RIVER VALLEY and OZARK AREA Ole Main, which has been torn down to make room for a new high school, has been a focal point on campus since it was built in 1937.
Misty Moore and her daughter, Chastity Bailey, both of Quitman, have fond memories of Ole Main.
"Ole Main was a historic part of Quitman," Moore said. "I graduated from Quitman (1996), and my daughter is currently a student there. I have many wonderful memories that were created in that building, including pageants, piano recitals, award assemblies, festivals and being with my friends during and in between classes there. Ole Main was the face of Quitman, and it will truly be missed."
Chastity, who will be in seventh grade this fall at Quitman Junior High School, said, "I think even though it has been torn down, people will always remember Ole Main. It was a very special place, and though some people thought of it as just a building, the people that cared will always keep a special place in their hearts for Ole Main. I will dearly miss it."
Construction began the week of July 6 when bulldozers began demolition of Ole Main, a building that served as the high school for several decades. School officials hope the new facility will be ready for students in August 2010.
Quitman, population 714, sits astride the Cleburne-Faulkner county line. Its school district serves students from both counties and has been do-ing so for generations.
Although incorporated March 9, 1875, Evalene Berry writes in her book, Time and the River: A History of Cleburne County, that the town's articles of incorporation were not filed with the secretary of state's office until May 25, 1881.
Quitman first established its reputation in the world of academia when, according to Berry's book, the Quitman Male and Female College was chartered in 1871. The founders arranged for the school to be owned and partly maintained by the Arkansas Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. Prior to that, in 1870, a two-story frame building was erected and called Quitman College.
Berry writes that by 1881, the increase in students called for more room and a two-story annex was built with a tall steeple. Ten years later, the college had acquired a 22-acre campus south of town, and work began on an "imposing" brick building, which cost $12,000.
Quitman College closed in 1898 or '99, according to an article in Methodism in Arkansas, 1816-1976 by Dr. Walter N. Vernon.
Berry writes, "Factors outside the control of the citizens of Quitman closed Quitman College. The town was bypassed by the railroad that they had hoped to attract, and its growth tapered off. About the same time the Methodist Conference : made a decision to concentrate their support on Central Collegiate College for Men, which later became Hendrix College, and to establish and support Galloway Women's College in Searcy."
Mark Scott, director of media relations at Hendrix College, summarizes information from the book, Hendrix College: A Centennial History, by James E. Lester Jr., explaining that Hendrix became Hendrix College in 1884, having previously been named the Central Collegiate Institute located in Altus.
"It (Hendrix) has never been located anywhere other than Altus or Conway," Scott said. "Hendrix and Quitman (colleges) were both supported by the Methodist Church, but they were never one in the same."
The former Quitman College became the Quitman Public School. Ole Main was built in 1937, with the first students attending in 1938.
Fred Clark of Little Rock attended the first six years of his education in the old college building. "I was in the seventh grade when we moved into the new building in 1938," he said.He said the old college building was torn down then and replaced with a gymnasium.
"I had heard they were going to tear it (Ole Main) down, but I didn't know they had done so. I have pleasant memories of it, but so much time has passed that I can see the need to move on."
Clark, who graduated from Ole Main in 1944, said, "We had summer school back then because all of the kids picked strawberries in the spring and cotton in the fall. Believe me, it was hot during those summer classes."
Carolyn Sneed of Quitman started first grade in Ole Main in 1941 and graduated in 1953.
"It (Ole Main) was really nice," she said. "It looked really big to a first-grader. We would wait until the big bell (which was located outside) rang and then we would go in."
She recalled some of the features of the one-story building. "There was a coal stove in study hall, or the auditorium," she said. "It more or less heated the whole building."
Sneed said there were four other buildings on the campus - agriculture, home economics, lunchroom and gymnasium - all built by the National Youth Administration as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's effort to end the Great Depression of the 1930s.
"It hurt me when they tore Ole Main down," Sneed said.
Mark Christ, community outreach director, Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, said the home economics building, which now serves as the superintendent's office, is on the National Register of Historic Places but Ole Main "never was listed."
Nelda Kennedy of Quitman graduated from Quitman High School in 1946. "I started in the old college building," she said. "We had classes on the first two floors. I went from the first through the fourth grade in that building. We moved into Ole Main when I was in fifth grade.
"I remember seeing it (Ole Main) being built when I was a kid."
Kennedy said she didn't want to see Ole Main torn down, but added that it wasn't use able any more.
"I hate it, but there comes a time when you've got to let go," she said.
Memories of the old school "are just part of my life," Kennedy said. "We had 36 in our graduating class. We were really a close-knit class, like a family. We still are. We've had a class reunion every year in October ever since we graduated. We had a ball in high school and do every time we get together."
Kennedy said both of her children graduated from Quitman High School and she has two great-grandchildren who attend the local school.
"The tradition continues," she said. "But they'll never have the fun I did."
Earl Moore of Quitman graduated from Quitman High School in 1942, transferring to the Quitman School District from a "rural school" in the Fairbanks community.
"I have mixed emotions about them tearing Ole Main down," he said. "I have a lot of memories. It was considered at the time as an outstanding building.
"I guess it was just time for it to go. It still looked pretty good to me," Moore added.
Susan Johnson of Quitman, vice president of the Quitman School District Board of Education, said, "It was a hard decision to make to tear down an historical landmark like Ole Main. But it had lost its historical value, and it was too expensive to repair it. We agreed that we just needed to tear it down and build something new."
Johnson said the board is "real happy" with the plans of the new high school.
"We have more things in mind for the future," she said. "We have run out of room for our kids. We've got to have better, newer facilities if we are to compete with other schools in the area."
She said the district is in "major need" of a new gymnasium and that may be the next construction project after the high school is built.
"In the past, we have lost proposed millage increases," she said. "But with restructuring our debt this time, we are going to be able to build the new high school without a millage increase. We hope when the people see the new high school and are proud of it, they will be willing to give us continued support if we ask for a millage increase for the next project."
(Editor's Note: Historical information for this article was found in the history room at Quitman City Hall and at the Cleburne County Historical Society and Museum in Heber Springs.)
River Valley Ozark, Pages 59, 62 on 07/23/2009