Spring Garden, Virginia: School and Community History

By Jamie E. Cox, 1975.

Center of Spring Garden

The center of Spring Garden, looking south along VA 640, Spring Garden Road. Just around the curve ahead, Spring Garden Church and Spring Garden School are on the left. The house partially visible on the right was originally the home of Charlie and Katie Adams Bryant. Bryant's Store, which burned around 1980, shortly before this photograph was taken, sat here on the left (east) side of the road. (Photograph by Henry Mitchell.)

The name of Spring Garden was established from a beautiful spring surrounded by a garden which supplied food, flowers, shrubs, herbs; and was used by many of the people passing its way. This spring supplied water for the family, slaves, and store of the late Mr. James Anderson. (The spring still exists in the woods between the homes of Mr. & Mrs. Parry Dodson and Mr. & Mrs. William B. Harris.)

Records of an old ledger, now owned by Mrs. Raleigh (Buck) Dallas, indicate that as early as 1879 Mr. James Anderson owned and operated the first public business at Spring Garden. This was a general merchandise store, and everything from sewing items to wagons was sold there.

Spring Garden, located in the east central section of Pittsylvania County, was a camping ground for farmers hauling their tobacco and other farm products from various sections, such as Riceville and Java, to market in Danville. The only way of travel was by wagon or buggy. They could camp near the spring, spend the night, and then go into Danville the next day.

Thus from a meager beginning the community has grown into the prosperous one which it is today.

Spring Garden has always been a farming community with tobacco as its main crop. In the early days it was a two day trip by wagon to sell the golden leaf tobacco, after it was harvested, at the nearest tobacco market in Danville. The farmers would spend the night sleeping out in the open under their wagon load of tobacco.

The idea for the education of children was formed in the minds of parents long before public education was anything but a dream. Families who could afford them had private tutors while the families who could not afford these tutors had no schooling for their but that given to them by their parents.

The people of Spring Garden community began to realize that there should be some means of education for all the children. Thus Spring Garden Institute was formed. The children came from many of the neighboring communities. Some even walked to and from school each day from the Keeling community, while others boarded in private homes close by the schools. Many of the graduates from this school then furthered their education at the Roanoke Female Institute (now Averett College) in Danville, and returned to teach as public school teachers.

The 1880's marked the beginning of the basis for public education in the Spring Garden community as we know it today. It was during these years that a group of interested parents got together and hired Mrs. Tom Corbin to serve as a private teacher for their children.

The first public school in the Spring Garden community was a one-room school built on Mr. Tom Conway's farm (now belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Parry Dodson). Mr. Randolph Jones was the first teacher. The trustees of the school at that time were: Mr. Albert Coleman Cox, the Reverend George Belk, Mr. Henry Allen, Mr. A.S. Shields, Mr. Tom Corbin, Mr. Jim Conway, and Mr. Taylor Shields. This school was in operation for many years. The second teacher was Mr. Arbucle. Mrs. Annie Blair and Mrs. Eddie Cox, sisters, of Spring Garden were among the teachers at this school. They often spoke of the events of their first years of teaching, the hardships, and the many problems they had.

The Reverend George Belk held the first worship service in an old log building according to records found.

Church services were held in the Spring Garden school as early as the spring of 1890 with the Reverend George W. Belk as the leader.

On August 11, 1891, the Spring Garden Presbyterian Church was organized with sixteen charter members. They continued to meet in the local schoolhouse at Spring Garden until 1896 when a church was built where it is now. The land was given by Mr. Thomas Corbin.

As the Spring Garden community grew, there was a need for a larger school. In 1894 a two-story frame building was erected on the plot of land adjacent to where Spring Garden Presbyterian Church now stands for grades one through seven. Because of his interest in the growth of education in his community, Mr. Albert Coleman Cox donated this plot of land. The kindergarten building is now where the two-story frame building was erected. Pupils attending this school had to continue their education at other places. Some subjects now considered high school subjects were taught.

Dr. C. C. Grove, a native of Salem, Virginia, who graduated from Roanoke College and also studied medicine in Richmond, Virginia, chose the Spring Garden community to begin his practice in 1911. He loved the people and was devoted to his work. People called on him both night and day. The weather usually did not stop him from going on a call if anyway possible. While on a call in 1951 he suddenly passed away.

In 1920 a high school department was included in the curriculum at the Spring Garden School. More teachers were then added to the faculty and more classes were taught. In 1922 the enrollment in the high school reached 37 students. A new compulsory school law was passed in this year. Individual cars were used to transport children from Chestnut Level, Java, and Shockoe. The first class to graduate from Spring Garden High School was in the year 1923 with six graduates. The names of those students were Walter Hodnett, Sallie Atkinson, Eva Bryant, Virginia Burnett, Evelyn Jones, and Mildred Shields.

