THE BEGINNING AT CLEVELAND MILLS
This is an account of the recollections of Mrs. C. D. Forney, Sr., of the early days of Piedmont School as told to her son, Tom. Mrs. Forney, at the beginning of Piedmont School, was Frances Ramsaur, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas J. Ramsaur and granddaughter of Major Henry F. Schenck, founder of Cleveland Cotton Mills, later Cleveland Mill and Power Company, and now Cleveland Mills Company.
Mrs. Forney recalls that her mother would have the neighborhood children in the home and would help them with programs. One year these children gave a program at Christmas time in the Church and the program was planned and directed by Mrs. Ramsaur. One of those who were present at this program was her father, Major Schenck. He was so impressed with the program and the ability and enthusiasm of these children that he felt that they should have better opportunity to learn. Apparently, there was a four-months' school then which we know little of. Primarily, Major Schenck, with the help of others interested in those children, sought someone to run the school. Mr. W. Banks Dove was secured and Mr. and Mrs. Dove moved into the community. Mr. W. W. Glenn was a-teacher of writing and probably, arithmetic. This early school was for children from about 6 years old to grown men and women.
The school was started about 1896. Mrs. Forney. then Frances Ramsaur, was a student the first year. After that she went away to Atlanta, Georgia to school. She had been to Atlanta one year before Piedmont was started, then attended Piedmont its first year, returning after that to Atlanta's Cox College for three years after her first year at Piedmont. She recalls that Mr. and Mrs. Carme Elam were interested in the school and kept boarders. One of the boarders Mrs. Elam kept and also a student, was her brother, Charles Forney, who later married Frances Ramsaur. The members of New Bethel Church were interested in., and supported the school. Mrs. Forney recalls that Mr. J. V. Devinney was Pastor at New Bethel, probably when the school was began. Later he taught at Piedmont over a good many years.
Mrs. Forney attended for the first year, under Mr. Dove. She does not recall exactly how long he was there as she was away after the first -year. It has been established that he taught about a year and a half and then got an offer which took him from the community. She recalls then that Mr. W. D. Burns was brought in from Onslow County, North Carolina, and that Miss Alice Ferrell came with him as a teacher. She recalls that Mr. Dove was an excellent principal and teacher.
She recalls visiting the Dove family in Maiden, North Carolina, and was very fond of Mrs. Dove.
Mr. Burns attracted students to the school from over a wide area of the state and beyond, particularly from the section of the Eastern part of the state in and around Onslow County.
Mrs. Forney Is not sure whether the school was called Piedmont at first, but other information Is to the effect that Mr. Dove gave It the name, so that It must have been called Piedmont during the first year and a half.
The building used for the boarding-school students was a former dwelling of the Schenck family. When Mr. Burns came to the community to serve as principal and teacher the school remained at Cleveland Mills for several years, being moved to Its present site about 1900.
Mrs. Forney recalls that the fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic and spelling were taught,, and speaking classes were held. Even some Latin and Greek lessons were taught. Mrs. Forney remembers winning a speaking modal.
Mrs. Forney remembers names of prominent persons who started their education in the early days of Piedmont. She recalls Dr. Clarence Peeler who walked a long way from Carpenter's Knob to Piedmont. Mr. Thurmond Falls, prominent lawyer,, is another she recalls. The Dixon family. Will and John, Miss Ida, Miss Ella, Laura (Mrs. Oscar Warlick), Sally, Edith, and others she recalls. Other names are Elliotts, Dr. Gold's family, the family of Mr. Gum Southards, ancestor of many present Lawndale and Cleveland County persons. Mr. Weaver is another name she remembers. The Frank Lattimore family is also remembered.
At the beginning of the school Cleveland Mills was the Post Office. Lawndale was not in existence at first. The school existed to accommodate children of the mill families as well as others in the community, including children of farmers. The old Schenck home was used for the school Boarding house and one side of It was for boys and one side for girls. A very capable negro man looked after the building and prepared meals. This was Manuel Roberts. He was highly respected by the school and community. A number of students from out in the county came to school and boarded there. Apparently the students enjoyed boarding and going to school, appreciating the opportunity for an education. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsaur were very interested in the school and the students visited in the home. Mrs. Forney has a picture of the building at Cleveland Mills with the pupils standing In front of it. She could identify many of these students.
