of the meeting organizing the Confederate Veterans Association, a copy of the World's Fair meeting held at Crockett, a roll of the citizens and business men of Grapeland, a history of the school building up to the present time, a copy of the program of the day's proceedings, a ten dollar gold ring by E. L. Simpson, copies of the Courier, Economist, Galveston News, and Houston Post and coins of various denominations by various parties. This ceremony was followed by a picnic on the ground which was attended by "a mighty concourse of people” who had gathered to witness the ceremony.
The building was completed in April of 1892. The trustees awarded the school to Mr. Flynne of Brenham. He came highly recommended as a teacher and scholar.
In 1893 the number of grades in school was increased from eight to nine. A handbill printed for the school by W. F. Lewis, principal, advertised a nine month school in Grapeland that will prepare students for any class in college they desire. Satisfaction was guaranteed and the rates of tuition for advanced classes were cheaper than any school of like grade known to the principal or the trustees.
In May, 1895 Grapeland held an election to decide if they would incorporate the town for school purposes only. The vote of this election was 41 to 8 for the corporation. The Courier stated that this would ensure a good school and would aid materially in building up the town.
The 1901 Grapeland Messenger bragged that the Grapeland School was one of the best in the county. They even offered commercial business courses. The faculty at that time were Mr. James O'Keefe, principal, Mrs. Franciade Leaverton and Miss Kate Woodward. The members of the school board at that time were F. C. Woodard, president, James Owens, J. E. Hollingsworth, W. H. Caldwell, Ross Murchison, John A. Davis, and Dr. L. Meriwether. The average attendance for the school was 125.
In 1902, Mr. W. A. Cain came to Grapeland as its principal. Mr. Cain was an outstanding scholar and great asset to our school. While here, he graded our school and set a course of study stating the requirements for each of the nine grades.
One of the general statements made about the school was that even though it was not affiliated with the State University that anyone completing the course should have no difficulty in securing a Teacher's First Grade State Certificate. This would admit them to the University without examination. Teaching under Mr. Cain in 1902-03 were Miss Ava Hollingsworth and Miss Mozelle Martin.
The Grapeland School faculty for 1905-06 was A. W. Cain, principal, Sam Kennedy, grammar school, Mrs. Nannie Cain, intermediate, and Miss Nannie Howard, primary department. Professor Sam Kennedy resigned the faculty to become the principal in Augusta and Professor S. P. Waltrip filled his vacancy in the Grapeland School. The school opened with 130 students in attendance. Four school board members were present for the opening of school: Messrs. Geo. E. Darsey, J. M. Selkirk, B. R. Eaves and E. W. Davis.
During Supt. Eason's tenure many new programs were added to our curriculum. He encouraged all the teachers in our school to better qualify themselves by returning to school themselves for their Master's work. He added the special education department, visiting teacher program, lunchroom program and the Home Economics department. He was considered an exceptional educator by all who knew him.
As the Grapeland School grew, the rural schools became smaller and in 1928 some of the outlying communities consolidated with Grapeland. The schools of Dalys, Reynard, Hayes Springs, Rock Hill, New Prospect, Union, Enon, Percilla, Livelyville, Waneta, Glover and a strip of Latexo are all now consolidated with Grapeland.
The first Agriculture teacher employed by the school was Mr. J. C. Shoultz in 1929. Mr. Shoultz worked not only in the school, but in the community to help develop new methods in farming and encouraged the farmer to diversify and adapt to the changing agricultural market. Many experimental programs were developed and tried. There were some successes and some failures, but the outcome has been a group of very progressive farmers who are forever seeking that program which will best benefit them and this area. Mr. Rawls followed Mr. Shoultz for a short time and then in 1954 Mr. Lewis Chandler came to serve our school as agriculture teacher. Like Mr. Shoultz, he has been an interested and active member of our community. In 1940 Grapeland added several new buildings to the school plant. Under the WPA (Work Projects Administration) program, a new gymnasium, band hall, agriculture building and home demonstration building were made possible. This was the first year the school was to offer home economics. Miss Charles Addie Hill was the first home economics teacher. During World War II, the home economics department cooperated with the Red Cross and offered special courses in home nursing care. Miss Carolyn Darsey, Mrs. Mae Sallas, Mrs. Ava Bush, Mrs. Janice Brimberry, Mrs. Frances Kirkland, Mrs. Vanie Baldwin, Miss Alice Shepherd, Mrs. Dawn Chapman, and Mrs. Vickie Crowson have also served as home economics teachers.
Mr. Wesley Slack came to Grapeland as a teacher in 1925. Being a man of exceptional and varied talents he organized the first band for those musically inclined and the first football team for the athletes. He also taught science. He left the school in 1929 and returned again in 1950 as band director and science teacher. During this time he became elementary principal and retired in 1970.
