By Robin M. Rogers
November 30, 1994
The Bradfordville School was constructed between the years 1884 -1892 on a small piece of land owned by the Lester family. The school, a wood framed vernacular structure, represents a typical one-room schoolhouse mentioned in rural American history. It qualifies for the National Register under criteria A and should therefore be preserved. As the city of Tallahassee expands, neighborhoods like Bradfordville are being threatened by development and are in danger of losing their unique historic resources such as Bradfordville School.
Bradfordville School is a one-story wood framed building. It seems to be a vernacular folk house, instead of a styled house, as defined in Field Guide to American Houses, "Folk houses are those designed without a conscious attempt to name current fashion.''] Because of missing school board minutes we can only assume that the school is over 100 years old (Bradfordville School is not mentioned prior to 1883, but is listed in the minutes beginning with 1893). It is comprised of the main school building and a kitchen; together they form a T plan. The side phase was later attached to the building in the 1970s, long after it ceased to function as a school. The school house section, which forms the top of the T features a metal pipe ridge chimney. It was, at one time, connected to a cast iron stove used to heat the building. The majority of the windows are six over six doubled hung sash wood. It has a normal pitch cross-gabled roof with metal corrugated panels as surfacing. The exterior fabric appears to be the original horizontal wood siding. Originally there were two outbuildings used as restrooms, one for girls and another for boys, but they no longer exist. There are no dormers or porch. The entire structure rests on piers. The school appears to be painted with a traditional whitewash.
In 1821, the United States purchased Florida from Spain. Andrew Jackson became its first governor. The growing market for cotton in New England and Europe caused many planters to look to the fertile Red Pals of Leon County. Floridians chose Tallahassee as the capitol in 1823, and settlers quickly began to develop the land surrounding it. "In 1824 arid 1825' the Federal Land office surveyed more than 20 townships (36 square miles each) using the township and range system. It auctioned off land in short order, much of it in 80-acre parcels for a minimum of $1.25 per acre. Within the next twenty years most of the land within Leon County was sold. " Individual planters were allowed to buy as much land as they could pay for in land auctions. "Large land holding therefore characterized the Tallahassee Red Ells region from the very beginning."
The plantation economy developed with the growth of cotton and the building of the railroad systems. "In Leon County as in the rest of the cotton kingdom' it was the planters, loosely defined as anyone who owned 20 or more slaves, who dominated the economy, local and state government, and all the supporting institutions. The church, the financial institutions and schools were dependent upon and controlled by the planter class. Yeoman farmers also comprised a large part of Leon County's population in 1860, the majority of whom were very poor and practiced substance agriculture. 'most of what was produced in Leon County in the ante-bellum period was consumed locally with the only major export being cotton. Cotton was king and many prospered from this crop.
The Civil War began u~ 1861. Union blockade of southern ports cut off northern and foreign markets for cotton, thus stalling Leon County's economic development. Large scale cotton farming never recovered. "Although the towns of the. Red Hills region did not feel the impact of battle and marching armies, the economic costs of the Civil War were incalculable."
Leon County changed during the reconstruction years: the reduction of farmland, fall and rise of agriculture, and the steady increase in population. "The system of agriculture shifted from one based on slavery to one based on tenancy." Tallahassee also began to boom with new construction, business, retail, establishment of seat of state government, and the beginnings of FSU and FAMU. Tallahassee emerged as the political and social center of Florida. Settlers poured in from Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia to establish a cotton kingdom in Leon County. Some immigrants were yeoman farmers while others were wealthy planters who came in caravans bringing with them their slaves, household goods, livestock, and agricultural implements. Among the aristocratic families that settled outside the city were the Bradfords.
However, the trip into Tallahassee was a long hard one. Most planters and yeoman farmers looked to their rural communities for their social, commercial and educational needs. Crossroad communities sprang up on the map as early as 1846. "Early accounts refer to planters and farmers as being from the community of Bradfordville' or some other rural crossroads, rather than from Tallahassee or Leon County, as is though of today."
Between the years of 1829 and 1832, the brothers Thomas, Edward, Henry B., and Richard Bradford moored to Leon County. They settled large tracts of land near what later would come to be known as Bradfordville and began to farm. Richard Bradford founded Water Oak Plantation near Lake McBride. Henry Bradford lived a little further south on Thomasville Road and Thomas established Walnut Hill in the same area. Also, Dr. William H. Bradford lived at Edgewood Plantation and became the doctor for Pine ~11 Plantation's slaves.
