Gardens to Gables

Frenchman’s Knob School, Hart County, Kentucky

The vestiges of our past are scattered all around the Kentucky landscape – even if you must sometimes you must venture off of the paved road to find them. Rural Hart County and the Frenchman’s Knob School presented such a detour – and the additional dubious joys of rampant poison ivy and snakes.

Frenchman's Knob School in Hart County, Kentucky.

Frenchman’s Knob School in Hart County, Kentucky.

If you have lived in Kentucky for any length of time, you know that our schools and public education can be contentious topics. As a product of a small, rural school system, I know there is always need for improvement in our educational system. Discussion about school reform is usually not design-related, but I have plenty of opinions on the types of school buildings constructed in the Commonwealth over the last 30 years. Modern school construction (more often than not) tends to gobble up acres and acres of land, and is sited too far out from established infrastructure. And the design? While this is a gross generalization, many schools built between 1980-2010 resemble  minimum security prisons more than a temple  dedicated to educating the hopes of the future…

Frenchman's Knob School students, circa 1913. Photo courtesy Hart County Historical Society.

Frenchman’s Knob School students, circa 1913. Photo courtesy Hart County Historical Society.

And how much we take for granted now, given the long and tortured path of public schools in the Commonwealth. Public education in the nineteenth century hardly existed. Things weren’t much better in many portions of the state in the 20th century. But communities persisted, building small schools every two to three miles, and when those buildings survive – they provide a wonderful glimpse into our past.  According to files located at the Hart County Historical Society (and the staff there was super helpful and nice), a school was established at Frenchman’s Knob in 1860.

A report card from the Frenchman's Knob School. From the files of the Hart County Historical Society.

A report card from the Frenchman’s Knob School. From the files of the Hart County Historical Society.

According to one hand-written account, Hannah Matilda Lang Bolton (1803-1880) donated the land for the school. According to a document about the Lang-Bolton family, she deeded several acres of land for with a “good spring of drinking water” for use for a school, church and a cemetery plot “to the public forever.”[1]Another source from the Historical Society files notes that Henry Moneypenny donated the land for the school.[2] Moneypenny is buried in the nearby cemetery. Several Bolton women married into the Moneypeny family, perhaps contributing to the conflicting accounts of who donated the land for the school.

One of the tombstones (Linnie W. Middleton, 1869-1912) in the adjacent cemetery.

One of the tombstones (Linnie W. Middleton, 1869-1912) in the adjacent cemetery.

The first school, destroyed by fire sometime in the years 1880-1900, is described in the handwritten narrative of Henry C. Amos as “built of logs.”[3] The seats were split logs, finished to function almost like benches, with one side hewn smooth, and peg fastened to the other side to “give height to sit on.”[4] Amos continues to describe the interior of the school with pegs driven in the wall to support a sort of blackboard for the students. According to another source in the Hart County Historical Society files, this log building was replaced by another structure “near the graveyard and near the current building.”[5]

Interior of the Frenchman's Knob School, Hart County, Kentucky.

Interior of the Frenchman’s Knob School, Hart County, Kentucky.

This could be interpreted to mean a second structure was built, and then replaced by the third, and final building. This handwritten narrative notes that the current building dates to 1912. The last year of school in the building was 1949-1950.

Detail of the window surround in the Frenchman's Knob School.

Detail of the window surround in the Frenchman’s Knob School.

The Frenchman’s Knob School is a one-story, frame, front gable school built on stone piers. The school is a transitionally framed structure, with corner posts and down angle braces, but aslo with the thin studs associated with balloon framing. The gable entrance has two door openings, but the doors have been removed. Each side elevation of the school was punctuated by four windows, which were likely two-over-two double-hung sash windows, though no sash now remains. (Natural light was a must in the days before rural electrification.)

The weather-beaten gable end of the school.

The weather-beaten gable end of the school.

There are no openings on the rear gable wall, which has suffered the most through neglect and the ravages of the weather. The interior window surround features bull’s-eye corner blocks, while the simply fluted door surrounds have flinth blocks at the bottom. A raised platform is located at the far end of the room, against the back gable wall. The platform extends out a little less than four feet from the wall and runs the length of the wall, standing about nine inches high. A blackboard was located on the back wall, and the teacher’s desk would presumably have been on the platform.