Mr. James A. Cox, Sr. agreed to sell to the country three acres of land which joined the school ground on the southwest side at $200.00 an acre in 1925.

County school buses were put into operation in 1926 for the transportation of pupils to Spring Garden School from the neighboring communities.

In 1926 the country School Board of Supervisors appropriated $22,000.00 for the erection of a new school building at Spring Garden. This amount was insufficient for the type of structure desired by the patrons. In August of 1926 the Spring Garden League adopted this resolution: "Resolved that the people of the community haul free certain building material in order to get the building up within the amount appropriated." The following men agreed to assist with the hauling: J. A. Conway, C. D. Bryant, L. H. Terry, E. F. Bryant, J. A. Atkinson, L. A. Bryant, J. A. Cox, W. T. Shields, A. H. Cox, W. H. Shields, D. H. Finch, A. W. Thompson, S. F. Brown, and E. S. Adams. Some hauling of rock and sand was done by W. D. Owen, M. S. Rogers, E. L. Cox, and Dr. C. C. Grove. Subscriptions of money were received from patrons to hire the remainder of the hauling.

The year of 1927 marked the beginning of a new school building at its present location. The cornerstone was laid on May 7, 1927, by the Carter Lodge of Masons. Thus, through the efforts of the members of the Spring Garden League, the County School Board, and others, the new school was built. Many problems and hardships had to be overcome. The work was interrupted many times because of bad roads, making the transportation of materials impossible for days at a time, especially in the winter months. In spite of all these difficulties, the school was completed and the senior class of 1927 used the new auditorium for their graduation exercises.

In 1934 the old frame building which was built in 1894 was torn down and the materials were used to build a home economics cottage, an agricultural building and a custodian's house.

Spring Garden School grew in number until the years of 1938 and 1939 when the Federal Works Administration under President Franklin D. Roosevelt added two new wings (six rooms) on to the southwest side of the building.

A shop was added to the agricultural building in 1944 or 1945. This part of the building was opened to the farmers in Spring Garden community to repair their machinery.

For several years Spring Garden community operated a cannery where the storage room is now located between the two downstairs halls in the Spring Garden School building. During the winter and spring of 1945 money was collected for the present cannery. In 1946 it was opened for use by the people of this area as well as surrounding communities. Funds for the purchase of equipment were furnished by the Defense Program.

When the cannery opened in 1946, the lunchroom was moved downstairs where the cannery had been. Mr. J. T. W. Mitchell and his Vocational Agricultural boys made picnic tables from which the student ate.

Prior to this there had been a Soup Stand in the back hall, just outside the entrance to the upstairs girls' bathroom, which Mr. Bowers started when he became principal at Spring Garden in 1941. The soup was prepared on a hot plate and sold for ten cents a bowl. Mrs. Myrtle Atkinson Burnette was in charge of this project.

In 1943 Mr. Phillips became principal of Spring Garden School and started The Soup Kitchen. He brought his apartment-sized three-burner electric stove and refrigerator which he wasn't using to be used along with the hot plate. Mr. Phillips went to see Mrs. Anna J. Cox three days before school was to open to ask her to run The Soup Kitchen. She agreed to come for two weeks until he could get someone else. She stayed for twenty-three years.

At first Mrs. Cox had only the help of a few high school girls who helped serve for their lunch free. She fixed soup for three months for fifty to sixty people. Then she begged Mr. Phillips to let her try serving a plate lunch. He finally agreed, but no one thought it would work. Mrs. Cox cooked what she could on the small stove and carried the hams and turkeys home to cook and brought them back to school the next day. Thus, the plate lunch as we know it today was first served at Spring Garden School.

In 1945 the apartment-sized stove went bad, and Mr. Raymond Bodkins, who was principal at this time, went with Mr. Mitchell to South Carolina to purchase a new black stove. (You can see these historical stoves in the Spring Garden Cannery.)

In 1951 and 1952, the addition to the front of the Spring Garden School building was completed and occupied, which consisted of two classrooms and a new wing that was to be the present cafeteria. This was the third addition to Spring Garden School.

The close of the 1963-64 school term saw Spring Garden say farewell to its high school department which had begun in 1920. The last graduating class numbered twenty-two graduates. In 1964 the Pittsylvania County School Board consolidated the county high schools into four locations, eliminating the grades eight through twelve at Spring Garden. After finishing the seventh grade, the Spring Garden students then began attending Chatham High School or Gretna High School, depending on the location of the student's residence.

