Bruno School

By Mrs. Ray Blankenship

In the pioneer days the children had poor educational advantages, not because our forefathers did not believe in education but because they had no money to establish schools. Another reason was the sparse population. In 1836, there was less than one person per square mile. Often frontier schools were taught by the preacher who was considered an authority on almost any subject. Frequently, it was stipulated in the teacher's contract that he could be paid in meal, pork, or other food.

The first schoolhouse built at Bruno was near the present Bruno cemetery. It was doubtless a log house with a door in front and a big fireplace in back. The benches were split logs. Many children rode horses or walked for miles to school. Everyone brought his lunch and noon hour was one of recreation for both teacher and students.

Early schooling was strictly the 3 R's. The old blue back speller was a must. Such subjects as history or physiology were unknown. There was very little light or ventilation in the building. All work was done with a slate.

Mrs. Ethel Angel Elam, born in 1880 at Bruno, is the oldest resident of this area and she tells us that her brother, Marion Angel, went to school at that place but apparently the building was abandoned before 1887 when she was old enough for school. At this time the community had become divided and, because the patrons could not agree on the location of the new building, there were two schools erected -- one on the east bank and one on the west bank of Hampton Creek. Because they were within sight of each other, the children came down to the water's edge and threw stones across the creek to each other.

Because the children were needed at home so much for farm work, they only had about three month terms. Some early day teachers were Sanford Norman, Lawrence Lay, Johnnie Phillips, Leonard Phillips, Ross Plumlee, Jessie Blankenship, Eldred Lay, John Adams, Alfred Rice, Charley Pierce and R. E. Keeter.

In 1895-96 the directors of #6 Bruno School District were K. F. Cantrell, G. F. Elam, Ezekiel Adkins, and H. C. Keeter.

Taxes for that school were $ 414.49
Issued warrants$ 300.17

In 1896-97 the directors were K. F. Cantrell, Ezekiel Adkins, W. E. Angel, and J . G. McCarty.

Taxes for the school$ 607.60
Issued warrants$ 454.80
Balance $ 152.80

By 1920 the people had become convinced that two schools were not the answer to their problems. In view of this decision and with the cooperation of the legislature, the Bruno School District was created by Act #278 of the 1920 legislature. They got together and decided to build a new school on land purchased from Mr. Ezekiel Adkins and located very near the Hull Spring. A nice building of cement blocks was constructed and in the fall of 1921 the new school was opened with qualified teachers, offering four years of high school. Professor Williams was the first superintendent and his wife was the first Home Economics teacher. Mr. J. B. Ewart, a young man who was to spend most of his life in the school there, was the first Vocational Agriculture teacher. Bruno was the first Vocational Agricultural school west of the Mississippi River and the first accredited four year high school in Marion County. The first Father and Son Banquet was held that year and has been held every year since that time. As time progressed, the mothers were also invited to the banquet, as they are today. The school began to really grow and Mr. Ewart was an inspiration to the big and the little boys alike. He never wore a coat in winter except on one or two of the coldest days but always came to school with the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up. Little boys in the first grade were often observed with sleeves rolled up when it was freezing cold, if mothers didn't remind them to wear a coat. From the very start, the necessity of a Smith-Hughes workshop was recognized, so Mr. Ewart, with the help of his boys, built a nice new building for classes and agriculture work.

PTA was unheard of in those days but the patrons of the school, realizing that the parents and teachers needed to work together very closely, organized what was called a Mothers Club. It met regularly and its function was the same as our PTA today.

Soon after the school was built, a plan to build a gymnasium began to materialize. Until this time all ball games were played on an outdoor court. The citizens of the community hauled sand, gravel, etc., while the Smith-Hughes boys did most of the labor and by 1926 the big cobblestone building was completed. The left side of this gym has a marble slab which reads:

Plans and specifications by Smith-Hughes
Aggie boys and erected under their supervision.

The marble slab on the right side gives the name of J. B. Ewart, instructor, and the names of boys who worked 40 hours or more on the building: Earl Adams, Pierce Adams, Everett Burnes, Frank Burnes, Fred Burnes, Lester Burnes, Hugh Elam, Paul Elam, Garnett Elton, Howard Keeling, H. S. Keeling, Roy Keeling, David McNair, Webster McNair, Raymond McNair, Dolph Milligan, Hobart Milligan, Jerome Morris, Hoyt Pyle, Norvel Pyle, Rudolph Setzler, Alvard Swafford, Gales Swafford, Howard Wilson, Hugh Wilson, and Woodrow Wilson.

Miss Beulah Thompson was the home economics teacher for many years and Miss Clara Wolfe was the first grade teacher during those days. In 1926 the first graduation class was as follows: Hoyt R. Pyle, Opal Elam, Marion Setzler, Ruby Elam, Flora Keeling, Leora Keeling, Douglas Setzler and Howard Wilson.