Mr. J. 0. McKenzie, one of Grapeland's own, returned in 1952 to become superintendent. He had earlier been a teacher here in the 1940s. Under his driving influence, a complete reevaluation of the school was made. The prime need found from this study was not in the quality of education, but in the school plant itself. A complete rebuilding program was launched and by 1956, Grapeland had a new elementary school located north of the high school, a new high school, a new W. R. Banks School and a new auditorium. The auditorium was named for Mrs. J. C. Shoultz who had made another first for Grapeland by guiding her students in speech and drama to win the state contest twice, going to the state finals seven times. Mrs. Shoultz, like her husband, has contributed her talents to the community as well as the school.
In April 1960, the gymnasium burned and was replaced by a more modern structure. The new auditorium also burned in 1964, but an identical structure was rebuilt very shortly.
Mr. Jack Henderson served as superintendent from 1963 until 1971. He was followed by Monte K. McBride. In 1973 Monte McBride resigned and Mr. Louis Bates became superintendent. He served in this position for fourteen years. Our present superintendent is Mr. James Caveness.
The 70s and 80s brought a new building program. A new vocational building was constructed, new classrooms have been added to the high school and the elementary has added a wing and two additional buildings. The elementary school now has a library and a gymnasium. A new building at the high school has been added with an excellent science laboratory and classroom. Parking lots and driveways have been paved. All of the classrooms have been air-conditioned. Early day trustees would be astonished that so much space has to be provided for the parking of student automobiles. The air-conditioned classrooms would also be a shock.
The Grapeland School continues to meet and exceed state requirements. Testing reveals that our school compares favorably with other schools of our size, being up to 31 percentile points above the state average. In a ranking of elementary schools by statewide state scores, Grapeland was number 172 out of 2500 elementary schools. Grapeland students have won state championships in football, basketball, One-Act Play, and individual state championships in track, music, and UIL academic competition.
In the writing of this article, the emphasis would seem to be on the leaders of the school and the special areas that have been added through the years, but we consider this the 'icing' on the cake. The heart of our school is and always will be in the hands of the classroom teachers. About each of them we could find an outstanding quality which has enriched the lives of the children of our community. To list the qualities or even the names of all would be a book unto itself. We would like to recognize those who have served our schools the longest and have become a part of our community: CaIlie Mae Jackson, Zelda Woodell, Zelda Fox, Velma Brown, Maurine Murchison, Catherine Chiles, Nellie M. Williams, Rebecca Richards, Ida Mae Herod, Alice Shepherd, Emma Burns, Lorena Dennis, Ida Mae Henderson, Sidney Fleming, Wilbert Eanes, Josie McKenzie, Vanie Baldwin, Jennie Wagner, J. H. Burns, Arthie Baker, Thenia Hatch, Lucy Heard, Dorothy Carlton, Elizabeth Brown, and Martha Jordan.
Records prior to 1938 were burned. Some of the early day school board members (1894, 1901-04, 1913-16) were W. S. Johnson, J. E. Hollingsworth, Lewis Meriwether, F. C. Woodard, James Owens, W. H. Caldwell, Ross Murchison, John A. Davis, M. D. Murchison, F. A. Fans, Tom Kent, J. J. Brooks, J. B. Lively, E. W. Davis, W. D. McCarty, D. N. Leaverton, W. D.Granberry, U. M. Brock, W. R. Wherry, W. P. Traylor, George E. Darsey Sr.
Early Grapeland Graduates
Following is a list of Grapeland High School graduates for the years
1904-1914. 1904-05--Cleo Murchison 1905-06--Robert Lee Eaves, Marion Stokes Pelham, Claud C. Leaverton Zuma Wilson Anthony, Annie Mae Scarborough, Ida Coleman Lively, Cora Ella Woodard, Hood Murchison 1906-07- Dudley Eaves, Sam Herod, Harold Leaverton, Warner Eaves, Carl Sory, Arthur Owens, Anabel Davis 1907-08- Balis Dailey, Murdock Darsey, Ida Woodard, Columbus Woodard. 1908-09- Porter Fulton, Edgar Brooks, Chester Owens, Mattie Lee Sprill, Ima Davis, Luna Frank Hollingsworth, Eulalia Lively 1909-10 Eva Lou Faris, Mollie Fulton, Ima Oliphant, Inez Haltom, Addie Eaves, Geo, E. Darsey, Ross Murchison. 1910-11- Maude McCarty, Ida Home, Flora Horne, Fannie Mae Woodard, One Sue Howard, Carnie Murchison. 1911-12- Darsey Royal! Mada Murchison, Annie Rainey Hollingsworth, Esther Davis, George Horne, Seth Wright Yarborough. 1912-13- Sallie May Kent, Arline Howard, Josie White, Campbell Lively, Woodie Eaves. 1913-14- Lura May Owens, Winnie Davis, Eula Mae Davis, Murdoch Murchison, Charles E. Kent.