History of Education

When Oglethorpe County was chartered in 1793, the legislature felt it necessary to create a county academy with the money secured from the sale of town lots. The county's first school was established in 1796 on the Broad River. The children were taught by a deserter from the British Navy. His only qualifications as a teacher were his ability to read and 'wield the rod' -- the latter was considered essential for an education.

Other "Old Field Schools" were located throughout the county. These one-room schools usually had log construction, poorly heated rooms, and dimly lit interiors. At this time, schools operated for only a few months during the year. When boys were old enough to plow the fields, they would attend school only on rainy or cold days. The students' education progressed very slowly because of the scarcity of books and equipment.

Some communities would hire a trained educator or college graduate to teach the children. A generous parent would often provide the teacher's salary. These early schools could be found in the Wolfskin District and also at Thomas Hutchens' House in Cherokee Corner.

The county's wealthy families often established and patronized private academies. Children attending academies were usually taught by men of great learning. Mathematics and Latin were traditional subjects considered important in a child's education.

The Bethlehem Academy was a private school created for girls during the early 1800s. Prominent families in Oglethorpe County and throughout the state of Georgia sent their daughters to this school.

In 1808, Meson Academy was the first privately endowed academy in Georgia. Francis Meson, an Irish businessman, died in 1806 and left the county a large endowment to build an academy. Because he had no heirs, Meson's estate provided the funds for establishing an academy. The money was wisely invested and the land divided into lots and leased for 50 years. Revenues earned from leases and stocks paid for teachers' salaries. Eventually, this arrangement hindered the town's development since lots were not improved and the property could never be sold or mortgaged. The academy building was a 2 story building constructed of brick, wood, and stone.

The school was known for its excellent education and the successes it achieved in preparing young men for college. The Meson Academy became a public school in 1917 and later named the Oglethorpe County High School. The community decided to move the high school to a location between Lexington and Crawford in 1954. The abandoned Meson Academy building was destroyed in 1970.

The Genteel Boarding School for Girls opened in 1810. This school continued to operate until the 1920s, when a girls school was added to the Meson Academy.

The Lexington Presbyterian Church established the first Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Georgia and the South in 1828. The Seminary trained men as ministers of the Presbyterian faith. After two years, the Seminary moved to South Carolina. In 1927, the school was moved back to Georgia where it continues to operate in Decatur, Georgia.

The Cherokee Corner Academy was incorporated by the Georgia legislature in 1833 and constructed on a church lot. Reverend Safford, a Presbyterian minister, taught the students at this institution.

In the Georgia Constitution of 1777, the Georgia legislature had proposed the construction of public schools in every county. The state failed to fulfill its promise and students continued to pay for their own education. Private academies continued to provide quality educations, so wealthy families were reluctant to participate in the public school system. Eventually, Georgia Poor School Laws allocated tax funds for indigent children to pay for private school tuition, but this assisted only a small portion of the population's poor.

In 1783, the Poor School System was proposed and later went into effect in 1817. This program paid for the education of needy children. The Civil War interfered with the free school system, but it was reestablished in 1869. The modern school system, which dates back to 1869, was designed by Gustave Orr.

Local schools could be established if the community provided a building and petitioned the County Board of Education for a teacher. This relatively straightforward procedure often resulted in second-rate schools. Eventually, the state required schools with an attendance of less than 12 to consolidate with larger schools in the area. This requirement led to the development of the Oglethorpe County School System that today includes three consolidated schools -- all located near Lexington.