TUPELO TOWN AND SCHOOL HISTORY
In 1903, a Tupelo Town-site Company was formed and the NW ¼ of Section 36-T2 N-R8E, I.T. was purchased, surveyed, and platted with the new OCA&A (which later became the M.K.&T) railroad running across the north part. Known members of the company were Vern Dumas, President; C.N. Witter, W.M. McCary, Price Statler and Ed King.
Of course, they chose their lots first and a public auction was held of the rest in October of that year. Most of the buyers were from nearby towns which had been bypassed by the railroad and with some very aggressive publicity, the town flourished.
The Jeffs post office, within a store, had been moved to Tupelo without the approval of the U.S. Postal System, so it had to keep its name until April 1904. Mail had to be addressed “Tupelo (Jeffs P.O.) I.T.” until that date. James H. Clark was the postmaster.
At first, the train didn’t stop in Tupelo but in some ways this was a boon to the workers because hack and dray wagons met all the trains in Stonewall and Centrahoma to bring the passengers and merchandise back to town. Tupelo soon obtained a station and in July of 1904, the town paid $250.00 for a special train to transfer passengers to a big celebration of that event and show off the town. It now boasted of a bank and businesses of all kinds. Many of the new buildings were built of rock.
While promoting the town was a very serious job, so was educating their children. Thanks to a newspaper “The Tupelo Times,” which began publishing in January of 1904, and continued until April of 1912, when it burned, we have a record of the early school system.
In 1904, a wood frame building in the southeast part of Tupelo was the first school. In 1908, when Oklahoma, authorized a free school system, Tupelo was not on the Coal County list but the town had expanded south in section 36 and west into section 35. The Town-site company gave the north ½ of block 58 to build a two story brick school with a full basement.
In the fall of 1909, Tupelo united with the Byrd’s Prairie District and began school in the beautiful building with J.A. Vincent as Superintindent.
One of the little known facts is that the state of Oklahoma mandated that very bright students be given separate classes and most schools put them in a separate building. In 1911, a list of those bright children was published. They were: Charles and Bettie Edmondson; Cleo and Thurman Breedlove; William, Bonnie, and Gertie Peters; Jewel, Gracie, and Thelma Partain; Price, Frank, and Ruth King; Henry, Edna, and Oma Williams; Alpha and and Vema Shirley; Ollie and Vera McDowell; R.W. Fowler; Riley Harmon; Paula Stoffel; Annie May Rollins and Velton, German, Effie, Ethel, Loffie, Della and Ruby Clark. Their teacher was Miss Cora Scott.
Tupelo was a grade school but at that time, a Common School diploma was obtained by taking a two-day test in Coalgate and passing with an average on 75%. They were examined in these branches; Reading, Orthography, Grammar, Penmanship, Composition, Arithmetic, Geography, Physiology, United States History, Oklahoma History, Civics, Agriculture, and Domestic Science. Music and Drawing were optional. These diplomas would admit them into any high school in the country, an APM College, or the State Normal Schools. Many of our early teachers had one of these diplomas.
By this time, the Central Railroad skirted the town on it’s southwest corner with a Depot and Section House and the MO&G (later KO&G) railroad was skirting the town on its west side and had untied with the Katy to build a Union Depot there. A Tupelo Town-site addition was platted to cover all the land from Tupelo to the railroad and the town was actively promoting itself as a three-railroad town.
Again as the town was prospering, so was the school. The rest of block 56 was donated and a brick auditorium and stable for the horses was built. Later block 55 to the north was added for a baseball field. Before games had been played at the old baseball field where the County Barn is now.
The points for promoting the town of 500 as a garden spot, was good water and excellent shipping facilities. It had just gone from “Village” to “City” class. They had built a 10,000 capacity canning factory, people were planting huge gardens and to sell to the factory and thousands of Alberta peach trees had been planted. Those trees were numerous from Boggy Creek north to the county line.
Just as the town was blossoming, fate dealt it a very heavy blow. The town, with two banks, big hotels, all kinds of businesses, doctors, lawyers, etc. had several disastrous fires. In 1910, a fire destroyed the Commercial Hotel, the canning factory, Brauderick’s Livery Stable, Oldham Brothers General Store, J.H. Clarks store and the post office with all the mail. In October of 1911, fire struck again and five stone businesses burned. The Farmers & Merchants Bank and the Crescent were two of them. In April of 1912, there was another big fire, this time destroying a restaurant, the Prewitt building and the Tupelo Times Newspaper plant. None of these were rebuilt. Their rock shells remained on the sites until the 1950’s.
Another serious incident was that the new school superintendent, J.H. Fisher, and C.M. Witter, town founder and president of the First National Bank, developed a conflict which ended with Mr. Witter killing Mr. Fisher. This divided the town. Mr. Witter was acquitted by reason of fear of his life, but he sold his interest in the bank and property to P.A. Norris, a banker at Ada, and moved with his family out of state.
