A renaissance is planned for Bethel’s Chinquapin Grove Schoolhouse
At the head of a picturesque cove in Bethel called Mountain Grove — not far removed from where the forks of the Pigeon River are joined in a frothy turbulence — an inconspicuous tumble-down log structure awaits a much-deserved renaissance.
For almost one and a half centuries the tired, hewn walls have stood and served the local community and the Long family. And the current owner, Norman Long, is bent on restoring the old one-room schoolhouse and preserving it for generations to come.
“For as long as I can remember the place has been used either as a shelter for the stock or a dry place to hang our tobacco. Even before that my grandparents lived there and raised six children including my father. Of course we always heard stories of how it had once been an old school. And twenty-some years ago when I helped assemble the book Haywood County Schoolin’: A Rich Heritage I became aware that records still existed dating the school to as early as 1874. In those days it was known as Chinquapin Grove.”
The compilation of Haywood County school history reveals that R. A. Sentelle taught a four-month term at Chinquapin Grove in 1883, for which he received a stipend of $25 per month. Interestingly, Sentelle would later advance from his rural schoolmaster duties at Chinquapin Grove to become the first superintendent of Haywood County’s schools.
Long appreciates the historical richness symbolized by the ancient timber schoolhouse that sits within hailing distance of his lifetime home place. A school teacher himself, Long amassed an impressive teaching career with the Haywood County School system before retiring in 1998, after 37 years of service. He still works as a substitute teacher when called.
Present day onlookers gazing at the standing assemblage of hewn logs and boards and the remains of a rusty tin roof which has been ripped to the ground are hard pressed to envision its utility as a center for learning.
Cut marks left on the logs by the builder’s hewing ax and exquisite dove-tail joinery are still very much in evidence. Door openings at each end wall and two window breaches on a side wall are clearly visible and intact. Long ago the chinks between the logs were covered over with rough sawn boards on the exterior. Some of these remain in place and serve to demonstrate the extravagant measure taken to supplant the mud and straw filling between the hewn timber logs, undoubtedly to keep out the elements as well as the larger critters.
Just three years after the Civil War ended William Harrison Hartgrove, or Hack as he was known to his contemporaries, rang the school bell at Chinquapin Grove to open up the fall term of 1868. A tiny pocket notebook kept by the schoolmaster has recently come to light. Inside the fragile document’s tattered pages are the names of Hartgrove’s “scholars” along with their record of attendance.
It seems likely the Civil War veteran meticulously recorded this information as an accounting record since his students were charged at the rate of five cents per full day of schooling.
The provenance and import of the newly discovered document is unquestionable Long said while explaining how the origins of the school had now been extended back to the Reconstruction era.
“I was thrilled to learn that the schoolhouse dated to at least this early period and to read the names of those who attended Chinquapin Grove: Blaylock, Cathey, Har(t)grove, Chambers, Long, Deaver, Evans, Henson, Mann, and others," he said. "All of the names represent pioneer families and these very same families are still living today throughout the Pigeon Valley. This really emphasizes the importance of the old schoolhouse; it embodies not only my heritage but theirs as well. That’s why I want to save it – for all of us and our children and our children’s children.”
Local craftsman Basil Deaver has been contracted to disassemble the log structure and relocate it to a choice spot nearby. Deaver believes that most of the logs are still in fair condition and can be restored and reused. Currently he is building a new foundation with field rocks that Long collected from the surrounding hillsides. When this stone underpinning is completed, the ageless logs will be carefully stacked on top of it one by one. Corner dove-tail joints fashioned and fitted some 150 years ago will again lock and hold the timber structure fast. Afterward a new plank floor, roof, two windows and two doors will be added to give the building a proper finish.
Very soon, it is hoped, a rejuvenated Chinquapin Grove schoolhouse will once more stand erect and distinguished in the Pigeon Valley, where it has stood for so many years before.
Carroll C. Jones was born and raised in Canton. He attended the University of South Carolina where he played football for the Fighting Gamecocks and earned a civil engineering degree in structures. Following a career in the paper industry that led him out of the Carolina highlands to Brazil, South America, and then to Florida, he worked for more than three decades with the same company until retiring. He currently lives in Pace, Florida, with his wife, Maria, where he works as an engineering consultant when not writing. Recent books that he has written are The 25th North Carolina Troops in the Civil War, Captain Lenoir’s Diary, and Rooted Deep in the Pigeon Valley.