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Growing Up Out Proctor: Highland School

By Gary Eller - | Jun 2, 2021

I attended Highland Grade School (first through sixth grade) about a quarter mile up Route 89 from our house out Proctor. Brother Fred and our Dad and his siblings also attended this school. Highland was on the top of a prominent knob with magnificent view of hills and valleys in each direction as far the eye could see.

The school was on a few acres bounded by Route 89, the Newman Ridge dirt road, and one of Uncle Okey’s cow pastures. The building consisted of one large room with a folding divider to separate a class area from a lunch area, a small kitchen, and a closet for coats and boots. I don’t recall there ever being more than about fifteen kids in all six grades.

I skipped third and fifth grade so I was only at that school for four years. Highland closed down shortly after I started seventh grade at Magnolia when a new consolidated school was built further out Proctor. Brother Fred completed his elementary schooling there.

A pot belly coal stove in the classroom area was the only source of heat at Highland.

Each morning the boys had the job of bringing in coal from the shed outside and starting and keeping the fire going during the day.

Since there was no running water in the schoolhouse, the boys also were responsible for drawing water with a hand pump from a well and bring the water inside. There were two outhouses, one for boys and one for girls. Easily recalled are the pull-down maps hidden on a tube with rollers on the wall.

Thinking back, all of my Highland teachers were good but Virginia Bohrer stands out. She was a disciplinarian, as she needed to be, but a very effective instructor. She was one of the teachers that really made a difference in my life. In a one-room school with six grades and a huge range of abilities and development in the kids, a good teacher had to be flexible and insightful. Of course, kids in the lower grades learned from instruction for the higher grades and students helped each other. I visited Mrs. Bohrer late in her life at a nursing home in New Martinsville and she clearly enjoyed the visits. It would be meaningful to retired teachers who touched us if we did more of that.

Like all elementary school kids, Highland students always looked forward to recesses and lunch breaks. Nancy Garner recalls the recesses sometimes were quite long because Mrs. Bohrer used them to take naps. Playground equipment consisted of one swing with two seats and we had many acres to range over, including Uncle Okey’s field, and no particular rules except to get along and come into the school when the bell rang. We played kick the can and tag and slid down the steep hill behind the school on sheets of cardboard when snow was on the ground.

For several years, my Mom walked the quarter mile each day to Highland from our house and made lunch for everybody. This was no small task with no running water and severe limitations on supplies but somehow she always served plenty of food. I clearly remember that lima beans were supplied in one-gallon cans in great abundance by the county school system. I wonder if they World War II surplus! We had lima beans waaaaaay too often and even now I don’t like them and pick them out of salads. Dee Garner recalls that much of our food supply consisted of “commodities” – cheese, pinto beans, peanut butter, honey – that was distributed to the poor in Wetzel County, and that we ate very well.

Several times a year there would be an evening “social” at Highland where parents, students, and the teacher would gather. These events were meant to be fund raisers as well as social events and sometimes students put on plays for their parents. Mom would bring twelve dozen of her popular homemade doughnuts and they always sold out (she left plenty doughnuts at home for us, of course!) Nancy Garner said she could smell Mom’s doughnuts two miles away at her house. And there were always lots of homemade pies and cookies for sale that other mothers donated. Very popular with the kids was the “fish pond.” A sheet was raised across the corner of the big room and the “pond” was stocked with “fish” (cheap toys and candy) hidden behind the sheet. For a quarter, a kid was given a “fishing rod” (mop handle) with a line and hook which could be dangled over the barrier, where an adult behind the screen would attach a random item. Usually there was a cake walk where folks bought a ticket and walked around in a circle past a blindfolded person with a mop handle. At some point (perhaps a timed five minutes), the mop was dropped. Whoever was behind the mop handle at that time won the pie. These socials were a lot of fun for us kids and seemed to be for the adults too.

Bizarrely, immediately adjacent to the swing set was an old cemetery where kids who dared could play when the teacher wasn’t looking. There was no fence between the school grounds and cemetery and the school water well was at the edge of the cemetery. Of course, the cemetery was haunted as far as us kids and even some adults in the area were concerned. At night car lights sometimes reflected off headstones to cause strange light effects.

The one-room Highland Grade School experience was good for me and prepared me well for the big Magnolia High School (about ninety in my graduating class) in the big town of New Martinsville (population several thousand). Some of my Highland classmates such as Dee and Nancy Garner and French Cozart became good lifelong friends.

After about fifty years of total neglect, Highland school was collapsing. The property was bought by some people who tore the building down and built a new house on the property. I hope they invested in good lightning protection – they are going to need it up on that high knob. And I hope they don’t have to call Ghostbusters to deal with haints from the cemetery next to the house.