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.
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.
It is because of the influence of I. I. Moses Sr. that the first school built in Girard was situated in the southern portion of the town on a high hill. This school was named Girard Elementary School. Although it accepted children of all ages, it was practically inaccessible to the smaller children in the northern section because of an insecure bridge across Holland Creek that divided the town.
Because of this, it was deemed necessary to construct a two-room school on the northern side of the creek to accommodate the children in the first three grades in that section of Girard. The school was called North Girard School.
In 1929, a dividing wall was removed to make the two rooms a single classroom. A third room had been added before this was done. Ten years later, concrete steps were constructed across the front of the building.
During L.P. Stough’s administration as Superintendent of Phenix City Schools – after the two cities and school boards were combined as one – he designated North Girard School as “The Little School.” Stough made many improvements to the school including replacing homemade desks with patent ones, installing drinking fountains and providing sanitary toilets.
The Little School was used from 1918 until 1944. The school burned down on the night of October 31, 1944. The three teachers – Mrs. Theresa Bross (Principal from 1918-1944 with the exception of one year during that span of time), Mrs. H.S. Bates and Mrs. Inza Belle Greene took their students to the Phenix City Elementary School to finish the term.
Failing to secure a desirable lot on which to rebuild, the schoolhouse was never replaced. Students became part of the new school named Phenix City Elementary School in 1946.
A short story in the Friday, November 3, 1944 Phenix-Girard Journal newspaper told the tale of the small school’s demise:
Fire Destroys North Girard School, Homes
Fire of undetermined origin Wednesday at 2 a.m. had destroyed the North Girard school, Eighth avenue between Twelfth and Thirteenth street, and two residences on either side of the building appeared doomed.
The blaze was believed to have started inside the school house and flames enveloped the wooden structure quickly. The school, one of the oldest of the Phenix City system, had three rooms – for first, second and third grade pupils. Originally the school was operated privately before becoming a part of the public system.
Mrs. Theresa Bross was principal of the school and there were 129 pupils. Superintendent L.P. Stough of the Phenix City system was notified of the fire by The Enquirer.
All available apparatus of the Phenix City Fire department was called to battle the fire. Flames spread rapidly to the adjoining residences of Mrs. Callie Allred and Jack Norris. The entire block was threatened for a while.