However, the most prominent of the Bradford brothers to settle in the Red Plus region was planter-physician Dr. Edward Bradford. He established Pine Hill Plantation and later Horseshoe Plantation for a total of 3,200 acres. He became famous for Heating soldiers during the Civil War. Many people were moving into the rural area and Bradfordville was growing.
Captain William Lester of Georgia moved to Leon County around 1850 at the age of 53. According to the US Agriculture Census Schedule (1850), the tax roll of 1850, and census schedules, he owned 110 slaves, 3,462 acres of land, 1,200 unproved acres, $25,000 (farm value), $6,400 value of livestock, 5,000 corn bushels and 200 cotton (400 lb bales). 11 These records show Captain Lester to have been a prosperous planter with large land holdings. The Lester Plantation, Oaklawn, still stands today at Thomasville and Bannerman roads not far from Bradfordville School.
Bradfordville evolved into a crossroads community of neighbors, friends, and relatives. The school that bears the same name was built at the intersection of Thomasville and Bradfordville roads. The Bradfordville school was constructed on property owned by W.H. and Alice O. Lester. (The date of the deed suggests this was probably Captain Lester's son.) On April 7, 1906' they sold, for the sun of $1, the land to the Leon County Board of Public Instruction under the condition that ''the above property 13 to be used only for school purposes and if used for any other purpose this deed is to be null and void. Today the building has become a community center and therefore the validity of the deed could be called into question.
"Leon County's public education began as a result of the Freedman's Bureau and Constitution of 1868. Separate black and white schools were established throughout the county.~13 Frequently, owners of large amounts of property would donate land, labor and lumber to construct rural schoolhouses. These schools were often established on a request basis. Due to missing School Board Minutes, we must speculate that the people of Bradfordville needed a school for their children and brought a petition before the Board. It was established as a school for whites only around the 1890s. Elementary age children were taught up until eighth grade. After completing the eighth grade, students would attend Leon County High School for whites in Tallahassee. The pupils would be in school for six months from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with two class breaks at 10 - 10:15 a.m. and 2 - 2:15 p.m., with an hour-long lunch from 12 noon to 1 p.m.
The earliest mention in the School Board minutes on Bradfordville is the hiring of a teacher, "August 1893, #64 S.B. Eppes $150 salary per year. Then again on September 3, 1895, "Mrs. Sarah E. Gardner was appointed to teach the Bradfordville school with a salary of $30 per month. The records also mention Miss Evelyn Alford won the teaching position at Bradfordville school over a Mrs. Wilson on September 22, 1914. Mr. Whitehead strongly desired the appointment of Mrs. Wilson, who held a third grade certificate, and Mr. Greene Johnson supported Miss Alford, who held a second grade certificate. Mr. Whitehead resented the board's decision bitterly. A few days later, on September 19, an appeal case came before the board in which Miss Alford was transferred to Silver Lake School. "...that owing to the extreme unpleasant conditions existing in that community, it would be advisable to ask the appointed teacher, Miss Alford, to resign and appoint Mrs. Wilson to the school. The teachers' salaries were paid by the county and they stayed with different families during the year. Only two or three families took turns boarding the Bradfordville school teachers, and they were paid a small fee ($10) by the School Board.
Education covered many subject areas, including spelling, writing, geography, and civics. Students sat at desks made for one or two people with tops that pulled up in order for books to be stored inside the desk. Mayor Poppell and Martha Lee Bradford Roberts, both graduates of Bradfordville, remember using primer books during their study. The teacher would call students to her desk at the front of the room by grade level for their lessons. While this went on, the other students were to rennin in their seats quietly working on their subjects. "The older students would help to teach the little ones if the teacher fell behind," recalls Mr. Mainor Poppell, who attended Bradfordville School starting in 1919. 17 Students still used slates, though they began to pass out of fashion in favor of writing books with which students could practice their handwriting skills. Bradfordville School had a chalkboard covering the wall behind the teacher's desk and hooks to hang up coats on the opposite wall. Students had ample amount of tune to do albeit homework at school, according to Mrs. Roberts, but could get into trouble if they did not do well in a subject. 18 Report cards were sent home with every student for parents to sign and return. The grades were based on numbers of 50, 60, 75, and 100, not letter grades.
