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Before Hall’s Chestatee High, there was one in Forsyth County

POSTED: January 3, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Chestatee High School on Sardis Road in Hall County is making a name for itself in academics and sports after only five years of existence.

Another Chestatee High School stood for 36 years only a few miles from the new school. Chestatee Elementary remains in operation on the old high school site on Keith Bridge Road (Ga. 306) and Jot 'Em Down Road in Forsyth County. The eagle was the old school's mascot, and the war eagle is for the new Chestatee High.

Barbara Kerby of Cornelia compiled a history of the old Chestatee High in 2005 when it held a reunion of alumni and teachers. She is a native of the Mayfield Community in Forsyth County and grew up in what is known as the Chestatee Community near the Hall-Forsyth line.

In 1929, the farming communities of Mayfield, Center Grove, Salem, New Hope and Harmony Grove had one- or two-room schools that taught only through the sixth grade. Children had to travel more than 20 miles if they wanted to go to high school.

At the urging of community residents, Forsyth County School Board agreed to pay half the cost of building a new high school. The board bought five acres from A.C. Kennemore for $275.

Men in the community prepared the site with their mules and farm equipment. The school opened in November 1931, and residents decided on the Indian name of the nearby river "Chestatee," which means everlasting. The first four students graduated in 1934.

Parents converted two old trucks and one new one into buses. They sawed timber for framework, bolted sheet metal to the frames and bought tarpaulins from Sears, Roebuck for the buses' sides and roofs.

The tarps were rolled up when weather allowed. Long board benches on each side and two in the middle provided seats for about 85 children.

Drivers earned about $60 to $80 a month and paid their own expenses. Buses often became stuck in wet weather on the one-lane rutted dirt roads. All the children would have to unload while the stronger boys pushed the bus out of the mud.

Chestatee's first basketball team played in 1932. Players and their coach would haul dirt in wheelbarrows to keep the outdoor court playable. Wind would blow the ball across the road on cold and windy days and alter players' shots.

Both boys and girls basketball teams earned reputations for competitive play and numerous trophies, making several appearances in the state tournament. After the school became accredited in 1949, parents and volunteers with help from the school board built a gymnasium the next year.

Kerby, a 1964 graduate, was a cheerleader. "You were either a cheerleader or played basketball," she said. "Everybody went to the games."

The school and community were tight knit because so many students were related to each other. "I'd mention a name to my mother when I got home, and she'd say, ‘Oh, you're related to them,'" Kerby said. "I didn't date much because everybody I wanted to date was kin to me."

Mozelle Floyd, 80, attended every grade in the old school, graduating at age 16 in 1944. She remembers a cranky heating system, outhouses, her knees nearly freezing when walking to the bus and riding it in winter. The buses were so crowded smaller children had to sit in the laps of older students.

When she first started, her parents had to scrape just to buy her a pencil and Blue Horse tablet. "And that pencil had to last a long time," Mrs. Floyd said. "But we all survived. It was not a bad time; it was a good time. But I wonder if we had to go back to that, would we survive today."

The old Chestatee High graduated 21 seniors its last year of operation, 1967, when it consolidated with Forsyth County High School. Since that time, three more high schools have opened: North, South and West Forsyth. Still another high school is planned about a mile and a half down Jot 'Em Down Road from the old Chestatee. It hasn't been named yet.

Some alumni of the Forsyth County Chestatee High School weren't too happy when Hall County named its new high school Chestatee in 2002.

"I thought it was terrible," said Mrs. Floyd. "We thought Hall County could have been more original than that."

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays in The Times and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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