It was shortly thereafter that patrons of the small one-room schools around Bruno began to feel the need for consolidating with a bigger and better school. Especially were they anxious to get their children into a high school. So, it was about 1927 that Antioch School dissolved and Bruno began to transport the students to their classrooms. Also, the Jefferson Hall School, which at one time had been quite large, expressed its desire to consolidate. Boys and girls came from every direction. Some walked many miles, others rode horses and others rode buses or trucks that the school provided. Everything was going good until that December night, 1928, when, to the regret of everyone, the schoolhouse burned. It was Friday night and people were determined to open classes again on Monday morning. Men came from all around on Saturday to build temporary classrooms in the gymnasium along the east side of the basketball court. They partitioned and sheet-rocked these small rooms. Because it was winter and fire was needed, they worked all day Sunday, building brick flues and installing stoves. By Monday morning school was in session. There was a little confusion as students tried to find their individual rooms. Not only did the new building need to be constructed as soon as possible but also the debris from the old one had to be removed.

From the MOUNTAIN ECHO on August 1929, Ralph W. Phillips, County Superintendent of Schools, said, "Work on a new school building for Bruno will begin right away. The contract is almost completed. From all indications, Mr. John Robinson of Cotter will get the contract. A modern four-room building is to be erected at a cost of $3,800. It is planned to have the building ready for the school by the middle of September. Three years ago there were only two high schools in Marion County. A four-year high school was operated at Bruno on a "C" rating and a two-year high school was maintained at Yellville-Summit on a "D" rating. Since that time high school enrollment has increased 452%. In 1926-27, Bruno offered four years of high school work and was raised to a "B" rating. In 1928-29, Bruno continued to hold its "B" rating. Yellville-Summit offered four years of high school work for the first time and was also given a "B" rating."

The new building was completed in 1929 and the marble slab on its front reads:

Hirst-Matthew Hall
Board of Directors
C. B. Pyle, President; R. W. Elam, 0. F. Gray,
J. W. Hudson, E. M. Keeling, J. S. Pyle.

In October 1929 the stock market crash occurred which ushered in the depression days. Times became so very hard that some children had to stop school because there was no place on their clothes for any more patches. The banks closed and it was almost impossible to keep the classrooms open, but the teachers kept working. During those trying years the following teachers helped keep the school open: J. B. Ewart, George C. Coleman, Edd West, Lora Chambers, Pearl Elam, Mr. and Mrs. Hughes, and May Moore. Later, Farl King, Carl King, Faye King, and many others taught.

People tried so hard to raise food during the depression days but every year was also a drought. Blackberries sold for 10 ¢ a gallon and other foods in proportion because there was no money. The farmers continued to sell cream and eggs for a few dollars. Some men cut and made cross ties and sold them to the railroads. This was very hard work as the eight-foot length log was squared with an old-fashioned broad axe and double-bit chopping axe. Up until this time people had raised some cotton to sell every fall, but the cotton land had become washed and no longer made much cotton. Then, they raised tomatoes on new ground for the local canning factories but that went out during the depression.

By 1935 the school situation had improved very little. The senior class of that year had tried very hard to make enough money for their senior trip, as every senior class had managed to do. Early in the year they presented a "hill billy" class play entitled "Silas Smidge from Turnip Ridge". It was a hit in the area and the proceeds were enough to make a trip to Branson, Missouri. They hired a man with an open truck with hay in the bed to sit on. Then, with well-filled lunch baskets, they left for Missouri -- the first time for most of them to have been out of Arkansas. The lake was a beautiful sight to them and, at the lunch hour, they loaded the picnic tables with fried chicken, pickles, pies, and many other home-cooked food. They came back by Harrison and "took in" a movie before returning home.

When Commencement drew near, they voted to dress differently that year. Because money was so scarce, the girls wore white cotton dresses and the boys wore white shirts and new blue denim overalls. The following ten girls and six boys marched down the aisles that night and received their diplomas: Don Turney, President; Ray Blankenship, Vice-president; Hilda Hudson, Secretary; Earl Campbell, Reporter; Lucille Milligan, Loyde Moreau, Ralph Taylor, Harley Campbell, Maxine Naney, Pauline Wilson, Ione Stephenson, Verlie Stovall, Edna McNair, Imogene Gray, Gela Pennington, and Hazel Gray. The class members told each other good-by that night and some of them have never seen each other since. How true it is that 'time and tide wait for no man'. If the old hills that surround this village of Bruno could talk, they would have plenty to tell. Meanwhile, Hampton Creek continues to flow, the sparkling clear, cold water continues to bubble from the springs in the mountain sides as fond memories of days past and gone bubble in the hearts of graduate students of old Bruno school, scattered from coast to coast.

In 1973 the patrons of Bruno School saw the need for another change in the school system. They got together with Pyatt School and, together, they have built a wonderful new school at Eros, which is about half-way between the two towns. Many years ago, there was a huge motto written in big, black letters and stretched across the wall of Bruno gymnasium which read "BRUNO NEVER QUITS". It was true then and it is still true today. Old Glory and the Arkansas flag wave above the new Bruno-Pyatt School at Eros. Long may they wave!!!

Bruno History

Reprinted with permission from History of Marion County edited by Earl Berry, copyright 1977.