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One of two remaining former all-black schools burned early Saturday morning, leaving a 74-year-old former student homeless and some of her former classmates saddened over the loss.
Jean Cunningham, her son and another woman escaped the home uninjured after waking up around 5:30 Saturday morning when they smelled smoke inside their home at 1069 Lock Road, about a quarter-mile off Versailles Road.
Anderson County firefighters were able to bring the fire under control, but not before the second story of the home was largely destroyed and the first floor sustained heavy smoke and water damage.
“We were able to get tarpaulins over some of their stuff, but they lost quite a bit,” said Fire Chief Mike Barnes, adding the fire remained under investigation Monday morning.
Contacted Monday from her room at the Best Western, Cunningham said another woman in the house woke her up and told her to get out of the house.
“We were all in bed,” she said. “She said to get out and when we looked upstairs it was all in flames.”
Cunningham said she doesn’t know what caused the blaze, but said it left her with almost nothing.
“We’re going to need some clothes, beds and somewhere to put the beds.”
Her sister, Della Green, said Monday that the family was going to discuss how to assist Cunningham.
“She’ll be needing everything,” Green said.
The house is the former location of the Georgetown Colored School in what was known as Little Georgetown, former student Thomas Allen said Monday morning.
“That’s where all the black kids out in the country went,” he said, adding that he is sad that it burned.
“Heck yeah I’m sad,” he said. “I was out there today. It’s probably totaled.”
“We loved it,” said Green. “It was a one-room school that my mother and father went to, that we all went to. It’s sad to see it gone because it’s a landmark.”
Green said after the school closed following integration, her father and sister purchased the building and converted into a residence by adding a second floor.
Neither were sure when the school first opened, but Anderson News archives include photos of the school dating back to 1916. Allen said the school closed in the mid-1950s following integration.
The tiny school conjured up plenty of happy memories for Green and Allen, including that of teacher Catherine Pleasant.
“She lived in town and every morning would walk all the way to the school, in all kinds of weather,” Allen said. “She taught first through eighth grade in that little one-room school house. She taught all the subjects, from reading to writing to arithmetic. She taught them all herself.”
Allen said there were times when children thought school would be cancelled due to cold and snowy weather, but Pleasant always seemed to show up.
“Many a day we’d be out there with all the snow and stuff and we’d think we had it made … no school today,” he said.
“But at 10 a.m., that old bell would ring and we’d know she walked all the way there from Lincoln Street. That’s how dedicated she was.”
She was a good teacher, too, Allen said.
“She made sure we got all of our subjects,” Allen said. “Sometimes we might stay on one thing for two or three days until we got it, but she would never just jump right over it.”
Allen said the school was nice for its time.
“We had outside toilet, we had a playground and we had a cistern outside to pump water. We’d carry it in a bucket and drink it.
“We kept coal in the basement and had an old pot belly stove for heat.”
Green said she doesn’t see any way her sister’s house can be rebuilt.
“We were just talking about that,” she said. “We don’t have the money for that. There was a small insurance policy on it, but not enough to do anything with.”