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Friday, May 6, 2016

The Ash Flat Schools gave many a start on their future

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Many of you may not know it, but there once was a school in Ash Flat. Yes students, first through grade 12, were all proud Eagles.

Earliest records indicate that the community of Ash Flat began in the mid- to late 1820s when this area of Arkansas was considered a territory. The area became a part of Lawrence County, the second county to be formed from the state of Arkansas. In 1868, Sharp County was formed from Lawrence County and named after Ephraim Sharp, a state legislator from Evening Shade.

With increases in population and trade, Ash Flat became a town when a new post office was built in 1856.

People in and around Ash Flat always placed education near the top of their list of priorities. In 1877, students attended Ash Flat Academy.

As the 20th century began, citizens of Ash Flat recognized the need to provide their young people with better educational opportunities.

Local citizens, W. E. Brawley, J. R. Garner, L. D. Phillips and R. E. Sample, each donated $500 to the town with other smaller donations from citizens to raise $5,000 for the construction of a school.

Ash Flat's new school, known locally as "The College," opened its doors in 1905.

At the time, funds to operate the K-12 school came from tuition. Students paid $1 to $3 per month, with $1 extra charge if you took Latin class.

Because of the distance necessary for students to travel for classes, some students boarded in local homes. Boarding fees ranged from $8 to $10 per month.

By 1890, the state began to support the operational costs of schools by providing $0.76 per student ages 6 to 21.

As the area population grew, so did the need to expand the school.

In 1934, the new Ash Flat School building was built of native stone.

Because of the distance each bus route took, and the fact that most roads (even State Highway 62/412) were gravel, the bus ride to school would take 45 minutes to an hour for some students.

In those early days, there were no school buses. The school used pick-up trucks, and built wooden boxes on back to carry the students.

The school bus routes extended in all directions including Agnos, Evening Shade, Liberty Hill and Saddle, with some of the busses making double routes.

One driver would take the students on one route going one direction, then come back to the school, pick up students to go home in another direction.

A tower in the front of the building held a bell which probably came from G.S. Bell Company of Hillsboro, Ohio, which had a 28" yoke.

The bell was rung to begin classes and for special occasions. In the early days, the bell would also toll in respect of a death.

Many students from the Ash Flat Schools have gone on to be successful in business, politics and education.

When the new school was built, a gymnasium, which was funded and built by the WPA, was added.

The Ash Flat Eagles boys' basketball team gained state prominence in 1939, winning the class A state championship.

One of the members of that basketball team, Gordon Carpenter, went on to play at the University of Arkansas.

Carpenter was also selected to play on the 1948 International Olympic Team in London England.

Carpenter was born in Ash Flat in 1919. He was a two-time All-State performer in high school and lettered three years while at Arkansas. He was also an All-SWC basketball selection in 1943. He played six seasons with the Phillips team and was named AAU All-America from 1943-47, scoring 2,366 points. He joined the Denver AAU team in 1948 and was again named All-America in 1950. Carpenter was a Big Eight basketball official and was named to the Helms Hall of Fame in 1960.

Hayden Estes, another Ash Flat Eagles basketball player, went on to play college basketball at Arkansas College (now Lyon) and was named to their Hall of Fame.

Estes continued on as an educator and spent many years as the administrator of the Ash Flat school.

When there are schools close by that compete in sports, there is always a competitive rivalry. Over those years, there was none bigger than the one between the Hardy and Ash Flat schools.

In an effort to continue to provide high standards, quality education and cost savings to the taxpayers, the Arkansas State Board of Education made the decision to consolidate the two schools into one.

In the early 1960s, the Ash Flat and Hardy schools consolidated to create Highland High School.

After the plans were laid, property developed and buildings were constructed, the new consolidated high school was created.

In September 1964, the last high school classes were held at Ash Flat and Hardy High Schools. Around 340 students from the combined schools, attended classes at the new Highland High School while grade schools were still maintained in separate locations.

With the completion of the new elementary school building in 1968, the consolidation became complete.

The bells from the tower of the old Ash Flat school and Hardy school were mounted in native stone and now stand at the front of the Highland elementary.

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