Several other founding fathers died including the first postmaster J.H. Clark and the first editor of the Tupelo Times, O.S. Stevens.
The school recovered from all these tragedies and in 1920 became a high school. Members of the first graduating class in May of 1924 were: D.J. Nabors, Grace Rhodes, Margret Harston, Luther Clark, Roy Hawley, Alpha Meister, Bessie McDowell, Cloketa Jennings, and Roy Brown. O.H. Dority was the superintendent, Mrs. Dority, Miss Jesse Brown and Alta Byrd the teachers.
As all the surrounding schools were only grade schools, many of them continued their education at Tupelo, but they had to provide their own transportation. In the early thirties, many of these annexed to Tupelo and became grade schools only going through the 6th grade. Tupelo had contracted a bus service to pickup the older children and leave the younger ones close to home. It also kept intact the communities’ social system which centered around the local school.
In January of 1936, a tragic bus accident on icy roads just west of town that killed the bus driver, Roy Harbour and three of the students, Alma Drennan, Aline Hagar and Billy Parrigen and injured several more. Soon after the school bought their own buses and hired drivers.
When the WPA was building for the public good, Tupelo took advantage of this program to get a bigger school building. The children had been taught in churches and other available spaces for over two years until 1939, when the rock building was finished. The rock was quarried from the farms of Roy Clark and W.M. Bullard who were school board members. The old building’s top story was removed and incorporated into the middle of the new one as an auditorium.
World War II came along soon and not much improvement was done to the school during those years except keep the buses running and furnishing a hot meal at noon time. Robert Brashears was the superintendent during the war years. Some of the grade schools closed during or shortly after the war.
Howard Asendorf, who had been teaching at Lone Oak before entering the Navy in 1943, returned home to teach at Tupelo. He had graduated from Tupelo while his father was superintendent there and had married a Tupelo girl, Wilma Carter. Maybe these facts endeared him to the people. In 1947, he became their superintendent. He began to work every program he could, collected donated materials and mostly, with student labor, built a new gym.
In 1951, all the windows and doors of the aging building were replaced with metal framed ones to update it and help with the heating problems. In 1955, when Tupelo got a water system, they added a rock addition to the south side to accommodate a Commercial Room, Home Making Room, Teachers’ Lounge and new bathrooms. The old outdoor toilets were removed and a new gym was built there. It is now the grade school.
Mr. Asendorf moved on but in 1992, the Tupelo Alumni honored him by establishing a scholarship in his memory.
In 1965, a Learning Center was added. In 1966, a new brick elementary building with a full cafeteria was built where the first gym had been.
In 1972, the vocational agriculture building was built across the street south with mostly agriculture student labor.
In 1978, the early childhood building was completed and a bond issue was passed to build a new high school building. The new school was finished in 1979, and the old rock school was completely demolished and its area became the elementary playground. The new modern building is a stressed concrete structure partially underground and contains a nice auditorium.
In 1980, the town of Tupelo gave the school a 10-acre park that, with the aid of the community, had been purchased for the community. The school built a new baseball field, bleachers and concessions north of Old Highway 3.
In 1985, a music building was built and in 2000, a bond issue passed to add another large modern gym on the north side on the high school. In 2004, a new concession was added to the softball field that had been built in 1994.
Today, the school has 270 students enrolled. The school teaches early childhood through the 12th grade, with a budget of 2.2 million. Their district has 118 square miles and they run three bus routes.
Their property now consists of all of blocks 52, 53, 54, 55, 56 and parts of blocks 57 and 59, plus the 10 acre tract.
The following schools all became a part of the Tupelo School District: Byrd’s Prairie, Debs, Eubanks, Eurika, Fairview, Globe, and parts of Hamilton, Pleasant Hill and Rocky Point and also a part of Lula in Pontotoc County.
The present superintendent is Mr. Jerry Romines and the principal is Mr. Bill Godwin.
Once again, a resident of our town has accomplished much for the school and community. The school is highly respected within the state, both academically and sports wise. The trophy cases are filled with awards, several being State Tournament trophies. All K-12 students use computers, laptops, and recently, the elementary has begun using tablet computers.
Historical tidbits about Tupelo and the school:
Tupelo currently has a Church of Christ, Baptist Church, and a Full Gospel Assembly Church. The old Methodist church is now a Funeral Home. The old Church of God has been demolished and the land is currently owned by the Church of Christ. Some residents drive out of town to the church of their choice.
Once an out-of-town lady asked a local lady, “What do you do with your time?” and was answered quickly, “Go to church and play ball!” That statement still sums up the Tupelo Community.
THIS INFORMATION IS TAKEN FROM THE COAL COUNTY HISTORY BOOK VOLUME II, PUBLISHED BY THE COAL COUNTY GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY
AVAZINI, BILL, BILLIE RICE, BETTY RILEY, RANDAL LONG, AND ANGIE JENKINS LONG. COAL COUNTY HISTORY VOLUME II. THE COAL COUNTY GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY: COALGATE, OK, 2009.