The Chaires School
By Celeste Halsema
December 7, 1995
The Chaires community, just east of Tallahassee in Leon County, Florida, was named after one of its earliest founders, Green Hill Chaires.1 Green Hill was one of three brothers who moved to Florida and helped settle Tallahassee and the surrounding areas. Green Hill and his brothers, Benjamin and Thomas Peter, all created thriving plantations in the southeastern section of Leon County. They settled down, became wealthy planters and were influential, to varying degrees, on the politics of North Florida. Although the plantations are gone, their legacies still exist today in the names, families, pride and history of the area that is now known as Chaires.
Green Hill originally built a cotton plantation on the edge of Lake Lafayette. Here he began to develop into a wealthy and, therefore, influential Southern planter. In 1838, however, an Indian raid left several of his family members, including his wife, dead and his home burned to the ground. To rebuild, Green Hill moved further east. He built a new plantation, called Evergreen Hills, in the area that is currently known as Chaires .2 It was so named because Green Hill owned all of this land until he gave certain tracts of it to the building of the railroad and his descendants had to sell of portions to survive.3 Green Hill and his descendants, however, continued to own much of the land in the Chaires district even through the Civil War when so many people lost so much. It was where Green Hill had established his final home that the Chaires family prospered until they have become known as one of the original aristocratic families of Tallahassee.
As the area became more settled and the land more open, the community of Chaires began to grow. In response to the needs of this community, a small schoolhouse was builtVfor the education of the white children. This schoolhouse served this entire area of the county as the nearest other school was located in Tallahassee. In 1928, however, this school in Chaires, known as Station One, was deemed no longer suitable for the needs of the district. The school building had deteriorated. It desperately required a new roof. The building was outdated as it did not even have indoor plumbing. It regularly flooded when there were heavy rains. Most importantly, it was simply too small for the growing number of students.
Therefore, on November 4, 1928, the Board of Public Instruction of Leon County, State of Florida received a petition for a new school for the growing community of Chaires. At least twenty-five percent of the qualified electors residing in the district (sixty people) signed the petition. This allowed the request to come under consideration of the Board. The community applied to the Board for the issuance of $50,000 worth of bonds.
These bonds were to be used "for the purpose of purchasing and acquiring land within the district for the exclusive use of the public free schools therein; for the purpose of erecting a new school for the white pupils within said district, improving grounds and equipping and furnishing said building; [and] for any other exclusive use. . .as may be deemed advisable by the Board of Public Instruction.
Once the petition was accepted by the Board, the Tallahassee Daily Democrat announced that an election was to be held.This election was to determine if the bonds should be issued by Special School Tax District Number Three of Leon County, Florida otherwise known as Chaires. Only "duly qualified electors residing in said District [sic] who are freeholders" were allowed to vote in the election held in Chaires on February 5, 1929.9 On the seventh of February, the Board of Public Instruction held a special meeting to canvass the returns of the election. The results were that a total of twenty-two votes were cast, none of which were against the bonds.
With the election ending in unanimous favor of the issuance of the bonds, the Board resolved to issue $50,000 consisting of one hundred bonds of $500 each. These bonds carried an interest rate of six percent per year and were payable at National City Bank in New York City. The Board further decided to receive sealed bids for the purchase of the bonds. In order to do this, an advertisement was placed, once a week for four weeks, in the Florida State News, a newspaper published in Leon County.
On March 12, 1929, the Board met to consider the bids that had been received. The members decided to accept the bid of G.E. Lewis for $48,750. After this was determined, the issue of where to build the school had to be resolved. A proposal was put forth by the Trustees of Chaires District Number Three to buy a suitable site from Mr. David Green (D.G.) Chaires, a descendent of Green Hill Chaires. The Board accepted the proposal and bought six acres of land for seventy-five dollars an acre from D.G. Chaires.l2 This is the site where the current Chaires school was established.
