History of the Williford Schools

For more than a century brush arbors, log cabins and the one-room frame structures have provided an education for students in Sharp County. There were seventy-nine schools in Sharp County but others existed before Sharp County was created in 1868. Prior to 1868, what is now Sharp County had been a part of Lawrence County. The first school at Williford was organized in the late 1870's.

The name, "Williford," was chosen in honor of Ambrose Williford who was instrumental in the development of the community and the school. The town of Williford, and its school, is located on land that was once farmed by Mr. Williford.

The one-room school building, which was made of logs, was located approximately one-fourth a mile southwest of what later became the business district of Williford. The size was sixteen by eighteen feet and was made of hewn logs. The roof was of hand riven boards, the windows were small and a fireplace was used for heating. Water was carried from wells or cisterns of people living nearby. Seats were made of split logs.

Publicly financed education was not implemented in Arkansas until the early 1870's. It was decided that teacher qualifications should be greatly improved upon. Stringent written examinations were introduced and administered to teachers on the county level. A College and Teacher Training Academy was built in Ash Flat in 1906. An intensive preparatory course, lasting four weeks, was held for prospective teachers to prepare them for the teacher's test. The dreaded teacher test lasted two days.

Teachers were acknowledged as outstanding representatives of the culture and times that produced them. They were expected to dress well, to serve as role models, be dignified and live on totally inadequate wages that were usually not paid on time. The community support compensated for poor monetary rewards. The average enrollment of the one-room schools was thirty students which included first through eighth grades.

There was a demanding physical life for most students in the area. School began at 8:00 a.m. and ended at 4:00 p.m. Many farm youngsters had chores to do before and after school. Such jobs included carrying wood and water, milking cows, feeding the animals and many other tasks dealing with farm life. The average distance to school for most students was about three miles. Most did not have shoes except for the winter months. While walking through the woods they might encounter poisonous snakes, rabid dogs or other wild animals. During periods of flooding, streams could be deep and swift which could make it dangerous for students to cross. They also had to deal with the cold, heat, ticks, chiggers, fleas and poison ivy.

All students carried their lunches to school in metal buckets with tight lids to keep ants and flies out. Lunches were eaten as quickly as possible so part of the noon hour could be used as play.

Discipline was an essential part of the early educational process. Most youngsters who got a spanking at school got a second one when they got home. A variety of punishments were used to maintain order. Whippings were the most severe form of punishment. Teachers might carry a hickory switch and swat the pupils for the slightest reason. Some forms of punishment were standing in the corner, wearing dunce caps, staying in at recess, writing dictated sentences many times on the blackboard, memorizing and reciting words, poems or speeches, and taking notes home to the parents.

Subjects taught were reading, spelling, writing, arithmetic, grammar, history, and geography. States and their capitols were memorized, as were United States Presidents in order. Comprehensive studies were made of such major historical periods and events as the colonial era and Revolutionary and Civil Wars. A single text was used for the teaching of English, or grammar as it was then known. Spelling and penmanship were stressed and weekly spelling bees were a big part of the school. Ciphering matches were also frequently held.

The one-room school building, which was also used for church services, had become outgrown by 1890. The building was a log structure much like other schools of the time. In 1890, a new two-story frame building was build, at a new location, because of increased enrollment. There were two classrooms on the first floor and a large room on the second floor. School was held on the first floor and the second floor was called "The Lodge Hall." Organizations using the second floor were the Masons, Odd Fellows, Modern Woodmen, Woodmen of the World and the Eastern Star.

Again, because of student enrollment, a new building was needed by 1915. The new structure was built of concrete blocks and contained two stories. The grade school occupied the first floor and the high school used the second floor. This structure stood where the present high school building now stands.

During the early 1930's another building was built. Numerous one-room schools in the area consolidated and a bigger facility was needed. The concrete block building was torn down to its foundation and a larger rock building was erected. While building the new school, classes were held in church buildings and business structures in the town.

A new elementary school was built in 1971. It houses kindergarten through sixth grades. The cafeteria is located inside the building as well as the principal's office and teacher's lounge. Several new buildings have also been built. The gymnasium was totally renovated in 1980. The inside was gutted, four new dressing rooms were added and a new stage was built.

So ends the history of Williford Schools, from the existence of the little log cabin that was once a pleasurable center of learning for the pioneer children of Williford, to the present day campus and its approximately two-hundred fifty students.

--History by Mrs. Wess