The school also owned a common water bucket and dipper. Students were supposed to bring a cup from home in order to get a drink of water, but some forgot and had to use the dipper. The boys drew water from Mr. Greene Johnson's well across the street and brought it back for everyone to share. This practice continued until some of the boys were playing with the bucket and lost it in the well. After that, Mr. Greene Johnson no longer let them use his well, and everyone had to bring water from home. "You would bruse your fingers for the teacher... 'One' to be excused for their restroom and 'two' for a drink of water," recalls Mrs. Bradford Roberts. On another occasion, the boys got into some mischief by turning over the girl's outhouse. At most, fifteen to twenty children attended the school at one time.
Children who lived a long distance from the school came by wagon (later on bus) and brought their lunches with them, while students who lived nearby went home for their lunch. The meal usually consisted of sausage, biscuits and sweet potatoes. Many students looked forward to Monday's lunch because they had Sunday's fried chicken leftovers. In the colder months, whoever got to the school first lit the "two-eye heater" to get the room warm. Martha Lee and Richard Roberts usually got to school before the others and would start the fire with wood from home. "The boys had to bring in the wood for the stove, while the girls would sweep out the school house," remembers Mainard Poppell. After lunch and during recess, students played games like bacebaJ1 and "Hello. " There was a baseball diamond behind the school. Box supper auctions held at Bradfordville and other area schools raised money for local charities. "The girls would cook food, put it in a box, and decorate it beautifully to be auctioned off at the school, recalls Martha Lee Bradford Roberts. This social occasion brought smiles to many faces because the girls had to eat their food with the boys that purchased it. Also, the pupils built small brick cooking areas, separate ones for boys and girls, for baking sweet potatoes outside the building. Most students wore shoes in the winter and occasionally in the summer, according to Mainor Poppell. The Poppell family lived on Meridian Road, and Mainor's father was a blacksmith, mechanic, and handyman.
Martha Lee Bradford Roberts began attending Bradfordville school in September of 1916. She was later joined by her brother Richard in 1918 and sister Emma in 1923. They began picking up the Poppell family on Meridian Road in a bus in the early 1920s. Bradfordville around that time had two general stores, a justice of the peace, and a Saturday meat market. Dan Johnson owned a two-story house and sold piece goods at the intersection of Thomasville and Bradfordville roads. Greene Johnson ran a trading post and dealt in staple goods like sugar and flour. This store, located across the street from the school, is currently used as a veterinarian clinic. Tommy Carr, a black man, ran a butcher's market on Saturday where he sold fresh beef and pork in season. Judge Whitehead lived next to the school across from an empty lot. "He would parch peanuts on his stove and kids came running. They jumped out of the school's windows and the teacher had no control over them, " recollects Mrs. Bradford Roberts. Bradfordville was an example of a crossroads community.
Christmas time was special at Bradfordville School. The students would draw names and exchange presents. Most students could only afford sweet potatoes or apples. A Christmas tree was brought in to be decorated. A Christmas pageant was staged in the schoolhouse at night, and all the parents were invited to attend. The program included popular songs' oral recitations and the presentation of baby Jesus in a manger. These events brought the members of the community together for a special celebration.
September 16, 1930 School Board negates indicates the closing of Bradfordville School due to low enrollment. The teacher's desk is on display at the R.A. Gray building in downtown Tallahassee. Through the years, many children received an education at Bradfordville School, including Oliver Grahamly, the father of the Associated Press. He grew up in a Bradfordville community, moved to New York City, and became famous for starting news broadcasts on the radio. Since its closing approximately 70 years ago, the school has been used for community meetings and church services.25 A reunion was held in l9BO for all the students. Approximately thirty people came, including the last living teacher, Julia Johnson Sutton. They re-enacted what a typical school day was like for them when they were pupils in this one-room rural schoolhouse. Many fond memories were evoked.
Criteria A of the National Register states, "A property may be registered if it is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history. This building represents a typical rural one-room schoolhouse. It is a part of our American heritage, which is disappearing rapidly. Despite the later addition by Velda Dairy, Bradfordville School still retains its essential integrity of location, setting, design, and materials. It has already been threatened by development once with the plans for the Bradfordville Junction and its impact on the Bradford Eppes Cemetery, and again with the proposed relocation of the Mt. Zion Methodist Episcopal Cemetery and development of that land. Therefore, precautions should be taken to safeguard this historic landmark. A possible donation to the Pisgah Church's Couples club or to the National Trust may be a viable option. As a last resort, removal to another location such as the Lester-Lauder House lot has also been suggested. Action regarding the presentation of Bradfordville School should begin soon or a piece of our American cultural heritage will be lost.