Great buildings that endure have strong foundations. So it is with great communities too. Henry County is fortunate to have a large population of foundation citizens who have invested their entire lives in fostering a strong sense of community – even when challenged by rapid population expansion and changing cultural norms.
For many of these local patriots, their experience began decades ago when they attended grammar schools at small – one, two or three room – buildings located in their farming neighborhoods. Unless you live in town, you likely reside in one of these small communities whose identity has faded into the past, along with our memories of the Nehi Orange bottle and the motor oil can. Occasionally the name remains, however – places like Ola, Brushy Knob, Pleasant Grove, Union Grove, and Pattersontown – where they may appear on a church sign or school building.
One of the few surviving schoolhouses from the early 1900s, which housed the Farguson School, remains standing on East Lake Road, across the street from the Harper Cemetery, where generations of families were put to rest in the same soil they worked their entire lives. Like a brick chimney that remains standing even after the frame house has fallen around it, the old Farguson schoolhouse stubbornly remains, reminding us that community is still important.
During the early twentieth century, the Farguson School educated the first through sixth grade children who lived in the community known as Pattersontown, which is named for a family, the Pattersons, who have called the area home for almost one hundred and fifty years. One of its last students, David Patterson, will be celebrating his 90th birthday this year. He was born in a two-story frame house built along East Lake Road in the 1830s and has lived within a quarter mile of his birthplace his entire life. He attended Farguson School in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
While David’s roots grow deep in Henry County, his seedling years may shed some light on how to prepare the soil for a fruitful and fulfilling community life. Though not a part of the formal curriculum, it seems that the small, local school reinforced the children’s notion that strong neighborly relationships are worthy of care and attention – more like the mason jars their mother kept and reused year after year to preserve their harvest, rather than the disposable tin can or styrofoam cup.
While his father, Fletcher, plowed their cotton fields, tended the livestock, and cut firewood, David would make the short walk up the road to the school. His mother, Odell, worked equally hard in their garden, preparing meals, and managing the household. David and his siblings observed his parents’ daily diligence in managing their farm and learned that things don’t thrive unless they are nurtured and fertilized.
For David, the friendships that developed during his grammar school years have endured his entire life, along with his commitment to nurturing his relationships with his neighbors. During his adult years, David, who is the eldest of his siblings, served our community as a postman in McDonough, with a route that included East Lake Road.
Unless we pause and observe those serving in our midst, we might overlook these gems among us. Folks like David quietly enhance our community by investing their time and talents in those around them. He is a member of a church located two miles from his house, and, until his failing health wouldn’t allow it, he generously gave his time and resources promoting its activities. David and his family, who are locally revered for hosting neighborhood barbecues, strengthen their community and help out neighbors in times of need.
David’s younger brothers, Duey and Jack Patterson, later attended the Union Grove School, a larger three room school on East Lake Road, closer to the road now known as Highway 155. This school replaced the smaller Farguson School. Duey has recently passed away, but Jack still lives on East Lake Road and regularly visits with his friends that attended school with him over sixty years ago.
The community schools like Farguson served an important role in our nation for almost two centuries. Thomas Jefferson aptly described their purpose: “To give every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business; to enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts, in writing; to improve by reading, his morals and faculties; to understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either…”
The Farguson School, along with many other community schools throughout Henry County, produced many fine patriots and neighbors for us – the fruits of which we continue to enjoy today.