In 1968 the School Board integrated the schools, and where students had had a choice of schools before, they now were assigned according to districts.

Spring Garden Community can boast of its share of stores, having had five in its history, all of which are still standing; with only one in operation at the present - Cox Service Station. As already mentioned, Mr. James Anderson owned the first public merchandise business known as the Conway Store which now belongs to Mrs. Raleigh Dallas.

When Mr. Charlie Bryant moved into his own store, Mr. James A. Conway operated the Conway Store until he retired.

The building beside the Conway's store was once a shop built by Mr. Charlie Bryant for Mr. Eddie Dallas, who ran it for many years. After Mr. Dallas stopped using it for a shop, Mr. Henry Owen had a shop there until his death.

About this time Mr. Jim Conway had a small store where the C. D. Bryant & Co. store is now located.

Around 1908 or 1910, Mr. Charlie D. Bryant along with two silent partners, Mr. Eddie Cox and Mr. Albert Cox, brought the Corbin store and formed a corporation. Mr. Bryant updated his store several times during his lifetime. Bryant's store was also a post office for many years where the people went to get their mail until a route was established from Blairs and Chatham. About a dozen families got their mail from both post offices.

After Mr. Charlie Bryant's death, his son, Mr. Clarence Bryant, bought out his stepmother's part in the C. D. Bryant & Co. Store. He and his son, Pete, operated the store for many years and then rented it to Mr. Berkley Adams for several years. Around 1969 or 1970 C. D. Bryant & Co. closed its doors.

Bryant's store was the voting precinct at Spring Garden for the Chatham District until 1970 when the boundary lines for the district were changed. Spring Garden is still a voting precinct for Blairs District. The precinct is now at Spring Garden Elementary School instead of the store.

Another store was owned and operated by Mr. Allen Terry a short distance down the road on the opposite side of the road from the Conway Store. Mr. Terry sold coffins in his store along with most other needs of a country family, it was told.

In 1931 James A. Cox, Sr., built a service station across the road from Spring Garden School, and it was known as Cox Service Station. After his death in 1943, one of his sons, Mr. Eben T. Cox continued to run his father's store.

In 1946 he and his brother, James Cox, took over the ownership until the close of 1968 at which time Mr. James Cox's son, Jimmy, took over the business. In 1972 Jimmy Cox decided to build a new store, and the old one was moved just behind the present one. The new store is now known as Cox Service Station & General Store. The old store is being used to store farm equipment by James and Eben Cox.

During the 1950's Mr. Eddie Dallas build a shop by his home, and he operated it for a number of years. Lynn Jones lives there now in his old home. A few years later, Mr. James Farson bought the shop and operated a store with rooms in the back where he and his family lived. This store changed ownership several times. The next person to own the store was the family of Mr. A. H. Cox who lives in the rooms in the back of the store.

In 1960 Mr. & Mrs. Burke Harris bought the store and operated it until Mr. Harris retired in 1972. They also lived in the rooms in the back of the store. After his retirement, the store rooms were made into part of his home.

In the late 1950's Mr. & Mrs. Everett Dallas planted a peach orchard. People came from many places to get this delicious fruit. In 1973 they decided to end the business.

Mr. Frank D. Merricks planted a peach orchard and in 1970 he began a prosperious peach business. The Spring Garden Community and people from many places are now enjoying his peaches.

Later notes:

Spring Garden in 1975

The Spring Garden School community, located in east central Pittsylvania County on VA 640, 17 miles east of VA 40, 7 miles west of US 29, is a rural farm area. The chief employment is tobacco farming. A few of the residents are employed in Danville and Chatham, each about twelve miles away.

The children come to Spring Garden School from many communities including Spring Garden, Java, Shockoe, Dry Fork, Blairs, Deerwood Springs, Chestnut Level, Peytonsburg, and Pickaway.

The children of the landowners are, for the most part, through with their public education. This means that the majority of the students at Spring Garden (average 400) are the children of sharecroppers. They live in some cases in very inferior wooden frame homes, many without running water or bathroom facilities inside the home.

The children from Faith Home, Inc., Blairs, Virginia, located about 7 miles from Spring Garden School, usually about 50 in number, also attend Spring Garden School. They come to the Faith Home frequently from broken homes. These students, accustomed to institutional living, are hungry for individual attention and constant strive for it.

There is a high positive correlation between the economic indigency of the school patrons (except Faith Home) and their social and educational deprivation.

There is considerable tolerance of one income level for another and of each race for the other; therefore, in the attitudes and personalities of the school children there is relatively little arrogance and resentment.


This website is sponsored by Mitchells Publications, Chatham, Virginia.