Editor’s Note: Russell County has a long history that is important to the State of Alabama and its evolvement from an area described in the book “Russell County in Retrospect” by Anne Kendrick Walker as a “barbaric land” to what it is today. Many of the people who set their roots in the county in its early days including the state’s first Territorial Delegate to the United States Congress, important Native Americans who paid with their lives to cede land that created the county, a family that started a place of higher learning in south Russell County that later led to the establishment of one of the state’s most known institutions of education today and a former slave who placed a monument to honor his former owner, are very much important to the formation of Alabama. The story that follows is another of a series to inform you – our readers – about the history of Russell County.
In the early days, obtaining a formal education required parents to send their children to private schools such as those established by the Glenn Family in Glennville. But later on there was a push for public education which would be open to all children no matter their social or economic state. Today Phenix City and Russell County offer educational opportunities to all of the children of the area. This was not, however, always the case.
Back before 1867, there was no public education system in the area. Children were sent to the private schools that sprang up across the county, received educations at home or received no education at all. It was along that year that Girard took the first steps at providing public education to its children – both black and white.
The earliest public education opportunity in Girard took place in the living room of Mrs. Mary Alice Moses, wife of I.I. Moses, Sr.. Mrs. Moses had a beautiful mansion above the Old Girard Cemetery on Sandfort Road and used her home to instruct both black and white children in the basics of education before the first one-room log cabin school was built in the community.
Later in that year, the first one-room log cabin school was constructed on a hill below the Moses home and next to Girard Cemetery. A Reverend Littlejohn taught all the students of all grades in the one-room schoolhouse which was later named the Girard School which stood in the same location. The property was among the first that the Moses Family would donate for the construction of schools.
The brick Girard school was not constructed on the property adjoining the early school of the same name until 1909.
In 1883, the Alabama Legislature passed an Act creating the Elementary School of Girard. The Treasurer of the school board in 1909 successfully interested Gunby Jordan, President of the Eagle and Phenix Mill of Columbus, Ga. in helping build a new schoolhouse. The school, as in the past, made provisions for black and white students to receive an education. A brick school was envisioned for the location, but funding for schools was difficult to obtain. So, the school system purchased the bricks for the new school one year and obtained the rest of the funds for construction a year later. In 1923, it became an accredited high school and the name was changed from Girard Elementary to Girard High School.
When the cities of Girard and Phenix City merged in 1923, efforts began to establish a high school in the new city which boasted a population of over 10,000. Central High opened its doors to the students of the community in 1928 and Girard High was again changed to an elementary school. Girard Elementary remained a part of the Phenix City school system until 1969 when the students of the school were sent to the new Ridgecrest Elementary in the fast growing Asbury Park Subdivision. The new Ridgecrest Elementary was originally to serve grades 1-8, but after three days, the seventh and eighth grade students were transferred to Central Junior High on 14th Street which was the original Central High.
The Girard school was described as “a brick neo-classical two-story building with an asbestos shingled roof. It had some Italianate features as well.” It was the first brick school constructed in Girard. The fact that it provided classes for both blacks and whites was unusual for the turn of the century in this area.
The Moses Family has a long history in public education in the area. I.I. Moses, Sr. served on the Columbus school board before moving to Girard and his wife, Rebecca, as pointed out above was instrumental in teaching students until a school system could be established in Girard. Their son I.I. Moses II served on the Girard school board and then the Phenix City board when the two cities merged for 50 years.
Many of the early schools have his name etched on the cornerstone of buildings and were built on property his family donated to the school systems. I.I. Moses II’s wife, Ada, started the first PTA and served as its President.