BEHIND THE BLACKBOARD Local school history: More information about 'Kingsport High School' in the Fort Robinson neighborhood

Rick Wagner • May 12, 2017 at 12:31 PM

KINGSPORT — Sometimes you don’t have to go looking for history or read it in a book.

Sometimes somebody will come walking in the front door with it on a Monday morning after reading a newspaper article on Sunday.

The day after an article I wrote about Kingsport City Schools tracing its beginnings back to 1913, albeit more than 35 years after a “Kings Port High School,” was published in the 2017 Progress section, I got a page that someone was at the reception desk to see me. He turned out to be Charles Cox of Kingsport. He was carrying a copy of the article, along with a photograph and copy of a flier from the 1870s. I was about to learn more about this school.

I had gathered information on the article from Kingsport City Schools historian Cheryl Rice, who put together a timeline, as well as the 1973 Dobyns-Bennett High School year book. I also was familiar with a 1996 Kingsport Retired Teachers’ Association history of education in Kingsport and had a copy. Mr. Cox came to see me about the article. The flier advertised “Kingsport High School,” not the “Kings Port High School” I had referenced. This is where the story starts to unfold.

The school in question was not a public school. It required room and board fees of $35, tuition from $8 to $15 and a “contingent fee” of $1. That was for a “half session,” so two sessions for a full school year would be twice those amounts, and payments were due quarterly.“The fall term of the 2nd Session of this Institution opens Aug. 28, 1876 and closes Jan. 12, 1877. The Spring Term opens Jan. 13th and closes May 31st, 1877,” the flier read. It said the school was “mild and parental” but had “wholesome discipline” that was “not only conducive to good, but essential to the successful operation of the school.” An image of the flier also is in the book with some typeset writing below it added for the book.. 

He said the school was in the Fort Robinson community south of the Fort Robinson Drive, between that road and where the railroad tracks are. To the south of the tracks, put in around 1909, is Netherland Inn Road, and then the river. The 1996 history mentions a later school where L.H. Copenhaver, an Emory & Henry College-educated Confederate veteran, also was principal, on Cassell Drive. That was on the banks of Reedy Creek near modern day Holston Valley Medical Center. He also was at a school in the Lovedale community, near the south end of Lynn Garden Drive.

The flier describes the earlier location and community. Cox said the school was established and/or supported by Dr. George Patton and the Patton family. The flier said for more information to contact George Patton or James Lynn of Kingsport. It was dated July of 1876. The school’s principal was Copenhaver, with “Miss C.E. Wood” the assistant principal and music teacher. 

“The Academy, which is a commodious brick building, recently constructed, is situated in the pleasant little village of Kingsport, surrounded by a rich and beautiful country, with a health climate, and a society unsurpassed for its moral and religious tone and general intelligence,” the flier said. He had a photo of the building, which he said was taken in the 1920s by which time he said it had become a Sullivan County school.

It was torn down around 1934, he said, and later replaced by another school on the property, where Charles Cox attended after his mother’s teaching time ended. In the 1920s, the teachers, who are in the photo, were his mother, Elsie McClure, later Elsie McClure Cox, and Mammie Ketron. “My mother boarded with the Jones family that had a big two-story house fronting the river,” Cox said.

He said he went to a county elementary school in Fort Robinson until eighth grade, then went as a tuition student to a junior high in Kingsport and then Dobyns-Bennett High School, where he graduated in 1946. Cox, 87, said the school was known as the “Old Kingsport School” when his mother taught there.

A Kingsport 100th anniversary timeline lists a Sullivan County school called Fort Robinson Elementary being built in 1949 and operating as a county school until 1963, after which it became a city school and was renamed James Madison Elementary. It closed in 1963, the timeline says. If anybody knows more about the history of these schools in Fort Robinson, please contact me.

Today’s lesson: There’s always a little more to history if you can talk to someone with a connection to that history.

Bonus question: How was the general intelligence of Kingsport described by Kingsport High School folks in the 1870s?