Remembering the Schoolhouse(s) Known as “Bell Ridge” in the Morrison City area of North Kingsport, Tennessee

There are three main places where children form their identity (or at least they used to): 1. Their home, 2. Their church, and 3. Their school.

Bell Ridge Elementary was a school built to serve people of the northwest corner of Sullivan County, Tennessee, north of Kingsport in the environs of Morrison City. The last building with this name still exists and is property of State Line Baptist Church which runs a Christian School therein. But it has been closed as a county school for several years.

There was a history of the school compiled back in the 1960s. It was compiled by Mrs. Bert Mays. Here’s what it says:

“History of Bell Ridge Schools

“According to Mr. Thomas Galloway and Mr. Emory Larkin, the first school ever known in the vicinity of Bell Ridge was a log building located in the hollow below the sharp curve about 200 yards from the fork of Bell Ridge Road on the road going to Lynn Garden. The school was appropriately named ‘Quagmire’ because of the boggy ground on which it stood. This building was a former dwelling house and was abandoned and torn down before the first Bell Ridge school was built.

“The first Bell Ridge, so named, because of the large bell hanging in the tower on the building, and the ridge on which it stood, was built in 1888. It was a boxed and stripped one room building about 30 ft. by 40 ft. in size. The building was plastered inside, but according to Mr. Larkin, long before the building burned, all the plaster along the walls within the reach of the students was broken away and used for the same purpose that the boys and girls of today use the modern spit ball.

“The seats were made of logs about seven feet long with planks nailed to the backs for desks. The five or six students on each seat moving about made writing on slates almost impossible.

“Water was carried in a bucket from the spring near the road of the house now owned by Mr. Henry Hood, then the Bill Harrison, and later the Harry Price property. All students shared a common drinking dipper.

“The school term was three or three and one half months long, beginning in August and closing in December.

“Students came to Bell Ridge from what is now Parker’s Chapel, West View, Bear Town, Lynn Garden, Tranbarger Hollow, and Cloud’s Ford. Fifty to sixty students would enroll but because there was no compulsory school law and the long walking distance, the average attendance was very low.

“The first teacher on record was Miss Molly Gott, a relative of the Gott families still living in the community. She taught the terms 1889-1893. Miss Gott, Mr. William Kerney and Mr. Baldwin all received $20.00 per month but by 1896 when Mr. Mack Horton came from Hancock County, he informed the school board that with his education he felt he should receive $30.00 per month. He got the raise. The other teachers had to pay $10 per month for board but Mr. Horton boarded for free among his students, going from home to home each night. He really struck it rich.

“Miss Annie Mitchell, a familiar name in the Sullivan County Schoools taught the school in 1899.

“Mr. Larkin told of starting to school at the age of six and finishing his education in the middle of the fourth grade several years later, while Mr. Galloway started to school at the age of six years and quit at the age of twenty-two. He went through the eighth grade three times. He went to Secondary School at Old Kingsport, but found the walk too long, so after three days, he quit.

“The teachers seldom taught more than one year at the same school. From 1892 through 1904 Bell Ridge had ten teachers, with Miss Molly Gott, Mr. Mack Horton, and Miss Nettie Gott teaching two years each.

“On November 1, 1905, during a high wind, sparks blew on to the board roof and ignited the Bell Ridge School and it burned to the ground. The teacher, Mr. Edgar Galloway and the students, one of which was Mr. Tom Galloway, were able to carry all the seats and other furniture outside and save them. Mr. Harrison allowed used of an old log house near the spring to be used for the school the rest of the term.

“In 1906, work was started on the new building on the site now owned by Mr. Gilliam. The building was on the back of the lot. The first school taught in this building was a subscription school, because of the lack of County funds. This school was taught by Miss Bessie Perry, who later became Mrs. Herbert W. Ketron Sr., mother of Mr. H. W. Ketron, Jr. and Buck Ketron. She taught two years and was followed by Mr. T. Mack Ketron, Mr. H. W. Ketron, taught in the year 1910.

“In 1915, Miss Carrie Parker, the present Mrs. Albert McKenzie was the teacher. Mr. T. M. Galloway taught the school in 1919 due to a shortage of teachers the school did not start until January, and lasted five months. That year 59 pupils enrolled, some have children and grand children now attending the present Bell Ridge School.

“This one room building was torn away in 1923 and the material was used to build the house where Mr. and Mrs. Kelly Larkin now live.

“The three room building erected in 1923 was built on the same site as the old one but on the front of the lot. The first teachers to teach in this building were Miss Cleo Hodges and Miss Ora Frazier.

“It was in this building on Friday, September 8, 1933, with the help of one of our present teachers, Miss Myrtle Foust that the Bell Ridge P. T. A. was organized. The principal at this time was Mr. Perry Keys. The first president of Bell Ridge P. T. A. Was Mrs. E. B. Marshall; the first Vice President was Mrs. J. E. Gott; the first Treasurer was Mrs. J. P. Larkin, and Miss Foust was the first Historian.

“This three room building was use until October 1937 when the first four rooms of the present building was built.

“Teachers from 1892-1919

Miss Molly Gott 1891-1894

William Kerney 1895

N. M. Baldwin 1895

Mack Horton 1897-1898

Charlie Shipp 1899

Sam Jones 1900

Byrd Harkleroad 1901

James Lambreth 1902

Nettie Gott 1903-1904

Edgar Galloway 1905

Bessie Perry 1906-1907

T. Mack Ketron 1908

George Dolen 1909

Herbert W. Ketron 1910

T. Mack Ketron 1911-1912

Lillian Henderson 1914

Grace Watkins 1915

Carrie Parker 1916

Lucy Hickam 1917

no school 1918

T. M. Galloway 1919

“All this information was secured by Mrs. Bert Mays”

Then in hand-written notes at the bottom of the page are these notes:

“1938-1951 Carl Chase, principal

1951-1972 Otis T. Stair

1973-1983 Charlotte W. McKay

5 additions–last one was Cafeteria/gym–2 class rooms, 4 restrooms, 1963”

Bell Ridge School at the time it was closed, Charlotte McKay photographer

The three room school

A map of Morrison City created by Tom Galloway, who is a source of the material in Mrs. Mays’ narrative. There are several locations shown of Bell Ridge School. The Holston River would be on the west side of this map, but got cut off.

About Brad Scott

An Appalachian CrossFitter who loves Jesus and is happily married to Tammie. I have a son and a fine little grandson. In the peak of middle age, trying to figure out the rest of this journey.
This entry was posted in History, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Remembering the Schoolhouse(s) Known as “Bell Ridge” in the Morrison City area of North Kingsport, Tennessee

  1. Dee says:

    Interesting history about Bell Ridge . I had never considered the school dating that far back. I was saved under the preaching of Tony Gonzalez at State Line Baptist .

  2. Bonnie Maine Honeycutt says:

    I went to school there grades 1-8 when Otis Stair was principal. I had no idea that the school had been there so long. I still remember my teachers well and the sound of someone being paddled echoing in the hallway. It was a great little school and I enjoyed my elementary years there.

Comments are closed.