The original facade of the Glen Lily School in Hart County, Kentucky.

The original facade of the Glen Lily School in Hart County, Kentucky.

The fenestration pattern of the Frenchman’s Knob School is found on one other surveyed one-room school in Hart County. The Glen Lily School (HT-609) is identical in form and massing to the Frenchman’s Knob school, other than some later modifications. One of the doors on the sides has been converted to a door, and the flue is centrally placed rather than at the gable end.

A three-quarter view of the Glen Lily School, Hart County, Kentucky.

A three-quarter view of the Glen Lily School, Hart County, Kentucky.

Kentucky experienced several waves of school consolidation during the 20th century. When the school district closed these one and two room schools, they were often sold and adapted into dwellings. The Glen Lily School became a house, and was divided into four rooms before being abandoned at an unknown date. Fortunately, a county wide survey of Hart County captured images of many of these schools, as most are not maintained nor adaptively reused.  I love these schools – visible and poignant echos of rural Kentucky at a time when a basic education was either a luxury or denied to many children. We’ve come a long way in many respects.

 

[1] “The Thomas Lang, Jr., Family.” Typewritten account in the Frenchman’s Knob School file, Hart County Historical Society.

[2] Henry C. Amos account of Frenchman’s Knob School, 1983. On file at the Hart County Historical Society.

[3] Henry C. Amos account of Frenchman’s Knob School, 1983. On file at the Hart County Historical Society.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Hart County Historical Society files.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

7 Thoughts on “Frenchman’s Knob School, Hart County, Kentucky

  1. Joel Atteberry on April 10, 2016 at 8:20 am said:

    No one ever seems interested in the last Teacher & Students of Frenchmen Knob School.
    Teacher: Will Smith from Bonnieville, Ky walk to school by taking short cuts through the woods.
    Students: Charlene Nunn. Billy Ray Nunn, Harold King & Joel ( Betty) King.
    We got our drinking water from a spring in front of the building down a steep hill. Play time was exploring the area and swinging on grape vines. All students & teacher walk to school.

    • Janie-Rice Brother on April 11, 2016 at 9:05 am said:

      Thank you so much for sharing this information! Were there only four students in the last class?

      • Joel (Betty) King Atteberry on March 13, 2017 at 11:31 am said:

        Yes, there were only 4 students. I learned to count to 100 by counting rocks. Sorry for the delay, just now came across you question. Every year in July there was the Hodges Homecoming with lots of people in attendance. Lemonade made in a barrel by Orville Nunn. Only had outside benches to set on.

  2. Alicia McClure on July 12, 2016 at 11:18 pm said:

    I am buying a home in the glen lily area. Was told it was an old school and church at one time. Was owned by the chaney family. I am searching for more information.

    • Janie-Rice Brother on July 14, 2016 at 8:14 am said:

      If you want to email me at jrbrother@gmail.com, I can see if I can locate some more information for you. Hart County has been surveyed, and those files are located at the Kentucky Heritage Council in Frankfort (502-564-7005). If you know the general location or coordinates, they can let you know if they have a form for the building in which you are interested.

  3. Adam Young on March 13, 2017 at 1:23 pm said:

    I have Jones School house on my property, along with a large house, with a spring near it. Also a graveyard with 50+ headstones, that I have cleared twice myself. It is not documented. I was told “No one cared” about it being documented again. Also there was a group of people (no names mentioned) that said they would upkeep the graveyard, yet never did.

    On my deed it mentions that Mt. Zion church was once on the hill here, and sometime along the way someone moved the building to where it is now outside of Magnolia.

    I also have some school rosters as shown above. The old school house is in bad condition these days. I fear it will not stand more than another year or two.

    Would anyone be interested in this, or willing to help fix the school? Possibly keep the graveyard cleared out? Many of the names are local peoples family.

    Thank you.

    Adam R. Young

Post Navigation