Nestled along the side roads of 19th century America, little schoolhouses dotted the landscape. Their building shapes were as unique as the people entering through their doors. From simple designs to an elaborate architectural theme, these structures defined character and future dreams. The size depended on the need, which corresponded with the population of the area. But, each one was just as important as all the others. Spelling, history, recitations, geography, and multiplication echoed within the classroom. Excitement and frustration fill the air as eyes open to a brand new world filled with knowledge and daily tasks that made up a small part of the average curriculum. It was in one of these little schoolhouses that our ancestors learned to read, enjoyed the company of their friends, and experienced some of life’s best moments.
One such school was located just outside the small town of Kernersville. The area sits along the southeastern sections of Forsyth County, NC, and encompasses history dating to the mid 18th century. By 1880, Kernersville had developed into a thriving community filled with several tobacco warehouses, a furniture factory, and Main Street with general stores displaying the latest merchandise. The area known as Piney Grove lies just a few miles northeast of Kernersville. The tall vast pine trees cascade over the landscape in this once very rural area of Forsyth County. Comprised mainly of tobacco farmers, the families all knew each other well and worked together to prosper their wealth and well-being. As the area grew, the local children needed a school. Kernersville had schools within the town limits, and these did not benefit the rural areas beyond Kernersville. A new school emerged in 1870 with the name of Piney Grove School.
It was this school that my great grandfather and grandfather enrolled as students. I have in my family collection report cards displaying my grandfather’s grades, and I also have several of his school books. The school bordered John Motsinger’s property, my 2nd great grandfather. When the original building became too small for the attending students, John Motsinger donated one acre of his property for a larger structure. The original building sits at the 4th of July Park located in Kernersville. Several events are held throughout the year to view the school. The rules of the school during 1870 allowed girls to enter the school first, and boys followed. Girls were seated on the left side of the room while boys sat on the right. All children remained standing until the Pledge of Allegiance was read. Good manners were required, or a student could find themselves in a sit-in-the-corner chair.
The teacher taught grades 1 through 8 in this setting, one room, one source of heat, one slate board (chalkboard), and one clock. The school term began after Labor Day in September and continued for 132 days, but this changed throughout different areas. Before completing the 8th grade, a student takes a final exam. Can you pass the average final exam of 1880? Five questions or problems for each subject usually make up the final exam. I have included one question for each topic below. Order for questions is Grammar, Arithmetic, U.S. History, and Orthography.
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