Lloyd Waters: Dargan school closing made national news in 1970

May 06, 2012|By LLOYD WATERS

On Aug. 18, 1969, then-Superintendent of Schools William M. Brish announced a decision to close the last two-room schoolhouse in Washington County when he informed Dargan parents that their children would be bused to the nearby school in Sharpsburg. That date was later extended to June 1970.

The Dargan School was built in 1914.

The little school accommodated those classes of higher learning for the first through third grades in one room and fourth through sixth grades in the other. I had the very good fortune of attending that school and walking up the road from my grandmother Gen’s house, by Grim’s grocery and across the school ground to classes.

I can remember those days like yesterday. Some of the past Dargan principals included Shipley, Middlecamp, Kline and Price. Many fine teachers such as Fons-worth, Watson, Kline, Streubel, Wyand and others also shared their knowledge in that little two-room school.

Some of the reasons provided for the closing were the absence of hot lunches, insufficient library, no physical education classes and no auditorium.

Although Superintendent Brish and Board of Education President Odell Rosen thought this would be another routine piece of business, they would soon be surprised.

As the final announcement of the closing was received by the parents in 1970, it was soon learned that virtually all of them were unhappy.

When September 1970 and the new school year arrived, the mood of the town became ugly.

James R. Glenn, a 46-year-old railroad brakeman, soon assumed the spokesman’s role for an angry community. Justin Johnson, William Gay, David Ingram, Granvil Ingram and others became part of a committee opposing the closing of the school.

Some 200 residents signed a petition opposing Superintendent Brish’s decision to close the school.

As Glenn and other committee members met with County Commissioners Lem Kirk, Rome Schwagel and others, as well as Superintendent Brish, it was obvious this matter would not be resolved in a quiet fashion.

When Glenn’s rhetoric and actions escalated, The Associated Press got hold of the story and soon the entire country knew of Dargan. Television cameras from channels 4, 5 and 7 made their way to the Dargan schoolhouse.

The local Brunswick radio station, WTRI, even offered a $1,000 donation to help local citizens send telegrams to Gov. Marvin Mandel in support of keeping the school open.

Glenn and the committee continued to attack the busing of the Dargan kids to the Sharpsburg school by pointing out the dangerous road conditions of the Shinham and Harpers Ferry roads. They were concerned about the safety of the kids.

As the new school year started in September 1970, parents refused to send their kids to Sharpsburg.

Doris Shoemaker, Faye Ingram and others brought new meaning to the concept of home schooling as they set up outdoor classrooms, climbed through the schoolhouse windows when it became cold and unlocked the doors.

A few months later, 10 parents were arrested and tried in Washington County Circuit Court by a 12-member jury. All were found guilty of keeping their kids out of school. 

Judge Irvine Rutledge fined each of the parents $50 and informed them that if they would send their children to the Sharpsburg school, he would suspend the fine.

After some lengthy discussion, the Dargan parents relented and decided to send their kids to Sharpsburg.

It was a bitter ending for the last two-room schoolhouse in the county that had remained open for some 56 years in the woods of Dargan. 

Board of Education member William Bitner explained to Glenn and the committee “that status quo never remains, and society, especially education is on the move.”

I suppose Bitner was right on both counts, but memories of that little schoolhouse still linger in those hills of Dargan.

Lloyd “Pete” Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes columns for The Herald-Mail.

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