Helen Taylor was a bit frightened, but still very excited to be entering Murray County High School.
She had skipped a few grades and entered the school at age 11. She had never ridden a bus, but then neither had many of the students headed to the high school.
“We were scattered out over the county in elementary school,” recalled Taylor, a 1939 graduate, who is now 87 and a resident of Dawsonville. “It was exciting to be riding the bus and going in to meet people that lived in the county. You had never met them or even seen them.”
In the 1930s most people in Murray stayed in their small communities dotted throughout the county. They entered a nearby school within walking distance, and many only finished elementary school. A few, if they weren’t needed to help on the family farm, were able to finish high school.
In the early 1930s, the Murray County Board of Education voted to build a new high school. That building is now known as the Rock Building. Upon its completion in 1934, the three existing high schools — in Chatsworth, Eton and Spring Place — were consolidated into Murray County High School.
Murray County High School — though it eventually expanded, and then moved into a building across the road — would remain the county’s only high school until 2009 when North Murray High School opened. That was the same year the Rock Building, which was only being used for storage by then, caught fire and almost burned to the ground. Dozens of people stood on the street and drove by watching in awe, some in tears, as their beloved alma mater went up in flames.
The foundation and early years
The city of Chatsworth was centralized around downtown in the 1930s. The surrounding area was still mostly farmland, including the 36-acre site on the Davis farm in the center of Murray County that would become the Murray County High School campus.
The rocks that were to become the school’s walls were donated by V.C. Pickering and hauled from Fort Mountain where they had been dynamited for the construction of the Chatsworth-Ellijay Highway.
This inspired the opening lines of the school’s alma mater, “From the cliffs of old Cohutta once against the skies, came the walls of alma mater rugged and so high.” The alma mater was written by longtime educator Lula Gladden, for whom Gladden Middle School is named. She was one of the original faculty members at Murray County High School. Her funeral was held in the Rock Building in 1944.
When the school first opened, there were eight classrooms, a small library and an office. A partial basement housed classrooms for agriculture and science, according to the historical website murraycounty museum.com.
When the 1934 school term began, approximately 300 students, including 60 seniors, enrolled at the new school, according to the website.
Pauline Ogletree, an original faculty member, chose green and white as the school colors and the Indian as the mascot.
In 1935, the home economics building, also made of rock and just south of the Rock Building, was built. The cannery, located west of the Rock Building, also opened. The agriculture building was completed in 1936, and most of the work was done by the students. Electricity was installed in the Rock Building in 1935.
Murray County High School’s first graduation was May 18, 1935. Thirty-eight of the original 60 seniors graduated.
Basketball was the first sport at Murray County High School. It was followed by baseball and track. (Football didn’t come until more than a decade later).
“When you got to high school, you had basketball,” Taylor said. “It was exciting when I got to go to the games. I was younger than most people in my class because they allowed me to skip ahead. I went into the fourth grade when I was just 7.”
Taylor said she wasn’t athletic so she didn’t join any sports teams, but she stayed plenty busy.
“We had two newspapers then, The Chatsworth Times and The Murray Herald,” she said. The high school “had a page in the newspapers. I was the editor of that. I wrote for that. I was in French Club and Beta Club. I was an organization person and went on to be all my life.”
Teachers in the 1930s expected their students to work hard, Taylor said.
“I didn’t mind working hard because we didn’t have a whole lot of other things to do,” she said. “We didn’t have television to turn on and that sort of stuff. Studying wasn’t as much of a chore.”
It was during the Depression, and even the wealthier families couldn’t afford cars.
“Not very many people had ways to go places,” Taylor said.
William Leonard, also a 1939 graduate, once joked that there wasn’t a parking problem when he was in school. Only two students drove a car to school every day. Others took the school bus, which was really a truck chassis with benches for students to sit on.
“I had a ball in high school,” Leonard said during an interview in 2010 when he was inducted into the Murray County High School Alumni Hall of Fame. “It was a wonderful place to be. ... There were no discipline problems that I knew of in that school.”
Taylor said prom was held at the school.
“That’s a long way from where our proms are today,” she said. “I really don’t think we had a dance. We would walk around and the boys would try to kiss the girls because that’s what they thought they were supposed to do.”
Taylor graduated at 14 and entered college at North Georgia College — now North Georgia College and State University — in Dahlonega.
She would later return to teach at Murray County High School.