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When the Back Roads column listed the 138 school districts in Benton County about 70 years before, it seemed like a natural follow-up to zero in on just one of these schools and take a broader look at it. Coal Gap School out east of Garfield was chosen. Coal Gap District No. 105 was once Jennings Switch No. 105.

One day, I went with Clora Nichols of Garfield and Cleva Douglas of Bayless out to the old Coal Gap school house and recalled memories of their own school days...

Amid the laughs out there that day, there were some bittersweet memories. Even I, who had not been there before, caught a wisp of that. We were standing on the north side of the school building looking down toward Beaver Lake a few hundred yards away. When Coal Gap was educating that area's children, the lake was not there, but White River meandered along through that valley. Both Mrs. Nichols and Mrs. Douglas had been reared in that valley. Later, each and her husband had lived in that valley as they reared their own children.

"They say," Mrs. Nichols said, "that there's a hundred feet of water over the place where Raymond and I lived."

The origin of the Coal Gap School is lost in the dimness of time. A list of Coal Gap school directors at the office of the county school supervisor's office starts out: "elected by 1887." That list goes to 1909 and includes E. Thompson, W.W. Berry, Thomas Wade, J.B. Packard, H.J. Gayler, S.L. McGinnis, W.M. Sharp, M.B. Hegwood, J.A. Martin, Dink Morrison, M.S. Hegwood, J.W. Green and Harmon Williams.

Most of these got their mail at Glade or Larue. The Glade Post Office was in three different locations, but always the same community as Coal Gap. The last location, a store and post office, stood about three-fourths of a mile form Coal Gap School. Raymond Nichols (Clora's husband) was the last postmaster. The post office and store building was moved to Pea Ridge after the lake came in.

It is said that at an early date, the school was called "Seed Tick." Tradition says that land for the Coal Gap School was donated by Edd Jennings. This seems to be borne out in deed records at the courthouse. In 1901, his children -- G.W., J.L., J.M., E.P. and S.J. (who was the wife of J.A.) Jennings -- deeded one and three-fourths acres to the Coal Gap School District No. 105 for $1 "so long as it is used for a school." Oddly, there already was a schoolhouse on the property, making it appear that the deed originally given may not have been filed earlier.

It is believed that there have been three different schoolhouses there -- an early-day building, a two-story one that was moved away in the 1930s and the present one-story structure. The two-story one was moved south of the school location and used for a barn until Beaver Lake came into being. The school was a one-room, one-teacher school all along, Mrs. Nichols and Mrs. Douglas said, but the second floor of the one building was to have been a lodge hall that never was finished inside.

On Jan. 20, 1949, upon petition of both Coal Gap and Garfield patrons, the Benton County Board of Education agreed to dissolve Coal Gap School District No. 105 and annex it to the Garfield District No. 114. About seven weeks later, on March 5, 1949, Garfield School District 114 was dissolved and annexed to Rogers School District No. 30. Children of both the old Coal Gap and the old Garfield districts today attend the Garfield School through the sixth grade, while junior and senior high school students are bused into Rogers.

Once the Coal Gap schoolhouse ceased being used for school purposes, the bell was purchased by Henry Tilford, who later gave it to Harry Douglas (Cleva's husband).

The loss of the school, always the hub of community affairs, was followed soon after by the damming of White River to create Beaver Lake. This brought further changes to the community. One of these changes was in the roads. Many from Coal Gap previously had gone to Rogers by way of crossing both Cedar Creek and Ford's Creek to reach Arkansas Highway 12, the route taken on into Rogers. That route had to be closed for the lake, and Slate Gap Road was established leading to Arkansas Highway 127 and on into Garfield. Other new roads followed.

The name Coal Gap. I asked, "Were there coal deposits in the community?" Neither lady thought so. They pointed out that there were slate deposits there, though, and sometimes children of long ago used pieces of this slate for writing tablets with chalk for a "pencil."

Among teachers called to mind by Mrs. Nichols and Mrs. Douglas were Ollie Scott, Albert McGinnis, Ruth Neeley, Willie Edens, Jay Dawson, Georgine Rakes, Mrs. Gardner, Mitchell Finn, Evelyn Flynn, Lola Muchamore, Verda Mae Graham, Mr. Knotson, Marion Shaddox, Frances Wilson, Willie Williams, Pauline Dawson, Bill Knox, Irene Musgrove, Florence Todd and Sybil Moore. The list is incomplete.

•••

Editor's note: The above account is the second in a two-part article published from Benton County Schools That Were, Vol. 1 pp 9-10 by Billie Jines and is published with permission.

Editorial on 07/31/2019

Print Headline: Coal Gap School

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