Once a location was determined~the Board of Public Instruction turned to the building of the actual structure. Upon suggestion, the firm of Moore and Winthrop was appointed as the architects and engineers of the new Chaires school.13 Then the bids for the general contract, plumbing and heating, electricity and a water system were considered. In the end Berg-Marshall Inc. became the general contractor with a bid of $33, 490; J.E.H. Dorsett, the plumbing and heating contractor with a bid of $5,646, William Anderson, the water system installer with a bid of $1,010; and Quarterman Electric Co., the electricity contractor with a bid of $725.
A final step was to supply the school with the materials necessary for it to be occupied by the students. Therefore, bids were also accepted for the furnishing of the new school. A final list of all the materials was entered into the minutes of the Board of Public Instruction on June 22, 1929. This list included items such as fifteen kindergarten chairs, one hundred and ten moveable chair desks (numbers A, B. and C), twenty-three teachers chairs, six teachers desks, eighty-eight Durabilt steel lockers, and three hundred and seventy-eight portable auditorium chairs. The total cost of these and other supplies was $2,977.99.
On June 23, 1929, the new and only white school for Chaires District Number Three was completed and ready for occupation. It had been modernized with a coal heater, electricity and a fresh well. The students walked over to their new school leaving behind all the old desks, chairs and other equipment. Station One, and all that was left behind, was turned over to the blacks in the community. 16 Mr. Virgil Townsend, with a salary of $175 a month, became the first principal of the Chaires School. The school went up to the eleventh grade and had three teachers (Mr.Thompson, Mrs. Maggie Patterson and Miss May Bird Carmine) when it first opened. As the years passed the community grew and so did the school. However, throughout its sixty-six year history, the Chaires School has fluctuated in its grade level. Often students were bused to Leon High School as the Chaires School was not always accredited above the junior high level.
The Chaires community continued to be plagued by floods but the school held up well. In 1947 and 1972, heavy rains created flooded roads that were virtually impassable.
The students prevailed however, and many got to school even if they had to go a longer route or travel by horse, cart or tractor.
The community and the school also continued to grow. As the area became more populous, attendance began to expand. The inevitable once again happened. The school was too small to meet the need. This time, however, the community elected to simply add on to the original structure. The Chaires School, therefore, received a new addition in 1948.2° A second "addition" to the school was a new batch of students in the sixties. Desegregation had technically become a law by 1954. A large portion of American schools, however, were not obeying the law. The Chaires School became integrated in 1967 when black students from the old Station One School choose to go to Chaires. By 1968 Station One was closed and all area students attended Chaires School or were bused elsewhere. 21
As an important community structure, the Chaires School has been used for purposes other than strictly education of children through books. Being in a rural area, the school in the past has successfully integrated important aspects of this rural life. Not only have the students had classes such as shop and sewing but they have also benefitted from some very practical offerings at the school. Children at Chaires over the years have raised their own chickens, tended their gardens, planted trees, and experienced "Pioneer Day" where they engaged in activities such as churning butter.
As time has passed the school has been used for other activities that were important to the community. In the fifties, for example, Chaires School was "designated an Emergency Federal Civil Defense 200-bed hospital."' Also in the seventies the school became a Community School and center which, therefore, gave it the privilege of housing a branch of the Leon County Library.
The Chaires school has undergone many changes over its sixtysix years. Currently another building has been added and the original building is now commonly called "The Little Chaires School." This school building, which began as a modest Tudor style building, is now relatively hard to distinguish without older pictures. This is mainly because of the "trailers" out front that obscure the building from the public. Furthermore, the little Chaires school is now a kindergarten and has been modified.as such.
The Chaires school, however, remains an important part of the history of the Chaires District. It was the only elementary and high school in the area for white pupils. This allowed a large majority of the population to stay closer to their homes by not requiring them to be bused to a school such as the Leon High School. The Chaires school has also served as a center for the district. It has provided education, culture, entertainment and a meeting place. Built on bonds out of necessity in 1929, the little school still thrives today as an integral part of the community of Chaires in North Florida.