The Little Greenbrier School sits in a tiny cove on the north side of the park. It is reachable from the Metcalf Bottoms picnic area. One of the first things noticed is a graveyard surrounded by a weathered picket fence. Many children are buried within, struck down in their early years by different types of ailments. As with most cemeteries in the Smokies and elsewhere, it is obvious when a sickness ran through the community by the dates on the tombstones. Many of the old and young would have died in the same time frame.
The school itself is a simple one-room structure representative of many that once stood in this area. Unlike today, there were no set dates for the start or end of the school year. The teachers were usually not from the immediate area. The community would pool their resources and pay them to teach lessons to the children for as long as their payment provided. In many cases, there were weeks in between school sessions. In larger communities, such as Cades Cove or Cataloochee, a teacher could be hired from the community to make school more routine.
We attended a ranger led program at the school that took a turn we did not expect. A retired school teacher named Miss Elsie Burrell was there to give a very informative talk on the school and what some kids went through just to get to school. Many walked for miles on trails over the nearby ridges to get a chance at education. A small piece of this education was learning how to spell and she was about to show us how spelling bees were conducted in the late 19th to early 20th centuries………..
Purchase your copy of Under the Smoke and discover if you think you could win a 19th century spelling bee.