She further mentions names of students. The children of Mr. Davie Cline; Jerome, Frank, Maggie. She said some of the younger ones such as Hoyt and Russ probably went to Piedmont on the letter site. The present site was on property originally owned by the Cline family. She does not know who originally owned land where Cleveland Mills and the first school building were located, but thought it might have been the Lattimores.
The school was once adopted by the Baptists but was later dropped in favor of the school at Boiling Springs. Had the original plan of the Kings Mountain Association been carried out the present Piedmont might now be a college.
Mrs. Forney does not recall details of how Professor Burns was selected. She does remember how students from out of the community were made to know of the school. Her father, Thomas J. Ramsaur, who was in charge of the Mercantile Department of Cleveland Cotton Mills, along with Mr. Burns, drove horse and buggy all over neighboring counties inducing people to send their children to the school.
Costs of attending the school including room and board were very low. Mrs. Forney recalls that Mr. Burns was most liberal and understanding and allowed many to come who could not pay then, trusting them for future payment. Mr. Burns constantly looked for the Food qualities in all students, rather than their weaknesses. He said that a school or university only required a teacher on one end and a. student on the other end of a log.
Mrs. Forney remembers that Miss Etta Curtis was an early teacher at Piedmont She later taught for a number of years at Boiling Springs.
Mrs. Forney's brothers, Frank, Robert, and Weldon Ramsaur were among the early students. Younger brothers, Shufford and Tom went later. She recalls her cousins, John and Charlie Osborne, Gazzie and Lucy. children of Dr. and Mrs. Joe Osborne. Mrs. Osborne and Mrs. Ramsaur were sisters. The children of Mr. John Schenck, Sr. were too young to attend Piedmont at its beginning, but did attend later after it was moved.
Other names attending the school as recalled by Mrs. Forney were Warlicks, Pritchards, Maude and Julie Williams, Gaff and Orange Lattimore, Cloningers of Iron Station, several families of Griggs; Dr. W. T. Grigg, Phenandos Grigg, Lucy Wright, Hords, Rineharts, Golds, Zoie Lattimore (now Mrs. Schenck Carpenter), Lees, Miss Nora Elliott, Yeltons, Lorenzo Newton and others of the Newton family. She recalls the Elliotts carrying a large dinner pail, and Dr. Clarence Peeler as a student walking in with his suit case on the end of a stick Some parents would bring their children part way and the would walk the rest of the distance. Roads were bad and walking was the main method of travel. Mrs. Forney recalls two sisters of Dr. Peeler who attended the early school. The Mulls are another family at the school. The Dr. Falls family attended the school, Mauneys, Columbus Ledford, Hoyles, Georgia Williams, later Mrs. Willie Elam, Zeb Grigg and Pastor Cashwell's daughter, among others were recognized from the picture.
Eastern boys recalled at the early school who were brought in by Burns included John Gurganus, and Mr. Trott who married Sallie Dixon.
The Carpenter family came later as she recalls. Mr. Clarence Canipe, later a Methodist Preacher, attended. He was the first boarding student.
Mrs. Forney requested her mother, Mrs. Tom Ramsaur, to write something of her recollections not long before Mrs. Ramsaur died. The following is from that writing:
"The Small Beginning
I bought a small organ -- 4 octaves. Mr. Ramseur put it on his shoulder each Sabbath evening and carried it up to the little chapel and we had a Sabbath School for the people who did not walk 2 miles to church. The children all seemed fond of music and loved to sing.
They wanted me to help them to give a Christmas entertainment and a Christmas Tree. So I ordered literature and for a month I taught and trained the children. Christmas Eve we had a tree and some songs and recitations by the children and my father was so delighted and surprised with the exercises he said that children with no more advantages than they had had deserved better advantages and at once, began planning to employ a teacher for 10 months Instead of four. Mr. Ramsaur and I objected to employing a teacher for 10 months and succeeded in employing a man to make his home In our village and build up a permanent school. We succeeded in our plans and Professor Banks Dove was employed. Finally a plot of ground between the two mills was secured, and this is the beginning of Piedmont High School.
The school at one time was adopted by the Baptists, but finally dropped and was supported by the county. Later at one of our Associational meetings the subject of Christian Education came up and some prominent Baptist opposed denominational schools, but when left to a vote, the body voted for Christian Schools and I made my first subscription of $500 to Brother Devinney. Now, can you Imagine the joy I feel when our best and most prominent citizens are rallying to the Institution? I feel surely God Is leading in this work."
The above recollections tend to ramble some--they are recorded here as nearly like they were recalled as possible to present.